About Shivya Nath
Shivya Nath is an Indian girl who fell in love with traveling, writing and social media. The first is the most thrilling, because being from a protective Indian family means every travel plan comes with a small battle. She says, "I’m not complaining. At my age, few from my hometown have traveled as much and as independently as me."
She juggles work, travel and blogging, until she finds the perfect blend of the three. Join her on her journeys around the world, as she seeks the most untouched, undiscovered of places that few have been to, and even fewer have written out.
Latest Posts by Shivya Nath
Wearing a flowing black abaya, my head covered in a black hijab, I enter the gracious dome of the Grand Mosque of Bahrain. Under the high, intricately designed ceiling, a massive open space appears to welcome us – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Free Thinkers from over twenty countries – with arms wide open, into the frontiers of Islam. We gather in a circle, around a scholar of Islam, ready to fire questions related to the religion, that we have harbored since stepping foot in Bahrain, or much before.
Arabic coffee is served, sip by sip in the traditional Bahraini way, and the topics slowly change from conversion to after-life, from karma to the morality of fornication and stone pelting.
Al Fateh Grand Mosque, Bahrain.
I choose to kill the elf in the room by asking about the inequality of rights among women and men, and below is a snippet of the conversation that ensues (in my own words):
Me: I’m curious to understand why the interpretation of Islam is different in different countries, when the Quran is considered the ultimate word of god.
Mawlana: How do you think the interpretation is different? Can you give me an example?
Me: For instance, women in Bahrain can drive and to a certain extent wear what they choose, while in its neighbour Saudi, the same is not true.
Mawlana: This has more to do with the cultural differences in the countries, and it’s true that some try to use religion to justify it. As far as women are concerned, there are some rules that the Quran dictates they follow – like they should cover their bodies at all times when they are around men, so they are not looked upon with lustful eyes.
Me: Does that rule apply to men too?
Me: I’m asking because the world over, we are fighting for equality of rights between women and men, but if the “word of god” itself suggests that the two don’t have equal rights, then is this equality even worth fighting for?
Mawlana: It’s not that men and women have unequal rights as per the Quran. They have different rights. Men have the responsibility to provide financially for the family. Women don’t. However if they do, they do get extra credit.
The debate continues, but truth is, none of us, with our feisty stance on women’s rights, is even expecting to find a satisfactory explanation. There are many ways to look at the debate, and many theories to explain the misinterpretation of the book. But we have to accept that this, like every religion, has its skeletons to deal with.
The call for prayer breaks our lines of thought, and the men make their way to the central area of the mosque to pray together. The Bahraini women among us start walking towards a separate area, and ask anyone of us interested in praying, to follow them. Out of curiosity, I do.
The men pray in the mosque.
Prayers in progress.
We stand in a straight line. Their eyes are shut. Mine remain open to be able to follow their actions. We raise our hands, their lips shivering as they pray. Allah-u-akbar. We fold our hands over our chests. We raise our hands, we bow. We kneel, we touch our foreheads to the ground. Standing up, my loosely tied head scarf falls. My mind races: should I break the drill and bend down to pick it up? I decide not to. We raise our arms. Someone steps up from behind, picks up my scarf, ties it on my head. We continue praying. The music of the recital is soothing to the ears, calming even. There is serenity around us, and within us. On either side of me, I hear the women sobbing. I look left, then right, concerned. They are deep in prayer. The music ends. We look right, then left, to greet each other. Their eyes are red, but there is peace on their faces. We slowly walk back to join the rest of the group.
The traditional meets the modern! Me in a hijab.
Later that night, I ask a Bahraini friend why the women were crying while praying. They must be deep in prayers, asking for forgiveness or giving thanks, he says.
Photo Credit: Prathamesh KriSang
I’m not a big fan of cities, but Madrid was almost love at first sight. Maybe because it was just the start of spring, or maybe because the city is just that beautiful! I spent most of my time by the River Manzanares in Madrid, strolling along the parks and squares of Madrid, exploring Madrid’s markets and cafes, and discovering its quirky neighborhoods. In this photo essay, I share a roundup of some of the best unusual things to see and do in Madrid, including local hangouts and relatively secret places, that are sure to make you fall in love with this Spanish city too.
1. STROLL ALONG THE MADRID RIVER
called Manzanares, under the shade of cherry blossoms, watching the locals fish from the fishing decks and nodding at the evening walkers. The closest metro station to get here is Principe Pio.
2. PEOPLE WATCH AT THE CHARMING SQUARES
that Madrid is known for. These little squares are meeting points, most with a tiny cafe or restaurant lurking around the corner. Unlike Barcelona, I found the locals of Madrid more easy going, and much easier to strike up a conversation with.
3. VISIT AN ANTIQUE BOOKS MARKET
down the road from Paseo del Prado, the only one of its kind in Madrid. Most of the books are in Spanish, but there’s something just so romantic about browsing through their old, worn out pages whose stains speak their own stories.
4. EAT AT A COSY NEIGHBORHOOD CAFE
or bar, that might not necessarily be a Tapas bar. These tend to be less busy and more intimate, giving you a chance to get to interact with the owner and the others at the cafe. I loved sampling Mexican food at the colorful Tacos Chipotludos bar, and chatting up Juan, its friendly owner.
5. OBSERVE THE CULTURAL CURIOSITIES
of a city as diverse as Madrid. I spotted on the streets, under the cherry blossoms, this march in solidarity for Slovenia.
6. WELCOME SPRING AT THE PARKS
of Madrid, which are wide open spaces, often with lakes and mini forests within them. Unlike most parks I’ve visited, they hardly feel landscaped or curated. From what I gathered, parks in lesser known neighborhoods, like Parque El Capricho, also seem to be favorite hangouts among the locals of Madrid.
7. FIND VIEWS THAT MUST’VE INSPIRED HEMINGWAY
though he would probably flip seeing a laptop replace the good old pen and paper! I stumbled upon this gorgeous view at Dalieda de San Francisco, while having lost my way in the city.
8. READ BY THE RIVER
because it’s just so gorgeous, you can’t get enough of it. Madrid might not have a beach, but what better place to read, or contemplate life than this “By the river Piedra I sat down and wept” sort of setting?
9. EXPLORE MADRID’S QUIRKY NEIGHBORHOODS
like Malasaña, off the Tribunal Metro, which is an alternative neighborhood with funky graffiti and quirky stores, and seemingly the hangout of choice among the city’s hipsters.
10. PHOTOGRAPH MOMENTS
that you wouldn’t expect to spot in big cities!
My trip to Madrid was in partnership with the Tourism Office of Spain. Opinions, as always, are my own.
Over the month of March, I’ve travelled along the mountains, rivers and rice paddies of Thailand’s north, revisited with much nostalgia the familiar streets of Singapore, revelled in the festivities of Las Fallas in Spain, and finally made that illusive trip to India’s northeast to live with the Mishing tribe of Assam and explore the wilderness of the eastern Himalayas. Below captures my adventures in Asia, mostly visually.
Thailand: Chiang Rai and Koh Mak
March started with a trip to the northern tip of Thailand, where we stayed in a village home stay with a Thai-Dutch family on their rice paddies. Our days were spent strolling along the Kok river, hiking in the mountains beyond, and indulging in the most delicious home-cooked Thai food.
I made a nostalgia-filled trip back to Singapore, on invitation from the Singapore Tourism Board. Although I’ve studied and worked in the country for half a dozen years, it was the first time I saw it from the lens of a traveller (and realised just how expensive it can be compared to its neighbours. I discovered just how quaint the shophouses and by-lanes of Chinatown are, sampled chic new cafes and concept bars that have popped up along what were once unassuming neighbourhoods, revisited some of my favourite vegetarian eateries, and in a way, found closure in my decision to move back to India.
Northeast India: Assam
A second item off my bucket list for 2013 (the first was revisiting Southeast Asia), I finally made that illusive trip to the first of the seven sisters. Guwahati felt something like India in the 90s; chaotic and in transition. But I fell head over heels in love with Majuli, the largest river island in Bhramaputra, and possibly in the world. Majuli was surreal, almost other worldly – there were rolling meadows everywhere, sleepy riverside villages, and more cattle grazing on the endless pastures than people on the island. These were landscapes I’ve imagined New Zealand to have!
Which of these places would you most like to visit, or read about?
While Singapore has plenty of accommodation options for its size, finding a chic boutique hotel that is both centrally located and moderately priced, is not an easy task. On my recent trip to the island nation, I stayed in two boutique hotels, and below will give you a feel for what they’re like and why I chose them.
NAUMI LIORA: A Boutique Hotel in Chinatown
Located in a quaint shop house on the quirky Keok Siak Street in Chinatown, Naumi Liora is a charming boutique hotel with tastefully done interiors. It retains the shop house heritage of the area with its tiny windows and bright orange exterior. Unlike any boutique hotel I’ve stayed at so far, the lobby of the hotel offers a 24-hour Nibbles Snackbar, with complimentary tea, coffee, ice cream, cookies, chips and other bite-sized snacks!
The Rooms: Though box-sized (like most small hotels in Singapore), I found the rooms to be very cozy, tastefully decorated, and creatively optimized for space. The bathroom, though small, comes with high quality fittings. The higher category rooms come with their own French-style courtyard, and are certainly worth an upgrade.
The Location: Keok Siak and its neighboring streets are upcoming areas in Singapore, and have recently seen a surge of concept bars and cafes, including a password-protected bar a short walk from the hotel. The Outram Park MRT station is a five-minute walk, and connects to both City Hall (on the green line) and Harbour Front (on the red line). Orchard Road and Clarke Quay are a ten and five-minute cab rides away respectively, and overall, the location is great amid the quaint streets of Chinatown.
The Service: I found the service to be exceptionally friendly for Singapore standards; the staff at the reception was warm and welcoming, not only while I was staying at the hotel, but even when I came to collect my luggage a week later (after my Thailand trip). Five stars for that!
Breakfast and Wifi: Complimentary breakfast is provided at a café next door, with charming wooden interiors and an open kitchen. The breakfast spread is small, but the breads are freshly baked and the eggs are prepared hot. Complimentary Wifi is provided throughout the hotel and the speed is excellent.
Price and Booking: A double or twin room in the heritage category starts at US$ 140, inclusive of breakfast. Asia Rooms offers good deals for the hotel, and is a credible resource for hotel bookings.
Overall: Despite my initial hesitation to stay in Chinatown, I loved Naumi Liora boutique hotel – it’s quaint and charming, with great staff and cozy rooms, and not to forget, the complimentary snackbar! The location is convenient, the wifi is free and fast, and the breakfast is decent. Highly recommended.
PARC SOVEREIGN: A Boutique Hotel near Bugis
A boutique hotel under $150 in the vicinity of one of Singapore’s most popular shopping areas is a steal in itself! Central to Bugis, Dhobi Ghaut, Orchard and Little India, the location is easily the biggest draw of Parc Sovereign. Complementing that are modern interiors and a rooftop swimming pool.
The Rooms: The rooms are tiny, but clean and well maintained, with all basic necessities; comfortable beds, a writing desk, large windows, and a modern bathroom. Double-bedded rooms are small in number as compared to twin rooms, so it’s best to call ahead and secure one.
The Location: As someone who loves to walk, I found the location to be extremely convenient. Not just the metro, but Bugis Junction mall, the street markets of Bugis, the cultural precinct of Little India, the electronics supermarket of Sim Lim, and Orchard Road are all walkable within 10-20 minutes.
The Service: The service is nothing to write home about; the staff at the reception won’t go out of their way for you, but won’t disappoint either. The footfall of the hotel, given its location, might explain that.
Breakfast and Wifi: Breakfast is not complimentary, but within walking distance are two local coffee shops, and further down at the Bugis Junction mall are Mc Donalds, Starbucks and Bread Talk. What’s a real bummer is that Wifi is not free of charge, although it costs only SGD5 for 24 hours! Makes you wonder why they won’t just include it in the cost of the room. It’s not too fast either, which makes you feel like you’re paying for slow Wifi (unacceptable to a digital nomad like myself, though it might not be a deal breaker for many).
Price and Bookings: Prices start at US$100 for a double or twin room, and again, you can find discounted rates on Asia Rooms, which aggregates accommodation options across Southeast Asia.
Overall: I would recommend Parc Sovereign hotel in Singapore if great location on a budget is your first priority. The rooms are nice, but the service is average, the Wifi is slow, and breakfast is not complimentary.
My stays at Naumi Liora and Parc Sovereign were sponsored by the Singapore Tourism Board and Asia Rooms, but opinions, as always, are my own.
On my first day in Mauritius, I couldn’t help but envy the lifestyle of the laidback locals lounging around in their Hawaiian shirts. I assumed that living here was paradisiacal indeed, what with constantly being surrounded by the azure waters and not having to deal with the worries of city life. Meeting a fisherman on the island would make me realize otherwise.
I checked in at Le Meridien Ile Maurice, with a plan to indulge in everything that Mauritius is famous for; sunbathing on my private beach with a cocktail, swimming with the ocean in sight, riding a glass bottom boat into the sea, and whiling away time in my balcony overlooking the turquoise waters. Then one day, as I watched the sunset paint the sky red from the resort’s jetty, which protruded into the vast ocean, a young man waded ashore from the shallow waters, wearing a worn-out sweater and carrying a bucket of seashells. A small-boned man of Indian origin, Ravi was a fisherman by profession and an occasional peddler of seashells at the resort. His disarming demeanor immediately struck a chord with me, and we delighted in each other’s company as the sun sank below the horizon.
We talked late into the night; I was curious about his life on the island and he about my solo sojourn in Mauritius. His eyes lit up each time he spoke of his encounters at sea; just that morning, after a futile fishing session, he jumped off the boat into the deep sea to snorkel, and spotted a swordfish! While many of his friends sought higher incomes in factories, he chose to be a fisherman so he could feed his family even on days when he made no money. He pointed to some dim lights at the far end of the beach and called them home, but went on tell me that he considered himself very lucky to be able to live by the sea, afford a nice sweater to keep warm in the not-so-cold Mauritian winter, and meet friendly people at the beach who took him around the world with their stories.
When I asked if he had ever travelled out of the country, he recounted his fishing trip to Madagascar eight years ago, when fishing laws were still lax. He and three friends took turns to row their open boat and fish, and at nightfall, lit a fire on the boat, cooked and ate the fish, and sang songs to the sea. The fading memories of his adventure made him wistful, and in the tunes he hummed, I could almost hear the joy of a big catch, the roar of the storms they braced, and his unending love for the sea. The anklet of seashells on his bare feet shone in the dim light, and as we walked along the beach at Pointe Aux Piments, I heard him rattle off sentences in eight different languages, of which he had learnt Spanish and Italian at the resort itself, while selling seashells to sunbathers.
In Ravi’s adventurous spirit, I saw a little bit of my own; in vastly different ways and worlds, we are both trying to choose the things we love, over money. The difference though, is not that he lives in paradise and I continue to seek it. But that he has realized that paradise is nothing more than a state of mind, and a way of life.
Have you met anyone on your travels who taught you an important lesson about life?
With the media lately giving a lot of attention to women travelling alone and women travelling together (without men), I thought I’d contribute my 2 cents too, with a list of travel destinations friendly towards single women, and women travellers in general. Not just from the perspective of safety, but also from that of accepting that there’s nothing wrong or strange about solo women travellers.
After my first solo trip in India, many people asked me what it was like to travel alone as a woman. Liberating, was my first thought. To travel alone is to realize that the “big bad world” has a bigger heart, that there is nothing quite as empowering as the confidence to experience an unknown place by yourself, and that you don’t need a man to figure out directions!
Here’s a list of friendly destinations for solo female travel and girlfriend getaways, around the world and in India:
This small island nation in Southeast Asia can seem almost too good to be true as a single woman: it is as safe as it is cosmopolitan. With glittering shopping malls and massive year-round sales, well-preserved cultural districts, tranquil seaside escapes, and a happening nightlife, there is enough to keep you on your toes. Its vicinity to Malaysia and Indonesia makes it a perfect base to explore the rest of Southeast Asia. If you’ve been there before, there are always new reasons to visit – after spending six years studying and working in Singapore, I revisited to marvel at Gardens by the Bay, the latest addition to the city skyline and an architectural marvel, and sample trendy concept bars and cafes popping up everywhere on the island. The best part? The island’s reputation of safety precedes it, meaning convincing your parents to let you go alone should be a breeze.
What has the conservative Gulf region got to offer a single woman traveller, you might ask – the warmest hospitality, utmost respect, and some much-needed perspective, in that order. Bahrain offers a flavor of the Middle East and a history lesson dating back to before 2,500 BC, minus the tourists of Dubai and Egypt. In fact, tourism is in such a nascent stage that the residents are genuinely happy to welcome foreigners into their homes and lives; I always found myself conversing, befriending, sharing meals, and even hitchhiking with the locals. It is here that the east really meets the west – Arab men and women wearing traditional costumes drive foreign cars, converse in Arabic slang and accented English, and hang out at European cafes serving fusion Middle Eastern cuisine! In the vicinity of the coast lie spectacular uninhabited islands, while inland, souqs (street markets), pottery villages and restored traditional houses stand alongside bustling malls, artsy neighborhoods and quirky cafes and bars. A state-of-the-art causeway connects Bahrain to Saudi Arabia, and driving on this engineering spectacle is as close as you can get to its conservative neighbor as a solo female.
3) Southern Spain
Not quite taken by Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara? Then hear this: Spain has more to offer than a sun, sea and sand getaway, a reason to party, and bull fights. Along the Andalucian countryside, I was marveling at Arabic architecture and Roman ruins, biking around picturesque vineyards and olive fields, and tapping to the beat of the flamenco in a cave hammam (Turkish bath), all in one day. Much safer than bigger European cities, the countryside villages and towns in Spain’s south have a way of easing outsiders into the good life – lazy lunches and long siestas.
4) New Zealand
You don’t have to be a Lord of the Rings fan to crave a trip to Middle Earth; Googling for pictures will suffice! Undoubtedly heavy on the pocket, the entire country is one big postcard with its emerald green mountains, rainbow-studded skies, and turquoise blue waters. Famous for having more sheep than people, this is where you go to get away from it all, literally, and pamper yourself with the finest wines, cheeses and chocolates, without once doubting if you’ll be safe. If you can afford it, of course!
5) North Kerala, India
North Kerala is one of the few regions in India where as a solo female traveller, I felt genuinely welcomed, with a greater sense of admiration than concern! Ditch the houseboat-lined backwaters along Alleppey and Kumarakom, for the sleepy, coconut-fringed hamlets of the state’s north. Here, the backwaters flow like full-fledged rivers and are clean enough to swim in, uniting with the Arabian Sea across virgin white-sand beaches. The hill countryside is home to well-preserved forests and tribal villages, and many families in the region offer homestays on their tea estates and coffee plantations, together with heartwarming hospitality and delicious home-cooked food.
6) Himalayan Deserts, India
Ironically enough, the coldest regions of the Trans-Himalayas are home to the warmest people! Spiti and its better-known cousin, Ladakh, are enchanting places; home to stark terrain, magnificent landscapes, postcard villages, ancient monasteries, snow-hooded mountains, and star-studded skies. I couldn’t have picked a better region for my first solo trip, or my first hitchhike, for the smaller and more remote the villages in these Himalayan deserts, the more welcoming the locals. If the notion of atithi devo bhava (guest is god) ever did justice to a region, it was here, and it really doesn’t matter if you’re a solo female.
7) Meghalaya, India
While all seven northeastern sister states pay an ode to nature in the majestic backdrop of the Eastern Himalayas, Meghalaya stands out as a matrilineal society; descent is traced through the mother and women play the more dominant role in everyday life. That only means one thing: female travellers are not only safe, but also highly respected. True to its Sanskrit name, “the abode of clouds”, much of Meghalaya receives high rainfall, making it one of India’s richest biodiversity belts, its ancient forests protected by the hill tribes for their cultural and religious beliefs. An almost mystical aura engulfs the state during the rains, with the clouds coming low to kiss the verdant hills and picturesque villages.
Where have you travelled alone as a women, or in a women-only group, and felt safe? Or not so safe?
As I packed my bags for Singapore in the end of February, I was swamped with shopping lists. “What else can you do in Singapore?” she asked. As someone who can’t bear to spend more than a few minutes in a store, I felt perplexed. I suddenly wondered what I did over weekends in Singapore, while I studied and worked there for almost half a dozen years, because I certainly didn’t shop (and didn’t have the money to, either). If you ask me, some of the best experiences on the island nation are in fact free.
1. Hike along The Southern Ridges
For many people, Mount Faber is only a gateway to the island of Sentosa. But it is here that one of the best walks in Singapore begins; 9 kms through the gently sloping hills of Mount Faber Park, Telok Blangah Hill Park and Kent Ridge Park, in the midst of lush greenery and mini forests. Panoramic views of the city skyline, the South China Sea, and the islands beyond, are gentle reminders that you’re still in Singapore. If you’re short on time or stamina, do only the first leg of the hike, along the stunning Henderson Waves bridge; its spiral architecture alone is worth a visit.
Henderson Waves Bridge alone The Southern Ridges hike. Photo by Schristia.
2. Fly a kite at Marina Barrage
A reservoir built to control floods, Marina Barrage is one of my favorite places in Singapore. Its still waters are surrounded by beautifully landscaped parks – one of the rare places in Singapore where you find families picnicking and flying (fancy) kites! It’s a reminder of the good old kite-flying days in India. On a clear evening, you can catch a spectacular sunset against the backdrop of the Singapore Flyer, Marina Bay Sands, and dozens of oddly-shaped kites whirling in the sky.
Marina Barrage. Brian Flanagan.
3. Marvel at Gardens by the Bay
The latest and most distinct addition to the Singapore skyline, Gardens by the Bay is no normal garden. Its claim to fame are the Supertrees, which as the name suggests are giant, albiet artificial trees, capable of using solar energy to light themselves at night, and harvesting rain water to irrigate the surrounded flora and fauna! Walk along the spiral Skyway suspended between two Supertrees, and reflect on just how ingenius this is, while being awed by the splendor of Marina Bay Sands right across.
The Skyway at Gardens by the Bay, up close with the Supertrees.
4. Stroll along Chinatown.
I never cared much for Chinatown while I lived in Singapore, but on my recent trip, I was completely taken by the quaint architecture along Keok Siak Street. Traditional shophouses with colorful walls and tiny windows line the street, while in the background, modern buildings stand tall – a charming blend of the old and the new. Along these shophouses have popped up chic bars, cafes and boutique stores, including a password-protected bar without so much as a name! Bribe me and I’ll tell you how to get in
The quaint shophouses of Chinatown.
5. Spend after hours at Labrador Park.
Easily one of Singapore’s best-kept secrets, Labrador Park is located near Pasir Panjang, and is ideal for escaping the hustle bustle of the city. You have to pay for entry to the the World War II fort and relics it houses, but unless you’re a history buff, you’re better off visiting after hours when the fort is shut and the rare visitors have left. At sundown, sit along one of the many rocky edges and hear the waves crash against the cliff, with not another soul in sight.
Labrador Park. Photo by DChai21.
6. Have a beach day at Sentosa.
Probably the most obvious, but if you love the sun, sand and sea, head on over to the manmade island of Sentosa, and lay your beach mat at Siloso beach, swim in the gentle waves, and get a tan. You’re in the tropics, after all!
A day out at Siloso Beach, Sentosa. Photo by Dwi Rahmaputra.
7. Stay (for) Wonder Full.
At night, on every Friday, Saturday and Sunday, the Singapore skyline dances with colors for 13 minutes! As expected from Singapore, this water and light show is a spectacle, telling a story with state-of-the-art lasers. Grab a seat along the Singapore River, with an unblocked view of Marina Bay Sands, and spend 13 minutes in awe.
Marina Bay Sands during Wonder Full. Photo by Kain Kalju.
8. Listen to live music at the Esplanade.
The famous durian-shaped icon of Singapore always has something ‘free’ to offer, including art exhibitions, live concerts and theatrical performances. Make your way down for a night of live music by the riverside, under the open sky. You could be listening to Asian pop one night, and international music from the 90s on another.
Esplanade by the Singapore River. Photo by Jakub Michankow.
9. Skateboard at Scape Skate Park.
You might say that this is where all the punks in Singapore hang out! Complete with graffiti, ramps and rails, young boys and girls with spiky hairdos hang out at the Scape Skate Park along Orchard Road, practicing stunts on skates and skateboards. Even if you’re not into either, it’s fun to watch the “cool teenagers” do their thing. The neighboring Youth Park often transforms into a free and happening venue for night concerts and fringe events.
Scape Skate Park. Photo by Yeowatzup.
10. Fly planes at Clarke Quay.
Every Saturday night, owners of LED, electronically-controlled planes (something like those electric battery cars that kids love) gather in a corner of Clarke Quay to fly their planes togethers. Okay, you might have to own one to fly it, but sometimes the owners are friendly enough to let you fly theirs. It’s fascinating to watch anyway, especially after a few beers! Stroll along Clarke Quay to chance upon this spot, and while the night away watching the lights dance around you.
Clarke Quay at night. Photo by Edwin Lee.
If there was ever a vegetarian’s version of paradise, Mauritius and Rodrigues, sister islands in the Indian Ocean, would probably come the closest. The fine blend of Indian, French and Creole cultures, mixed with the western influences of tourism, have resulted in a spectrum of vegetarian treats in the former. And the dissociation of the latter from the rest of the world has resulted in unexpectedly delicious fusion food. Here are ten not-to-miss eating places for vegetarians:
VEGETARIAN FOOD IN MAURITIUS
1. Fusion food at Lambic
Lambic (pronounced Lombik) is that quaint beer garden where the “cool” crowd of Port Louis hangs out after work. Set in a well preserved 19th century colonial house, this gastro pub pairs local produce with a mammoth range of beers and whiskies. Though the menu boasts only a handful of vegetarian options, the dishes are delicately crafted to pamper even the pickiest of taste buds. Get the ball rolling with vegetarian spring rolls stuffed with locally sourced veggies and herbs, or a cheesy eggplant gratin, paired with the floral delight of a Gouden Carolus beer. Raise the bar with a vegetarian kofta, soaked in hollandaise sauce and accompanied by aromatic rice flavoured with local herbs, a delicious fusion of the Indo-French cuisine, paired with the local Dodo Island brew on tap. After a day of sightseeing and sunbathing, make yourself comfortable on the rustic benches, kick back with a couple of beers in the dim lighting, and let the banter flow.
2. Local street food in Port Louis
There is nothing like the culinary experience of sampling local street food in an exotic country. In Mauritius, Dhal-puri has acquired something of a national status; a wheat flour roll, stuffed with lentils, veggies and pickles, it comes with a distinct spicy flavour that immediately awakens your taste buds and leaves you craving for seconds. Club it with the savory gateau piment, balls of lentil fried golden brown and served with local chutneys, and end off the spicy treat with aluda, the Mauritian version of the Indian falouda. Chances are, the gregarious locals will engage you in casual conversations as you queue and devour their street food, and you’ll leave with as much an appreciation of the food as their camaraderie.
3. Breakfast at Mon Choix
An open-air breakfast overlooking the mountains and sugarcane fields of Mauritius above, and Port Louis and the sea below, is a luxury that might be around only while one of the last ecotourism pockets of Mauritius in Vallee De Pretres survives. The French couple who run Mon Choix Lodge prove that the French know their breakfast as well as their architecture; as a guest of the family, you can devour a variety of eggs, croissants, baguettes, gateau piment, jams, butter, cheeses, savoury snacks, juices, teas and coffees, admiring the beauty of Mauritius’ interiors from an airy verandah, which is almost always passed up for its sea side indulgences.
4. Creole food at Chez Tino
Whether or not you are experimental with your food, leaving Mauritius without trying Creole food is almost like leaving Italy without trying pizzas! Settle in on the breezy terrace of Chez Tino in Trou D’eau Douce, overlooking the turquoise waters below and the island of Ile Au Cerfs beyond. Start with the ubiquitous gateau piment and breads to set the mood, followed by a full-fledged Creole meal, comprising vegetarian rougaille, dhall (daal), rice and fresh chutneys. The local Phoenix brew will complement the meal, the ambiance, and the flavors to perfection.
5. Mediterranean food at La Faya
In an outdoor patio overlooking the private beach at Le Meridien Ile Maurice, a friendly waitron serves up a platter of freshly baked flax-seed bread, an exotic mix of apple pickles and chutneys spiced with local herbs, and a test-tube of cream cheese to whet your appetite. You order a Sega, an in-house concoction of rum, lime and sugarcane juice, and sip to the sound of crashing waves. A customizable three-course meal awaits you; appetizers range from cold tomato soup to mushroom ragout, succulent pastas are cooked to perfection, and desserts span chocolate trilogies to marshmallow puddings. A candlelight meal here, with the gentle music playing in the background, a personal touch to the service, and the cosy seaside ambiance, is the perfect way to woo that special someone.
6. French food at Les Copains d’Abord
Vegetarian indulgence at Les Copains d’Abord, located in the waterfront setting of the historical town of Mahebourg, starts with fresh bread and a complimentary serving of gateau piment accompanied by locally crafted chutneys. You can while away time with a soup or salad, or a basket of savory snacks, but you’d much rather skip to the not-to-miss vegetarian specialty - the deep forest mushroom pancakes, a flavorful mix of wild mushrooms blanketed in a savory pancake, layered with cheese, and flavored with local herbs. Give in to the temptation of round two, but only if you can save space for a sinful French dessert. The laidback ambiance of Mahebourg and the ever-changing shades of blue in the water will give your meal blissful company.
7. Breakfast at Chez Pat
If the most stunning stretches of the east coast of Mauritius seem cordoned off by five-star resorts, make your way to Blue Bay, a protected lagoon of blue ecstasy. Take a detour to Chez Pat (chez means “at the home of” in French) for a hearty breakfast, served almost fresh from the bakery, with a delectable combination of breads and eggs, and a mouth-watering variety of cheeses, jams, cakes, yoghurts and juices. The company of Patrick, the host, is a delight in itself, and the beach is a two-minute walk from his beautiful flower-covered abode.
VEGETARIAN FOOD IN RODRIGUES
8. Table d’hôte at Cases a Gardenias
Rodrigues, Mauritius’ sister island, is sprinkled with the French tradition of table d’hôte, which literally means “host’s table”. The Belgian-Mauritian couple at Cases A Gardenias has opened up their tastefully designed house for a classy dining experience. A homemade concoction of limoncello, lively dinner table conversations, and Fernand’s refreshing humor, set the pace for the night. Mari-Line’s creativity in the kitchen could surprise you with anything ranging from her rendition of Indian food to a potpourri of vegetarian dishes that could make even Michelin Star chefs proud. Throw in a bottle of red wine, French music on the gramophone, and after-dinner liqueur, and you know this is an experience that will linger on in your heart.
9. Pizzas at Aux 2 Freres
In a quiet corner of Port Mathurin, Aux 2 Freres’ story started with two brothers, but the second best pizza joint on the island wooed one away! Soak in the laid-back pace of life on the island on a balcony ideal for people watching, with English music playing at the bar in the background. In a few minutes, you are devouring a pizza with a crust so thin and veggies so well blended in the cheese, that you wonder what you’ve been eating in the name of pizza all this time.
10. Street food at Anse Aux Anglais
On the public beach of Anse Aux Anglais, you’ll find an unassuming little stall almost always surrounded by locals. Before you diss it as another seafood joint, you must know that the lady who runs it has a magic recipe for Rodrigues’ own version of the Mauritian dhal-puri; it is called Faratha Special, and in its vegetarian version, it is a pan-cooked roll of wheat flour, filled with a lip-smacking potato curry, the ingredients of which are hard to decipher even upon multiple tries. For the price you pay, this has to be the most economical and tastiest meal you can find!