The first time I heard my Mum tell the story of her Maha Shivarathri experience in Mauritius in 2010 ,I got all teary and had goosebumps.At that instant I knew going on this specific pilgrimage was something I needed to do in my lifetime at some point.
“Pilgrimage is a powerful metaphor for any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveller.”
A few weeks ago I flew off to my favourite island Mauritius for a different travel experience ,one I had never done before but something my heart longed for.I spent 7 days in Mauritius for Maha Shivarathri and discovering Hindu spirituality on the island.
They say each journey you take teaches you something new and fulfills a longing within you.Nothing could have truly prepared me for this journey but I feel so grateful to have been able to do pilgrimage to Mauritius with my Mum.I believe in fate and destiny and one of my favourite quotes speaks truth into this ” And when you want something all the universe conspires in helping you achieve it .” – Paulo Coelho from The Alchemist
And just like the quote everything fell into place with an email and call from Mauritius Tourism which directed me to Richi from One Stop Tours and Travel.One Stop is the only company in South Africa that offers the Mauritius Maha Shivarathri Pilgrimage tour.Richi Bhugun is the Product Manager of the Mauritius travel division and this pilgrimage is his baby.On meeting Richi a few weeks later I knew my pilgrimage was not my doing but that of many conspiring to turn my dreams into a reality.Having my Mum join me was rather special especially as it was her experience that got me longing to go to Mauritius for this specific pilgrimage.
Maha Shivarathri Itineary for Mauritius :
We were given the itinerary in advance for us to familiarise ourselves with arrangements for the trip.As we had been previously to Mauritius we had seen most of what was on this itinerary and our main focus was for Maha Shivarathri.On the other days I let Richi know in advance that we would not be joining the group.Having several friends on the island we made the arrangement to visit them ,visit other hotels and visit the Hari Hara Temple , Ganesha Park , Tea Plantations and the Aapravasi Ghat.
02 MAR- Saturday ARRIVE MAURITIUS
03 MAR- Sunday – NORTH TOUR
At 08:30 AM, Proceed to Port Louis City tour, Citadel Fort, Flea market (Buy All the Prayer Goods for the Maha Shivarathree Prayer) at your own expense and Caudan Waterfront optional lunch, Namaste Restaurant (Rs + 600 pp ) at your own expense
Thereafter you will proceed to Grand Bay Village, SSR Botanical Garden (Entrance Fee Not Included) – (Rs + 275 pp) at your own expense thereafter you will proceed back to the hotel.
French built fortification on a hill by 1840, now an open air theatre and fair ground. Historically used as an advance surveillance post, la Citadelle is a beautiful spot that overseas the city, with views on the part on one side and the northern plains on the other side.
THE FLEA MARKET
Renovated and inaugurated in 2004 after a huge fire had destroyed it, was in fact built-in 1814. True melting pot of cultures, flavours and colours, it is the get together spot for Mauritians of all faith. They would talk of politics, economics, cultures, cuisine and more. Youcan find anything there from the colourful T- shirt, to medicinal plant through jewelleries and species.
SSR BOTANICAL GARDEN
Mauritius National Botanical Garden is home to an incredible variety of tropical plants, many of them indigenous.
The Botanic Garden, formally known as Sir Seewoosagur Botanic Garden, is one of the most visited attractions in Mauritius.
The garden is located in the proximity of Port-Louis in the district of Pamplemousse.
The botanical garden was initially opened as a private garden by the French governor of Mauritius nearly 300 years ago, later to become the national botanical garden of Mauritius.
The botanical garden stretches over endless acres of land and it may take you more than a week to cover the whole garden. It is populated with more than 650 varieties of plants among which are the famous Baobabs, the Palmier Bouteille, the Giant Water Lilies, dozens of medicinal plants, a large spice garden and many more.
One of the main attractions of the botanical garden is the 85 different varieties of palm trees brought from different corners of the world. Other indigenous species of plants are also exhibited here.
Guides are available at the entrance of the garden, offering a full tour for as little as 1 euro/hour per person (payment for the guides is done at the entrance of the botanical garden). We highly recommend using the guides’ services.
Every day: 8:30 to 17:00
THE CHAMPS DE MARS HORSE TRACK
It’s the oldest and the only circular racetrack, still active of the southern hemisphere, it is also the world’s second oldest. It was used by the colonial army as parade and training grounds. Nowadays it is still used as horserace venues from May to November and as a parade or event grounds for popular happenings, like Independence Day.
THE CAUDAN WATERFRONT
Architectural and commercial gem of the country, the Caudan Waterfront is a lively place to be. Overseeing the harbors, this immense shopping ground accommodates the finest shops, restaurants café – terraces, cinemas, a colorful craft market, a museum, famous for its expensive stamp of the world can be found there also. The Port-Louis waterfront on the opposite side of the bay is a smaller sister shopping complex where one can find other luxury shops and more than one anything, an old windmill.
Drive along the north coast to grand Baie where you will see the coastal area with its amazing shops.
04 MAR- Monday – MAHA SHIVARTHRi
Breakfast at the hotel.
At 08:00 AM – Proceed to Visit to Ramakrishna Mission Temple at Vacoas, then Ganga Talao for Morning Prayer, after the prayer you will return to the hotel. After early dinner proceed to Sockalingum Meenatchee Amen Temple Kaylassum or Maheswarnath Mandir in Triolet for night prayers. Proceed to hotel at midnight.
HOLY LAKE AT GRAND BASSIN (GANGA TALAO)
After Breakfast, you will be transferred from your respective hotels to the holy lake at Grand Bassin to collect the holy water to pour on Lord Shiva to perform the prayers.
Return back to hotel .Prayer night at Kailashnath Mandir at Triolet or the Meenatchi Amman temple at Nicolay in St Croix.
05 MAR- Tuesday DAY AT LEISURE
06 MAR- Wednesday – SOUTH TOUR
At 08:00AM – proceed to the Phoenix glass gallery (Entrance Fee Not Included) (Rs +100) Floreal Village at the ship model factory.
Visit the volcano crater Trou Aux Cerfs, breathtaking panoramic view of the largest town of Mauritius Curepipe and Ganga Talao.
Visit the valley of colours and the 23 colours of the earth .
VACOAS / PHOENIX
An important residential town of the country, home to prestigious Gymkana Club,
This town is known as the greenhouse of the country, with its concentration of vegetable and flower plantations.
TROU AUX CERFS
An 85 mt deep with a 200 diameter of a crater with a breath-taking view over the South west coast and central Mauritius. From here one can enjoy a panoramic view of the western part of the island.
Curepipe peaks at Trou aux Cerfs, at only 550 metres above sea level. With more than 80,000 inhabitants, it is the second residential town. This city of lights is home to major shopping centres with stylist boutiques, jeweller shops. Lower Curepipe is also known as Floreal where most of the Embassies and Consulates have their residential quarters. Chic jewellery and gem stone shops as well as elegant ferments factory shops can be found there, in classy shopping centres.
VALLEY OF COLOURS
Since the 23-coloured earth was discovered on the 4th of July 1998, “La Vallée des Couleurs Nature Park” has become one of the most famous and unique attractions of the island, which fascinates Mauritians as well as foreigners.
Nature lovers are bound to like this place; it is quite a unique experience with the indigenous fauna and flora that abound in the park. Visitors are treated with a range of natural landscapes, including plateaus, mountains, valleys, craters and crater-lakes.
For starters, there is our exhibition room which shows clearly what awaits adventurers in the park, immediately followed by our fern garden, without which any visit in the park would be incomplete, unless one wants to miss out on the beauty of tree ferns, wild orchids or other native flowers like the Trochetia (Boucle d’oreille/Ear ring) and the Bouquet Banané (achna Mauriciana), which only blooms at the end of every year.
The park is also home to tortoises, monkeys, stags, fish and birds such as the Pink Pigeon, Paille-en-Queue and Câteau Vert, amongst others. Various endemic trees to the likes of Ebony, Bois de Natte, Takamaka and some other rare plants also contribute to the beauty of the park.
Cascade Vacoas, Cascade Bois de Natte, Cascade Cheveux d’Ange and Cascade Chamouzé are the four wonderful waterfalls where visitors can listen to water rustling, relax in natural intimacy and feel inner peace. The park also offers a captivating and breathtaking panoramic view of the South Coast.
The main attraction is the fascinating 23-coloured earth whose origin dates back to millions of years following the eruption of the Bassin Blanc volcano – its ashes, which bear witness to that event, are unique in the world.
07 MAR- Thursday EAST TOUR
Proceed to Post de Flacq Shiv Sagar Mandir. Thereafter to T.D Douce Village.
Transfer by speed boat to Ile Aux Cerf’s Island.
Visit of the G.R.S.E waterfall
Lunch & drinks on the island
Enjoy the beach and waterfall. Water sports activities (Optional at an Additional Cost.)
EAST TOURS WITH ILE AUX CERFS, LUNCH, BOAT TRIP, VISIT TO WATERFALL
08 MAR- Friday DAY AT LEISURE
09 MAR- Saturday DEPART MAURITIUS
Early morning check out of hotel, pick up time is at 5:30 am transfers to SSR International Airport to board flight.
As you can see the itinerary was pretty busy but also had free days for one to relax or go exploring on their own.
Maha Shivarathri in Mauritius
The festival of Maha Shivarathri in Mauritius starts several days before the prayer.People from the various villages walk for days to get to Ganga Talao pulling chariots and singing praises to Lord Shiva.The actual day is a public holiday in Mauritius.Maha Shivarathri translated means the Great Night of Lord Shiva.The main prayer starts at 6pm and ends at 6am the next morning.Devotees stay up all night chanting and singing the praises of Lord Shiva.The Maha Shivarathri Pilgrimage is said to be the largest Hindu pilgrimage outside of India.
We arrived late that Saturday night in Mauritius ,as we made our way to our hotel all along the road were huge banners from various companies wishing all pilgrims a blessed Maha Shivarathri.Even though it was late the roads were so busy with pilgrims walking home ,carrying their chariots ,food stalls along the way feeding pilgrims.Instantly I started getting all emotional and teary eyed and knew I was meant to be here at this moment to experience this specific Maha Shivarathri.
After a late night arrival on Sunday we headed to see our family and visit some other temples.The journey took us much longer than expected but was worth every delay as I got to see so many beautiful chariots and see the devotions of hundreds of pilgrims.
On the morning of Maha Shivarathri we woke up really early to make our way to Ganga Talao or Grand Basson for the start of my pilgrimage.As mum had been before we were kinda prepared for what we had to do and take.I was too nervous to eat or drink anything besides some fruit juice ,I just wanted to get to Ganga Talao.
On route to Grand Basson our tour guide told us a few stories and myths around Ganga Taloa.One included a story of fairies washing their hair on small island within Ganga Talao and the area was them called Pari Talao (meaning place of fairies)
Another story was one of Lord Shiva and his female consort Mother Parvathi were roaming the earth when from.the sky she noticed a beautiful small island within an island.Mother Parvathi insisted on going down to explore while descending Mother Ganga found on Lord Shiva’s head fell into the lake at Grand Basson.Mother Ganga was most upset and lashed out at Lord Shiva telling him how could he leave her there when they both can not exist without each other.Lord Shiva then promised Mother Ganga that people would come there especially to see her and bring her to him in his form of the Lingam.
On the story of the Lingam ,the one here in Mauritius is very special as it is one of 13 Jyothi Lingams in the world.Eleven lingams are found in India while the other two are found in Nepal and Mauritius.
The last story was of a pundit who kept dreaming of a stone(Lingam) in water and Lord Shiva.He set off on a pilgrimage with a ģroup of friends to find this place of his dreams.On seeing this place he instantly knew the significance of his dream and after offering prayers at Ganga Talao he made his way home to his temple carrying some water from the lake.Nowdays pilgrims still do with some walking for days.
On arrival at Ganga Talao there was people everywhere and buses as far as the eye could see.Tents were set up with people distributing food and juice for all the pilgrims.Jayshree guided us to the lake.There was such a hive of activity with so many people all focusing on the same goal chanting the Lord’s name.
Around the lake are several small temples housing the various Hindu Gods as well as huge statutes.We made our way to find a place to pray and offer prayers for our loved ones.After this we had to collect a small bottle of the water so we could offer that inside the temple over the Lingam.By this time I was anxious ,nervous and just needed to be inside the temple.
We were guided into the temple and sat in front of the Lingam.Infront of us hundreds of people of all faiths,cultures and parts of the world were making their offering to Lord Shiva and asking him for what their hearts longed for.As I sat there I started silently and focusing on my conversation with Lord Shiva.It is believed on this special prayer the Lord grants his devotees whatever they are seeking.This moment of me sitting there was surreal and I could not believe I was actually here completing a pilgrimage I had been yearning for since 2010.
The punditji then lead us into prayers and devotional songs.The atmosphere was almost electric and filled with spiritual vibrations.In the punditji’s discourse he spoke about the fact that we each were there not but chance but because we were meant to be there to experience Maha Shivarathri.This reminded me of the fact that regardless of the plans we have other plans are in place for us and where our journey is meant to take us.My heart was filled with so much gratitude to actually experience this and with this came tears remembering loved ones we had lost.
We were taken inside the mandir to offer our prayer to the beautiful Jyothi Lingam.Having been inside on a previous trip this time the emotions were more intense.I had bought an offering of a sari for Lord Shiva to thank him for allowing me the privilege to complete this pilgrimage in my lifetime.The punditji did a special prayer with my offering and made me chant special mantras when his hand touched my head I felt a jolt of something run through my body.It was a feeling I can not actually put into words.By this time most of our group had finished their prayer and left.Mum and I patiently waited to offer our prayers and just stood there absorbing the energy around us.As we finished our prayer the punditji removed some Indian sweets off the Lingam and gave it to us.This was such a blessing to receive and my heart-felt happy and I got the confirmation that everything would be ok
As we walked out the temple we made our way to find our group and because we had our lanyard on,one of the other tour guides from the One Stop group spotted us.Selven took us to get something to eat and drink before safely taking us back to our taxi so we could make our way back to the hotel.
When we got back to the hotel there was just a lil time to rest,shower ,eat and get ready for the evening prayer.We opted to go to the South Indian Meenatchi Temple.This temple was utterly beautiful and again the spiritual vibrations could be felt.Young and old were decked out in their finest dress we noticed as we sat outside the temple watching the large projection screens what was going on inside the temple.I surprised myself as too how many of the prayers and chants I still knew from my childhood.It seemed this pilgrimage was a reminder to me of my faith ,my belief and my upbringing.
The more I think about my Maha Shivarathri Mauritius pilgrimage I know that the universe conspired with everyone and everything to bring me there.I left the island with a happy and grateful heart and so much of gratitude for Janet and Richi for affording me such a mind blowing experience.
Tips for Maha Shivarathri in Mauritius :
1.Book with an accredited company like One Stop.
2.For the morning prayer pilgrims dress in white.Traditional Indian clothing is suitable with shawl.
3.Wear flip flops or sandals that are easy to slip on or off.
4.Carry a small backpack and a plastic bag with you.
5.Get smaller notes for you to leave as offerings at the various temples around the lake.
6.Wear sunblock it gets very hot.
7.Remember drop of and pick up points.
8.Look out for people in your group incase you get lost.
9.Carry a small bottle of water.
10.Focus on your prayer and take in the beautiful experience.
During the trip I managed to chat to several people and was surprised to discover that so any of them do this pilgrimage to Mauritius annually with Richi.Richi and his team are beyond amazing looking after every pilgrim and making sure everything worked accordingly.The care and effort shown for everyone from the warm welcome at the airport to ensuring every single person was checked in safely inbound and outbound speaks volumes.One Stop is the only Travel agent who offers the Maha Shivarathri pilgrimage and now have put in place a payment plan so you can pay off your trip before you leave.
I highly recommend you book your Maha Shivarathri pilgrimage through One Stop Tours with :
Richi – +27 73 284 4443
Email – firstname.lastname@example.org
and do mention I sent you.
Would you ever consider going on a pilgrimage ?
Be Inspired !
#NB I was a hosted guest of both Mauritius Tourism and One Stop Travel & Tours as always my opinions are my own.