As I looked out of the underwater window of the semi submarine in Mahe, all I saw was the azure water of the Indian Ocean. It calmed me, gave me hope in this uncertain and challenging time of COVID-19. A few seconds later, there was a flurry of activity. A shoal of scissortail sergeants had come swimming near the window. They were so close that I could count the five distinct black bands on each of their white bodies.
I smiled under my mask. My marine adventure in the reef of Seychelles had just begun. As the semi submarine cruised deeper into the fascinating reef, myriad corals became visible. The brain coral resembling a human brain and finger corals shaped in the form of fingers greeted me as I caught a fleeting glimpse of a butterflyfish. Seaweed and seagrass could be spotted from the comfortable interiors of our air conditioned observatory, which had a seating capacity of 14 guests. While the starfish and long spine urchin eluded me on this
excursion, a comet fish more than made up for their absence. Green turtle, hawksbill turtle and squids have also been sighted on previous tours of the maritime vessel which can go till depths of 10 metres.
Without snorkeling or scuba diving, experiencing the thrill of this adventure was exhilarating specially since it let me soak in the cool fresh ocean breeze as I stood on deck, admiring the panoramic views of Mahe before heading down to the underwater observatory. I didn’t even realize when the hour was up and we were back at the marina.
Still heady from the rejuvenating adventure, it was time for a drive to the tea factory. As the car drove uphill on the smooth winding road, a scenic pit stop was made at Sans Soucis to get a 360 degrees view of Mahe.
Eden Island, where I had experienced the underwater excursion, took centre stage with its red roofed luxury apartments and villas while boats and yachts’ sailing on the Indian Ocean dotted the forested cover of neighbouring islands.
There was a pleasant nip in the air by the time we reached the Seychelles Trading Company (STC) Tea Factory where a large teapot and cup displayed on the lush lawn welcomed us. During the tea tour, one learns about Bill Henderson who was a tea planter from Kenya. He is regarded as the pioneer of Seychelles Tea.
In 1962, 300 acres were chosen for tea planting on Mahe and four years later, the tea factory was built. Manufacturing under the brand SeyTe, Seychellois tea is still produced according to the orthodox way using pre-war seedling tea. The tea factory shop was selling vanilla tea, black tea, strawberry tea, mint tea, lemon tea and cinnamon tea, ending my search for souvenirs.
A short distance from the tea factory was a quaint viewing lodge. I sat in its wooden gazebo on a wooden bench soaking in the stunning view. Gazing at the endless ocean and lush forest cover, the inner and outer turmoil caused by COVOD-19 faded away.
I was able to identify Mt. Harrison, Anse Louis Beach, Anse La Mouche Beach, Bardeau Estate and Morne Blanc Base. This Insta-perfect location was where Queen Elizabeth II drank tea on March 20, 1972. Britannia, the royal yacht had docked in Seychelles on the same day. The Queen along with her husband, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, cut the ribbon for the Seychelles International Airport and then proceeded to inaugurate the lodge. Her having tea at the venue was a highlight of the trip.
Close to the viewing lodge is Venn’s Town, Mission Ruins which is a historic site. This heritage site was given the name of Venn’s Town by Reverend William Bartlett Chancellor, the founder and first superintendent. The town is also known as Venus Town and Mission Lodge. Its missionary school educated was attended by children of liberated slaves. The 20 boys and 17 girls were taught stories from the Bible, gardening and carpentry. The town initially also had two dormitories, a missionary house, kitchen and washrooms.
Other than their ruins, I saw flora like Honduras Mahogany and Chinese Guava while endemic fauna like Seychelles scops owl have been sighted.
As I walked back to the car, I thought of how quickly time had flown and my memorable trip had ended. With a heavy heart, I bid good bye to Mahe where I had indulged in history, heritage and adventure.
The nearest airport is Seychelles International Airport located on Mahe Island and there are flights from Mumbai to Mahe.
Where to Stay
Constance Ephelia is a luxury green globe certified hotel. It is located on two pristine beaches of Mahe, encompasses a mangrove forest and overlooks the Port Launay marine national park.
Things to See and Do
Take a city tour of Victoria which is the capital of Seychelles.
Visit the Morne Seychellois National Park to spot native flora and fauna.
Learn about traditional Creole crafts at Domaine de Val des Près- craft village on Mahe.
Book a Creole lunch at Jardin Du Roi Spice Garden and stroll in its spice and fruit garden and click yourself with Aldabra giant tortoises.
Images courtesy: Shutterstock & Khursheed Dinshaw.