Romanticizing the island off the coast of Mauritius – The New Indian Express

Express Message Service

Unexplored and unspoilt with powder-white beaches and knee-deep emerald waters, Flat Island is a 253-acre volcanic preserve. It is one of the largest northern islands on the edge of the East African country of Mauritius, which is itself just a speck in the Indian Ocean.

Many Indian travelers are unaware that they are re-enacting a historic journey on their trip to Flat Island unless they set foot inside the Aapravasi Ghat, the now-restored remaining part of a former immigration depot. “The contract workers brought in from India were quarantined in the northern islands of Mauritius,” says Meenakshi, one of the guides at Aapravasi Ghat, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Aapravasi Ghat is located on Trou Fanfaron Bay in Port Louis, the capital of Mauritius. As early as 1829 it is the landing point of nearly half a million Indians who had signed a treaty with employers in search of land just a short distance from northern India, but were instead sent on a long, arduous sea voyage.

Those who survived the journey from India ended up here at the immigration depot in Marich Desh when Mauritius was then approached by the contractors bringing in the workers. These workers were referred to as “indentured” – a brilliant term for cheap labor coined by none other than the British, as opposed to “slaves” shortly after the abolition of slavery. The period between the 1830s and early 1900s is known as the “Age of the Indentured”.

breeding birds on the island

The contract laborers, after landing in Mauritius, embarked on a 16-step flight to reach better views at present-day Aapravasi Ghat, only to be cooped up with thousands of others in space-constrained barracks with deplorable sanitation for filing immigration procedures.
The immigration procedures were then followed by a medical investigation, during which those suspected of having cholera, malaria and other communicable diseases were sent to quarantine at Flat Island, which was delegated to act as a quarantine station, known locally as the Lazaretto.

At the lazaretto, the indentured Indian workers were joined by their colleagues from China and Africa. Faced with miserable facilities and grim living conditions, many died within the first few months of their arrival. Those who survived went to the many sugar cane plantations operated by the colonists on mainland Mauritius for pittance. Hence, much of the prosperity of Mauritius was a sweat and blood labor of these migrants and their descendants, particularly the Amerindians.

The Indentured Age also left its mark on the island in the form of structural remains and a working lighthouse, built on a 100-metre hilltop in the 1850s. These add to the island’s historical association with Indian immigrants in Mauritius. Today, tourists and travelers in catamarans, motor boats and yachts flock to the former Lazaretto Ile Plate to enjoy its natural beauty and hunt for rare butterflies. Overnight stays are not allowed as these are protected nature reserves, but the boat operators will often arrange a barbecue lunch at an additional cost.

Along with their counterpart on the southeastern side of Gabriel Island, separated by a lagoon, are the islets
also home to rare endemic flora and fauna. Bird watchers will love Flat Island is home to three endemic seabird species: white- and red-tailed tropicbirds and wedge-tailed shearwaters. A delight indeed when these birds fly against a blue sky and mischievously kiss the tip of the emerald water.

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