India's premier luxury lifestyle women's magazine
July 26, 2008

In Her Shoes

Text by Vinod Advani

It’s a makeover with a twist as Vinod Advani thinks and indulges like a woman at one of Mauritius’s most exotic luxe havens

Why don’t you become a woman, Vinod,” suggests  an editor of India’s trendiest magazine. In that cajoling request, I notice the firm use of the transitive in-transit verb. Become. Not just think like a woman, not just feel like a woman, but be a woman!

Three curvaceous blondes in colourful bikinis are right now walking across my vision. At Taj Exotica I have the best view in all of Mauritius. Picture this. Me in a monokini. Languidly lying in an elevated chaise-longue, fruit cocktail to my right. At 9.46 in the morning. Breakfast has been served in my villa.

Kiwi, passion fruit, papaya chunks. Herb omlette of egg-whites only, freshly squeezed jus d’orange, brown bread toasts, Beerenberg honey from far-way Adelaide Hills, and green tea consumed. Remnants are being greedily eyed by birds of a colourful plumage. A ladylike burp later, my eyes skim from the clear waters of my private swimming pool ( please note, pool, not pond) over the silver sands of my private beach to the light aquamarine waves lapping on the shore to the Paul Newman eyes-deep-blue waters of my private ocean.

Thought one. If you want your husband/lover/Svengali to be a worthy sugar daddy, you now know where to rent your own private ocean. Thought two. Should I get my legs waxed this afternoon? Shave my trademark VanDyke beard off? Add a dash of botox to my butt? Will I think, feel, become a woman?

Natural woman, Kelly Chondon, with all the wisdom of her Tibetan heritage, has it all worked out. She is the Mistress of the Spa and what she decrees, goes. “It’s the doctor for you,” commands Kelly and introduces me to resident Ayurveda doctor Abhilash Haridas, recently arrived from Kerala’s backwaters. A half-an-hour consultation ensues, which includes checking my BP and the good doctor advises the Ayurvedic Abhayanga to combat jet lag and remove fatigue. I compliment the doctor on being such a caring person. He blushes and confesses, “I recently got married.”

My clothes divested and bath-robed, I am led to the massage room by a handsome masseur, Dibashish from Kolkata. For 90 minutes, my body is oiled and stroked, gently and firmly. Rejuvenated, I open my eyes and compliment my mustachioed masseur on his sensuous fingers. He blushes and confides, “I recently got married and my wife works here as a masseuse too.” All I need now is to make one more man blush for a hat-trick!

My beautiful makeover from Vinod to Vinee continues. Kelly’s lined up a Rasa – poetically referred to as the essence of life. This signature facial is described by Jiva’s expressive brochure as integrating techniques designed to take you to new depths of relaxation. The copywriter was obviously a man. Pfff. And a pssshaw! For 90 mins, my face is first cleansed, exfoliated, massaged and moisturised. Then a therapeutic mask is glopped on to my face which is supposed to erase all noticeable wrinkles. “I feel like a new man, errr, woman, I feel tingly on my face,” I go fumbling and bumbling in my womanly expressions to Nishta, the fantabulist facialist, who does not blush. In her reprimand lies a message that a woman, never but never, comes late for a facial. “Had you come on time and not an hour late, I would have given you a longer facial.” Probably would have quietly out-facialised my beard too!

SPA. Salut Per Acqua. Health Through Water. A beauty treatment that originated in Greece some four thousand years ago, which was then perfected and mastered by the pleasure-loving Romans. Around the same time probably, the early Indus Valley Civilisation had similar thoughts on beauty and rejuvenation. Both streams of consciousness come together in the Vishuddi signature treatment. A lavish exfoliation treatment that also serves to stimulate the circulation of blood. I can immediately feel a stream of purity coursing through my veins. Then a herbal wrap cocoons me, from which I emerge, feeling like a butterfly.

Birds and butterflies have been visitor to my villa’s garden and pool. Red breasted sparrows, dainty grey pigeons, crested songsters, seduced by my offerings of cashew nuts and breakfast remnants, chirping songs of  ‘I’m hungry too’.  Must get the husband and kids to this nature trip. Heck, what husband and kids? Would be unwise to get carried away.

A wiser woman knows the way to her heart is through a chef’s magic fingers. Especially if he’s a Southie hunk called Ashfer Biju. Whom all the Eurowomen called Bijou. In French that means jewel. Dentistry’s loss is cuisine’s gain. “I hated the thought of a career that would mean a lifetime of looking into people’s cavities. Ugh,” shudders the chef who would be India’s very own Tetsuya.

Biju’s talent for invention does invite comparison with the revered Japanese chef whose Sydney restaurant is mecca for foodies. Given time and the right place, I predict Biju to become equally renowned, if of course, he keeps his feet grounded.

And his head fully informed with philosophies and traditions of ethnic cuisines. At Taj Exotica, Biju conjures up a range of cuisines. North African, Lebanese, Greek, Turkish even Hyderabadi and South Indian. “You will see that Mauritian cuisine is as colourful as its cultural diversity. Spices that were brought in from India blend with French style long simmered stews. Traditional Chinese food has been given a local touch and thus has evolved a Sino-Mauritian cuisine,” explains Biju in his effervescent manner.

I had two very special degus-tations arranged in my honour. One was a longish lunch of delectable Creole cuisine. Grilled prawns on a slice of smoked marlin layered with palm heart salad. Tian of papaya and avocado, marinated in sesame oil – a Chinese influence. Tomato crab soup done bouillabaisse style. That was for starters. Two mains. A baked captain-blanc fish smothered by a Napolitaeno sauce flavoured with paprika and curry leaves. Yum was the lobster Vindaye (Vindaloo/Vin D’ail).

The second was the Cilantro Asian dining experience. The exotic sequence included shaved tuna and scallop chips in chilled lemon grass broth with green apple, red peppers, green onions and Thai chilli. Black pepper king prawns, grilled pineapple, daikon and chervil. Hyderabadi Shikampuri kebab – pan fried ground lamb patties with a yoghurt filling, which tasted absolutely divine. Black Cod marinated in Japanese sweet miso sauce.  East Indian style rack of lamb in yoghurt and mustard sauce complemented by a fiery Thai lamb ‘Patani’ served with sesame ginger fried rice. The sommelier had done a great job of accompanying these flavours with wines. I was specially intrigued by a Lebanese full bodied red wine.

Even writers like me can run out of adjectives. So I’ll just mention two words: Symphonic! Orgasmic! Both related. Symphony for the senses is the way Bijou presents each signature dish, the visual composition enhanced by the seductive aromas. The orgasm follows later, when you’ve put a morsel in your dainty mouth and closed your eyes.

With eyes wide open, when Mark Twain visited L’Ile Maurice, he remarked in his book, Following The Equator, how the islanders flamboyantly describe the beauty of the island. ‘One gets the impression that God first created Mauritius and then Paradise, which was a copy!’ I spent five days in paradise at the Taj Exotica. I can still feel my memory tingle with delight.

10 must-dos at the Taj Exotica

  • Start your day on a steroid. Yoga session with Dibhashish.
  • Order breakfast on your private beach. A teeny weeny flute of champagne with their version of masala dosa. Replicate a Queen Elizabeth-like wave to boats that glide past.
  • Remember Free Willy? Go swimming with the dolphins. Dive in or just watch them spin and cavort.
  • Get a half-hour foot reflexology at the spa, while waiting for face mask to set.
  • Now that your face feels like a baby’s bottom, drink a wild berry smoothie at the Streakers Bar. Follow up with lunch at Coast 2 Coast next door. Dig into the Creole baked captain fish.
  • A siesta is so sussegado. Curl up under the sun umbrella. Do pranayama breathing. Float like a cloud.
  • Time for retail therapy. The hotel limousine will whizz you for shopping to the nearby village of Tamarin. Get branded.
  • Constitutional calls. Go for a long barefoot walk on the beach. Breathing balanced, blow a kiss to the spectacular sunset.
  • Dress smart for dinner. Sharpen appetite with a dry martini or a flute of Billecart Salmon Rose champagne.
  • At Cilantro, indulge in their seven course, light-on-the-tummy degustation menu. In your luxurious bed finally, shut your eyes and dream of angels.

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