“I am here for a short vacation, but also keen to trace the roots of one of my ancestors”, says Ravi Prasad from Allahabad who after a hurricane tour of Australia is now slowing down with his family in the South Pacific island nation of Fiji. Like Mauritius, Trinidad and Kenya, Indians were brought in here by the British to work at the sugar plantations.
Subsequent to Fiji becoming a colony in 1874, the first batch of 450 Indians, mainly from Bengal and Bihar, arrived in 1879 and the last in 1916. By then the Indian population had grown to around 63000. To work in Fiji, the Indians then had to sign a contract called “girmt”, providing their services at the master’s farm for the first five years, followed by another five years of farming on their own on small plots of land leased from local Fijians. After ten years they were set free. However by then most of them got so used to the local climate and culture, that they decided to stay back, one of them being Ravi’s ancestor. The indenture system was terminated in 1920, but number of Indians kept soaring with the later arrivals of Gujarati and Sikh business people. Today descendants of the first generation Indian migrants constitute around 38% of Fiji’s population, though during the 1946 census the Indians marginally outnumbered the indigenous people.
Being located close to Australia, just 3000km northeast of Sydney, it’s becoming popular among Indians to add Fiji to the itinerary to enjoy a few days at a slower pace in company of sun, sea and sand; Indian heritage of the destination coming in as a bonus.
Fiji is an archipelago comprising of over 300 islands though only a mere 100 plus is currently occupied. Viti Levu and Vanua Levu are the two largest, occupied by 95% of Fiji’s 900000 residents. Nadi on the west coast of Viti Levu is the nation’s international gateway town while Suva dotted on the island’s south east corner is the capital.
Feels like India
The Indian settlements mushroomed around sugarcane farms and mills in Viti Levu around Nadi and nearby town of Lautoka, by virtue of which both these quarters display extensive Indian characters to make visiting Indians feel home sick. Wandering here I bump into men wearing kurtas and women attired in sari or salwar kameez, hear people speaking in Bhojpuri type Hindi, smell aroma of curries, eat hot samosas and pakoras and walk past shops selling Bollywood DVDs. Surely at times seems like roaming in a regional town in Bihar or Uttar Pradesh. Adding to the panorama are several temples, mosques and gurdwaras most important being the Siva Subrahmaniya Swami Temple, the ornamented gate of which dominates Nadi’s landscape. This is where I met Ravi.
The “Little India” element provides visitors an alternative attraction when they want a break from the sea and sand routine, which undoubtedly is the main lure for Fiji. So most tourists choose waterfront locations in Viti Levu or other secluded islands where luxury resorts offer all contemporary facilities to make the stay comfortable and relaxing.
What to do in Fiji
Do nothing is a great option for some holiday makers who really do nothing but eat, drink, read a book and keep looking at the turquoise blue ocean through the twilight as the sun sinks into it. Adventure-lovers fancy water sports like parasailing, waterskiing, snorkeling and kayaking while scuba divers jump into the water for an awesome experience of underwater scenery dominated by dazzling coral reefs and colourful marine life.
Exploring the natural beauty
Like many do, I explore some of Fiji’s picturesque islands on the west coast of Viti Levu by taking on a 4-night cruise aboard Fiji Princess, a boutique cruise ship operated by Blue lagoon Cruises. After departing from Denarau Island, Fiji’s top class resort hub near Nadi town, I soon get lost in a magical world where there is nothing under the deep blue sky but series of isolated, lush-green-rainforest covered islands surrounded by golden-yellow sand bordering the sea with stunning mountain ranges in the backdrop. The spectacular colour combination of blue, green and yellow soothe my urbanized eyes. We stop at a few islands – some totally uninhabited – some housing one or two Fijian villages where we experience their simple lifestyle elements. Brook Shields comes to mind, when around the islands, where the famous “Blue Lagoon” movie was filmed.
Interacting with the friendly Fijians
Fijians are very friendly, welcoming and tradition-oriented and all visitors during their stay get opportunities to relish things like fire dancing, “cava” drinking and sampling “lovo” feast where meat and vegetables are cooked in an underground oven. The Indo-Fijians by inheritance are also very traditional. They have retained many of their ancestral customs in food habits, ceremonies and religious rituals but have also developed respect for the indigenous culture. As a result we witness a happy melting pot, a harmonious living arrangement and a smile in everyone’s faces that get swept across our faces when leaving this dream destination.
Getting There: Fly Singapore Airlines (www.singaporeair.com) to Australia from where Qantas (www.qantas.com.au), Jetstar (www.jetstar.com) and Virgin Australia (www.virginaustralia.com) have regular flights to Nadi
Accommodation: Just 20 minutes drive from Nadi Airport, Denarau Island offers several resort style accommodation options from international brands like Sheraton, Westin, Hilton and Radisson Blu.
Indian Cuisine: There are several Indian restaurants throughout Fiji for those who fancy desi food; Indigo ( http://www.indigofiji.com) at Denarau Island is highly rated
Island Cruise: Blue Lagoon Cruises (www.bluelagooncruises.com)