Top spots in Mauritius: Ganga Talao
High above sea level in the highland plains of Mauritius, Ganga Talao is a serene and beautiful crater lake and pilgrimage site for the island’s Hindu population. The lake, also known as Grand Bassin, sits in the isolated mountains of the Savanne district, deep in the Mauritian hinterland. During the festival of Maha Shivaratri many Shiva devotees walk barefoot from their homes to the lake and the pale pink temple complex dedicated to Lord Shiva that sits upon its shore.
As the most sacred Hindu destination on the island, Ganga Talao draws the faithful year round, who come to pray, chant, meditate and make offerings. But the idyllic setting makes it popular with tourists too, who enjoy a stroll or jog around the lake path, watching the local monkeys at play, or simply taking in the peaceful atmosphere and views. Though no-one knows for sure, the lake is thought to be around 50–60 feet deep and is teeming with a healthy population of fish and eels – no doubt due to the leftover offerings they receive from Hindu pilgrims – though it is strictly forbidden to fish here due to its sacred nature.
A sacred vision
In local folklore, the lake’s history as a pilgrimage site goes back to 1887, when a Triolet ‘pujari’, or priest, had a dream in which he saw the lake’s water springing from the river Jahnavi, another name for the goddess Ganga. News of this vision spread rapidly throughout the community, and when the priest subsequently visited the site with other people he found it looked exactly as it had in his dream. Every year since then, bare footed pilgrims have trekked to the lake at the time of Maha Shivaratri, helped along the way by local people offering food and moral support en route. Upon arrival, they leave gifts and offerings by the lakeshore and huge statue of the Hindu god Shiva, which was unveiled in 2007 and remains the tallest statue in Mauritius at 108 feet high.
Visiting the lake
Ample parking, lakeside seating and toilet facilities are provided at the lake, and entry to the site is free, though donations for the upkeep and maintenance of the temples are always welcome. Remember to remove your shoes before entering any of the temples, and if you have more time to spare you can combine your visit with other nearby attractions such as the Bois Cheri Tea Plantation.