Butterfly Island in the Caribbean beckons Indians

Pointe-à-Pitre (Guadeloupe), June 16 (IANS) From nature lovers to history buffs to those who wish to get away 'far from the madding crowd', picturesque Guadeloupe in the French Caribbean with a large Indian immigrant population has it all.

Discovered by Christopher Columbus during his second voyage to America in November 1493, 'I'ile Papillon' or the 'Butterfly Island" as it's nicknamed now, beckons India as the 45,000 strong Indian community seeks to renew its links with the land of its forefathers.

"We are aware that for Indian government and people diaspora is important," Hilaire Brudey, deputy president of Guadeloupe tourism board told visiting Indian media outlining the islands' plans to engage the Indian market next

year.

"We have all the strengths to attract Indian tourists," he said given the natural beauty ofGuadeloupe's varied terrain, national parks, mountains, beaches as also the large Indian community for whom family ties are very important.

Guadeloupe also offers not luxury but good accommodation, Brudey said. But acknowledged there were a couple of issues too. Language is one as everyone speaks French. Connectivity is another making travel expensive.

Given these constraints, "our target is not either the masses or the luxury market, but the higher income bracket with enough money," said Brudey.

But the "Indian market is a priority market for us and we have been engaged with Indian companies to develop a strategy," he said.

An archipelago of nine big and small islands with Grand-Terre and Basse-Terre separated by Rivière Salée, a narrow mangrove channel, making its two butterfly wings, Guadeloupe offers visitors a blend of natural beauty, French history and Creole culture.

Reflecting a quaint fact of history is the island of Saint Martin shared by the French and the Dutch. International travellers fly into 'Sint Maarten', as the Dutch half, is called and drive over to the French side to take a small plane to Guadeloupe proper.

Pointe-à-Pitre, the island's main city on the eastern wing of Grande-Terre, is a picture of contrasts with its open-air marketplaces reflecting a riot of colours and smells and the modern Centre Saint-John Perse competing with the best in the US.

Grande-Terre has an abundance of beautiful beaches and many fascinating sights too like the rocky formations of Pointe des Chateaux, in the extreme East, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean Sea meet.

While Grande-Terre is low limestone formation, Guadeloupe's western wing of Basse-Terre composed of volcanic mounts and ridges is high and rugged.

The national park, a tropical forest spread over one fifth of Guadeloupe's terrain is an ecological wonderland with the still active volcano of La Soufrière, spewing steam and wisps of sulphur vapour, and spectacular waterfalls of Chutes du Carbet.

The capital city of Basse-Terre, with its historic fortification of Fort Delgrès dating from 1643, is dotted with imposing monuments: the prefecture, the general council, and the court house, all majestic reminders of the island's colonial past.

The Columbus Memorial in Sainte Marie marks the spot where Columbus landed. Another attraction close to Capesterre is the Chansy Hindu temple with its bright white walls with colourfully painted sculptures of Hindu gods.

No tour of Guadeloupe is complete without a visit to Vieux-Habitants' Coffee Museum telling the story of coffee since its introduction on the island in 1720.

Here one can have a taste of Guadeloupe's famed Café Chaulet, or perhaps a blend of Indian coffee with a bite of delectable chocolates dreamed up by master Swiss master chocolatier Marianne Paux.

(Arun Kumar can be contacted at arun.kumar@ians.in)