Where “Bula” instantly makes you feel at home: FIJI

You can find white sandy beaches, palm tree-lined shores, crystal clear waters and sunny blue skies at several places in the world, but not if you think of combining that with the happy, warm and hospitable vibes of the locals.

That’s available in Fiji in galore, where the “Bula” greeting instantly makes you feel welcome and at home.

Based on that, the island nation is calling out for more Indians to come calling. Faiyaz Koya, the country’s Minister for Industry, Trade and Tourism is hopeful that with the appointment of Bollywood actress Ileana D’Cruz as Tourism Fiji’s brand ambassador in India, there will be a rise in visitors from the country.

India and Fiji, he said, share a long-standing relationship of celebrating cultural diversity and common values.

“Fiji and India share a deep historical bond and our Prime Minister has met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi many times to discuss ways in which we can continue to work closely together,” Koya said following a visit by this correspondent to the island when the minister was unavailable.

As Koya pointed out, the confluence of culture in Fiji — a tapestry of indigenous Fijian, Indian, European, Chinese and other nationalities — has created a unique national identity. To sample this, tourists are coming in from all over the world, especially from closer destinations like Australia and New Zealand.

For travellers coming in from India, it’s a long, arduous journey — nothing less than a day. But the bonhomie of live Fijian music while you wait for your turn at the immigration line at the Nadi airport takes the exhaustion away.

Koya admits “proximity and competition from cheaper destinations” continue to be key challenges in boosting tourism from India. But while the national carrier Fiji Airways has made travel out of Asia easier by opening up direct flights to Singapore, he said the Indian market has seen a steady increase, at an average growth of 13 per cent over the last 5 years.

Koya said Fiji is open to investment in its tourism industry and that they are very keen to have some of the top Indian brands set up here.

“Fiji has more than 300 islands worth of adventure, rich and vibrant culture and warm and friendly people. Our picturesque and natural environment make the long journey worthwhile and the stay sweeter,” he said.

It sure does.

“What is this life if full of care; we have no time to stand and stare,” Welsh poet W.H. Davies had questioned in the poem “Leisure”.

In Fiji, you have all the time to “stand and stare” at the bountiful natural beauty and more.

“In Fiji, No hurry, No worry,” the locals will tell you, reminding you there’s a life beyond deadlines and sticking to time-tables.

You learn to breathe, to soak in the scenes, including the calmness of the sea, the soothing lush green landscapes, the beauty of the blue sky, the splashing waves and even the eerie sound of stridulating crickets at night when a blanket of stars in the sky is enough for company.

For the more adventurous travellers, the archipelagic state has experiences galore on sea, underwater, land and air. For someone who doesn’t even know how to swim too well, the Fijian waters tempt you to forget the fears and take a plunge. A look at the Split Rock — considered the best snorkelling spot in Savusavu Bay — can leave you asking for more views of marine life, especially if it’s your first time.

As for daring options, there’s a shark dive in Pacific Harbour and sky diving opportunities too.

Interestingly, there are a plethora of eco-friendly resorts that help create sustainable tourism benefitting the environment apart from the country’s economy. Guests can take part in conservation programmes like coral planting which help leave the environment in a better condition and make a difference.

Some resorts in Fiji are as big as a small town. In Pacific Harbour, there’s the world-renowned Nanuku Resort, where a villa is no less than a dream house.

In Savusavu, the Namale Resort and Spa, which attracts the best names from Hollywood and the fashion world, is spread across 525 acres of tropical beauty in the northern island of Vanua Levu. You can trek to a waterfall and enjoy a picnic here or kayak away.

For those who want to enjoy a truly tropical lifestyle; the Savasi Island Resort, also in Vanua Levu, gives you complete privacy with rooms and villas tucked in a dense jungle.

What sets the overall experience apart is how the hotels’ staff members remember your name from the moment you tell them to the moment you leave. And all you can say is “Vinaka” — the traditional thank you.

By Radhika Bhirani