Thursday, 13 August 2015

The future of... Energy Conservation

"More Kirk than Spock" announced an article in the The Economist last May. It was describing how macroeconomic models assume people come from the Star Trek planet Vulcan - exercising cold logic and maximising utility at every stage. But how real people, in the real world, behave quite differently. 

It appears that Behavioural research has been established at the scale of micro-economics but is still fighting to gain traction at the macro-level. Interestingly, governments appear to be waking up to the importance of behavioural insights faster than macro-economic theorists. As the article states:

The British government, for one, set up a behavioural-insights team to make policy more effective. It is now accepted that the way choices are offered does affect decisions, such as asking people to opt out of rather than into pension schemes or organ donation. The effect on take-up is substantial which should not be the case if individuals were perfectly rational.

This “nudge” approach works elsewhere. Fixing parking tickets to car windows with bright orange stickers (rather than a piece of paper under the windscreen-wiper) attracts the attention of passing cars and makes drivers less inclined to park illegally, because the risk of being caught seems higher. Writing to delinquent taxpayers and telling them that most fellow-citizens have paid up makes them more likely to cough up too.

Behavioural insight is also the basis of theories in criminology like the one about "Broken Windows". It states that signs of urban disorder promotes anti-social behaviour. So if one repairs broken windows within a short time, vandals are less likely to indulge in further anti-social behaviour by breaking more windows or causing further damage. Actual field studies like the ones by the University of Groningen proved the case. An envelope visibly containing a €5 note hanging out of a mailbox was stolen much more often when the mailbox was covered in graffiti and the area around it was littered.

An experiment by a professor of psychology, Robert Cialdini, studied how behavioural insight could be used to make people save energy. As the article in the New York Times describes:  

In one San Diego suburb, Cialdini's team went door to door, ringing the doorknobs with signs about energy conservation. There were four types of signs, and each home received one randomly, every week, for a month. The first sign urged the homeowner to save energy for the environment's sake; the second said to do it for future generations' benefit. The third sign pointed to the cash savings that would come from conservation.   

The fourth sign featured Cialdini's trick: "The majority of your neighbors are undertaking energy saving actions every day."... At the end of the month, Cialdini and his team read the homes' meters. They compared the four types of homes to other homes that had received no signs at all. The only sign that made a difference was the one about the neighbors.   

It appears that (illogical) behaviour matching a "Follow the Herd" mentality or "Keeping up with the Joneses" is more compelling to people than all the common sense/logic based actions including the most self-serving - saving cold hard cash. Humans would clearly never be Spock.
But as Cialdini demonstrated, governments could still try to manipulate people's behaviour (rational or irrational) to reduce energy use just as they are attempting to reduce crime with the Broken Windows policy. As respondents in a study on smart meters pointed out, real-time metering combined with time-of-day pricing would probably have an effect on people's behaviour. Presumably, watching their "Meter Ticking" and costs increasing would stress individuals enough to modify their behaviour. But even if the effort to reduce energy consumption is a success, one very tricky question remains - 

Does reducing energy consumption actually conserve energy?

On the face of it, this question may seem a bit absurd and a no-brainer. Yet there are scholars, even well-established government advisor types, who argue differently. One of them, Arik Levinson, was featured in a podcast last May (a few days before The Economist article) by the authors of the book "Freakonomics". In it he described how energy efficiency regulations weren't really that efficient. One of the reasons cited was the "Rebound Effect". 

Behavioural tendencies is again at the core of this theory that explains why energy efficiency gains may paradoxically result in increases in energy use. For example, when a person has a more fuel-efficient car, they may end up driving more because each kilometre of travel becomes cheaper. This then results in no net energy being conserved - or conversely, even more energy consumed. The phenomenon was observed in Victorian times:

The rebound effect was first described by William Stanley Jevons in his 1865 book The Coal Question, where he observed that the invention in Britain of a more efficient steam engine meant that the use of coal became economically viable for many new uses. This ultimately led to increased coal demand and much increased coal consumption, even as the amount of coal required for any particular use fell. According to Jevons, "It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth."

In the podcast, Levinson discussed his paper on "How Much Energy Do Building Energy Codes Really Save?" His conclusion based on data - none or not very much. He speculated on the reasons in his paper but his essential point on the podcast was that energy efficiency is now the central mandate of the U.S. government's climate change policy while it doesn't actually reduce energy consumption and the Earth continues to warm and carbon emission continues to increase.

Levinson's study was subsequently criticised by a few agencies including Energy Innovation LLC. They pointed out that the analysis was fundamentally flawed since it considered only electricity use and not natural gas which is commonly used for space heating and water heating in the state being studied (California) - and which has seen reduction after implementation of the energy codes. Even for electricity consumption, it was considered solely for lighting, appliances, personal electronics, etc. and not for electric HVAC and water heating systems which, again, saw more impact from building codes.

The Pacific Northwest National Laboratory found in their nationwide study of the U.S. that 69% of building code savings in 2012 were in the commercial sector and only 31% in the residential sector. About 80% of those commercial savings were in electricity. Yet Levinson did not look at commercial usage of electricity only selected residential use. A third commentator, looking very closely at Levinson's hypothesis and methods, pithily wrote: 

...the paper was evidently written in a format that listeners to the Freakonomics podcast would like. This format is based on the narrative: "You thought that the answer was A, but OMG, really the answer turns out to be B." Note the use of the word "really" in this script, since Levinson employs it in the title...

Evidently, pandering to the crowd is problematic. 

Yet something in all the refutations is clear. Regardless of Levinson's methodology (or lack thereof), they all acknowledge that energy consumption by individual electrical appliances has increased, the number of electrical appliances in a household have increased and that house sizes, in general, have increased. This factor (even neglecting the first two) would have definitely increased energy consumption so the Rebound Effect appears to be confirmed. 

In fact, the Building Energy Codes have achieved the energy efficiency they were supposed to by simply maintaining energy consumption at pre-code levels even where usage has shot up. This means that Levinson's data appears to prove that they do work and are efficient. 

So his hypothesis in the paper is likely wrong (building energy codes do contribute to energy efficiency) and his hypothesis in the podcast is likely right (energy efficiency does not necessarily translate to reduction in net energy consumption). All of which leaves one to ponder as to whether Energy Conservation is truly ever achievable for humankind or will always be a pipe dream.
Postscript / October 2015: Mauritius is a classic example of the "herd" mentality for installing (or rather not installing) fans. The island has beautiful weather and most parts remain between the temperature of 20°C/ 68°F and 29°C/ 84°F through the year. The weather is so agreeable here that unlike most tropical countries, it was never the norm to install ceiling fans in buildings even after electricity had come into common use. Yet most new homes today are being built directly with Air-conditioning to "keep up" with the international market. 

This happens when herds of tourists and expats arrive on a tropical island from temperate zones, and want the temperature to be 18°C at all times. And locals give in and follow. The weather in Mauritius remains beautiful, the sun warm and the sea breeze cool, humidity levels mild - and everything still well-suited for the use of ceiling fans. But these were never part of the Mauritian lifestyle and now the aspiration is for AC.
Rental apartment Curepipe with AC -

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Light-rail De-railed

Back in early 2013, a blog entry was posted here about the history of trains in Mauritius including a charming documentary. The post was about how the original network gradually fell out of use and how a new transit system would bring back trains to the island. At the time the post was written, studies were being undertaken for feasability.

By mid-2014, the government had decided that it was feasible and the Light Rail Transit (LRT) system became an important component of the national integrated transport system. The detailed design was underway and all details available on the Ministry of Public Infrastructure website

There was to be a nearly 25km. long line with 13 stations in the main Plaines Wilhelm conurbation of Curepipe, Phoenix, Vacoas and Quatre Bornes. Much of the LRT or Métro Leger would use the alignment of the standard gauge Mauritius Government Railways’ Midland Line (which closed in 1964) and serve existing central station sites in town centres. 

At peak hour, the light rail would take one from Curepipe to Port Louis in 32 minutes through 13 stations and carry 6000 passengers per hour per direction.  It was estimated that the system would transport 96,000 passengers per day so about 10% of the total population of Mauritius.

By October 2014, it was a 37km. long line with 20 stations and all was on track. The Ministry of Public Infrastructure had called for a tender and awarded the contract to a partnership - India-based construction firm Afcons and Spanish manufacturer CAF. The Indian government rather helpfully provided a Line of Credit for the project of USD 600 million and the remaining USD 250 million was to be raised on the local market.

But then in December, the light rail came to a crashing halt. Elections were held and the incumbents decisively voted out. The new government was elected with an anti-corruption mandate and put everything on review. In January 2015, the government programme for 2015-2019 was presented and  somewhere at the bottom of the list was the item:

- New Land Transport system for rapid access and connectivity throughout the country (Decongestion Programme; shelving of Light Rail Transit project)

The LRT had been quietly abandoned in favour of more road building. 

However, as the summer of 2015 continued, February and March saw a record amount of rainfall. New roads already commissioned developed cracks and had to be closed. One was blocked by a landslide. Traffic, particularly through Port Louis, got progressively worse. What seemed most apparent to even casual observers was that Mauritius, in fact, needed both an extension of the Land Transport System i.e. roads - as well as an extension of the Public Transport System beyond only buses. It was not a case of either/or.

Images: L' (Feb 19, 2015)
For a tiny island of only 1.2million people occupying an area of about 2000 square kilometres and positioning itself as a regional hub and economic powerhouse (the investment 'Gateway to Africa'), it does seem to be strange that a significant portion of the working population now spends nearly 2 hours a day everyday in traffic with no respite in view.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Thursday, 25 June 2015

The future of... Literacy

Education is defined as the act or process of imparting or acquiring general knowledge, developing the powers of reasoning and judgment, and generally of preparing oneself or others intellectually for mature life. 
Literacy is to have the ability to read and write. Functional Literacy can be defined as the ability to read with true comprehension as well as to advance to higher levels of education.

The 2 states, of being educated and being literate, are frequently conflated but can actually be mutually exclusive. For example - many traditional occupations in India like building masons, carpenters, artisans and so on have inherited their knowledge from previous generations through word of mouth, training and practice. They are well-educated in their field of expertise and can earn a living from it. 

Kakuben Jivan Ranmal working with other textile artisans at the 
Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) Trade Facilitation Center, India, 2010
Image: SEWA
Many of them are also illiterate, lacking the ability to write their name and signing with a thumbprint instead. Virtually all of them can count and do mental arithmetic but may not be able to actually write down numbers and calculations.

To delve deeper into the anatomy of illiteracy, one can consider the case of the street-side booksellers present in every city and town in India. Some are illiterate and some can read their native language. However they all stock material in  English. So how does an illiterate bookseller find the publication that a customer is looking for if they can't read the titles? 

The question was posed to one such lady who used to operate a large road-side book and magazine depot on the street outside the Indian Institute of Management (IIM) in Ahmedabad. She had arrived in the city from her village not knowing a word of any language except her native Gujarati and completely illiterate. Most of her stock was in English for the students from IIM who came from all over the country. The institute also hosted foreign students occasionally which may be why she also had books in German and French. Of course, she couldn't read herself so it was all Greek to her.

Second-hand bookseller on Pycrofts Road, Chennai

She had learned to recognise the names of the books and authors as images or Pictograms. She knew what the words "Frederick Forsyth" written in Latin script looked like as a picture even written in different fonts and colours - and she could then retrieve his books. Essentially what she was doing was recognising symbols or icons just as computer-literate folks have learned to associate the icon of an envelope with emails.

Also, the illiterate lady bookseller would have no problems whatsoever operating touch screen interfaces which are usually all icons and few words. She would be able to use apps which were voice-based and could speak into the phone to automatically transliterate and send texts and emails. Articles & books would be read to her using the common functionality provided for the visually-impaired. And, of course, she could always "read" audio-books. 
The humble thumb-print that she uses to sign all her legal documents as an illiterate citizen is now being used by the most tech-savvy folks to unlock their computers and enter their buildings. Online & offline technologies are all working towards perfecting digital signatures to remove just this very need to have someone physically "sign" their name. Yet one of the basic tests for literacy is the ability to sign one's name.

To that end, what modern technology has done is quite astonishing. Being illiterate is no longer any barrier to using information technology even when the user can neither read nor write information. One can even claim that technology appears to be perfectly designed for use by the illiterate and may even be encouraging illiteracy. If she has access to a touch-screen phone, does our lady bookseller even need to learn how to read and write?

In fact, complaints have been made that modern teenagers are so used to the technology doing their work for them - predictive text & Siri etc. - that some of them are now functionally illiterate even while attending school because they have not developed the ability to read or write properly. Any educator who has received an essay in "text-speak" can attest to that.

One of the reasons this state of affairs has come about is probably because much of modern software and hardware is designed to be intuitive and "user-friendly" to the point where even pre-school toddlers should be able to use them without having pre-existing knowledge of any kind whatsoever -  let alone that of the written language. After all, we were all illiterate when we were born.

So what does this mean for the definition of literacy? If a poor citizen in the developing world is tech-savvy and tech-literate (as many of them are with their mobile phones) but not able to read and write - are they really illiterate? Does the definition of literacy need to be re-examined in the modern context?

Also, how will technology change the future of illiteracy. Will it perpetrate more of the same or even exacerbate the condition as defined traditionally? Or will it be used to impart literacy in the most orthodox sense of the word.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Thursday, 2 January 2014

Fatal Floods in Port Louis

Les inondations du samedi 30 mars dernier, qui ont fait 11 morts à Port-Louis, sont la catastrophe naturelle la plus meurtrière que le pays a connu depuis plus de 50 ans. Il faut en effet remonter au passage éclair du cyclone Jenny fin février 1962, qui avait fait 14 victimes, pour recenser autant de morts lors d'une catastrophe naturelle à Maurice. Deux ans avant, en 1960, le tristement célèbre cyclone Catol avait, lui, fait encore plus de victimes : 39 morts.

14 morts, 125 blessés, 8 000 sans-abri, cultures vivrières et autres plantations sucrières ravagées : tel fut le bilan des pertes occasionnées par Jenny, cyclone dont la vitesse de passage avait été particulièrement rapide. Ce qui, d'ailleurs, devait prendre toute l'île au dépourvu. Là encore, ce fut surtout dans la région port-louisienne que l'on déplora le plus gtand nombre de victimes.

Hormis Carol et Jenny, les catastrophes naturelles les plus meurtrières depuis 1960 ont été les cyclones Alix (1960 toujours) qui fit 7 morts, Gervaise (1975) avec 9 morts et Hollanda (1994) — deux morts. En 1945, l'autre cyclone intense qui visita l'île cette année-là fit, lui, 15 morts et celui du 29 avril 1892 quelque 1 100 morts, selon les estimations de l'époque.

source: à partir de YouTube website de la vidéo

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Once upon a Mauritius

The history of rail transport in Mauritius began in the 1860s. The Mauritian rail network was quickly built and soon provided service to most of the island. It was a key factor in the socio-economic development of the island and at it's peak had almost 250 kilometres of track, both standard gauge crisscrossing the island as well as narrow gauge within the various sugar plantations. Due to unprofitability from 1948 to 1953, it eventually closed in 1964 after a century of operation. The last passenger train made its journey on 31 March 1956 between Port-Louis and Curepipe. Transport of sugar, heavy goods and general merchandise continued till 1964 after which the railway network was dismantled and sold as scrap metal. 

However, with increasing road traffic congestion, plans surfaced again in 2009 for a new rail system - 45 years after the original railways were shut. In 2012, the government started working with the Singapore government as consultant for a rail-based light rapid transit (LRT) line between Port Louis and Curepipe. The project aimed to establish new transit corridors to relieve the main road arteries and the proposed line is to be 24.9 km long with 13 stops.

a documentary by Wassim Sookia                                               

For rail enthusiasts and history buffs, there is also a collection of old carriages hidden away in the extensive gardens behind the old colonial building of the Mauritius Museum of National History in Mahebourg. Both carriages are begging for restoration and the wooden one, particularly, needs minimal work to be rescued, conserved and put back on display. Somewhere it can take pride of place. The wooden carriage appears to be some kind of plush upper-class couch with an armchair inside with bits of upholstery still visible.
a documentary by Athanas Leslie Wallace

Update 2015: The Light Rail project has been shelved and trains will not be returning to the island anytime soon, read the blogpost here.

Author: Shahana Dastidar

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

A walk through Port Louis

Port Louis was supposedly already a harbour when settled by the Dutch in 1638 but was officially made the capital in 1735 by the French governor Bertrand-François Mahé de La Bourdonnais (after whom the city of Mahebourg in Mauritius and Mahé, the capital of Seychelles is named). Follow the route on the map below for an easy walking daytrip through Port Louis. 

Before you start walking, do note that Port Louis for some reason is always hotter, sunnier and more humid than the rest of Mauritius - even in winter. Do wear a cap, carry water and drink fruit juice/ cold drinks/ coconut water etc. at frequent intervals or else the walk will be neither comfortable nor enjoyable.
source: author overlay on google-maps

If one is driving into Port Louis, then it is best to go to the parking at Caudan and leave the car there. There is usually plenty of parking outside near the waterfront or, worst case, in the multi-storey car park inside. 

If one is arriving by bus from the west or south, the bus stops at Victoria Square bus station towards the south. From there it is a very short walk along the motorway and then the southern pedestrian subway under to the Caudan waterfront (from near the Feng-Shui shop/ Mcdonalds) to start the tour at No.1 - the Blue Penny museum.

If one is arriving by bus from the north, the bus stops at Gare du Nord (Bus-station North) at Immigration Square. Then a short walk to the northern pedestrian subway near MPCB, cross the motorway to the other end of Caudan and start the tour at No.4 - Aapravasi Ghat.
Assuming one is starting from the southern side

1.  Blue Penny Museum - Houses an extremely rare Mauritian stamp, the first to be issued in the world on 21 September 1847 by the wife of the then Governor. The main exhibit is this super rare Blue Penny stamp on an envelope of which only one other remains in the world apparently. In 1993, a consortium of Mauritian companies headed by the MCB (Mauritius Commercial Bank) got together to buy it for 2.2million US dollars to be able to bring it back to the country. 

Don't be disappointed if the light appears to be fused in the display of the one stamp you went to see. This is what happened to me on my first visit. Because it is so delicate, the actual Blue Penny display light comes on for only 10 minutes on the half-hour every hour - so you may have to wait a bit to see it.
source: Wikimedia Commons

Tip: If you don't feel like spending the MUR 200/- on the ticket to go in, walk into the giftshop free and have a look at the hundreds of pictures of the Blue Penny on books, posters, postcards, T-shirts, towels, soaps etc. etc. etc. Practically the only interesting thing about it to non-Philatelists is that the stamp is so old - it was before the time of perforated edges.

2. Caudan waterfront - Take a leisurely walk through the extremely interesting waterfront. Have some sugercane juice with rhum offered at one of the stalls near the Blue Penny museum and spend some time looking at the driftwood sculptures arranged in one of the plazas. Sometimes you can see the elderly sculptor at work. There are plenty of designer boutiques for window-shopping, a food-court, a casino and a multiplex. Walk at the water's edge past the statue of Sir Seewoosagar Ramgoolam to the big grey stone stone building on the main road at the other end. This is the Postal Museum. Continue on to the Aapravasi Ghat
source: Wikimedia Commons
3. Aapravasi Ghat - From 1849 to 1910, this is where about half a million indentured labourers came off the ship from India to work on the Mauritian plantations. Most of them stayed behind on the island which is why about 2/3rds of the country's population now is of Indian origin.

In 1865, a photographic unit was created and a photographer took two portrait photos of each immigrant, one of which was attached to the immigrant's ticket while the second photo was retained in the Aapravasi Ghat's records which are now kept at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute.

In 1923, the last immigrants came to Mauritius from India under the indentured labour system.

In 1950, the Public Assistance Department was established at Aapravasi Ghat as the immigration records were kept there.

In 1960, cyclone "Carol" caused major damage to the site. The archives of the immigration depot had to be transferred to a safer place at the Mahatma Gandhi Institute.

In 1968, March 12th - Mauritius achieved independance

By 1976, all the immigration records had been transferred and the building remained empty

In the 1980s, most of the site was destroyed when the motorway was constructed 

In 1987, the historical importance of the Immigration Depot was recognized by the government and it was declared a National Monument. It was renamed Aapravasi (Immigrant) Ghat from it's previous name of 'Coolie' Ghat which had become a derogatory and racist way of addressing Indians, in general, and Indian workers in particular during colonial times.

In 2001, November 2nd was declared a public holiday in memory of the arrival of the first indentured labourers who arrived in Mauritius from India on that date in 1834 on board the Atlas.

On July 12, 2006, the Aapravasi Ghat was inscribed on the World Heritage List during the 30th session of UNESCO's World Heritage Committee held in Vilnius.

This area in the Trou Fanfaron was called Place de l'Immigration and it is still called that. The old railway station across the road that carried the workers straight from the landing depot to their plantation is now the Gare du Nord or the north bus-station. The railway tracks is where the motorway now runs.  
(sometime between 1850~1900)/ source:

Tip: Whyall this information when people will be visiting this site anyway? Because there is absolutely nothing there that tells visitors of the site's history. The information office will give you a small map of the area and nothing else, the Interpretation Centre is not ready yet and there are no detailed brochures, pamphlets, plaques or posters of any sort. So do have a look at the information above or the reason it became a UNESCO World Heritage site will remain a mystery even after the visit. 

More stories and photos about the Aapravasi Ghat or 'Immigrants' Stairway' in my posts here. A description of a traditional Indian Ghat at the end of this post here.

Update 2015: The Museum / Interpretation Centre is finally open.

4. Mauritius Postal Museum - The museum is located in one of the oldest buildings on the waterfront circa. 1865. There is an entrance fee so only go in if your cravings for history and philately have not been satisfied already by the Blue Penny museum.

Having said that, the entry fee is cheap, the museum does have some interesting old photographs and if in doubt about whether to visit or not - has a virtual tour available on their website. Walk back towards the main waterfront and take the northern pedestrian subway next to the juice stall. In fact, have a juice or a cold-drink at one of the waterfront restaurants before proceeding to cross the motorway and entering Port Louis proper. Make your way to the large Victorian-era looking covered Central market.

5.  Central Market - Probably the most interesting place in Port Louis, if one sees nothing else here - one should visit this. The market is a 3 storey high building with lively, noisy, colourful stalls in the main ground floor double-height hall selling all kinds of wonderful fresh produce - local fruits and vegetables and herbs and medicinal powders and spice mixes and whatnot. 

Apart from everything to see, smell and taste, the building itself is amazing with it's towering internal columns and sweeping staircases - a sort of grand temple or cathedral dedicated for vegetables (!). The first floor has all kinds of souvenirs and handicrafts, everything grossly overpriced and made either in China or India. The second floor has a huge clothes store which has a perpetual sale on (though nothing seems to be overly cheap).
A little bit of history about the market from here - Port Louis had a central market as far back as 1772 when it was situated opposite the “Old Church”. In 1774, it was installed behind the Government House at the site of the Grand Theatre today. Following a fire, the market was transferred to the Jardin de la Compagnie (East India Company Gardens) in 1790. In 1816, the market burnt to the ground and four years later it was rebuilt from scratch on Rue de la Reine or Queen Street at it's present day location. Partially demolished in 1980, it was re-built in 1981 and renovated recently in 2004. 

The Central Market is not limited to the building as such, the stalls spill out onto the streets outside with lots and lots of vendors on the adjoining roads. In fact, the whole area is known as 'Central Market'. On weekends, the roads are exclusively for pedestrians and hawkers, and most of the people shopping on the streets for clothes, toys, electronics etc. are locals not tourists. Cross over to the Route Royal or Royal Street and turn left to walk towards the Jummah Masjid.
Central Market 1952, source: Wikimedia Commons
6. Jummah Masjid (Friday Mosque) - This largest and most important mosque in Mauritius was built by local Muslim traders in 1853 and the location was chosen so as to be close to their shops and places of business. The architecture is a mix of styles with delicate plasterwork and detailing in the Indian Islamic tradition with a colour scheme of white walls and pastel green windows typical of the colonial architecture on the island. Visitors can enter and have a look around the courtyard shaded by a Badamier tree (Indian almond) - a veritable oasis of calm and cool in the midst of the noise and chaos of Port Louis. 
Turn left from the Masjid and keep walking ahead on Royal Street to enter Chinatown through one of the 'Friendship' gates. The stretch of road between these two gates is known as Chinatown and is characterised by some Chinese shops and groceries. However it is nowhere near as colourful and lively as the some of the other Chinatowns around the world. 

The gates themselves are somewhat drab looking and for some reason, the sit-down restaurants appear to be on side streets and on the first floor. It's hard to tell if they are open or closed though one of the restaurants we once walked into was HUGE, had an exclusively Sino-Mauritian clientele, seemed to be designed for huge wedding parties and had very reasonably priced food. So if you haven't had lunch yet during this walkabout - seek and ye shall find. 

Tip: To be honest, there's nothing much to see, do or experience here so one can just turn around after the Jummah Masjid and walk back along the Route Royale to the main avenue at the head of which is Government House on the left.

7.  Government House
The seat of colonial power in Mauritius. As per the Lonely Planet description, it is "a beautiful French colonial structure dating from 1738, although it was added to later. Outside it stands a typically solemn statue of Queen Victoria in full 'we are not amused' mode." Quite. Mahé de Labourdonnais built the ground and first floor of this U-shaped building and Decaen, the last French governor, added the second. One can walk right upto the Prime Minister's office which feels a bit strange having lived in New Delhi and London where this kind of access would be unthinkable.
Government House 1961

Turn left where Government house ends and walk in the arcade of the grey stone Treasury building until you hit the major junction. The yellow neo-classical building across the circle is the Grand Theatre.
Hungry for lunch by now? Just continue walking down La Chaussée street and buy a 'Dalpuri' at one of the stalls next to the Jardin de la Compagnie and eat it in the gardens with all the other locals. For a somewhat less local experience, one can eat at the KFC on La Chaussée just opposite the gardens (that is get a takeaway and eat in the gardens, not much space inside the KFC). But the best lunch option is described below -

Walk to Location 12 on the map above. Directions:
Continue down La Chaussée for about 10minutes and turn left at the intersection with St.Georges street (just before the statue junction). Walk into the old house on the right which says "Lambic". 
Lambic Restaurant, Port Louis

This is a wonderful restaurant in a restored colonial house. One can sit inside or outside under the trees in the shady patio. The menu is extensive and the food superlative. Best of all, they have a selection of imported craft and local micro-brewery beers - the most extensive on the island.

Walk back to Government House to resume

8.  Port Louis Theatre - Supposedly the oldest theatre in the Southern Hemisphere having had it's first performance on a Tuesday, 11 June 1822. It seats 600 people over three storeys and has an elaborately painted dome with chandeliers. Apparently Dame Margot Fonteyn danced here in 1975 and her photos adorn the foyer. However, according to the website, the place has been closed since 2008 for renovation so one can't go in.
In fact, there is another opera house/ theatre in Mauritius called the Plaza in Rose Hill that was built in 1933 and can seat 1500 people including VIP boxes, seats and even a standing gallery. It had a turning stage added in 1980 and functioned for awhile as a cinema. But I'm not aware if this place was ever opened after renovation either.

How does it matter if either are open or not? Well the island does have a group called Opera Mauritius composed of local and visiting talent who are quite active and recently put up a whole fortnight of assorted classical music concerts including a programme of Verdi's La Traviata. They were supported by an orchestra from Reunion. 

The singing and music was really very good and professional though the production itself was inexpensive. The most disappointing thing was that all the performances were held at a local institute's auditorium and assorted other places - but none in the Port Louis Theatre or at the Plaza. Previous performances of Bizet's The Pearl Fisher (2009), Carmen (2010) and Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel and Gretel (2011) were also held in other modern auditoriums. Maybe the Grand old opera houses are just too small to host anything anymore?

Having seen the Opera house across the junction, turn right between 2 buildings to enter a small cobbled alley that leads to the Mauritius Photographic Museum.

9.  Mauritius Photographic Museum - The museum is housed in a small colonial building dating back to at least 1875 or perhaps even earlier to 1768. There is a sign announcing Musée across the arch at the end of this street called the Rue du Vieux Conseil or Old Council Street near the Port Louis Council building. Apparently this little street is built over a meandering rivulet that once emptied into the Ruisseau Tonnier (or Tonnier Stream) running along the Rue de La Poudrière on the other side.
The museum is located in an old colonial era building. The door to the museum is on the left as one enters the arch. Apparently there is an admission fee, it opens from 9AM to 3PM Mon-Fri, is run by a local photographer Tristan Bréville and his wife Marie Noelle since 1993 and has the oldest photos of Mauritius which are daguerrotypes made in 1842 shortly after the technique was invented in 1839. 

Apparently the museum also has the camera used in the 1860's by the British to capture the faces of Indian workers brought to the island as indentured labourers in case they ran away; as well as the first printing press used on the island for newspapers which made it the first one in the southern hemisphere. It appears that one of the first buyers of a camera in Paris in 1839 was a Mauritian called Ferdinand Wörhnitz. There is also a photo of the first autobus in 1930.

However, all this I know from their website. Every time I've been there, the place has been shut so I don't know if it's been my bad luck or the museum is/was under renovation. There was an incident a few years ago when a huge mass of debris from the neighbouring construction site fell onto the roof of the old museum building causing considerable damage. Perhaps they haven't been able to re-open yet...(?) But anyway, you can always try your luck!
Continue through the arch on leaving the museum and enter a shopping centre that brings one to Poudriere Street. Cross the street to re-enter the Jardin de la Compagnie or Company Gardens.
10. Jardin de la Compagnie - The Company Gardens are another oasis of calm in the middle of Port Louis. There are some statues and plaques commemorating assorted people and events and some very old and handsome banyan trees. The park used to be a sort of vegetable garden for the French East India Company.
Lovely as the gardens are during the day, it has an extremely unsavoury reputation past sunset, apparently being a well-known haunt for prostitutes and drug-pushers/addicts. Yes, prostitution is alive and thriving in Mauritius as a drive down the Quatre Bornes main road after 9PM will make evident.

Cross the street to enter the big neo-classical building which is the Mauritius National Institute with the Natural History Museum on the Ground Floor. 

11. Mauritius Natural History Museum - This museum was founded in 1880. Apart from all the exhibits on the Ground Floor, it has a huge reference library on the first floor with some 50,000 books or so (apparently). Entry is free and the displays are interesting. 

Of particular interest is the display of poisonous fishes found in the environs (trouble in paradise?) and the Dodo exhibit. There is rather a large contrast between the newly designed and installed Dodo exhibit room and the rest of the dilapidated displays. This museum has one of only 2 or 3 known skeletons/stuffed specimens of the Dodo in the world so is worth a visit for that reason alone. The story of the Dodo is also interesting particularly as one realises how very little is actually known and how much is conjecture. The taxidermy job may have been either very faithful or very fanciful with respect to the original specimen. No one will ever know.
Apart from the neglected and badly maintained displays, the condition of the building itself which is a handsome colonial, is a criminal shame. A little bit of repair and proper maintenance like replacing the damaged and missing timber floor and ceiling boards would go a long way. Having been a conservation architect myself, my hands were itching to get on a set of plans and draw out a design and strategy for a historic building such as this one - and with a museum and library to boot. Every architect's dream project...
12. Lambic - If not already here following the Lunch Tip after Government House, one can walk here now and enjoy dinner before leaving Port Louis.
One can also, at any point during the walk, make your way back to the Caudan waterfront for a drink and food, or enjoy the harbour-front for the rest of the day. At evening, the whole area is festively lit and there are sometimes shows in the open amphitheatre. You can always have dinner in the many restaurants on the waterfront. Or even better, take the free water taxi across to Le Suffren hotel and enjoy a sundowner on their lovely deck.
Caudan by night

Author: Shahana Dastidar
Rue du Vieux Conseil and Winston Churchill
Rue du Vieux Conseil and Winston Churchill