Discard that checklist of things to see and do – these charming islands lurking off the coast of Italy deserve to explored at your own pace
WORDS RADHIKA LALLA
PHOTOGRAPHS JEREMIAH CHRISTANAND RAO
Bhaag Basanti, bhaag!”
Not words I would ever have imagined myself saying under any circumstances, but, here we are. Photographer Jerry and I are trying to coax our not-so-trusty white steed up a hill, and I’m mentally preparing to make the trek up under my own steam. The 150cc scooter that we’ve (rather ambitiously) christened Basanti struggles to make the journey, burdened as she is with the combined weight of two travellers and about 15kg of assorted photography equipment. It’s just one of many rides that we’ve had fraught with equal parts anxiety and hilarity as we putter around this beautiful island we’re exploring, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The beautiful island we’re exploring is Malta, and its wee size makes puttering about on a two-wheeler an obvious choice – the distances to be covered aren’t vast enough to cause numbness in our delicate derrières, and it enforces a slower pace, which is exactly what we’re looking for. There’s such freedom to be found in coasting along quiet roads hugged by prickly pear cactii, a hint of the sea lingering in the air and the occasional cluster of beige settlements popping up around a bend. Malta’s the sort of place that leaves me making tough calls every morning – I’m torn between heading out on Basanti, and letting the sun slowly darken my skin as I paddle aimlessly in the blissful blue Mediterranean that’s all around us.
Malta might technically be in Europe, and it might have escaped the notice of us Indians, but it’s been coveted by a range of kingdoms and countries over the years, all of which have left indelible traces behind. Sited as it is at the cusp of Europe and Northern Africa, the fabric of this nation is interwoven with African, Arabic, Italian and, of course, British (where have they not been!) influences, which has resulted in a tapestry that is colourful, intriguing and fairly bursting with stories.
Not that you’d know it when you first see it. As we arrive, looking at this growing speck of land floating amid the sparkling Mediterranean Sea, I was taken aback by just how beige it is. The buildings begin to come into focus, and they’re all a uniform, dusty colour. What started as a practical and efficient use of naturally available resources has become the norm, and the widely accessible local sandstone is now what is used for all construction across the island. But even this rather dull colour can’t dampen my growing excitement – I’ve been happily sentenced to a week of ferreting out Malta’s secrets with no plans other than where we’re going to be sleeping.