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  Life   More Features  26 Mar 2019  Punta Cana: The city in the Dominican Republic with three-and-a-half Indians

Punta Cana: The city in the Dominican Republic with three-and-a-half Indians

THE ASIAN AGE. | SUNDEEP BHUTORIA
Published : Mar 26, 2019, 12:21 am IST
Updated : Mar 26, 2019, 12:21 am IST

Punta Cana abuts the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its 32-km-stretch of beaches and clear waters.

Sundeep Bhutoria (left) with Leonel Fernandez (right), former President of the Dominican Republic and newly elected president of WFUNA at the 42nd WFUNA Plenary Assembly in Punta Cana.
 Sundeep Bhutoria (left) with Leonel Fernandez (right), former President of the Dominican Republic and newly elected president of WFUNA at the 42nd WFUNA Plenary Assembly in Punta Cana.

After 20 hours of flight, 17 hours in transit and a four-hour drive from the capital, Santo Domingo, I reached a picturesque paradise city called Punta Cana on the easternmost tip of Dominican Republic.

The Dominican Republic, not to be confused with Dominica in West Indies, is a Caribbean nation which forms an island called Hispaniola with its neighbouring country, Haiti. These are part of a series of islands known as the Greater Antilles. Area-wise it is the second largest Caribbean nation after Cuba. The capital, Santo Domingo, named after patron Saint Dominic, has a population of about 30 lakhs.

Punta Cana abuts the Caribbean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean and is known for its 32-km-stretch of beaches and clear waters. The Bávaro area and Punta Cana combine to form the Coconut Coast — an area of lavish, all-inclusive resorts. It is popular for zip-lining, windsurfing, kayaking and sailing.

I spent a few hours at the J W Marriott Hotel in Santo Domingo. This hotel was awarded the best luxury city hotel in the Americas by Trip Advisor’s 2017 Traveller’s Choice Awards.

This was the first time I visited the Dominican Republic and my main agenda was to attend the 42nd WFUNA Plenary Assembly being hosted in Punta Cana in October. Every three years WFUNA Plenary Assembly brings together representatives from over 70 United Nations Associations from all over the world. The plenary session was preceded by a seminar on “Peaceful, Just and Inclusive Societies” as well as capacity-building sessions on a variety of topics.

At the plenary, Leonel Fernandez, a former President of the Dominican Republic, was elected the new WFUNA president. Ambassador Park Soo-Gil of Korea passed on the baton to Mr Fernandez after serving as president .It was nice to meet them both in person during the sessions. I had a meeting with the new president of WFUNA and presented him with a portrait of Mother Teresa. I did met him before when he visited India as the President of the Dominic Republic few years back.

The Third WFUNA Global Youth Forum was also held in conjunction with the plenary assembly at the Palms Beach Hotel of Punta Cana. The hotel brags a gorgeous convention centre and 500 rooms and suites with stunning views.

The Dominican Republic was under Spanish rule for 300 years and declared independence in 1821. It was occupied by the US between 1916 and 1924 (for eight years). Since 1996, the Dominican Republic moved towards representative democracy. In the past 20 years, the country has had one of the fastest growing economies in the Americas. Recent growth has been due to construction, manufacturing, tourism and mining.

I visited an Indian restaurant, Pranama, located at Bavaro in Punta Cana. Pranama, owned and run by Krishna and Maria, is the only restaurant in the Dominican Republic serving authentic Indian cuisine. It was a pleasure to meet Maria, with whom I was in touch with before my trip over email and phone. I was very touched during our email correspondence, only that as she had very kindly offered that if I had a problem finding time to go to her restaurant, she will be happy to send my dal/roti to the resort as well.

In my overseas visits, I come across many Indians whose Indianism and love and care for Indians has touched my heart, Maria’s husband, Krishna is, of course, one of them.

Pranama restaurant in Punta CanaPranama restaurant in Punta Cana

Maria and Krishna met each other in Switzerland while studying Hospitality Management in a well-known school and they were good friends. After completing their studies, Krishna came back to his hometown in Hyderabad and then visited Punta Cana to meet Maria for his holidays. Krishna has fallen in love with this place. When he visited Maria for his holidays they both decided to get married. Krishna loved Punta Cana so much that he decided to stay there and that gave birth to this beautiful Indian restaurant “Pranama”. I have not only enjoyed the food at “Pranama” but also was impressed with the décor of the restaurant.

The credit for the interior décor goes to Maria’s mother, who did all the paintings herself. The décor of the restaurant is a reflection of Indian art and culture. Indian motifs and pictures of Indian gods and goddesses further enhanced the Indianness of the place.

Krishna always had a special touch and feeling for cooking and he further honed his skills working for almost 10 years in the Swiss restaurant industry. He very well knows how to balance the flavours for non-Indians. The couple, together cook vegetarian and non-vegetarian food. The Pranama restaurant has a real tandoor where they make all kinds of tandoori dishes, including naans. Apart from the restaurant, the couple also runs catering services, especially for Indian weddings in the hotels nearby.

I was very impressed by Maria’s knowledge about India and Indian cuisine. Maria also took me around to show me Punta Cana and I never felt that this was the first time I was meeting her.

As far as the Indian community in Punta Cana is concerned, apart from Krishna, there are two other Indians, one has a tour operator agency and the other is a chef working for a five-star hotel.

As Punta Cana is also emerging as a marriage destination for NRIs settled in North America, I am sure in a couple of years Punta Cana will host many big fat Indian weddings.

Before coming to Punta Cana, on the way I met Amit Shah, who is one of the very few Indians to come and settle at Juan Dolio, a small beach town located an hour’s drive from the capital city of Santo Domingo, some 18 years ago. Juan Dolio, with a 10-km white sand beach, is a weekender’s throng.

I had quite a few meetings notably with Fernando Gonzales Nicholas, the first honorary consul of India in the Dominican Republic and the newly appointed honorary consul of India, Antonio Lama.

During my evening with Maria, I told her that you have an Indian restaurant in a city of three-and-a-half Indians; as there are three Indians in the city and since she is married to an Indian, she is half-Indian as well.

The Dominican Republic is a tropical paradise, all sun, sand and sea. An ideal place to unwind and host events.

The writer is a social and cultural activist based in Kolkata, and a frequent international traveller

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