"If you come in at this hour, you'll have to stay forever." -Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the time of Cholera
That is precisely what Goa turned out to be. South Goa grows on you, and North Goa gets you. It lures you to stay just a day longer.
As we sat waiting for the train which was to take us Goa and which was reportedly starting ten minutes and five hours late; I was left with few options other than reminiscing about my day prior to the six-hour wait: we were sitting at the Victoria Terminus ( now Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj terminus) in the Cidade de Bom Bahe better known as the city of Bombay gifted to the English by the Portuguese as Dowry for the wedding of Charles II to Catherine of Braganza.
The day had started early for me and I met a chubby lady called Miriam who was from Morocco in a taxi. The day showed me the southern part of the seaside city strewn here and there with jaw-dropping monuments in the Portuguese style which you’ll need to strain your necks to see the tops of. The Kala Ghoda Art district with its trademark statue of a rearing black horse. The Elphinstone college, The Gateway of India locking eyes with the Taj Hotel. And then we walked quite a walk along the roads to Marine drive and laid dead. After a stroll around the Wankhede stadium, we were back walking through the nooks, crannies, fissures and crevices of Bombay to make our way to the Terminus and did I miss mentioning a vegetarian thali meal somewhere.
The delay came as an unpleasant blow and we talked and talked and played cards. Ages later, we boarded, slept and entered Goa at the evening and left Karmali railway station. Karmali, which is a user-friendly version of the original Carambolim. We were picked up and received at our place of stay Resort Ritchita in Calangute where the service and staff are worth mentioning for all bad reasons.
Soon all of us freshened and let loose our selves at the Cidade de Goa. A not-worth-the-money meal at Chawla Restaurant followed by a drive to Calangute beach where most of the tables were upturned on account of the late hour and the saltpetre smell rushed to our noses once we set foot into the Arabian sea: the elusive Arabian Sea. The start was good. A few drinks for some at the beach set the vibe going. We began to memorize the roads.
The next day began with hustle to get ready and leave for the Aguada Fort first thing. On the way, we brunched on Aloo-Paraanthas and Omelettes. Around the fort is spread an all-engulfing realm of Red clay. the fort has a lighthouse which is forbidden to enter. The parapets on the outer side offer a wide view of the Arabian sea.
The total area of Goa can be looked at as three big landmasses separated by the rivers Mandovi and Zuari. The upper one being Calangute and Candolim, the middle one, Panaji and Carambolim and the nether one, forming the South Goa, has the city of Vasco Da Gama, the namesake of its discoverer five hundred years prior.
A short ride down the road takes you to the rocky Aguada beach from where one gets the sight of the Aguada underground( which also means undersea) Jail all-beautiful Palacio Aguada, the Palace( holiday home ) of Parsi Business tycoon Jimmy Gazdar, more commonly known as the Millionaire’s Palace, designed by Goan architect Gerard de Cunha. Entering the palace is forbidden as Mr Jimmy Gazdar is still alive.
Another fort in the area is Reis Magos Fort, though one has to travel ten kilometres to reach there on account of no bridge over the Nerul river.
Before exploring the fort, a man made us an offer we could not refuse and told us not to tell anyone (and it turned out the offer was made to many groups and all were instructed likewise). We were offered a forty-five minutes’ boat ride in the Arabian sea at the Coco Beach for fifty and two hundred rupees a head. The boatman showed us three of the five ‘points’ we were promised and to salvage his honour, Dolphins, which were erstwhile promised did show up though they weren’t as agile as they seem on Discovery channel (they could easily have been some swimmer wearing a dolphin outfit).
Fort Reis Magos takes a fifty-rupee entry fee and is every bit worth it. Unlike the Aguada Fort, it is lush green with vines hanging here and there and gives a view of the Mandovi river. The fort also houses a chamber where the Goan revolution is depicted in pictures.
However, it takes a little climb to get to the fort.
The day did not end yet as we made our way to Baga beach in our hired car and two scooties. Baga beach was as lively as promised. Parking rates were high, the evening sent the beach alive and canopied parasols had been erected in front of all the numerous beach-bars where the music and prices, both were skyrocketing. Beach parties rent the skies with loud and lascivious songs, a place where couples can spend a good non-silent evening. After dinner at a restaurant names Sher-A-Punjab, the caravan left. An appraisal of the day revealed that I had lost my fitness-band/watch somewhere near Aguada Beach, the same place where I had acquired four bloody cuts on my left foot and two bloody nails on different limbs which required bandages and Baga beach saw me with a bloody lip( in an attempt to open a Bacardi bottle with the teeth wherein the cap snapped along with the glass ).
The third day was the day of Beaches or the day of South Goa. Late we started, to set the Arabian sea on fire and the journey to Arossim beach took us another one and a half hour so that by the time we reached the Arossim-Colva beach line, it was well about two in the afternoon. In hindsight, the samosas in Goa are as good as, and at times better than the ones one gets in North India, mostly because the stuffing is more interesting: vegetables appear out of thin air, sometimes even tomatoes turn up.
This side of Goa is devoid of almost any noise or crowd at all. The Arossim beach is all sky-blue clear and has just one restro-bar. Strangely, all the people on the beach were foreigners, some basking in the shade of parasols and others building castles with their kids. No humans besides. This was such a tranquil place, we plunged ourselves into the water and cavorted for about an hour before drying ourselves and taking pictures and some drinks and finally taking leave.
Next, we drove back and stopped at the Japanese garden at the farthest end of the Vasco da Gama landmass. Below the garden was the Grandmother’s hole beach which was again very peaceful and serene and is one of the best places to observe a sunset. The beach is lined with dark black rocks which appear as knife-cut cubes of black ice rather than weathered rocks. The whereabouts of the beach are beautiful to look at, as will be evident from the pictures; very different from the image the word ‘Beach’ materializes in your mind.
The night, again drove us, as it does many, to the Baga Beach alive with beach parties. The market around the beach alone is a wonder. Here and there you find guys sitting in parking areas, crossings, selling ‘girls for parties/discos’ as chattel. One even asked us if we wanted a girlfriend. One of the many good restro-bars in the marked served as our dinner place as we enjoyed our food and drinks. Retreating to the beach, we had the time of our stay sitting on the sand, joking, laughing, talking and venturing into the sea: some quarter-sober, some not remotely so. In one of my successful forages, I brought a pair of Nike slippers out of the sea.
We returned after enough of us were in their senses to drive. The night ended late.
And so the day began late, too.
We were informed by the resort staff that we had to check-out and were being accommodated elsewhere. Bad.
The new place – Yash Prapti homes, four kilometres away, was much, much better! (until someone from the staff allegedly stole our money in a moment of carelessness).The rooms were worlds better, they were two, both with balconies, the A/C was better, the mattresses were heaps plumper, the rooms were larger, the bathrooms were cleaner, the floors were better.
We freshened up, ordered some breakfast from the hotel menu which let us down, and set off in our vehicles for Old Goa this time. We had churches and Cathedrals and flea markets on our mind.
It needs to be said though, that while the roads in Goa conjure up wine-stores and bars at will, on every turn of the road, within fifty metres; it is a snowball’s chance in hell to find a medical store if you’re feeling out of sorts.
Old Goa is twenty-one kilometres by road and you need to cross the Mandovi river on the way. Most of the route lies on the highway and it takes around forty minutes to get there.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus, standing in all its momentous pride, is the main attraction. Opposite to it, on the other side of the road, is the Se Cathedral, the largest church in India.
The Basilica is four hundred years old and houses the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier kept in a sarcophagus on the right of the altar and are brought down once every ten years for public exposition. It is said( and more strangely, believed) that the body is preserved without any chemical formula.
On the left, just upon entering one sees a beautifully carved statue of St. Francis Xavier and on the right is the altar of St Anthony. The altar is flanked by altars of Our lady of hope and St Michael on the left and right. The intricately gilded main altar has a large sculpture of St Ignatius of Loyola above the figure of a baby Jesus. The top of the altar has a depiction of the holy trinity- the father, the son and the holy spirit.
The chapel on the left is of the blesses sacrament and the one on the right holds the sacred relics of the saint’s body. The mausoleum has been designed by Florentine sculptor Giovanni Battista Foggini. The beautiful mausoleum, on the top of which is placed the silver casket with the body of St. Francis Xavier, was gifted by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Cosimo III.
It also has an intricately carved pulpit with a canopy.
The inner courtyard has a decorated depiction of scenes from the Bible with statues of sheep and huts. There is also a light and sound show about Jesus and the Saint. On the top storey is an Art exhibition with a token entry fee of Rs. five. There are statues of St John the Baptist, Francis of Assisi, John the apostle among many others with brief biographies and a depiction of the life of St Francis Xavier in paintings. The exit has a relic shop.
All of this held us for much more time than a normal church holds you and so we had to skip the other churches and rush to Miramar beach in Panjim.
Miramar beach has the best array of stalls anywhere in Goa. The stalls outside the beach are numbered and are very clean and properly arranged. The prices, too, aren’t outrageous and are worth the taste. We tried some chaat and entered the beach with spices in our breath. We spent a little time appreciating the beach, and a lot of time planning what to do next and then, as we were of the opinion to suck the marrow out of life, didn’t tarry long and were off for Dona Paula.
Dona Paula is named after Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior, the daughter of a Portuguese Viceroy in Sri Lanka. She was very helpful to the villagers in her time and had married an extremely affluent Fidalgo(nobleman) from Spain.
Sadly the structure was closed as it has been declared unsafe. It was evenfall by then and five of us, since we were of the opinion to suck the marrow out of life, made way for Casino Strike, Grand Hyatt Goa.
The casino part was undeniably the best part of our travel and taught us many things such as the right time to pull out with your money on the casino table, how not to fall prey to temptations, how to smuggle a slightly under-age guy into a casino( the legal age is twenty-one) and many more things.
The buffet was the best I’ve had and the drinks were good, too. Performances by beautiful Russian dancers were a big reason to stay longer in the cafe area.
All of us won good amounts before losing ourselves to temptations and then suffered downfalls, but every bit of it was enjoyed thoroughly.
The mood was spoiled on our way back because of two mischievous policemen who were trying to get money out of us even after we had called our colleagues with the driving license, failing to produce which, we had been held in the first place.
The night was spent amid tensions.
The last day began early and peace was restored. We checked out and headed for Chapora Fort, nine kilometres away. Chapora fort is clearly the least enjoyable fort of all the forts there are in Goa and is barely even a fort. It even needs a climb to get to the place. The sole reason for its popularity is the Bollywood movie ‘Dil Chahta Hai’.
We got down double quick and made way for Vagator beach nearby.
Vagator beach is a pretty busy beach and has the cheapest adventure sports packages.
It provided us with the place for a good long sunbath on the beach while two of us enjoyed the adventure sports. Later, as I found out, my nose got tanned more than other parts of my body.
After a long rest, we took on the streets to forage for food and had juices and momos for ourselves. Vagator beach area doesn’t have much of a market but we still bought us a few things before heading for Panaji in the evening where our bus waited for us.
The last supper didn’t happen at the same place for all as planned, because the restaurants don’t serve food until evenfall. Having returned our car and scooties, we took on foot and the address of the Bus Service almost deceived us into missing our bus had we not realized the mistake in time and made a run for the correct location.
We had a hard time finding the bus.
The service was Purple Grand. It was an A/C bus and everyone had a television set for watching movies. Owing to a lack of choices, I watched a goodfornothing movie and regretted instantly.
The ride felt very comfortable, though in the morning others said it was exceptionally bumpy.
In an appraisal of the past five days, I reckoned I had sucked pretty enough marrow out of life. Wanderbug was appeased for a while.
(or should I say ‘Wanderbug Khush Hua!’ ?)
Pictures: Sangam Kumar -> https://www.instagram.com/the_inglorious__bastard/
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