Introduction: This journal describes the trip that me and my wife made to India in October 95. It was our first time in India and we loved it.
It is also available at CFN and at the India Network.
I hesitated in mentioning prices in the text. I ended up mentioning some, with the intention of giving a small idea of the costs one faces travelling in India. The prices are not to be taken as very accurate, I don't remember very well some of them.
We weren't much worried with paying a little more than the minimums, we had little time, little patience to look around and bargaining a lot. Specially in the last days we gave us some luxury, namely with the hotels where we stayed. The two weeks trip cost us both about USD $1000, perhaps a little less, souvenirs and air passages Lisbon-Bombay and Delhi-Lisbon not included. These passages cost a little more than $900 each, I suppose that we might have paid about $200 for each (or maybe something more) for the Lisbon-London-Lisbon trip.
The exchange rate was about Rs 30 for a USD $1.
Excuse us for the bad english...
Comments and critics are welcome. If you know of any web that may be interested in mirroring these pages, please let me know.
© J. Mário Pires, 96
After driving for 2.5 hours, there we were at the Lisbon airport, it was about 16:30. We were a little bit afraid of being late, but happily we were on time.
Our life is kind of complicated. I work in Lisbon, Rosario, my wife and travel companion, teaches in Portalegre, a little town near Spain, 230 Km east of Lisbon. Our "formal" home is there, so there was our starting point. We had planned to leave at 13:30. It was elections' day, so we were supposed to vote before departing. Actually I ended up not voting, because I discovered too late I had forgotten elector's card and I was more worried with arriving late at the airport than with voting. Anyway, I must confess I wasn't just yet decided about my vote, and any decision I could have taken wouldn't be very strong, so my final decision was considering that my holidays were more important and I couldn't afford getting late.
We left Portalegre at 14:10, after a lunch at my fathers' and Rosario 's vote. We got a big traffic jam to enter Lisbon, just to "test" our nerves. It was a beautiful late summer's day, so I imagine that everyone has decided to enjoy those last sunshine rays before those expected autumn grey days. Just to help us on our disgrace they were constructions on the highway, they're enlarging it.
Anyway, we were plenty on time, we did the check in, we could choose the seats we wanted, not only on the plane to London, but also on the other one to Bombay. We had a snack, and there we were flying to London! Apart from a great view of "London by night by air", nothing to note.
Our first contact with India was at Heathrow, on the line to board to Bombay. Being in the boarding queue to the Bombay plane surrounded with indian people gives us the feeling that finally we were beginning our travel to India. That characteristic unrest of indians when they are in queues, making us think that everybody is afraid of not getting a seat, the language they spoke (or their english accent), almost everything had a different and exotic taste for our hungry spirits of tourists.
The air travel went smoothly, nothing to note about it. We saw the sunrise over Mid East. The crew provoked a little confusion on our "group of non sleepers on the rear" when they told us we were entering Pakistan when there were some hours left to fly until Bombay, but all doubts vanished when we leave land and the commandant informed us that we had flew over Muscat and we were entering the Arabic sea. After more one or two hours we saw the magic Indian sub-continent (Pakistan, most probably).
During the travel I took some notes on hotels in Bombay. I had the 5th Lonely Planet India Survival Guide (which I'll refer as LP) and some dozens of emails and Usenet posts I had been collecting during the last months. It can be said that my travel had 2 components, the "real travel", and the cyber part. I really enjoyed spending parts of many nights in front of the computer looking for info related to India. After I came back, I discovered that I had contacted more than 60 persons in that cybernetic pre-travel, not counting the people that helped me without knowing, just by putting up their web pages.
So we arrived in Bombay Sahar Airport at 11:30. We had been told in London that it had been raining during the day in Bombay, but luckily the rain had stopped when we arrived. The ground was still wet, it was quite cloudy, but no rain. The plane roll for more than half an hour on the ground before it stopped.
The airport is quite disappointing. We weren't expecting a "western" airport, but after reading that it was one of the more important airports of India, perhaps with more traffic than Delhi, I was expecting a "bigger" thing. One has the feeling of travelling back in the 60's or 70's, considering the decoration and the and it surely it doesn't seem to be the airport of the finance capital of India.
It was quite warm and humid in the big crowded hall of customs. Some disorganisation, some people known of the officials breaking the queues, welcome to the world famous indian bureaucracy.
After customs we changed some thousands rupees. They gave us a big agrafed pack of Rs 100 that was really hard to unpack, later at the hotel.
We paid for a pre-paid taxi to Colaba. Although I had been told of the existence of these pre-paid, it was quite a relieve to find they exist really. I wasn't at the mood to start bargaining at that time, because we were very tired and my wife hadn't been in the 3rd world before, so I was almost certain that her first contacts with the "indian bargaining" would be quite stressing.
I was a little bit surprised discovering that it was not very easy to make them understand me, but it all ended up well, not to mention the fact that we had to pay a tout for guiding us from inside the airport to the taxi. We did that involuntarily, as soon as we paid, a man came from behind the desk and told us to follow him, and so we did thinking that he was the driver. He put our luggage in the trunk, told us to enter the taxi and then he left us alone for some minutes. We were a little bit confused. We finally realised we had followed a tout when he appeared with the driver and asked for "baksheesh...". We gave him Rs 10, he made that "just this?" face would became familiar to us in a short time, but he ended up accepting it without much arguing.
The taxi ride was quite exciting to us. My wife was fascinated with the aspect of the streets and their life, but soon she started to feel a little bit shocked with all the misery, dirtiness and pollution. I was very excited too, however I was not so impressed with the filth and poverty, that was something I was already expecting, so it was not much of a surprise. My first strong feeling was that I was back in Asia, away from home and from the civilised, (relatively) clean and organised life. I remembered my arrival in Kathmandu 14 months before, the characteristic smell of strange combustibles and motor oils was quite the same. And then, there was that heavy, hot and humid air of the tropics that I liked so much to feel in the first hours. Everything remembered us that we were really far away, in a completely new place to us, a whole world of new sensations to discover and make us forget for some time our somewhat grey daily routine. That's something unique to long distance travelling, the dive in a completely different life, the partial loss of references, or the gaining of others we will use just for our staying. When I travel in Europe I never feel completely away from home, things aren't that different, they lack that taste of exotism.
On the way to Colaba we passed the Haji Ali's tomb. It was low tide, so there were lots of people. On the nearby Mahalaxmi temple there was also a big queue. The landscape between the airport and these places is a mixture of degraded quarters, many huts, some commercial sky scrapers also degraded. Many people seem to leave in the sidewalk of the streets, in improvised tents made of plastic. Moving in the streets were not only autos, all of them seeming to be older than 20 years, but also lots of motor bikes, auto rikshaws and even some animals, like cows and donkeys. The aspect of the streets changes a lot near Chowpatty beach. That must have been a nice neighbourhood, perhaps in the british times. There are lots of big beautiful colonial style houses with gardens, the major part of them looking somewhat abandoned. The beach itself isn't quite inviting.
We had some difficulty in finding the Regent Hotel, in Best Road, Colaba. I had the impression that the driver didn't know the street, we had to discover it ourselves looking at the plates, but perhaps he simply wasn't able to understand us. I had chosen this hotel quite randomly in the plane - it is close to Gateway of India, it had some good references, so why not? Its aspect isn't bad, the but we didn't like the room very much, so we decided we could try something fancier on our first night in India. I proposed the Ambassador, mainly for the rooftop restaurant. The price of a double in Regent was something between Rs 1200 and Rs 1500, perhaps more, I don't remember very well, anyway nothing like the Rs 600-700 LP mentions.
At the Regent's door we had to our debut with bargaining taxi riders. I kept insisting in Rs 40, but the man didn't pay any attention, he said something like "you're my brother, I'm here to satisfy you, I'll be happy if you are happy", and so on. We ended up entering after he supposedly said he would charge us for the meter. We made our decision partly because Rosario was bothered with my little rudeness with the man who seemed to be so kind and helpful. Needless to say that when we arrived the Ambassador he found that Rs 40 was not enough. The meter showed something like 1 or 10... I don't remember how much we end paying, maybe Rs 50 and a dollar. The porter from the hotel came to help the driver, saying that he was right about Rs 40 not being enough.
The Ambassador is an old hotel, with some charm, but nothing to remember for the rest of our lives, specially if one considers the price: about US 130 or more, for a room without any view. We decided to stay mainly because we had lost our patience, we were urging for a bath and some rest. Rosario was quite stressed, she passed some bad times, almost regretting have come to India. Too many emotions for so little time and fatigue, I imagine. She was a little better after resting and sleeping for some hours, but she hated Bombay while we were there. She doesn't anymore.
In the late afternoon we walked a bit in marine Drive and Colaba. Rosario was urging to leave Bombay as soon as possible. We asked in the hotel where could we make our reservations to fly to Goa and they told us that only in the airport. It took them more then 10 m just to give us the phone number of Indian Airlines. Strange thing for a "luxury" hotel... Happily for us, I mistrusted the information and gave more credit to LP, which says that there is an office of Indian Airlines nearby. We had no problem finding it, it was just 5 m walking and surprisingly it was open at that late hour. Open and empty. I had shock when the employee informed us that there were no seats available to Goa until the 10th. From Delhi, things were not bright also: not before the 6th. I began to be really frightened. There I was with a angry woman, stuck in a not so pleasant town, with no chance to go to our first destination. The perspective of starting our holidays with a 1000 km bus ride was not very attractive. I tried and succeeded keeping my cool blood - "there has to be a solution!" - I said to myself. Surprisingly, Rosario seemed very calm, perhaps she didn't understand very well what was going on, or maybe she was more optimist than me.
We headed for Colaba, where I imagined there would be any air companies offices, or at least some travel agencies. We passed one or two airplane offices, but we had trouble finding a travel agency. We also passed a big statue of Gandhi, which was decorated with big flowers' necklaces. It was Gandhi Jayanti (or "Gandhi Ji", like they seem to call it) holiday, Gandhi's birthday.
Finally we were pointed one in the place where we phoned home just to say we had already arrived well. After beginning to think that nothing worked very well in India, it was a good surprise to find that agency, International Travels. The man who attended us didn't put any strange face when I informed him that we wanted plane tickets to Goa - "Goa?! And when". "As soon as possible, tomorrow, if possible". "Ok, let's see what can I do for you", and he took the phone. In some seconds he said there were only 1st class seats available. "Price?". "US 66 2nd class, 75 1st". "Ok". "Vegetarian or non-vegetarian menu?". "Non-vegetarian". So, after a short phone call he was writing our tickets. We paid with Visa with no extra charge, we were assured that our reservation was confirmed, he would have troubles if we wouldn't embark the next day and make any complaints. He explained us that tickets issued by an agency with the IATA logo are certificated to be valid, if there is any little problem, the company misses the authorisation to use that logo.
The area of Colaba was kind of disappointing to me. I was expecting some more animation, lots of tourists, also lots shops and bars for them, something like the touristic centre of any big town is. Not quite, I suppose that I wouldn't see that area us the more touristic in Bombay if I hadn't read anything, I would have left Bombay with the sensation of having not seen the real touristic centre of the town. We enter Leopold's Bar, which has the right of some eulogious lines in LP, described as "a Bombay legend", but we didn't stay. Again, a delusion, it seems fairly comfortable and nice, but probably I wouldn't remember to mention it if it wasn't referred in LP. However, it has that charming old-fashioned look which isn't rare to find in indian bars and restaurants, a 20's to 50's naive decoration.
It was dark already, so we took a taxi back to the Ambassador. For what I remember, bargaining was quite easy, probably because we agree on an exorbitant price (not more than Rs 50, I think). We had dinner later at the hotel, at 10 or 10:30pm, we were not hungry. The dinner was "special", an indian buffet. The price was Rs 200 or 250 for person, drinks not included. We were kind of frustrated because the rooftop restaurant was closed. Someone told us later that it because a bomb that blasted some years ago. They had a bar in the penthouse, with a great view over all downtown Bombay and the Marine Drive. Unhappily the bar closed early and it was quite poor and deserted. We went to bed early, we had planned to see the gateway of India the next morning before we went to the airport. Our plane was leaving around 1pm, we had to be at the airport until noon.
We left the hotel around 10 in the morning and negotiated a taxi to the airport passing by the Gateway of India on the way. I think we didn't do it directly with the driver, we did it with another driver who directed us to his college after the negotiation. One has to not worry about understanding the way some things go in this part of the world...
Rosario was in a quite better mood that morning. She even liked the area of the Gateway of India. She was quite enthusiastic about a snake enchanter. I was a little bit worried about our things in the taxi, so we didn't stay much time.
We were very well treated in the flight to Goa. It was our first and only business class trip and it was even more agreeable after those not so good first moments in Bombay. The goan seaside is great viewed from the air, green hills with lots of coconut trees, lots of beaches, blue sea. Goa airport is quite basic.
Our plans were to head first for the home of a friend's of mine aunt. They're goan, but his parents left Goa when India invaded the territory. I tried to kindly refuse my friend's offer to stay at his family's house, but I wasn't able to do it, because he persisted in his insistence. I suppose that great kindness and hospitality is a goan characteristic. I have very good opinion on any goan I know, and I know a few, there are quite a few in Portugal.
We took a pre-paid taxi to Pangim, which is about 30 Km away. The trip from the airport to Pangim is beautiful as almost anything seemed to our eyes in Goa, apart from some badly urbanised areas. The keywords for goan landscape are green, blue, coconut trees, rice fields, white churches and crosses, and beaches. Maybe there are some more, those not so pleasant, too many houses almost everywhere.
D.A. (D., stands for "dona", a portuguese courtesy form), my friend's aunt lives in a nice green hill besides the big Imaculada Conceição's (Immaculate Conception) church, but we weren't able to find her house. Like our first driver in Bombay, this one didn't speak or understand english very well, and I ask myself if he understood itself well with the goans he spoke to ask for the house of D.A.. Probably he wasn't goan and didn't speak the goan language, konkani. I ended up asking myself the way, but I had no success. It looks like they don't put the door numbers on the walls on that part of Pangim. As D.A. was not the only contact we had in Pangim, we tried the other one. This is a cousin of my father-in-law's friend and college. Apparently, A., the cousin of our friend is quite known in Pangim, so the man I was talking with tell us to follow his car. He also talked to our driver in a strange language. In a few minutes we were near A.'s house. We asked in the level floor where exactly did he lived and surprisingly he were answered in portuguese.
At this point I must say that A. didn't know at all about our existence. His cousin only had known about we go to India in our wedding, but even so he insisted on giving us the contact of his family "It's my home region, I insist you meet with my aunt and my cousin, I'm sure he'll be glad to help you", he said. Again, another proof of goan hospitality that one can't run away from.
So, there we were knocking at A.'s house, in the afternoon of a holiday. The hindus were celebrating Dussehra, one of their most popular festivals. We were received by his wife and their two little sons. He was taking a little sleep. In spite of the odd situation and being wake up in the middle of a torrid holiday afternoon, A. and his wife, S., reacted quite naturally with the greatest kindness. In 10 minutes we became friends and felt completely natural to be there talking in portuguese with them. After some time he called his mother, who lives next door, and she was also very happy to meet us, her nephew's friends. We found quite interesting the fact that S. understands portuguese very well only from hearing her Husband talking with his mother from staying in Portugal for 2 or 3 weeks. She doesn't has the same ability to talk, but I think that is because of being shy because of not talking so well. We were told later that they had a small problem with the language at home when they had children - A. used to talk with his mother in portuguese, with S. in konkani or english, so they decided to speak only in english to not confuse the little boys. I suppose that may be a quite common problem in India, but a completely new to us.
A. is manager of an important travel agency, so he quickly found us a hotel in the Calangute beach, the Goan Heritage. He, S. and the their sons. The little boys were quite happy with the sudden stroll. Just outside A.'s house, we were interpellated in portuguese by a smiling old man. He informed us who had won the sunday's elections and he showed us part of his collection of press cuttings from portuguese newspapers with news on Goa and its affairs. He complained about our consulate in Pangim, he was very sad because they paid more attention to some non goans than to him. He wasn't being able to renew his portuguese passport, he who had been in Portugal for many years, namely in our town in Portalegre, where he has still some relatives. It was funny to discover common personal links in so far away lands.
The place hadn't any luxuries. It is a quite little hotel near the beach, with a green and a little swimming pool. It is built in the sandy area, so one can say it is "on" the beach. The sea border was less than 100 mts from the garden gate. Our room was spacious, with a little veranda, two large bamboo beds which could turn into one giant bed when joined together and an attached bath with "floor shower", that is, one took the showers directly on the floor. We paid about US 175 for 7 days, 7 nights, 6 breakfasts and some dinners and lunches (at least one for each of us per day).
The food is regular, good but nothing to be remembered. They hadn't many guests, in fact it seemed they had more employees than guests, particularly in the restaurant, but that's quite common in India, it's impressive the quantity of employees that some places have. However that rarely means that one gets served quicker.
We organised our things in the room, we rest a little and then we went to see the beach. It was almost sunset, it is a magical time in the goan beaches, which face West. The colour of the sea becomes the same of the sand, which is dark yellow, almost light brown. It's a time when fishermen finished their work and the crows stop apparently to observe the sunset with us. When I mentioned the "Goa keywords" I forgot "crows" and their howl. They seem to be everywhere by the dozens!
After the beach and a bath we walked around a little. When we were phoning home again, we had the chance to meet a goan with relatives in Portugal. He showed very happy to hear portuguese, although he almost didn't speak it. He wished us a merry stay.
We decided to dinner at Osborne's. It is a hotel that A. proposed to us before he Goan Heritage and he mentioned that the food was good. We didn't choose it because it isn't on the beach, though it just 10 or 15 min walking. We ordered in a table by the pool but we ended eating inside because it started raining. The food was fairly good, with the plates with prices around Rs 50. The hotel was full of indian youngsters. We imagined they were more or less wealthy for the indian standards, namely because they dressed very "western". They don't looked much different from youngsters from anywhere if it wasn't the fact that they were all boys, there wasn't a single girl around. It was a little bit odd for us, we don't imagine ourselves in our 15 or 18 years in "boys-only" place.
On the way back we took a taxi. At the beginning we made ourselves strong and we answered no to the driver's propositions, but we finished going back to him. Like the major part of the other goan drivers, at least of those who stand near the hotels, this was rather inflexible in not lowering his initial price and we paid him exactly what he had asked us the first time.
We woke up relatively early for our standards - 8:30. We had breakfast in Goan Heritage as it would become a habit and we head for the Calangute market. My back pack needed some stitching and we want to get some post stamps to send some postcards. The area they call Calangute market is one where there are many shops and the only where houses are a little more concentrated. The urbanisation around Calangute and in Goa in general is rather disperse, a house here, another 20 or 50 mts away, all in the middle in the trees. Most villages can could be described as big green parks with some houses planted inside. As parks they tend to be badly cared, but let's forget that. There are many ancient colonial houses, most of them abandoned, I imagine that the major part of the more wealthy persons ran away after the coming of the indian army. Before that there was already much emigration to the other portuguese colony of Mozambique. which has increased a lot after the invasion (or liberation, as some prefer to call it). The major part of goan residents in Portugal are former Mozambique immigrants.
In the road we asked the way to an old gentleman. We did it in english, he was very kind and attentive. Distractedly I thanked him in portuguese, "obrigado". The man turn back with a bright in his eyes and asked in plain good portuguese "you're portuguese, no?" He was really happy to meet us, it was very touchy to us. He was a little bit sorrowful about the portuguese presence. He said that Goa had decayed much since we had left, much disorganisation, much dirtiness "Dr Salazar was a really good man!", he said. We couldn't believe we were standing in front of a goan salazarist in 1995! Salazar was our dictator for more from the early 30's to the late 60's. Although it was quite more benign than Mussolini or Franco, he made part of their ideological family. His regime defended strongly the maintenance of the colonies, defending that Portugal was a multiracial and multicontinental country. We were taught in school that we were no more portuguese than our coloured brothers born in overseas. That was nothing by talk, very few naturals from the colonies (or overseas provinces, like they were officially called) had citizenship rights, but they even reach the point of having plans of transferring the capital from Lisbon to central Angola, to the city now called Huambo, Nova Lisboa in the colonial days. I entered school in 1970 and I remember to be taught that Goa, Daman and Diu were portuguese territories under indian occupation, the regime persisted on that 9 years past the invasion.
We kept talking to the man for some time, caring for not contradicting him in his controverse political opinions. I guess it's easier to him to guilt the indian invasion for the problems that surely exist in his country. A. told us later that persons who were closer to the portuguese culture suffered a lot after the occupation, not so because they were persecuted, but because they got confused. They saw themselves as a kind of special portuguese and suddenly all their world crumbled apart.
"Back to Calangute", we head our way to "the market". We went to the post office first, again an old and small building still from the portuguese times. It had still the old logo from the portuguese posts. The clerk who attended us salute us in portuguese when we went away. Post stamps are really cheap, Rs 6 for the international air mail. I found a tailor who said he would fix my back pack. He sold postcards also, besides him there was a little metallurgic workshop, totally on open air. One feels constantly travelling in time in India. We bought sandals on the shoe maker in front and we proceed to the main square of the village. There it stands a colourful hindu temple.
Rosario was fascinated with the religious attitude of hindus. I was too, but that wasn't so much of a surprise for me, because I had been in Nepal the year before. Christians in general and catholics have a rather dull attitude towards religion than hindus, our temples are quite weighty and even morbid, generally dark and lifeless. Hindu temples, at contrary, are full of life and colour. It was the first time I entered a hindu temple, because in Nepal we are not allowed. The ambience inside is quite quiet and reposing. In front of the temple there was a little jeep decorated with yellow and orange flowers, with a little figure of a god or goddess, Durga, I think. As I stated, it was time of an important hindu festival, the Dussehra, and one of the days it's dedicated to Durga. That was the first of the many religiously decorated vehicles we saw during our stay. They were of every kind, from auto rikshaws to big lorries, always with many flowers and a figure of a god or goddess. We guess that people confuse a little the hindu and catholic rites, because we saw also much crosses with flowers necklaces. Those crosses are everywhere in Goa, there are some even in the Calangute beach, the major part of them very well kept. With the heavy rains and humidity they would loose their white very quickly if they were not painted frequently.
After the temple we head for the beach. On the way we did some more shopping, some clothes and postcards, and we were convinced to assist a demonstration of Kashmir carpets in a newly opened emporium. The kashmir people are master in selling business, they are quite smooth, they successfully give the impression that they are really interested not only in selling but also to proportionate a nice time to the potential customer, and give all the informations he or she maybe wanting. An mandatory thing is to accept a drink, a tea or a soda or anything else. One feels sorry for the hard times their country is passing, with the war and terrorism. They seem to truly love their home land, and one gets fascinated hearing them talk of how carpets are done, their themes, the different kinds and the stories that are supposed to tell. They are quite persuasive without reaching the pointing of being boring, one almost feels a little guilt in not buying anything. This time we resisted well. We weren't on the mood to carry carpets all the rest of our journey through India, and Goa is an odd place to buy Kashmir carpets. We know very little about carpets, and what we know we got it from sellers, but their prices were very similar to those we saw later in Agra, although we didn't bargain. About US $400 for a silk made with 1.8 for 1 met., half of that for the woollen.
The beach it 's quite degraded and dirty and it was full of indian people strolling around, probably enjoying their small Dussehra holidays. As everywhere in Goa, we could see some dogs and cows in the beach, but not the famous goan pigs. These we knew already from seeing some everywhere in Calangute. They were of a kind new to us, small, dark and with hair in the top of the bodies. They are more alike our wild boars than with our pigs. They are reputed as eaters of everything. One of the various things unique in goan cuisine are the pig plates, a strange thing in a country where pig meat is regarded as forbidden and impure. They make excellent sausages, the "chouriços" (or "chorizos" like some called them), which are quite like our portuguese traditional pork sausage, although their form is a little bit different and their taste a little more spicy. Spice in food is a constant, and it can be hard to anyone who's minimally prepared. I don't know how goan pork and cow eaters are seen by the other hindu people.
We searched for a place to eat, namely the "Tibetan Kitchen" that is referred in LP, but it was closed, with constructions going on. We took a look at Souza Lobo's restaurant from outside, another one advised in LP, but the aspect wasn't much inviting. Maybe from nearer it looked better, I don't know. We ended going back to the Goan Heritage neighbourhood. Rosario wanted to try a seafood menu at a restaurant near the S.Antonio church. The restaurant where we had dinner the day before, the Osborne, is nearby and we had seen an outdoor announcing seafood. Taxi drivers tried to take us to the Anjuna flea market, but we were kind of tired to it and it was too hot. We paid Rs 30 after little bargaining, they had started asking 50 or 60.
The seafood restaurant turned out to be closed, so we decided to try the hotel on the beach near our Goan Heritage, the Golden Eye, which also announced seafood. It turned out to be a bad choice, not so much because of the food, which wasn't worth any note, but because of the price. We paid more than Rs 400 for a big plate with some big shrimps and vegetables and two shrimp soups. We suspect that most of the soups in Goa are basically white sauce with some aromatic additive to give some taste. However, not everything was bad, the place is very agreeable, just beside the beach.
We were very tired after lunch, probably we were still suffering from some jet lag, after the excitement of the arrival had gone. We went to our hotel to take a rest. After that, we were feeling great. We headed to the beach, it was great at that hour of the day. We stayed there until dark, with the company of the crows and some fishermen.
After a shower we went searching for Tito's, one of the more recommended restaurants in Baga, but it was closed. That didn't bothered us much, because we had seen many open air restaurants in the way, much of them seemed agreeable. We stopped in Linda Goa, where we had dinner. We tasted very good ice creams as dessert. Goan ice cream and other sweets, like the famous "bebinca" are generally good. We had also some feni, a liqueur made of coconut tree sap (toddy) or cashew.
After leaving Linda Goa we remained in a bar talking and drinking feni with coke. We kept delaying our return because of the rain, so we were almost the last clients. The owners were very kind when we asked them where could we get a taxi, as there weren't taxis at there late hour (around midnight). One of them took us back to Goan Heritage. We paid him less than what we had paid on the going.
On this day we were waiting from a car with driver from A.'s agency. He would take us to see Old Goa and some hindu temples in Ponda. We had tried to decline the offer, but it was nearly impossible with all the kindness of A.. We woke up at 8:15, we took breakfast in Goan Heritage, as it was becoming usual, and we went to the garden. We had a little meeting problem, so we ended up arriving in Pangim at noon. We went to A.'s agency first because another thing that A. had insisted to take care for us was the preparation of our North India trip for the next week.
Before lunch we passed by D.A.'s house, the aunt of our other goan friend we hadn't been able to meet on our first day. The old lady was delighted with the visit of her nephew's friends. She's a retired primary teacher who devotes her life to social care. My friend had described her as a very religious person, so we imagined her as a conservative person full of catholic prejudices, but she's nothing of it. She's a really kind person, whose motivation has nothing to do with personal image care, at contrary, she does her social work helping the poor people because of her truly goodness. She told us that she was very sad when she saw how catholicism and catholics behave in Europe in general and Portugal in particular. She understands very well that people run away from churches, because the church is very distant from people's life, they seem only worried with the rites. There in India, at contrary, church is very close to people's life and their daily problems. She said that nothing was more rewarding than to feel really useful to persons. She works not only with catholics, but also with hindus. It was fascinating hearing her talking, even if we are agnostics. Their we had a lady who knew the pope (she was in Rome representing the indian catholic community) who had nothing to do with those religious old ladies we know.
D.A.'s insisted we take a drink, so we had a funny surprise discovering that they make port wine in Goa. It's good, perhaps a little to sweet, we guess that's a portuguese heritage. We discovered late other imitations of portuguese wines, namely green wine (vinho verde), a kind of acid wine with little alcohol. Apparently they import the grapes from another indian state and they make the wines locally. Goa is an exception to the general "almost dry" indian rule. You can find beer anywhere in India, but the prices at twice or more than they are in Goa. It's hard to find another brand other than Kingfisher, which is sold in 0.6 l. bottles. Another thing hard to find is a *cold* beer, you may consider you lucky if they serve it cool. I'm not much of a beer lover, but Kingfisher isn't too bad, perhaps a little lifeless and light, but that can also be a quality.
D.A.'s house is a charming typical goan house, very much alike our old portuguese country rich houses. She is repairing the empty part of it, which isn't occupied since her brother, my friend's father, left Goa.
After leaving D. A., we went lunching with our guide. We were with A.'s agency employees. We ate in Delhi Durbar. It was full of indian people, we didn't noticed any other tourist apart from us. It's not a goan restaurant, it's more oriented towards northern cuisine, namely muglai, but it's really very good. It was our first memorable meal in Pangim, and the best in India until that moment. We paid Rs 360 for a big lunch for us 3, with beers, desserts and coffees. The plates are for the big side, we weren't able to finish all the food that was brought.
We went to Old Goa after lunch. As soon as we stepped down the car, a guide approached us and walked with us. We assumed at first he was from the agency too, so we didn't even think about driving him away. He was kind, so we were not repented for having his services. His name was portuguese, the first was Mario like mine, but he didn't speak portuguese, although he had some family in Portugal. He knew a lot about the architecture and the history of the churches, he was good at his job. We strolled around the 3 main churches, the Basilica do Bom Jesus, S.Caetano and the Se Cathedral. It was funny to be inside those places that look so familiar, with their much portuguese style, in a so far away place, with a completely exotic landscape and weather. At the entrance of Bom Jesus we hesitated when we saw that most of the persons took their shoes off before going inside. The guide explained that hindu people do that when they go in a church because they are used to in their temples, but we shouldn't do it being catholic as we were.
The tomb of S.Francisco Xavier, in Bom Jesus, is impressive, not so because of its discussible beauty, but because of its morbidness. Only catholics to guard and adore a crippled corpse some centuries old. The guide explained us all the story of the saint, which was already vaguely known to us. He was born in Spain, then he went to India and from there he travelled all over Asia. After being dead he was in Malaca, another important portuguese colony in the 16th century, for many years, then he went to Goa. His remains are scattered all over the world, although the major part is there at the Basilica do Bom Jesus. It seems to have been a christian tradition to break apart some pieces of the saints corpses. I imagine what would priests say about those practices if they weren't done by them... Again we are forced to consider our religious habits much morbid when compared to the hindus.
The tomb itself is not easily seen from the main hall of the church, because it stands to high. One can see it a little better from the upper floor, where they have an exhibition of naive religious paintings, the major part of them representing scenes from the life of the saint.
A thing that appears strange in Old Goa is the fact that the remains from the ancient town are almost non existent apart from those bigger churches. The ancient Rome of the Orient, the town of which was said in the 16th century that "who saw Goa doesn't need to see Lisbon", the capital of the portuguese eastern empire, which sometimes had a sea fleet more powerful from the main portuguese one, has nearly disappeared in the tropical woods in the banks of the Mandovi river. It's ironic that it resisted to a lot of tentatives of military occupation during hundreds of years just to be extinguished spontaneously in something more than a century.
After Old Goa we went to the nearby Ponda, where we visited the Shri Mangesh and the Shri Shantadurga temples. The first had more visitors, although we saw no other tourists. Outside of both there were women selling flowers, apparently there's an habit of giving flowers (and money, of course) to the priests inside, so they can bless and give them back. We experienced again that quietness and piece, that much agreeable environment inside both of the temples. One of the most intriguing aspects of the richest hindu temples we visited is the substitute of the main altar of christian churches. They looks like a series of communicating little halls, giving a certain illusion of infinity. The statue of the god or goddess stands in the last of the halls.
Those temples in Ponda appeared to be quite rich, those "corridor of halls" had many silver stuff, at least it looked like it. Their architecture and outside decoration seems to have some influence from the christian churches, resembling vaguely baroque. In front of the Shri Mangesh there is a big pool which was being used to wash clothes. Again, religion close to daily life, a thing like that would be badly seen by christian eyes if it happened in a church area.
Near Shri Mangesh we visited also a little and poor temple dedicated to Ganesh, the elephant god. It is little more than a simple little house covered with zinc or plastic plates. We were kind of disillusioned by not seeing the god drinking milk. Two weeks before there was a lot of talk about Ganesh statues all over the world drinking milk. That was a fact that stopped being talked as it started.
Being in Ponda, I couldn't avoid remembering the story of the father of a friend of mine who was imprisoned there for some months after the invasion. He says ironically that he has something in common with Vasco da Gama, since this was the first portuguese official to arrive in India and he was the last one. He was rather unlucky, he arrived just the day before the invasion, so in his second day in Goa he was already a war prisoner. It appears that, considering the circumstances, he hasn't so bad memories about the imprisonment, he mounted a radio inside the camp, he made himself friend of the guards and he even was took to see some places outside.
Back in Pangim, we saw the preparatives and the beginning of an hindu rally. Apparently they talked about politics and religion. It was very colourful and animated. There were a lot of those decorated lorries with a religious statue and full of flowers and colour papers.
We said goodbye to A. and our guide and went back to "our" Goan Heritage, where we had dinner. After we relaxed for a little bit in the grass, which was turning to be an habit. The only thing that wasn't perfect in those hour in the garden were mosquitoes. They were relatively rare when compared with what we experienced in Agra, but still a little boring.
Breakfast at the hotel, Mapusa market after. In the way we passed by the Calangute market to leave the ragged back pack to be stitched. The taxi driver we picked at the hotel insisted on waiting for us during our visit to the market. This is huge, you can find there everything and it was completely crowded. We were constantly harassed to buy anything, but we managed quite well. It was quite an experience, those hours in the market.
We proceeded to Chapora, where we visited the remains of the old portuguese fort. The driver still did try to wait for our return, but we managed quite easily to refuse. In the foot of the hill of the fort there are some landmarks. The driver said to us that there was a place where hindus cremated their deads. There were some remains of fire scattered all over the place.
The fort stands on the top of an hill with an splendid view to the sea, an estuary and to fields and hills covered with coconut trees and rice fields. The beaches of Vagator and Arambol seem a touristic pamphlet viewed from here. The fort itself is nothing more than a wall, with nothing inside it.
After the fort we went down to the beach of Vagator, where we decided to have lunch in the Sterling (or Vagator) Resort, which is referenced in LP. It's a nice place, specially viewed from the fort, composed of bungalows scattered all over a shady garden. We were relatively well served, the waiters were kind. We went to see a bungalow, which was spacious, with TV and refrigerator. Their Christmas price was Rs 1300 per day.
We found that 5th ed. of LP was quite outdated for Vagator, not only for the name of the Vagator Resort, but also because the well referenced Lobo's & Lily's restaurant was nothing but the remains of a shed made of bamboo, wood and palm leaves.
We had an abnormally bargaining for the price of the taxi to take us back to the hotel. I mentioned before that the prices of taxis in Goa aren't very negotiable, but that applies better to those who stand near the hotels and resorts, away from those places isn't rare to find drivers that will try to get exorbitant prices from you. As is common, we negotiated not directly with the driver, but with another guy, but apparently there was no alternative, considering that the drivers paid no attention to us.
Taxis in Goa are basically of two kinds: old small cars looking like the british cars from the 50's, coloured white or beige, and small vans, a kind of miniatures of those japanese vans that carry 8 or 9 persons, only these carry only 5. Their price seems to having nothing to do with the type. A common characteristic is that all have religious figures and sayings in the front, specially in the front of the driver. Some of them even carry little temples and little lights. That applies not only to hindu drivers, christian have S.Fancisco Xavier, S.Antonio de Lisboa or any form of Our Lady instead of Ganesh or Shantadurga. The traffic is a real anarchy to our eyes, however we discovered that Goa is rather organised when compared to North India. Roads are alright, apart from being narrow and for some worse stretches. There aren't too many animals for indian standards, but instead it's not rare to see half of the way being used to dry rice. Someone explained that it was because it lacks dry terrain to do it, so they use the road.
The tout who accompanied us in our ride back to the hotel was very happy listening to some audio cassettes of what seemed indian rock n' roll. I had the feeling that he was trying to impress us. We bore it for sometime, then we asked him to lower the volume, which he did a little bit constrained.
We had a little snap, which was becoming another habit and then we went to the beach until the sunset.
We went to the beach early in the morning. Then I went to Calangute alone to pick the back pack. This back pack bought in Pokhara, Nepal, the year before is a complete fraud. It is very good looking, apparently very solid and practical, but he keeps falling apart. I doubt (or am I being too nasty?) it is really Karrimor. Happily I was more lucky with my other smaller Karrimor, also bought in Nepal at the same time.
I paid Rs 60 for the work, but they hadn't stitched all that was ragged, so I had to wait for they finish the job. I searched around for t-shirts to buy, but it seems that Calangute, Goa and India it's not a very good place for buying t-shirts, it's hard to find anyone nice. That was a little disappointing to me, I like t-shirts a lot, it's a way of keeping souvenirs that are useful, and I though that India might be a little bit like Nepal in the t-shirt business, there we have a lot of choices.
I returned to Goan Heritage where we had lunch. I finally photographed an interesting aspect of the hotel: at the entrance they have a little Ganesh beside a cross, both in marble under a little porch. We like to see that as a sign of mutual tolerance after a past history of nasty persecutions.
We spent the rest of the day relaxedly in the hotel and on the beach, then we headed to Pangim. We strolled around in Pangim for a while. We went to the biggest hindu temple in town, the Mahalaxmi temple. It was a little bit disappointing after the temples of Ponda, its main hall looks a little bit like a country ballroom, although the main altar is nice. Outside there is a big pagoda.
We were invited to have dinner with his family. S. had prepared a delicious snack of fried shrimps, which we ate with some beers. I think we only had really cold beer at A.'s house.
They took us to a barbecue buffet big 5 stars hotel in the D. (portuguese abreviation for "dona", "lady" in english) Paula beach, the Cidade de Goa. It was really a great dinner. The hotel is nice, although the beach isn't very good: it beautiful but very small, and it's probably a little polluted or at least dirty, since it is not in open sea, rather is in the estuary of the Mandovi. They had a live show which exploited some portuguese reminiscences. Apparently it was supposed to be a kind of portuguese folk group, the dancers were dressed like it and they played a lot of popular portuguese folk songs, namely fado. It was funny to be there in a tropical environment eating delicious tandooris and salads, hearing to portuguese music with the strangest accent (I guess the singers didn't speak a work of portuguese) and watching home dances with lots of indian antics surrounded by tourists. There was a particularly animated group of russians, we were told that they were there for negotiating a co-operation with a local shipyard. We knew one of the directors of that shipyard, he is cousin of A. and of our home friend too. Don't ask me for the price it cost, A. didn't allowed us to pay, but it was a really nice evening.
© J. Mário Pires, 96
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