Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Goa the beach hub of india

Sunrise Arlem Goa
British rule in India gave us an inheritance that has been difficult to shrug off. So if names like Connaught place, Dalhousie, Elgin road, Chelmsford Road and the likes are common in most of India,the Portuguese gave Goa a culture distinct from the rest of India. So when the D’Costas, the Braganzas ,the Farias and the Carvalhos  greet you as you land in this very delightful state ,you know there is a wonderfully different experience in store for you.
The small Goa airport seems distinctly incapable of handling the number of tourists that must be visiting this place, so high on the must visit place on every tourists list. Come out of the Dabolim airport and take in a deep breath to inhale the very pure air of nature. I have a three day stay in Goa but only a one day and a little more of  touring itinerary. As we move away from  crowds at the airport , we pass the Verna Industrial area and I spot a graffiti on the wall which is a sign of the times I will spend here. It reads “Goa where you can hang out all day”. But I hope the busy manufacturing units of this area, I can spot Siemens and IFB ,do not follow this dictum ! The Sumo driver drives at a pace which belies the laidback attitude of the Goan people. I think he is not from Goa whispers Harsh . We head south to Arlem, Margaon reaching Arlem circle, in 30 minutes, crossing “many thank you for visiting …” boards. The smallest state of India has to have small handkerchief sized towns.
It was the second day of my trip which had been slotted for a Goa darshan,by which time I had got a glimpse of the relaxed pace of life of this beautiful city.The shops open late ,close for siesta at one in the afternoon and then reopen at four in the evening .No brisk commercial oversell here, atleast not where I was staying. In one day we decided to pack in old Goa,Panaji and a beach ! A cross-section of Goa I thought. So come morning and Harsh and I  set off for Old Goa or Velha Goa.The roads are two laned in most parts and traffic is comfortable. Our driver was an enthusiastic young fellow, Shiva,who drives such that the wind catches in my hair and my breath almost stops a few times.Though the roads are not so wide yet there is something so expansive about the place, with its swaying palms, its red laterite soil covered ground, its fields of lotus and the general atmosphere of peace fills me with such a pleasant feeling of relaxation that I do not reprimand him ,but let him continue with his mad driving.
We pass through the old Goa and I want him to slow  down to get a  look at the lovely houses which are the architectural inheritance of this place. The gated villas with  rundown gardens  and,  I fantasise, a piano kept in the sitting room, a grandfather chair, pink and violet flowers in vase , a picture of Mother Mary with  the Baby Jesus and strains of jazz wafting in the air. I wish I had the time to walk through the lanes and admire the charm of these villas . But time was scarce and we drove past a group of young girls coming back from school all with hair done in almost identical two plaits and a group of old women chatting in a veranda wearing pretty flower patterned dresses.

We reach the main square of old Goa, the part of Goa where the Portuguese had their capital and built their magnificent churches and cathedrals, convents and e.We had decided to see the most famous church of them all the Basilica of Bom Jesus and
Acts of Faith at Basilica of BOM JESUS
 then the Se Cathedral . The Basilica is the oldest cathedral in India  and we  go inside to see the very elaborately gilded altar  and the glass casket where the body of St Francis has been  lying for centuries. The vestry is closed for the public but we also see the original casket made of silver. A wooden staircase leads up to an
old world wooden floored room which houses an  exhibition of  statues of saints and other  assorted revered ones and photographs of the church and Goa by the famous photographer Benoy Behl. Though we clicked photographs in the church below, posing for photographs was not permitted and I saw someone being chided for standing in front of the altar and getting clicked. No photography is allowed in this photo gallery but the displays are breathtaking and capture the spirit and history of this place. We come out and look back at the huge exposed brick 16th century church again and then cross the road to the new cathedral .The new is always relative and this new cathedral is actually  the Se Cathedral ,also dating  back to the 16th century. This is the largest church in Asia ,with a building that  is all white and renovations are going on. It’s an imposing church and I saw a belfry with a large bell, called the Golden bell because of its rich sound . The main church has the altar of St Catherine of Alexandria to whom this church is dedicated .And on the sides are small  chapels and altars like the “Cross of Miracles” ,Our lady of Doloures Chapel of Blessed sacraments . We spotted near the altar of St Joseph a slab which could be lifted and we made up stories of the secret tunnel that led all the way to the sea and then on to Lisbon   ,if you please ! Nothing like an overactive imagination to make a trip exciting! However the  slab actually covers the bones of Dom Gaspar de Leao Pereira, First Archbishop of Goa Next door was the convent which has  now been converted to a museum. The museum has exhibits from the past when Goa was also predominantly Hindu and took us through history ending with life-size portraits of the Portuguese Governor Generals till 1961. A lovely lesson in history. A quick visit to the adjoining church which was undergoing massive renovations and then it was lunch time.

We decided to go to Panaji where we could have found a vegetarian restaurant in this fish crazy place. The road to Panaji ran parallel to the Mandovi river on our right and we enjoyed the sight of several casinos at one point on the way. Did not stop to try my luck, I was lucky enough to be cruising along in a relaxed sleepy pleasant place. Panaji, of course is a little more crowded but has its very own character. In the main market, we reached the Church square and on the road which ended at the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception made famous by the Aishwarya- Shahrukh film Josh ! The  white church flanked by flights of stairs on both sides was splendid. But we went instead to search for our eating place and found Kamats. Neat and clean we were served a huge dosa enough for both lunch and dinner I thought. And then we walked along the streets enjoying the market and its shops. I was particularly fascinated by the hats and caps and the lovely bags. Even though it was afternoon and warm, we loved walking and doing some window shopping .I am not much of a shopper, it was fun to see the lovely cotton  dresses, the strappy sandals and the bright umbrella so correct for a day at the beach.

Our next stop was decided by Shiva who wanted us to see the Vasco da Gama beach . We let him have his way because Harsh had never been there .We drove past the airport, to Mormugao and its dockyards, lots of iron and metal and unfinished ships being worked upon there. Ahead was a coast guard and a naval establishment  and next to the Mormugao Port trust residential flats was our beach . The Vasco beach was beneath a small hill and a garden called the Japanese garden  and we had to wind our way down to the sea shore.Interestingly the beach is also called the Grandmothers hole beach or even the Japanese beach . The place was isolated with hardly a soul to be seen. While descending there was a Durga Shiv  temple. We just saw  two groups of five or six people in the garden up on the hill where we were descending. But the beach had nobody except for a family which stayed near the temple and their women were busy in making some yarns .We did not linger much there, I am not given to a lot of bravado and instead of regretting later, I thought it prudent to go back .Anyways it was too hot and the sand fairly scorched our feet . We ascended the narrow path and were off to our home for some rest.

As a reward for having given Harsh and his flatmates  homemade breakfast, hot tea, dinner and lots of motherly affection, the boys  took me  to a dinner on the beach . So in the evening we went to Benaulim beach some 5 kms away from his house . Motorbike is the way to travel in Goa and so I pillion rode. It was cool, the not so distant sea breeze fanning, the roads narrow but vehicular traffic was minimal and the joy of riding a motorcycle very invigorating and “being young once more”! On the way we saw some low mist crossing the road and I learnt that a ghost had been sighted in this stretch .  It was already dark when we reached the beach but the lighted shacks, the food and the music was so much fun.  

Goa is a fun  place and the the gentleness of the place infectious. I promise myself a longer trip soon .


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