Goa

After a night in the City Palace hotel, which, honestly, doesn’t have much in common with a palace at all, but which is conveniently situated opposite of Victoria Station, we boarded the train headed towards Goa. We arrived in darkness at the terminal in a spooky atmosphere. On our way we saw many people sleeping on or beside the side walks and in ditches, covered solely with a sheet of plastic or canvas, and were again reminded of the sad fact that 55 % of Bombay’s population lived in slums. Bombay has a current population of about 8 million…
We were lucky enough to get seats in 3rd class on the morning train, not the most comfortable way to travel by any means. There were 8 people in our compartment with 8 convertible beds attached to the walls. It was even narrower in there than on the airplane.
After 12 hours and a trip that turned out to be more comfortable than expected, at dusk, we finally arrived in Old Goa . We had seen quite a bit of India on our train ride and the landscape turned out to be a different picture from the garbage, traffic and smog dominated metropolis that we had just left behind. India is a vast, hot country interspersed by stretches of lush, green forests and rice paddies. Most of it, of course, is a kind of Savannah, all shimmering in golden, ockre colours. There were vast stretches without a sign of a human being, which in an overpopulated country like India comes like a fresh breeze. But you could immediately tell by the ubiquituous garbage that our train was approaching human settlements. For a country that is capable of navigating space crafts on to the surface of the moon, it is a shame how they treat their beautiful soil: Indian cities and towns are a big, big dumbing site.

Goa is a different place to Bombay in many ways. Its Portuguese history oozes from every corner of Goa and has left its eternal mark on people and buildings. There are dozens of Christian churches and beautiful, colorful colonian buildings; the people here have Portuguese names, are Christians and speak a Portuguese influenced pigin. The name of the relaxed but keen taxi driver that drove us from the train station to Panjim, the largest city in the region, was Joao. He turned out to become our private driver for the rest of our stay here. Joao was a reliable driver, although you never can be completely sure about safety on these bumpy and narrow Indian streets with its chaotic traffic. But he navigated us safely to the most interesting spots.
We visited the churches of Old Goa, which in the 16th century had a larger population than London and Lisabon at that time. Now there is hardly anything left of its grandeur, still the many churches are reminiscent of Old Goa’s bloom. A few Hindu temples, an interesting visit to a local spice farm and an encounter with Lalita, a 25 year old, sadly looking but sweet Indian elephant, were the milestones of the rest of our day out cruising.
As we had done every evening in Bombay, here in Goa, we have also been dedicating our dinners exploring Indian cuisine. Food is spicy, exotic and really good, although it is different to Bombay’s cuisine, with an apparent European, mostly, of course, Portuguese touch. Yesterday evenening, we enjoyed a delicious Red Snapper in a tasty sauce, washing it down with Kingfisher, the national beer of India, which is not bad either. At 6 EUR the seafood was a really good bargain, too.
Yesterday we went up North with Joao, exploring one of the many Goan beaches at Arambol. Man, it was hot on the beach, mostly because of lack of wind, which appears to be absent all through Goa. The waves were unspectacular so that Boogie boarding was ruled out as a pastime. Still, the beach was an impressive stretch of sand, endless miles of it, and the Indians had even cared to keep at least this one clean.
This morning we made a boat tour from Panjim, exploring swollen Mandovi river and looking for dolpins further out towards the sea. As a matter of fact, a large school of them happened to roam the bay and were friendly enough to surface from time to time in order to give us a few glimpses of them.
Again it was a nice but scorchingly hot trip.
The temperature seems to vary little, it is a constant 33 to 35 degrees centigrade with the sun at its most relentless between 12 and 2 in the afternoon. Evenings are more pleasant, of course, but temperatures hardly go below 27-28 degrees before midnight.

Since India is such a vast country – something we have underestimated -, we decided to take the aeroplane for the next change of places. Tomorrow we fly down South to the capital of Kerala, Trivandrum, from where we will be destined North to Varkala, another resort with hopefully great beaches. We are curious as to how the mentality, cuisine and countryside will continue to change as we are approaching the most Southern tip of India. By any means, we are looking forward to great beaches, Ayurveda massages and more of that delicious food.

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