After spending the night at Shishir chacha's and Shoni chachi's apartment, we took the train from Mumbai to Goa on the 29th of December. There's a nice overnight train (Konkan Kanya Express) which takes about 12 hours and has sleeper carriages with beds, bedding etc. Our co-passengers were a Finnish family who had managed to get last-minute reservations on the train straight from Helsinki! They had been traveling on and off for the last 17 years - our trip pales in comparison to their travels! The views along the way were pretty nice once we got into Goan territory - mile upon mile of waterlogged green fields with palm trees on each side. Food was served in the train and, quite irritatingly, chai and coffee walas kept circulating up and down the train non-stop, speaking in voices that carried the length of the carriage. Thankfully, they stopped their antics early enough for us to get some sleep. Our train trundled into Madgaon station at Goa at 10am the next morning.
In addition to the past 30 years of hippy-inspired drug culture, Goa has quite a colorful history, having been part of various princely states until the 15th century and then being occupied by the Portugese for 450 years, much longer than the British in India! We visited Old Goa, about 10 kilometers from Panjim, the capital of Goa. Old Goa itself is said to have rivaled Lisbon in grandeur at one point in time. What's left of it now includes various Basilicas, Cathedrals and Churches. From the museum there, we learned that Vasco de Gama was governor of Goa for a year! He must have stopped here for a year before heading back to the motherland. The museum had portraits of all the Portugese governors from 1520 (approx.) onwards, all the way to 1975 when India took the place over. Here's a Christmas procession through the streets of Goa:
Getting to Old Goa from Baga beach in northern Goa was quite an experience. First, we negotiated the rental of a scooter from a random person standing on the roadside - the argument boiled down to renting for 5 hours versus being charged for a whole day. Then, I proceeded to try to learn h0w to drive a scooter after last having driven one 7 years ago. Thankfully, it was pretty straightforward and we drove off for our hour-long ride to Old Goa. Then, we had to negotiate traffic which was pretty heavy due to the holidays.
Anyway, we happened to be in Old Goa on the last day of the showing of the mummified body/relics of St. Xavier. St. Xavier, a Jesuit missionary, had been entrusted with spreading Catholicism throughout Asia, including India and China. The line to see the relics was very long but amazingly orderly. To keep us amused, er inspired, all along the line, there were small messages strung up saying things like:
- He helps you walk by still waters- THAT'S SUPPORT!
- He leads you through the desert - THAT'S GUIDANCE!
- He provides you with fish and wine - THAT'S RESPONSIBILITY!
The photo above shows the mummified body of St. Xavier. It is about 4 1/2 feet tall and is very lifelike! Apparently, one devout Catholic bit off the toe in a religious frenzy a few years ago. And one of the arms has been sent to other parts of the world - it seemed to be back in place this time around though.
The party scene was happening, as usual, in Goa. Staying at Baga beach, next to Tito's, we were right at the center of the action. Unfortunately, that meant negotiating large crowds and traffic for everything and paying high prices for lodging. The clubs were super pricey - after going to one of them (Club Cabana, before Anjuna), we'd had enough! The neon-colored dancers, laser sky strobes and all-you-can-drink set-up was not impressive enough for us to keep coming back.
While in Goa, we went to a bunch of restaurants, most notably (for me) shacks on the beach serving prawn curry and rice. We also went to The Citrus which turned out to be a great Italian vegetarian restaurant. Fiesta turned out to have a fantastic atmosphere and setting - Smruti and I enjoyed watching the waiters fruitlessly light the candles every few minutes, only to have the candles blown out by the wind almost immediately.
We met up with a number of San Francisco friends and made some new friends - Paawan, Tushar, Armaity, Viraf, Jasjit, Preet and others! The whole world seems to converge on Goa at this time, making it a maddening yet fun place.
Of course, we spent the requisite several hours on the beach and in the water which was fantastic. Warm breeze and perfect water temperature- we only came out of the water to sprawl lazily under a beach umbrella! The only negative was the shacks sending their people to harass everybody into buying food/drinks from their shack.
To top it all off, New Year's Eve was great. We spent it on the beach, along with thousands of other people, lots of bonfires and lots of fireworks.
Now we're off, back to Bombay and then on to Sikkim!
-Dev and Smruti