Having finished the Golden Triangle tour I headed by taxi to Delhi International airport to catch a flight to Goa. I was looking forward to the relaxation of a week in warmer and sunnier climes by the sea.
Gaining entry to an airport in India is an experience. I had to provide proof of my flight before being allowed into the departure hall. The flight down to Goa was with a low-cost Indian carrier called Spicejet. It was a really good flight and I enjoyed the Indian meal that I paid for on the plane.
On arrival at Goa International Airport I visited a booth to arrange the onward transfer to my hotel in Calangute. The taxi journey took around an hour and I was able to have a good conversation with the taxi driver despite his relatively limited English. I had not done much research about Goa before I travelled here. I was aware that there had been a Portugese influence and that it was famous for being part of the hippie trail. On the journey we passed a number of beautiful churches. I ascertained that there is a high proportion of Christians in Goa which included my taxi driver. We also passed a large sports stadium near the capital, Panjin, and my driver informed me that Portugal were participating in a tournament there. The Lusofonia games were taking place. They are a Commonwealth Games type competition for countries which are Portugese speaking or have a Portugese background. Taking part in addition to India and Portugal were countries such as Sri Lanka, Angola, Brazil, Macau and Mozambique. For the record India headed the final medal table with Portugal second and Macau third.
I spent the first couple of days in Goa either relaxing by the pool or down on the nearby beach. Calangute beach is a wide sandy beach containing beach bar after beach bar. The beach bars are happy for you to use one of their sun beds as long as you buy food or drink from them. My hotel, The Resort Terra Paraiso, was lovely. They served excellent food and the staff were really friendly and welcoming. One unexpected bonus was the “towel art” that greeted me on my return to the room most days. The piece de resistance was presented on my last day. A crocodile made out of towels and pillows!
After a couple of days I began to get bored of my beach bum existence. One thing this trip has confirmed is that I am not really someone who enjoys spending hours laying on a sunbed.
On day 3 I went for a wander to the St Alex church in Calangute. It wasn’t open but its a lovely looking church from the outside. I was intrigued to see the names of the gravestones, such as D’Souza and Fernandes, indicating Goa’s Portugese heritage. I walked into the centre of Calangute passing numerous bars, restaurants, souvenir and fruit, veg and spice stalls.
I was becoming increasingly keen to explore more of Goa and learn of it’s history. A further catalyst for spending more time away from the hotel came on day 3 when a group of BrIrish holidaymakers arrived in my hotel. They were from Sheffield and with their excessive drinking and swearing made the pool begin to resemble the Jeremy Kyle show. Food and drink in Goa is incredibly cheap. A good curry, naan bread and rice costs about £4 and a pint of beer is 70p. This seems to have attracted holiday makers looking for a cheap location in good temperatures at this time of the year. Whilst I was in Goa the night time temperature never fell below 20 degrees and the daytime highs were from 32 degrees to 35 degrees. Pretty perfect really. In addition to British holidaymakers there are lots of Russian tourists in Goa. I guess it’s not too far from Russia to this part of India. So Goa does have the feel of being a bit like the “Costa del India”.
To enable me to explore Goa I needed transport. Outside the hotel were a number of taxi drivers very keen to do business. I entered discussions with one of them. I showed him where I wanted to visit. He threw in an extra idea of a spice plantation. So after some negotiation we had agreed a price and some places for me to visit. Essentially I would have the driver with me from 9am to late afternoon for the sum of £25. Bargain!
So at 9am on Day 4 I got into my driver Sam’s taxi and we headed off to Panjim the capital of Goa. The capital’s Indian name is Panaji but it is still widely referred to by its Portugese name of Panjim. It’s a lovely small town and illustrates Goa’s prosperity compared to the rest of India. Goa is India’s richest state with a GDP per capita 2.5 times the Indian average. It definitely feels more prosperous than the India I saw on the Golden Triangle tour. I saw much nicer accommodation and fewer examples of extreme poverty although it does exist. Panjim is a lovely town with a majestic cathedral, the Church of the Immaculate Conception, which dates from 1540. I enjoyed walking through the streets and found a small park. Panjim has a more tranquil and less chaotic feel than places such as Delhi or Jaipur. I had been told before I came to Goa that it is not like the real India and I can see why it has that reputation.
My next stop was Old Goa which I decided to visit mainly because it’s name suggested it may be interesting and also because on my map it seemed to contain lots of interesting old churches. Old Goa was a city which acted as the capital of Portugese India from the 16th century until the 18th century when it was abandoned due to plague. What remains is a UNESCO World Heritage site which contains a number of churches affiliated to various congregations. The churches include the Se Cathedral (the seat of the Archbishop of Goa), the church of St. Francis of Assisi and most notably the Basilica of Bom Jesus which contains the relics of Saint Francis Xavier. He was a Portugese Roman Catholic who undertook missionary work in Portugese India and other parts of Asia. The number of impressive churches and cathedrals here in such close proximity is staggering. I visited the Archaelogical Museum which on the top floor contains portraits of the Portugese Governors and Viceroys who ruled here for the 450 year period until 1961. The number of paintings was immense and they had names such as Dom Garcia de Noronha and Dom Duarte de Meneses. Portuguese rule over this part of India ended in 1961, 14 years after India gained independence from Britain in 1947. On gaining independence India requested that Portugese territories on the Indian subcontinent be ceded to India. Portugal refused to negotiate about Goa and their other Indian enclaves. In December 1961 India undertook military action to annex Goa, Daman and Diu into the Indian Union. The hostilities lasted two days and loss of life was relatively limited. Today the most obvious sign of Goa’s Portugese past are the churches. Other Portugese influences that I noted were cashew nuts which are readily available and introduced by the Portugese. There are Portguese influenced dishes on menus such as Vindaloo. This was derived from the Portugese dish “Carne de vinha d’alhos”.
Next stop on day 4 was the Spice Plantation which my taxi driver, Sam, was very keen to take me to. I am sure he was on commission! It was an enjoyable visit with our guide showing us a number of spices growing in the wild and there opportunities to taste or sniff. The most memorable moment was at the end when a guy who the guide called “Tarzan” scaled a coconut tree and then bent the trunk to enable him to move to the adjacent tree. The entrance to the plantation was over a wooden platform over water with excellent views to either side. On the way back across the platform there was a snake swimming through the water.
The last stop of the day was not part of the original plan. Sam was very keen to take me to a shop. I told him I wasn’t interested in shopping but he told me that each time he takes a customer to this shop he gets a stamp on a card and after 100 stamps he gets a new uniform. So as I would be doing him a favour I agreed to go. Of course as it turned out the shop was full of souvenirs, clothes and furniture and I was attended to by a very nice chap who seemed to be the best salesman in India. I emerged from the shop laden down with souvenirs.
It had been a really good day and I enjoyed having a driver to take me around. The following day I had arranged with Sam for him to take me to a quiet beach. Sam was not there at the agreed time as it turned out he was not working that day as “his neighbour had expired”. Another driver took me to the beach at Morgim which was north of Calangute across an estuary. It was a lovely quiet beach. I was taken to the beach through the Goldeneye restaurant where I had lunch. At one point during the day I noticed an Indian family (mother and 3 kids) walking past with poles and ropes. I thought this a little odd but went back to reading my book. The next thing I knew they had erected this and there was a tightrope act going on. Amazing!
The following day Sam took me back to Old Goa which was the starting point for a crocodile trip up the Cumbarjua Canal. Our guide was quick to point out that there was no guarantee that we would actually see any crocs as the tide was up and they would be in the water rather than being laid on the banks. As it turned out we did actually see a couple of crocodiles in the water close to the banks in this mangrove habitat. We also saw a number of bird species such as purple heron, kingfisher, kite, sea eagle and egret. It was a very pleasant way to spend a morning.
So this trip brought to an end my week in Goa. It had been enjoyable particularly when I got out and about and started to explore and learn about its past.