Thursday 8 November 2012

In Goa

Goa is – for those who don’t know – a small state on India’s western coast, about 600 kilometres south of the great city of Bombay. Until December 1961, when it was invaded and conquered by the Indian army, navy and air force, Goa had been (along with the much smaller northern coastal territorial enclaves of Daman, Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli) a Portuguese colony and then an “overseas territory”. 

Today, it’s primarily a tourist destination, crammed to the brim with backpackers and also the older and presumably somewhat more affluent. They come to Goa, get treated like kings and queens for a week or a month, spend their money and go back to their jobs in the great outside.

I was there recently, and will certainly go there again. While I still can’t type worth a damn, here’s a photo feature for you. With captions!

(About the Portuguese invasion: I went to a book shop claiming to be Goa's largest, and the woman there - who was certainly old enough to have been alive at the time of the invasion itself - not only didn't have any books on the subject, she clearly proved that she had no real idea what I was even talking about. O tempora, o mores.)

The Hotel: (It's Ave Maria Beach Resort in Candolim. Candolim is just...about a kilometre...south of Calangute - see the map above.)

The room

Unfortunately I am not a swimmer

The balcony

That's the balcony from below

Pool in the daylight

Pool at night

Corridor outside the door

Coconut trees outside the balcony

Miniature wasp nest on one of the coconut tree's leaves

Here's the dwarf wasp herself (centre, sitting on the margin of the leaf - she was too tiny to get a proper picture, and too active).

With a friend at the hotel


Taxis are horrendously expensive, and the easiest mode of moving around Goa is to rent a scooter or a motorcycle, like the Bajaj Avenger I'm riding here:

All you have to do is buy the fuel. However, in case you're in Goa and intending to do this, I have a word of advice: do not fill the tank up at the outset. When I got my bike, the tank was almost empty and I bought about ten and a half litres of petrol. After driving about 110 kilometres on the first day, the tank was (according to the fuel gauge) about 75% full when I parked the bike outside the hotel. The next morning, amazingly, the fuel gauge read rather less than half full. Either the gremlins drank about 5 litres of petrol overnight...or the rental agency people came along with a duplicate key and siphoned off fuel. Afterwards I loaded up just what I needed for the daily travel.

It costs about Rs 300 (that's approximately US$5.50) a day to rent a motorcycle and less for a scooter, and you can go pretty much anywhere you choose with the help of a medium scale tourist map and a GPS system on your mobile phone. The GPS is a wonderful tool, extremely helpful, though it can send you down paths like this:

 However, mostly one drives along smooth, undulating roads like these:

...marked with churches like this one:

Goa is full of rivers and inlets like this...

Not all have ships on them, though. Some aren't even crossed by bridges. Look at this one:

...which is crossed only by roll-on-roll-off ferries like these (photos taken near the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary - see map above):

Note the young lady on the scooter (front left above, middle left below) who looks like a member of the Raghead crew. She's just bundled up against dust and sun, not a terrorist.


Though the official language of Goa is Konkani, which is Dutch to me, most people speak English and Hindi. One would have expected Portuguese to be a prominent language, given Goa's four and a half centuries under Portuguese rule, and in fact a lot of signboards and restaurant menus and the like are bilingual. But the Portuguese influence seems restruicted to some surnames like Braganza and D'Souza, apart from a few church names, and the language sharing space with English isn't Portuguese. It isn't even Hindi or Konkani. No, it's...Russian. 

Hotel room placard

This is because Goa is so full of Russian and Ukrainian tourists and expats you can hear Russian spoken wherever you go. Even the trinket sellers have a smattering of the language. (After a long time I got to practice my Russian. It hasn't got nearly as rusty as I'd imagined. And singing Ti zh mene pidmanula and Chervona Ruta to the Ukrainians helped)

Candolim Beach was within a couple of hundred metres of the hotel.

Parasailer at Candolim Beach

Sunset over Candolim Beach:

Fort Aguada:

The best preserved of the many small forts the Portuguese built along the Goa coastline, Fort Aguada dates back to 1612. It was meant to double as a watering station (there's a big underground cistern) and a lighthouse which was in use well into the 1970s until supplanted by a more modern one (the light of which is incidentally easily visible from Candolim Beach). 

Tourist taxis (and touts) hanging around outside the fort

Approach to the fort

Tower with old lighthouse atop

Dry moat along the walls

View of the approaches from the ramparts
Inside the fort.

The tower in closer view

Arrived to find a Bollywood film a-shooting. This guy (above and below) was evidently a "hero" doing a break dance sequence...again and again and again.

The new lighthouse, from the ramparts of the fort

The new lighthouse in close up

That large square thing is the top of what used to be the underground water storage tank. The filming party is visible near the tower at the top of the picture

Wildflower in the fort
 Sea views from Fort Aguada:

Fort Chapora:

Much further north than Aguada (see map) and in considerably greater disrepair, Fort Chapora is little more than an expanse of ruins and grass now. But it is superbly sited and commands an extremely strategic position. In its heyday it must have one hell of a fort.

The bastions of Fort Chapora, up a long and treacherous climb over loose gravel. Note  the observation turret with cupola on the extreme left.

People on the way down

On the other hand, I'm going up

The walls of Chapora

The small, inconspicuous entrance gateway. There's no moat or glacis

The observation turret I mentioned. It seems to be the only one left.

Slit window in the turret

View through the slit window

View of Vagator Beach from the walls of Fort Chapora

The interior of the fort, as it now is. The strange thing is that while Aguada is full of grasshoppers, Chapora doesn't seem to have a single one.

I don't know what this thing is. It's just there in the centre of the fort
View from the walls of Fort Chapora:

 Anguna "Beach":

Just south of Chapora is Anguna or Anjuna (I've seen both spellings used). There's a "beach" which is more or less a tourist trap with overpriced trinket stalls, restaurants and temporary tattoo booths (talking of tattoos...) 

At least in MY town you won't find cows on the street

Cape Hat-teras
The little girl was resisting with all her might her parents' efforts to make her put on shoes. She lost :|

Anguna doesn't actually have a real beach, but something far more interesting - rocks which are under water at high tide and at low tide have little pools between them, which are rather interesting for those with the eyes to see...

Can you see the crab?

Sunset over Anguna "Beach"

Anguna Flea Market sits every Wednesday not far from the "beach". It's  cited on the guidebooks as a not-to-be-missed experience, but, quite frankly, it left me flat. Nothing was available there that one couldn't get elsewhere - in Colaba Causeway in Bombay, for example - at a third the price. Except for local colour, much of it provided by tourists, there wasn't much. But here are some pictures anyway:

You'll probably have noted by now that I'm not too conventionally "touristy": I didn't visit the more snazzy beaches, the upscale downtown districts, the "interesting churches and temples" and I stayed the hell away from the discos and casinos (both of which had been specifically recommended to me). 

Instead, I went to places like:

Aravalam Waterfalls:

This is near Sanquelim, quite far from the coast - see the map above, centre top section - and far off the usual tourist track. Fortunately, in a way, because a load of yammering tourists would have ruined it.

See the frog?

Wading in the clear, unpolluted  water
Within five minutes' walking distance of the waterfalls, passing scenery like this...

...are the Aravalam Caves. Nobody seems to be sure just who carved them out of the laterite rock about the sixth century CE, and they have both Buddhist and Hindu features. 

Except for the right-most cave, which was apparently a living chamber of sorts, complete with cooking facilities, each of the others is a temple complete with a polished stone lingam (stylised phallic representation of the Hindu god Shiva). One has to take off one's shoes to go in, and let me tell you that rough stone is hard on the feet.

The iron railings are modern, as is the concrete platform, obviously.

This tree reminded me of a sculpture of a woman, or maybe a Hydra.

Above and below: two of the lingams. Note how polished and more modern they appear compared to the rest of the stone.

Cooking area in the residential chamber, on a waist-high platform
Mayem Lake: Near Bicholim in Central-North Goa, this was rather a serendipitous discovery. 

Fish at Mayem lake. They love apple cores, attacking them like schools of piranha
Last and least - the tattoo

Goa is full of tattoo parlours, and I took the opportunity of getting another third.

Yes, I like dragon tattoos. Your point?

OK, so that's it for this time. I'll definitely go back there for a longer trip sometime, and then I'll concentrate on the wildlife sanctuaries and the other forts, apart from the port. I like ports.