Time is the greatest creator, the greatest destroyer, and the greatest healer. Aurvi Sharma explores Goa's golden - yet brutal - past to find out how change is the only constant thing in the world.
On May 20, 1498, Vasco da Gama set foot on the soil of India. By 1510, after having been ruled since 3 BC by the Mauryans, the Chalukyas and the Delhi Sultanate, among others, Goa came under Portuguese control.
Time begets many changes. By the time Jawaharlal Nehru sent in the army to liberate Goa in 1961, Portuguese was the language of the educated in the state. English, the great lingua franca across the subcontinent, had not permeated Goa's olive and buttercup houses. The coconut tree-state was peppered with Catholic churches and Portuguese style bungalows. The greatest mark of mingling was the food - 'Goan' was a cuisine by the time the colonizers left, mixing turmeric with palm wine, cumin with palm vinegar.
Goa still holds these strange legacies. Crucifixes are adorned with garlands of marigold flowers, earthen lamps burn outside indigo-white chapels, Hindu idols are housed inside erstwhile European bungalows. In Goa, the past overlaps the present, history and geography merge in a confusing medley and a slice of Europe comes to manifest itself in India.
Old Panjim, called Fontainhas, is beautiful. Old Goa was abandoned in the seventeenth century for Fontainhas because of recurring Cholera and Malaria epidemics. Colour-washed villas in yellow, olive and terracotta are everywhere, and the Pato creek flows on one side, fringed by leafy trees, topped by a curving wooden bridge. The houses are neo-classical in design. Like Pondicherry, I think, and then smile at my ignorance. Like our non-English past anyway, or the memory of it, an idea of another world, a negative print left behind, skewed in its swapped colours.
What are olive villas doing in an area that is supposed to have been created when the Hindu sage Parshuram made the sea recede with his arrow; or nameplates such as Texeira and Dionisio in a state that predominantly speaks Konkani, I wonder, watching Dominic, our driver, eating fish and rice with his fingers. He separates fish bones in his mouth and wipes his plate clean at the end of the meal. At the Calangute beach, Konkani women wearing large nose pins and flowers in their hair offer me foot massage, calling me 'Didi'.
''My mother used to rap me on the knuckles if I did not speak Portuguese at home," Peter Fernandes, owner of a resort, gracious host, all Goan, had said as we ate fish mayonnaise on crackers and fresh cheese balls that deflated when pushed against your palate. We were sitting in his cramped study, bottles of alcohol on the table between us, the fax machine and unruly papers pushed to a side.
"My uncle grew up at the time when Portuguese was the official language of Goa." Peter had taken a swig of his rum, had refilled Jayita's glass with more vodka. "He feels very confused now, with all this English coming to Goa." He had taken another swig, stared into his glass. "His pronunciations are so skewed because he studied the Portuguese alphabet. If you ask him about the nuclear deal he will say naklear," Peter had laughed and then sobered up.
"Cerveja," I had raised my glass to him. He had looked at me, surprised, and reached for another bottle of beer. "My flat mate in England was Portuguese," I had told him. This is the only word she could teach me in the one year we were together, while she rattled off "aap kaise hain" and "accha" with ease by the end of our MA's. I'm quite satisfied with my achievement though. Cerveja, beer please.
In Goa, paradoxes raise their heads and surprise me, again and again. When did I ever expect to actually use a Portuguese word? "To use if you ever come to Portugal," Joana had said. "He who has seen Goa need not see Lisbon" was a popular Portuguese proverb in the 1600s. The maze of Goa's bazaars offered Chinese silk and Basra pearls, spices from Sri Lanka and velvet from Portugal. This was Goa Dourada, Golden Goa, the capital of the entire eastern colony of the Portuguese that spread till China.
Today, Old Goa is quaint, and surprisingly small, the bazaars and riches gone; only a handful of churches remain, built in dark stone, on two sides of a wide road, flanked by coconut trees that are sparse but tall. On the fringes are dhabas, stalls selling rosaries and shell key chains, vendors selling green coconuts that they shave at the head and stick a straw in for you to drink the water.
A world heritage site, Old Goa is visited by foreign tourists as well as busloads of Christian pilgrims from all over India. In 2004 when St Xavier's remains had been taken for their once-in-ten-years round, 2,65,000 pilgrims, Christians and non-Christians, had queued up, touched the body and photographed it.
This is also where the Inquisition, famous for its torture and cruelty, was at its peakwherein suspected heretic Christians were systematically prosecuted, punished, killed. Starting in 1560 and ending only in 1812, the Goan inquisition was far more brutal and lasted far longer than the Portuguese one.
The evidence is the most blatant at The Se, or St. Catherine's Cathedral, which today stands larger than any church in Portugal. The dreaded auto da fes were held in the square here, when suspected heretics were publicly tortured and burned at the stake. The Se was built with a Tuscan style exterior, and ornate, Corinthian style interior. Fifteen altars were made to adorn the walls inside, intricately carved and painted with saints and martyrs. Outside hung the Golden Bell whose tolling announced the start of the auto da fes. Today, 500 years later, I crane my neck up and shade my eyes to look at the bell which is suspended placidly, silently.
What strikes you, now, is only how old the place is. The ancientness is palpable in every thick wall and every high ceiling. In the old gilt altars and the fading paintings. In the white murals of angels and the cherubs that nestle at the foot of the altar. In the fading Portuguese lettering on the floor which is painstakingly being restored.
Outside, honeymoon couples walk about hand in hand - women wearing cut off jeans and Calvin Klein tank tops with mangalsutras, sindoor and red bangles that reach their elbows; husbands self consciously carrying their wives' little purses. The couples are self-absorbed, hardly noticing the marvels in stone around. A large family sprawls on the grass nearby, looking irritable. "Pappa when will we go home?" the little girl whines. "We will go see a mummy now bacche!" the father says, wiping his face with a towel handkerchief. The girl looks visibly excited.
Inside the Basilica of Bom Jesus, people touch the altar and kiss their fingers; some Hindu women join their palms together, murmur supplications and light incense sticks. Old, dark ladies with the cross dangling at their chests sit at the pews, head bowed, rosary on fingers, eyes closed in prayer. This is where the remains of St. Francis Xavier have been enshrined since 1534. The air is hushed, like in a tomb.
The Basilica is enormous, with gilded columns and complex carvings. The main altar is extravagantly decorated, a sight very popularly photographed. Covered in gold, it shows the infant Jesus under the safety of St. Ignatius Loyola, who was the founder of the Jesuit order. A domed casket holds the body of St. Xavier, whose withered hand can be glimpsed amid satin and silver.
When we had parked our car outside, a man had handed out pictures of Catholic saints. "Keep in your wallet ma'am. Blessing ma'am." We had taken the pictures quietly, and said thank you, and had started walking away. To our backs the man had said, "Ten Rupees only ma'am. For a good cause."
Near the Basilica, a woman selling marigold garlands had come to us and had said, "Keep this over dead body inside madam." Jayita and I had burst into helpless giggles over 'dead body', the mysticism of the moment broken even before we had entered the Basilica. A man passing by had started singing Tu cheez badi hai mast mast on seeing us and we had shut up. But of course, that man was not here to visit a world heritage site, nor to visit a monument of religious importance. The man was here, after all, to see a dead body, a mummy, the ultimate tourist attraction.
It is cold in the Basilica and our whispers echo. I sit down at a pew and stealthily shake my feet out of my flip-flops; I feel the cool, hard, ancient stone floor and drink the quietness in.
Later, I will go to a dhaba for lunch, a dhaba that plays very loud Himmesh Reshamiya songs, renting the air, shattering the peace. As I would be hesitating between Vindaloo and Xacutti, a girl and a boy will start dancing; here, from where we can see the chapels that resound with silence. The dancers will be dressed to party at three in the afternoon. The girl will be wearing a halter-neck top inlaid with sequins, the boy a shimmering peach shirt.
But now, I sit and think about how the even tapestry of our present is made of blood-and-bone conflicts of the past. And yet the present smoothens it all out, whitewashing the black dots into oblivion. So the churches and gilt altars, the ancient air and the old vibe merges with dhabas and blaring Bollywood music. Goa is a paradox, like all of our present.
Later, the boy in the peach shirt will twirl the girl around and they will laugh and give each other the final look of appraisal, the final flirty smile, and start walking back to their table, hand in hand. But for now, I sit at the pew, bow my head, and close my eyes.
About the author:
Aurvi Sharma looks for stories in everyday life, unabashedly people-watching and eavesdropping on conversations. She is interested in books, people and food.
Be a part of Aurvi Sharma's delicious accounts as she voices her thoughts, opinions and taste bud tingling experiences while plunging head first into the hedonistic world of food and wine satisfaction in Goa.
So you've heard it all before - that Goa's cuisine is 'different'. That it comes from a mingling of Indian, Portuguese and Arabian styles. That there is loads of rice and fish. That the seafood is heavenly. That alcohol flows. That vegetarians get, pardon the expression, a raw deal.
What do we have to tell you that is any different, you may ask. One, the fact that vegetarians in fact do not get foster treatment in Goa anymore. Two, how to tell your Xacutti from your Balchao. And three, recipes.
So it's true - Goa is all about living the good life. Goans like their food, they like their drink, and they like their afternoon siesta. The spirit of Sossegade - take it easy - pervades everything in Goa. But not the food. Because for the real thing, the ingredients have to be ground, pounded, marinated, deep fried, baked and roasted to produce dishes that are light on your stomach yet bursting with flavours, spices that you recognise, but not quite. And then by three in the afternoon all restaurants are shut (unless it's 'season'), the streets deserted, the shutters of houses boarded up against the tropical sun, the inhabitants dreaming the crabmeat away.
The paradox of a state that Goa is, it combines the Indian zest for life with a Portuguese laidback attitude, and this outlook is reflected in Goa's food the strongest. Typical Indian spices - turmeric, cumin, cloves and whole red chillies - combine with Portuguese palm vinegar, loads of garlic and taboo meats such as pork and beef to produce some sensational dishes.
And the alcohol. It's cheap and it's abundant. Goa must be the only place in India where a restaurant serves copious 'King' beer (a local brand) but does not allow smoking since it is a 'family' place. Goan Port wine is a bit inferior version of the famous Portuguese Port wine. But it is strong and sweet and with a price to rival at Rs. 70 a bottle. Feni is another famous Goan drink but usually unpalatable for non Goans with its strong pungent odour. Once you get a hang of it, however, connoisseurs claim there is nothing like a Feni high. Other locally produced liquor is abundant in the wine shops, as is a wide range of liqueurs. At restaurants you might get a shock seeing a shot of Old Monk being sold for Rs. 10. But remember, it's Goa. Sossegade.
Teetotaller? Wonderful fresh fruit juices greet you at all shacks as well as high-end restaurants. And not just the usual sweet lime and orange - watermelon, pineapple, papaya, even carrot. The mothers will approve.
Goa also solves the inevitable problem of ambience most eating places in India suffer from. When you have a meal with the sea roaring in front, starstwinkling above, sand under your feet and a candle on your table, even mundane Indian-Chinese tastes divine. And then when you have the option to choose from Pork Vindaloo to Caldinha, from Prawn Curry to Fish Recheiado, from Baby Shark to Balchaow, eating becomes an entire experience in itself.
Balchao is shrimps ground with salt, peppercorns, palm Feni and whole red chillies. Viindaloo is super hot and tangy, made with Portuguese vinegar, a variety of spices and lots of dried red chillies. Caldinha (pronounced kaal-deen) has a coconut base and is fragrant with peppercorns, turmeric, cumin and tamarind. Recheiado is a red masala that fish are usually stuffed with and fried. The masala is typically made with turmeric, peppercorns, coriander, cumin, tamarind and some sugar. Ambit-tik is usually made with baby shark in a hot and tangy curry flavoured with kokum berries, Xacutti is a sauce of coconut, cloves, garlic, peanuts, chillies and lemon juice.
In a nutshell, if you are a seafood lover, Goa is the stuff your garlic-crab dreams are made of. If you are vegetarian, do not despair, Goans have started improvising on their largely-meat based dishes now and all places have incongruous - but delicious - 'Vegetable Vindaloo' and 'Cabbage Xacutti'.
Try Souza Lobo at Calangute for some great Vindaloo, prawn curry, tiger prawns, or grilled lobster. Souza Lobo is an institution in Goa when it comes to seafood. In Panjim, a must visit is the Ritz Classic, the self proclaimed 'family' restaurant which has large groups of locals digging into larger thalis. Order a simple fish curry with rice here and what you will get is Shell Fish, Amvati, Taamso (Red Snapper), Tisri (Rock Fish), Fried Mudso, Ambolic and Prawn Curry, all for Rs. 80! When at Candolim, do visit Bob's Inn, the oldest bar in the area. Check out the owner's collection of liquor bottles that he has picked up from all over the world. Bob's Inn is funky and hippy-ish, a residual child of the flower power days, still attractive for its ambience and friendly service. Try the Pork Vindaloo and Fish Recheido here.
Britto's at Baga is the famous shack, quite upmarket compared to most. Their Sea food platter is sensational and comes with mussels, crab, prawn, king fish, French fries and salad. Cavela's pub at Baga is very popular on weekends for live music. It's all dim lights, chatty people and cheap beer. Its great ambience is matched by the piquant Goan sausage chilli served here.
Goans usually laugh when you tell them you ate 'Vegetable Vindaloo' but most restaurants have vegetarian approximations of all famous Goan dishes that are usually synonymous with non vegetarianism. So cauliflower replaces pork and gourd is used instead of chicken to make Caldinha. Some experiments turn into travesties; others, thankfully, are successful.
Though the best place to have authentic Goan fare is at a Goan's house. So make some friends, invite yourself over, do anything, by hook or by crook, but stooge a home cooked meal. However, do put off all other plans for the evening. Because Goans are generous and hospitable with their food and their alcohol. The table will creak under the dishes they will have cooked for you. They will be informal and charming. There will be laughter and great conversation. Maybe someone will take out a guitar, and there will be music. You will inevitably stay much longer than expected and depart with hugs and promises to return, and maybe a souvenir bottle of caju, as Goans fondly call their Feni. And the next day when you try to shake off that hangover, do not wonder what struck you. Remember. Sossegade.
About the author:
Aurvi Sharma looks for stories in everyday life, unabashedly people-watching and eavesdropping on conversations. She is interested in books, people and food.
Pushpita Saha uncovers the magnetic pull of Goa, God's second abode, and discovers how it is made for the simple objective of having a great time.
'Vacation' is a term illustrating an essence of relief, some fun and frolic and immense relaxation. After having a tight schedule, every individual craves for a vacation and every vacation calls for a celebration - something new each time to ensure perfect rejuvenation. Hence, a vacation must call for a pleasure trip to your dream destination and what can be better than going on a trip to Golden Goa.
The first thing that you notice once you enter the airport terminal building in Goa is the huge welcome sign from Pablo's Restaurant and Bar. The sign just arrests your attention and no matter where you look you are drawn to it like an ant to sugar. Goa is perhaps the only airport which does not distinguish between arriving and departing passengers. While other airports in India have such a facility in their departure lounge, Goa's laidback attitude invites, and perhaps even incites, its visitors to have fun, right from minute one.
Goa, although the smallest state in the country, provides the most opportunity for a traveller to unwind, relax and have fun. There are only a few other places on this planet that have been designed for one simple objective, to have a good time. And all this without breaking the law. No wonder the self proclaimed king of good times, Dr. Vijay Mallaya, has his own seaside villa here.
Just before leaving the terminal building, I went across to a tourist taxi booking counter to hire a cab, a facility that is easily available at almost all hotels, both large and small, in Goa. My trip to my hotel in Majorda, which is about 15 km from the airport cost me 700 rupees. It might seem a little steep, but considering the fact that it's hassle free and safe, it was a good bargain.
The ride to my hotel in Majorda took me about 45 minutes but I was lucky to have a driver who was very keen to share the new sights and sounds of Goa. He held forth on the various activities that one could undertake in Goa, most of them wicked and some not so immoral. The journey was quite pleasant and became pleasing to the eye after we turned right on our way to Majorda.
The road lined on both sides by paddy fields overflowing with rice crop, swaying to the summer breeze, was a sight to behold. Soon the pain of the scorching sun was forgotten and I was eagerly looking forward to my stint in this land of excitement. I reached my hotel, a four star beach resort, an hour before sunset and was greeted by a soothing welcome drink of tender coconut water. Unlike Hawaii, there were no ladies in hoola hoops waiting to garland me, but the staff's smiles were a sight for tired eyes.
As soon as I checked in, my attention was diverted by a rushing sound which was unmistakable and I had no doubt what it was. Few more steps and I was in the arms of the Arabian sea in all its roaring glory. I wanted to rush in but I had four more days to soak in the sun and the sea.
Contrary to popular belief, Goa is not only about beaches, though they are its single biggest attraction. Goa is filled with historical artefacts, churches of heritage importance, temples, spice gardens, a world renowned flea market and some of the most happening nightclubs in the world. Don't take my word for it. Just ask Matt Damon, if you are privileged enough to meet him, and he will tell you about his experience in Goa, un-censored.
But today was not the right day to go around Goa. I was tired and had decided to rest. Tomorrow, as they say, is another day. Early morning, my ride was waiting for me. In Italy, the vehicle which would be with me for the next three days would be called a scooterette. Here, it's called a bike or to the less knowledgeable, a Kinetic. A gearless, two wheeled 100 cc vehicle which is highly fuel efficient. If you know how to ride a bicycle, then with fifteen minutes of trial and error you will be able to ride it almost as well as Valentino Rossi. It's the most convenient way to move around Goa, which is just 120 km from one end to another and I was going to use bike from today.
Since I was in Goa, I decided to go beach hopping. So I took a change of clothes - a must have on your beach trips - and something most of us forget when we leave the confines of our hotel, sun tan lotion, and no hat. If you ask why no hat, well, that is because, in Goa, it's mandatory to wear a helmet on the highways, and there are ever-vigilant cops waiting to pounce on you if you are caught without one. My first stop was Colva beach, one of the most popular beaches in South Goa. It was crowded, noisy and full of vendors, not some place where you would like to spend an afternoon reading your favourite Ludlum.
So I headed further south to Benaulim, then to Majorda and lastly to Bogmalo. Most beaches in mid south Goa are heavily infested with tourists and if you want a peaceful time, this is not where you should come. But if you are looking for really mouth watering seafood cooked in practically any style you want, try any of the beach shacks that dot the beach. Almost all restaurants big and small sever liquor and beer is a great drink to have with the spicy Prawn Balchao and steamed rice. The afternoon slips away with the rush of waves accompanying your food and soon its time for your afternoon siesta.
Goa won't allow you to frolic in the afternoon sun and it's best to take a nap and be prepared for the wild evenings ahead. As soon as the clock struck ten, I was dressed in my nightclub best and headed for Tito's in North Goa, about fifteen kilometres from where I was put up. Contrary to popular belief, Tito is not as wild as one would imagine. It's wilder. It's a place which tests the limits of human ability to have fun without hurting anyone. A joy ride like no other. The place is crowded all days of the week and stags are frowned upon and may even be barred from entering. I could manage to overcome this issue as my resort had called Tito's manager and hence I was allowed in.
The club is open from 9 pm till 3 am on weekdays and I don't think it closes before sunrise on weekends. As I was heading back to my resort I had a look at my watch. It was already 2 hours past midnight but I was eager for more. As soon as I entered my resort I headed to its private beach soaked in the sea and its sounds and soon it just overwhelmed me with its charm.
Next morning, the last day of my stay in Goa was reserved for Palolem, the beach on the southern most tip of the state. Palolem is still one of the few beaches inundated by tourists and still a place where one can experience the idyllic sea side life. It takes a little over an hour to cover the distance and I suggest you hire a cab instead of using a two wheeler as the heat can be numbing. One must take NH - 4 down from Madgao and head towards Cancona. Just as you reach Cancona, turn right which will take you right to the beach.
As soon as I reached Palolem I realized that the place did live up to its reputation. Although not as long as the other Goan beaches, it has a charm and attraction which can be addictive. Most of the beach shacks will offer you a beach umbrella along with a settee which you can pitch almost right in the sea. As the waves greet you with their splashes you can enjoy the scenery, read a book and sip your lager till sunset. A perfect way to spend a lazy Sunday.
The setting sun too is a sight to behold and can be cathartic in more ways than one. As I got up from the beach to head back to my resort, I could not help but feel the magnetic pull of this place. No wonder people keep coming back to Goa. I headed back to my resort and it was time to rest the tired body after a day of sun soaked fun. So I went to the hotel's pub and ordered for my favourite poison and watched the local band belt out some Goan, Hindi and English numbers.
Over all, my two days in God's second abode were invigorating in more ways than one despite my hectic schedule and scorching sun. Being in Goa is like being in a relationship with a pretty girl. The more time you spend with her the more you get to know her and more you enjoy her company. Next time, I promise I will invest more time in this already budding relationship. Viva Goa.
About the author:
Pushpita Saha loves reading, travelling, sketching and writing.
Main Languages: Konkani, Marathi, Portuguese, English and Hindi
When to Go: Goa has a tropical climate, hot and humid for most of the year - the month of May is the hottest and the monsoons start in early June and end in September. October to April is the ideal time to visit Goa.
Local Transport: Much of Goa is well-connected with roads that are in a good state of repair, and the best way to get around in Goa is on rented motorcycles, on a per day/week basis. It is not hard to get good rates for taxis and rented cars as well. Buses and auto rickshaws ply regularly in Goa, and are very useful. Goa is also unique for having motorcycle taxis that where you can pillion ride for a fee.
Currency: Indian Rupee (INR) 1 USD is approximately 48 INR
Voltage: 230V / 50Hz
Time Zone: Indian Standard Time (UTC +5:30)
Location: Konkan Coast of western India, adjoining the Arabian Sea
Nearest Metropolis: Mumbai, about 593 km away