Goan Goan Gone

I write this on the last day we spend in Goa. It’s been great. We have made friends that will last, we have seen more of this great country, swum day after day in the warm and pleasant Arabian Sea, watched more gorgeous sunsets than I can remember and partied with some fabulous people. It’s been a ball.

More than that though is the fact that it has been great to wake up day after day in India. To be living here has been quite different.  There will be plenty of people who say that Goa isn’t really India but in many ways it most certainly is. In fact, it is very hard to point to one place on the sub-continent and say: “This is the real India”.  The variety over a huge country of 1.3 billion souls is so great that a lifetime would not be enough to explore and truly know it. Goa has had the advantage of an expat community that has helped provide us with amenity and the companionship of like-minded people. If that has detracted from an “Indian experience” well then so be it. This is a different part of India with its Portuguese background and that lends it a special flavour.  It is, to an extent, the Las Vegas of India with its endless hotels, cheap booze and casinos. It is changing from a playground of foreigners to the playground of Indians. I would have loved to have seen it many years ago when I first came to India but that never happened. Places change and it is foolish to lament what was. It still is a charming place and as a crossroads for travellers it has been endlessly interesting.

There is not much more to say than that, although I have written quite a bit previously about it. For us it has been one more chapter in life’s story. These are the things you don’t forget and it has been a wonderful experience. Our trip since leaving Australia has been largely settled. First to England to dump our bags and stay for months and then here to do much the same. It has been very comfortable but now for a bit of wandering again.

So goodbye Goa. I don’t know if I will pass this way again but if I don’t, well it was great to have done it at least once. Ahead lies two months on the road: Kerala, Sri Lanka and northwards (if the conflict with Pakistan doesn’t affect that). So, with a tinge of sadness there is also the excitement of new places, new experiences and all sorts of people to meet. That is the true spirit of life for me. It brings with it a love and embrace of change. Change can be a mixed bag but when you are making the changes you are setting life’s agenda, as much as that is possible. Onward we go.

A typical day

A typical day in Goa kicks off around 8am. Sometimes it’s a bit earlier. I do manage to get to the gym every second day and when an Aussie friend was here, we would swim between the lifeguard stations which is probably around 800m. But otherwise it’s a routine of getting up to a strong Nescafe. I’ve managed to adapt in some ways to awful instant coffee. Had I been a bit more on the ball I could have tracked down a plunger but on some days, I venture to the German Bakery or a local franchise called Coffee Day Café for a half-way decent brew.
Our apartment is a rather spacious two bedroom one with a study that serves as the open suitcase room. It has two bathrooms with one including a bath that has been claimed by Jackie. This works well as the shower is rather pathetic, with a flexible tube and an old fashioned style telephone type shower head. Very English in every way. While my bathroom is somewhat more utilitarian, it has a decent shower.
Our kitchen is spacious and well equipped expect it doesn’t have a proper oven. Eating out is very cheap here so apart from fried eggs for breakfast most days, simple pasta dishes and experimental Indian cookery learned through cooking classes.
We have ample ceiling fans and air conditioning however power cuts are frequent. Sometimes many times a day. It generally comes back after a few minutes. There are backups in most modern places. When ours cuts out we lose the air con but not the fans, We lose the fridge and microwave but not the tv. It is generally no more than a mild annoyance. More annoying is the internet. There are virtually no landline connections so a mobile modem is the only way. The internet is usually ok in the morning but tends to get worse in the evening. I hedge our bets a bit by having two mobile modems on different networks and some data allowance on my mobile (on another network again). But sometimes all three are rubbish and you just have to suck it up. I’ll complain less about the internet in Australia when I get back.
We hire a scooter as main transport as taxis are very expensive by Indian standards. Buses are reasonably frequent and cheap but the convenience of our own wheels is too tempting. The rental for it is about $A6 (£3 a day). The traffic is mad of course and takes some getting used to but as in all these countries with virtually no discernible road rules there is a kind of etiquette. I’m sure it would bamboozle most in the West but it is helpful that traffic is relatively slow. There are the added hazards like cows, dogs, poorly marked speed humps and people who aren’t too fussy which side of the road they drive on. Nuts, but you kind of get used to it.
Path to the beach 1So, to resume the daily routine. We usually head down to the beach at the first opportunity. While Candolim is a fairly developed part of Goa, the beach is very large and so pretty uncrowded. With a mostly European and Indian tourist population, they barely venture into the sea. Many are English and Russian so sit or lie on sunbeds doing anything but actually engaging with the sea itself. They look at me strangely when I emerge from waves that they consider far too rough to even think of going in. Of course, by Australian standards it’s all pretty mild. I do impress some of them with my body surfing. Path to the beachSomething they wouldn’t even think of doing. Indians are even stranger in this situation. They have quite a different way of swimming. “Men in drawers walk the beach or dive into a resort pool while their fully clothed women frolic in its shallows..” says one Indian website describing the new age of Indian tourism. The article is an apt description of local tourism in modern India: https://www.dnaindia.com/analysis/column-when-the-twain-shall-meet-2691391?fbclid=IwAR1h7mWRsBYLdKGhnQAyNq9yKxyVHnOI1g15DnkPzRnosbEaHWoHkvhGoMc. Indian tourists are on the rise in Goa as Europeans increasingly retreat in the face of over development, higher prices and annoying, expensive visa regulations. Indian tourists are not particularly popular with locals. They tend not to spend money in restaurants and bars and often are to be found roaming the streets in packs (males especially) inebriated on cheap and strong beer. Booze is cheap in Goa – much more so than other states in India, some of which are completely dry. With large groups of Indians comes the inevitable: noise. They are not a quiet people. This article sums up how tourism is developing here: http://www.openthemagazine.com/article/society/the-ugly-indian-tourist
This is not a racist rant, Indians like all others on the planet, some are lovely others certainly not. The people are amazingly diverse, ranging in colour from the white to the deepest black. This is a country that swarms with crowds, noise, colour and chaos. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea but for those of us who embrace it, it is life affirming. To have lived here month on month and lived it every day, it is wonderful.
But I digress again. The beach is lovely and the swim is like having a bath as the water hovers close to 29°C. Some days the surf is great for a frolic, others it is rather too calm. On those days the English will venture in for a paddle. The walk to the beach takes around ten minutes. It is a pleasant one down a dirt track that wends through the palm trees and old Portuguese villas. Strange and exotic bird noises fill the air. On many days this short walk fills me with the invigorating essence of what travel is for me. I suspect it would be like all of Goa was twenty or so years ago. But on the way back when you hit the main road that vision tends to vanish.
Our daily walk to the beach has brought us into contact with our three main furry friends. Ashley, Stumpy and Tyrian. Ashley loves to lie in the ash residue of the frequent rubbish fires that are lit in our street just over the wall.

Stumpy is fairly obvious. We meet her near the beginning of the track to the beach. Sometime in her past there was an unfortunate accident with her tail. Finally as we progress down the track is Tyrian. A strange looking dog. The picture does not convey his diminutive stature. When you see him you would think he should be bigger. He has the rumpled and loose skin that should be on a larger beast. He is a pleasant creature although a bit doddery. We greet each other everyday when we pass and it is unusual not to find them in their customary places.
The days never drag. It always seems to be a surprise when we mockingly ask: “Where has the day gone?” Of course, typical days are not always typical. Some days we have errands to fill. Sometimes there are things to find like clothes, medicines, bags etc. We have out rides into the hinterland or to other beaches north and south. Sometimes we venture into the state capital Panjim and walk through the old Portuguese quarter. Others we spend time with friends we have made here, usually at some musical event. Life is hardly hectic but not really empty either. This is some sort of practice run for retirement It would be hard to understand for many friends back in the world of work. A rigid adherence to the protestant work ethic would probably fill me with guilt most days. But it does so less and less. I am aware however time can be wasted so it is best to try and fill it with creative things if possible. Work does loom on the horizon as we haven’t retired and realistically can’t retire for some time. For now, typical days are very pleasant days.

Urban cows in India

Goa cow (3)From my kitchen window I have seen this calf come into the world and take its first steps. I have walked past it on my way to the beach or the supermarket and watched as it wobbled on its brand new legs. This soon turned to sadness as the poor thing had a rope fixed around its neck and it has lived in this stifling hot shed, often tormented by flies. This has been its life so far. Anyone who has been to India will have seen the sacred cows wondering the streets. These create more than a few problems: https://www.odditycentral.com/animals/indias-sacred-strays-millions-of-urban-cows-living-alongside-humans.html

It is sad to see the young calf spending its short life at the end of a rope. I have watched it trying to prance about but the rope won’t let the poor thing move more that a few paces. Goa cow (1)Its young legs have never felt real freedom. I must say that is upsetting to me as I think freedom is the greatest thing any creature can have. It makes me think how nice it would be to see this calf prancing and playing in green fields and wide-open spaces. To let the young animal roam the streets would probably expose it to impossible danger from the anarchic traffic.

There are many scenes of suffering in this huge and enigmatic country and some of them you are forcibly confronted with. This is one of these things. I can only hope that this young animal will eventually realise its freedom from its oppressive rope. It will never live a life of frolicking in rural splendour but will eventually be free to roam the streets and graze on the piles of rubbish that is the fate of the Indian urban cow.

Street cows

Into the final month

Final month in Goa that is. It’s getting near the time I should describe a typical day here. After all there is no work involved and it is an interesting experiment in how to keep occupied when living this way. But more of that with the next post. The trip to Hyderabad was a nice one. It was almost perfect in that Indigo airlines took off and landed at precisely the times they advertised. That was a good start and finish to the trip. The only annoying part was the tedious trip to the airport in Goa. It’s expensive and takes well over an hour depending on the traffic. We go to Pune for the last excursion in mid-February and so I make that three trips to the airport left. Two there and one back.

Hyderabad was pleasant, far less manic than most Indian cities. The airport is really new and there is an expressway which whisked us into town in pretty good time considering the distance. We stayed in Abids which is the older part of town and away from the new and upcoming Cyberabad, the new hi-tech part of the city that is taking it forward. There were virtually no tourists although we did befriend a couple from Yorkshire who were fairly constant travellers living most of the time in Cyprus but managing to be regular visitors to Kerala over the years. There were some lovely buildings in this part of town. The famous Charminar, the four pillared mosque that is a famous landmark. It is surrounded by a market area with many lanes. It was a bit more Muslim than we had been used to but as a male I could still get away with shorts and a tee shirt, something not so readily available to the ladies. We never even got close to getting into the enormous Mecca Masjid mosque nearby but it was enough to admire it from a distance. The Sarlar Jung Museum was a wonderful collection of all sorts of stuff. My favourite sort of place. I was especially drawn to the amazing walking stick gallery that had a fascinating collection. Having been reliant on a walking stick for a while I had my own collection but this was phenomenal. There was a wide collection of art, toys and all sorts. The Chowmallah Palace started off as a large garden at the front but there was a fabulous ballroom with huge chandeliers and further collections of weapons and vintage cars. As is frequently the case you have to pay a fee to bring a camera and take photos which is usually 50 rupees ($A1). I duly paid this but was then told I couldn’t use my good camera, only my phone. Outrageous I thought, but managed to get a few good sneaky shots away with the SLR. It would have been good to have had the time to compose them better.

Ramoji Film City which is apparently the largest film lot in the world is the centre of Tollywood. This is the Telugu language film hub. It also produces films in Tamil and even a few in Hindi. This maybe a powerhouse in the movie world but the trip to it was underwhelming to say the least. It is obviously trying to emulate a place like Universal Studios but has some way to go. To anyone visiting this lovely city you can safely give this place a miss.

Hippy dance party 3Before leaving for Hyderabad we were invited to a birthday party by a long-term Italian resident who we often bumped into at one of the few good coffee shops in Goa. Definitely the realm of older hippies but there were some younger ones there. Apparently most of them are followers of Ohso better known to most as the Sri Bhagwan Rajneesh who was very popular in the 1980’s before his Oregon commune imploded and his fleet of 99 Rolls Royces were repossessed. I failed to see quite what great enlightenment they had gained form their various journeys. Some of these had involved long sojourns in ashrams here and there. For one Australian there, it had involved a long stay in Pune before he talked about freeing himself. Anyway, they were good at chugging back the red wine and puffing on the fags.