Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Goa

I finally touched down late afternoon in India’s tiniest state, home to only 1.3 million people (which is tiny when compared to cities like Delhi, which has a population creeping over 15 million people!). I had heard much of its stunning beaches, nightlife and unique colonial heritage, but with only one full day to explore I was unsure how much I would actually get to discover.

I was travelling as part of a Fam trip to Goa and Kerala, courtesy of Mahindra Homestays. Whereas the Western world has been used to bed and breakfasts for some time, in India homestays are a relatively new concept. It is a trend that is gradually on the rise, and something that makes great sense given Indians’ renowned hospitality. It allows the traveller to experience the real India which can only be seen and experienced in the company of a local.

My stay was arranged in Arco Iris, a grand building dating back some 120 years and painstakingly restored. As we pulled up to the house, Bennita and her family were there to greet us on the steps. The smell of incense and sound of local Konkani music resonated throughout the house. Although the weather was quite warm and humid, it was did not feel as such given the high ceilings and cross-ventilation. I was shown to my room, which had been simply but tastefully decorated. After a refreshing cup of chai we learnt how the family had shifted from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore for the good life of Goa. The sun had set on the small lake in front of the house, and then Trusha and Trikaya (Bennita’s very talented and friendly daughters of only 9 and 6 years) took us on an impromptu walk around the nearby village. Later they entertained us to the tunes of Shakira’s Waka Waka and sung a few of the favourite English songs. We devoured some excellent Goan cuisine, which consisted of local Goan bread, vegetable curry, bindi (aka ‘lady’s fingers’) and local fish. We sat around the courtyard and learnt a little about the history of Goa and what makes it so different from the rest of India. I’d get a sample of this the following day.

After a much needed good night’s sleep and a delicious breakfast of idlis (steamed dumplings usually made of rice and lentils, but ours were made of semolina and chickpea), sambar and coconut chutney, we set off for the beach. At 10am the beach was relatively deserted, apart from the odd fisherman who had already been out to sea in the early hours of the morning to fetch his daily load. Palm trees swayed tall along the coast, the sand was pristine and the surf was up. There was a small crowd of Indian tourists enjoying watersports further ahead and a lifeguard patrolling the beach. We continued on the beach for almost an hour and then headed to our next stop, the Church of St. Francis Xavier.

Goa was ruled by the Portuguese who set up shop here in 1510. The names of streets and buildings still carry Portuguese names and instead of temples which are commonplace throughout most of India, here churches and crosses were seen everywhere. Unlike most of India which is predominantly Hindu, Goa is mainly Roman Catholic. The Church itself was impressive with some very ornate carvings and a beautifully gilded altar.

After our brief sightseeing, we spent the rest of the day doing homestay inspections, each place very different from the other. One in particular was very quirky with treehouses set in a rock face, with a view of a small lake, and a donkey roaming the premises. We rounded off the day with another fabulous meal and had to call it a night. All in all it had been a brief but exciting introduction to Goa, and I look forward to being back here in two weeks to explore Old Goa and some of its hidden streets. Tomorrow we’re off to Kerala, aka ‘God’s Own Country’.

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