Panjim/Goa 10-13.02.11

Panjim- Goa 10-13.02.11

I’d arrived in Panjim really wasted, I had not the slightest idea of where I was or what to expect. Friends back in the UK had always gone misty eyed went ever Goa was mentioned. I remember stood there under a street lamp with my pack on trying to focus my tired eyes on the ‘Rough Guides’ recommendation and not being able to focus and wasn’t impressed.

“You have to go to Goa” they’d said. So of course I’d planned to go completely the opposite way. But then I got to thinking well, it would be nice to swim in the Arabian Sea wouldn’t it and as I said I am a little ahead of schedule. So that’s why I’m here, to swim.

The rickshaw driver that morning had driven me around most of down town Panjim, I recall room after smelly room stained walls and threadbare looking beds, I just kept saying no. I’d told him max 600r and they kept saying 1000r or 1500r. In the end I was just so tired and beginning to recognize landmarks in the town that I settled for the Blessings Hotel down a dirt back street somewhere, the clincher was the lady sat outside in the morning dressed in the beautiful blue sari. A big room with 3 single bed pushed together and smelly

“Disinfectant” the bell boy had said. 

I dropped my bags and just went to sleep for a few hours, though one of the bell boys woke me at one point as I had to fill in a form that had to be handed to the police. You know the score by now, all pointless details. The Portuguese may have been here untill 1961 when India sent in the army and reclaimed the place, but good old British bureaucracy had followed the army in and pretty quickly I’ll bet.

That first day I walked around the down town area marveling at the clear road signs, the tarmac roads, the distinct lack of dust, no piles of rubbish, one way systems and though there was still the dare devils out there it was so much more clearer to my eye. There were official alcohol shops  great big churches, though the main one never seems to be open, Jesus still remains a big name along these shores. There is the Hindu Sabamandap Temple that looked like nothing I’d seen so far, from the outside like an old school building that had been renovated and busy with a steady flow devotees,  I started working on my bearings and pretty much had the down town in my head by the end of the day.

I decided the best thing to do was head straight to Old Goa and check out the old churches. I managed to negotiate the busses and pretty soon I was packed into a little silver bus with the name ‘Sweet Jesus’ across the front window. It was an absolutely blazing afternoon and though I had picked up with a few coffees I was wilting with fatigue.

The first thing you realize when you get to Old Goa is there are only churches, if there were houses at some point there is no trace of them now. One side of the road were all painted white but The Impressive  Basilica of Bom Jesus or ‘good Jesus’ on the other side struck me as soon as I got of the bus with it’s dark weathered stone and known for having the remains of St Francis Xavier “the apostle of the indies” In a silver and glass case way up on an amazing marble and jasper plinth. There are a few of his bones in little golden boxes to the right on the front of the alter too, all very macabre if you ask me. The main alter is a massive jaw dropping a carved frieze covered from top to bottom in glowing golden leaf. It depicts Jesus, under the protection of St Ignatius Loyola the founder of the Jesuit order, and come on, better that lot were your friends than your enemy, which the local Hindus and natives soon found out, apparently the inquisition arrived here soon after 1510 when Alfonso De Alberquerque landed and began laying claim to the place for Portugal. 

I pottered across to the museum which was actually really interesting.  I supposed to myself that I could make sense of the gods and saints that were depicted in the Christian era, and I would dearly like to understand more of who is who in the Hindu pantheon, it’s coming.

The striking thing is the difference in the expression of the Europeans and the Indians. The Europeans carved wood, painted almost 2 dimensional pictures and covered things in gold and silver, they looked stern and forbidding, whist the Hindus carved in stone were rounded and sexual they looked welcoming, or at least mischievous even when slaying great beasts or an enemy, they both had that in common. 

There had been a trend started back in 1518 when the first Portuguese Viceroy of Goa had his portrait painted and from then on they all had them done, I counted 76 in all. The last date I could find was 1958. Great big pieces of work mounted along the walls upstairs. It was fascinating seeing the fashions change over the years, and seems that a Viceroy had a relatively short stay here in Goa, not sure why. The majority had about 2 to 6 years though one or two lasted maybe 10 years and in some years there were 3 portraits, a troubled year if you read between the lines. Each had his deeds written below and it seemed that they were all soldiers duty bound to expand territories. I’m not sure whether the Portuguese are renowned for their art but most of them looked tough and ruthless with squinting or staring eyes, some of the priests looked terrifying.  Maybe they should have invested in artists from France or Italy, but then again they weren’t friends at the time were they.  I’m being a smart ass but it spoke volumes about the mind set that arrived on these shores and I suppose other shores around the newly realized globe at that time.

I sat a while in the empty chapel of St Catherine, which I really liked and gentle and then in the Se Cathedral. It was interesting meditating in them and feeling what was left. The still used Basilica was very strong.

The next morning I got a call from the reception

“Good morning sir, what time will you be booking out?” I’d been up till gone 3.30 tapping away so I was absolutely wasted.  I’d forgotten to book another night, but thought I’d find somewhere else easily without the ‘guidance’ of the rickshaw guy. But I’d got side tracked. So I quickly packed left the bags in the foyer and went in search of another room.  I walked around the corner and walked into the first one I came too, the guy said 500r which I thought I’d heard wrong checked the room. It was ok. Not too smelly. Said I’d think about it. I was on my way to check another place but I was so tired.

“Stop being mental dude” I though “Take it”

I could tell immediately that it was a little up market from the other place because the light bulb wasn’t hanging from a wire in the lift and the lift doors swung shut on their own accord, I had two towels and some soap, luxury. Though I have to tell you it is honestly the hardest bed I have ever slept in, the floor wouldn’t be much different except of course you’d be easy access for the odd little cockroach that made its way absent mindedly across it. They had a unhappy midget bell boy who the owner seemed to talk to in sharp patronizing tones. He tried to lift my rucksack, which was obviously difficult for him as he was only just bigger it was almost certainly as heavy as him, so I tried to take it from him and he got real upset with me, we ended up having a tussle trying to get in the lift. Ity was funny in retrospect but at the time I said

“Let go and lighten up dude “ which of course he didn’t understand.

Later that afternoon I made my way somewhat gloomily, I realized there was nothing wrong, I was just tired and a little grumpy, lights turned down so to speak, towards the bus station where a young guy the day before who had tried to pull me as I got off the bus had told me where the bike hire was. He’d come out of the crowd all friendly and we were walking back to the old town when he held my hand, I’d unhooked myself then he held my hand again, I again quickly but subtly unhooked myself again and have seen the Indian guys holding hands here so I let it go as a cultural thing at first, but I’m a northern Englishman and we don’t hands with our mates thank you very much, not of course unless your giving them healing and it wasn’t healing he wanted to give me. He began to get a little needy and wanted to come back to the hotel.

“You are tired perhaps we could relax together and I could give you a body massage”

It defiantly wasn’t a cultural thing now but I kept my manners and said I had a lot of work to do, but thank you for your kind offer. He gave up irritated and broke off, but not before he’d told me where the bike rentals were.

There is a street here where all the shops do bike rentals shop after shop right next to each other . So you’d think they would be a bit savey and set a price they all stuck to so as to cream the tourists because if you didn’t like the price all you had to do was take a step to the right to the next shop front. But no, the first guy condescendingly said 500r, next door wouldn’t rent unless I had an international license, British and Montana combined didn’t count, I’d always though that was quite international. But no, I was sort of jaw dropped actually, I bet that well over 60 possibly 70% of drivers in this town or in India come to that would fail a British driving test, the bus drivers would pass of course out of sheer nerves Anyway next shop along and I got it for 200r was asked the same question and I said

“Yes British” and that was that. Though he asked me for another form of official picture ID and there was no way I was leaving my passport. The only thing I had was my ‘Spiritual Healer membership card.” I handed that over, and much to my delight after squinting at it for a few moments he accepted it. I heard Phil say

“There you are Mick, I told you it would come in useful” I was chuckling to myself

I’d decided upon northern Goa, and took off with a full tank. I called into the “Fort Aguada” on the way to the beaches in the north which meant “fresh water” It was basically a fort a lighthouse and a massive 16th century water tank placed over a fresh water spring. The first source of fresh water sailors would have had after the long voyage from Portugal.

Then onwards north really wasn’t very nice the roadside crammed with stalls selling trinkets shawls and T shirts, guest houses, restaurants and bars all along the way. I was enjoying the ride but gosh it reminded me of a cross between Blackpool and Camden town and since I was raised in Blackpool. There was no escape so I eventually turned of and drove into Ajuna beach where it seemed to reach fever pitch proportions, you heard mention about tree tunnels, well now I have driven a T shirt tunnel that went on and on and on. Now if you want that sort of thing you’d love it but I had wanted beautiful isolated sandy beeches but then I suppose everyone else there had too, and at the end of the day I was one of the crowd too. So I swam in the Arabian sea, so walked along in my Primark undies and squinted disapprovingly at the rows of beach umbrellas and restaurants that lined virtually the whole beach but eventually I surrendered to it and I have to say it was so very good to just sit there, eat something nice sip coffee, meditate and listen to a great trance CD the café was playing.

I have got into a bit of a bad habit with my meditations, been a little disappointed if I didn’t “see.”  But a meditation is actually to refresh you, but I had forgotten. There I sat and was simply quiet which is a remarkable thing for me, peaceful gentle energy bathed me but I didn’t actually get it till later, I hadn’t a thought in my mind.

So there I am back in my Docs and wranglers bare chested wizzing along through the lanes. A guy waved as I passed by at some town I can’t remember, I’d waved back. Later I pulled over to check my directions and he pulled up seconds later, obviously following me.

“ Where are you from” etc and to cut a long story short he became really animated and upset that I wouldn’t go back for  tea at his house, again I know there is a cultural thing here about inviting guests, it’s a long story and my instinct was right. It felt a little desperate he was firing so many questions at me that I had to tell him to back off. 

It was around then I noticed that my mood had completely changed. I was a live wire again, accelerating cutting in and out of traffic, loving it. It was a remarkable change and I got it, the meditation had recharged me. The journey back to Panjim was though a whole different place I wasn’t so scathing about it and though it’s not my thing it was fun watching all the pink Europeans and Russians walking along squinting. I noticed the other guys and girls on motorbikes too, serine looks on there faces, tasting a little freedom from what ever they did and where ever they were from. It’s all good and at times like that so am I.

By the time I got back in Panjim I was Steve McQueens   cousin again. I was flying and weaving, cutting in and out racing other bikes and scooters

“Lean baby lean” I shouted as I shot in amongst the crush and the rush along promenade of the Mandovi River and through the old Portuguese streets. I was inspired and wrote into the early hours. It feels wonderful and liberating to have the space to do that, but to actually do it, it is part of my happiness here, I am happy with myself that I am keeping my word no matter what.

Next day I had decided that I would go south and after a little upset with the bike hire who put the prices up another 100r

“Because it was a Saturday” the asshole said “and look at all the tourists waiting” So he held all four aces.

I was wanting to be away, but first I went to sit in a great café restaurant I found in the lonely planet called the “Satkar” on 18th of June road just around the corner from the hotel. I have gone there breakfast and in the evenings as they let me sit and the waiter ‘Raju Anna’ keeps bringing a new dish for me to try each time I go in. I am very defiantly a puzzle to him he understands not a word of English and I not a word of what he says but I managed to make him understand large coffee, bottle of mineral water and then point to something random on the menu. He has a really mischievous smile when ever I order. It’s a laugh being there.

Today he simply said “good friend”

So filled with good food and good vibes I took off south not actually sure which way south was, I’d written on my hand a town south of Panjim called ‘Goa Velha’ and if your not sure where something is ask a policeman right and bless him he stopped directing traffic long enough to make a call to somebody then said write this down, but took the pad and drew a little map.  Then I was off down the highway.  Energy levels up shirt off, I figured If I’m moving so fast I’ll be kissed and not burned, factor 25 face on the face and hey hey.

Now the road south was actually a little grinding, along a really busy highway. All I knew was that I wanted to get to a beach somewhere that didn’t have quite so much tat and crap for sale, and I figured the further south I drove the more likely that would be. I had expected there to be golden beaches within easy reach, but as I said it was quite a long drive 100kml round trip, to a place called Colva beach.

Now a couple of things about Indian drivers, they’re mental right? Have you ever spoken to somebody on a mobile phone and they have been stood in a windy spot, you can’t hear a word their saying and it’s really irritating isn’t it. So how come People here actually driving scooters and motorbikes are talking on their mobiles. In a car, naughty but possible, on the back of a bike going at 50kpm, I don’t think so, but they all do it. Secondly Indians simply don’t like being behind anybody else whether it is at the station, at the post office and definitely not on the roads. Everybody is trying to get past the person in front not because they are in a hurry but just not to be behind. On the way back today I lost count the amount of times a car would be over taking somebody on the oncoming side of the road and somebody would be trying to over take them and or a bike would be cutting in between them and  the oncoming traffic having to give way moving onto the dust at the side of the highway and nobody really seems to mind. Mental.

“Sound horn ok” it says it all along the roads and on the back of all the goods carriers, oh and they do.

The beach turned out to be quite peaceful and clean, still loads of people around the entrance to the beach primarily Indians on holiday whole families screaming and jumping about in the waves and the braver ones paragliding above the waves with the Europeans and Russians further up the beach more solitary and quiet reading under beach umbrellas or having a massage.  So me, trousers off shoes off, white legs snug Primark undies and walking north away from the crowds, the sea was wonderfully clean and warm the sun baking hot. I left my things with a couple now and again that I’d pass and just dive in. I walked a good mile or two peaceful and empty of worries. I felt like I was on holiday.

Another thought on the British and the Indian relationship when the British. I’ve said there must have been something about the British the Indians related too. It’s just little things but they build up over time. I was walking along watching the Indians playing in the waves and noticed that all the Indian women were fully dressed not a bikini or costume in sight. They were covered just like the Victorian ladies used to be, we look back at our sepia photographs of the Victorians with a mixture of nostalgia and awe, but that moral code still exist here and I suspect was here when the brits arrived, perhaps again the Indians noted the morals and aspired to it or at least related to it. Just a thing that crossed my mind today. 

I stopped and had some thing to eat and as I said I was just quiet, a lady who had a beech hut selling to tourists came up and began chatting, I knew she was selling but she spoke perfect English, said she had picked it up on the beach over the 12 years she had worked on the beaches there. If she was telling the truth she was very intelligent as it was near perfect.  I managed to steer the conversation away so that we just ended up having a chat. She told me about her life there and her 3 kids and her lazy husband. That she’d lost a child last year just after birth. It was a tough story. I told her mine and we managed a couple of laughs. I bought a couple of things of course and then went back for something else and left her a tip. It was a nice moment.

“That’s for the kids” I said. 

Then a few more dips in the Arabian Sea as I made my way slowly and dreamily back along the edge of the surf. I have always felt a sense of melancholy when ever I have to leave the ocean, and you know it will be a long time before you are in its presence again,  do you know what I mean.  Then back at the bike I’d left the keys hanging in the back of the storage box, I’d been gone a good few hours they were really obvious, can you imagine that in London, it would have been gone in minutes.

I was told all sorts of scare stories before I set off about the poverty here, and it is shocking, but I was told not to trust anybody that they would all try and take from me. We’ll I honestly haven’t found it yet, they will try and sell you something of course and I know I am only here for a short time and there are people out there who would take my stuff in the blink of an eye.  I’ll walk around with an expensive camera in the most desperate of places and they smile and say hello, let’s hope it stays that way, I remain cautious but open. There is that belief and I am one for it, that what you give out is what the universe will send you, it is your unconscious will that puts the order out, and the universe will send you what ever it is you are pre occupied with “what you fear will come to visit” so it must also be “how you love or how you feel will be the tone of your days and what you experience. There are of course accidents and life’s  occurrence’s, but my feeling is one of peacefulness, curiosity and of course of searching and so it seems there may be something in it as so far that is what seems to come to me. I ‘know’ that I am surrounded by a great deal of love and honestly I try to let that out with who ever I come across here. It is a harder thing to do whilst you are at home in your own familiar waters with all the stresses and irritations of the grind there, so maybe that is what travel is actually about, experiencing your true open nature, your better higher self.

Anyway I’m on the scooter right and zipping along at 50kph it’s rush hour and the roads are clogged around the intersections of any towns along the highway. At one place the police flag me down, I was puzzled. I pull over and the big cop says

“Helmet” my face said what he already knew, I’d forgotten that on the highway in Goa you have to wear a helmet but not in the towns.

“You forgot right?”

“Yeah” I said going in the box to get it out “Sorry” and I thought that was that.

“License” he says. I thought oh dear. I’d left it in the hotel room with my passport.

“Where is your hotel?”  He asks

“Panjim” say I

“What is your good name?”

“Michael from London” I tell him

“Well Michael it is minimum 100r for no helmet and no license” he said turning away for effect. Now as we are stood there, there are literally hundreds of scooters and bikes flowing past us and maybe 50% aren’t wearing a helmet and the helmet I have been given wouldn’t do a thing in the event of an accident in fact it would have strangled me as it hung round my throat on the back of my head. I knew he was just trying to scam me as soon as I stopped. So I just said

“Oh come on mate, it was a mistake, you can see I have it on now” now this guy is big he’s actually bigger than me which is quite surprisingly for an Indian and he’s wide too. So he turns around to me and looks me over in my long sleeve t shirt my snug Primark Undies me Doc’s and my white legs says

“You are looking rather sexy today Michael” and he’s looking me up and down

“Your cock is sticking out like this” and just so you know he used his ‘big’ finger to make the sticking out gesture.

I wasn’t sure what to think, whether he was trying to upset me, which he wasn’t, or whether he’s trying to have a laugh, which I doubted or whether he was going to arrest me and come and visit me in the cell, in which case the 100r would have been out of my pocket like a shot. He’s looking at me and then my Primark packed packet and then back at me and I’m sort of feeling a little bit uncomfortable. Then he said

“Your cock, it is sticking out, it is pointing” which I don’t think it was, but I said

“Well ok I’ll put my trousers on” and went to reach for them, he stood there for a few seconds deciding upon something and said

“Not here do it somewhere else up the road” and waved me on. So I got back on the bike calmly but pretty damned quickly and took off I had a quick look down to see if it was sticking out and I didn’t think so, maybe it’s those Victorian morals again. 

I stopped a little further up the road and put my trousers back on, I suppose my legs will just have to remain pale, it’s becoming far too risky every time I try to get a bit of sun on them.

I decided I’d take the scenic route back to Panjim as I really wanted to see rural Goa. So I turned off the gritty highway and wound my way back through the shaded leafy wooded lanes past old 2 story colonial Portuguese houses with verandas and red tiled roofs some grand others small but most overgrown and decaying splendidly all along the road. Pastel colors faded and blackened with damp, wood curled and aged with the years under the sun, though some were beautiful and obviously still loved with big splashes of bright pink flowers hanging over walls and from the trees with palms dotted across the wood covered hills.  Before and it seemed just past each village were iridescent green rice paddies and in the ditches of along the road fires burned all the dried and fallen leaves so I’d disappear at times into great clouds of smoke emerging into sunlight the other side, it was a great ride back though as the sun started to go down the grit bouncing of my face on the busy highways was replaced by the emerging mosquitoes and bugs. Great ride though. 

When I got back into Panjim I was sun baked tired but didn’t want to be earth bound for a little while so I just drove around the streets in the warm evening air along the river front.  Marveling at the Mississippi steam boats all done out like Christmas trees floating majestically on the calm waters, not really thinking about very much at all, just at peace gliding through the warm evening air like I’d seen the crows doing earlier. Raju Anna at the siktar served me a thing called Mutter Palak that evening which was the strangest bright green dish I have ever seen, I am not even sure what was in it, but with some boiled riceit did the job and I am here today. I have to say I have enjoyed the time spent here feels like I have got a lot done. Tomorrow Auragabad.

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