A Travellerspoint blog

May 2012

Gone to Goa At Last!

Easter on the beach and explorations in Panaji and Old Goa

sunny 40 °C

Lady looking out to sea on Bogmalo Beach

Lady looking out to sea on Bogmalo Beach

After 7 trips and close to 2 years travelling in India, I have finally made it to Goa. At last I will be able to answer yes to the inevitable question from almost any Indian I meet – “have you been to Goa?” I knew it was a very popular destination and had a fascinating Portuguese and Christian history, but somehow it never made it onto my ‘must see’ lists. Maybe because I’m not normally a beach person, and I perceived the culture to be centred around that? Maybe because its reputation for partying and drugs no longer seemed to be so appealing to me? Maybe just because everyone went and I was being stubborn? Not sure, but regardless of reason, Sandra and I were trying to decide where we’d go for the Easter break when Laura and Colin, friends from the British High Commission, said they were heading to Bogmalo Beach, to the Coconut Creek Resort (http://www.coconutcreekgoa.com), and we decided to finally take the plunge.

Bogmalo Beachf from Joet's

Bogmalo Beachf from Joet's

With no AC rooms left at the lovely Coconut Creek, we opted for the cheaper – and right on the beach – sister property Joet’s Guesthouse. Bogmalo Beach is quite lovely, with wonderful crashing waves and waving palm trees. Each day we’d trek up the path to Coconut Creek and hang out by the pool with the gang, lazily sipping Mojitos, and then rolling into the pool to cool off.

Finding wildlife wherever I go - at dinner (but not for dinner) in Coconut Creek

Finding wildlife wherever I go - at dinner (but not for dinner) in Coconut Creek

We were so glad we opted for AC though! Many in our group had rooms at the resort without AC. The temperature was pretty high, but not crazy; however, combined with the sultry humidity, sleeping was not so comfortable for them. One of the girls told me they would step into the shower, nightclothes on and all, and then go to bed wet under the fan – apparently that worked quite well.

Streets of Panaji in the Latin Quarter

Streets of Panaji in the Latin Quarter

Joet’s Guesthouse has quite a good reputation for food, and the open-air restaurant, on the beach, is a wonderful spot. Unfortunately, we had dinner there with our group of 16 and probably because of that, we weren’t overly impressed. Still, one of the highlights in Goa was the fabulous, spicy and affordable seafood and we started our taste adventures here.

Heading to the capital ~ Panaji

Lovely orchid garden in our Panaji Homestay

Lovely orchid garden in our Panaji Homestay

After 3 nights and days just hanging out with the gang, we were off on a short drive to the capital city of Panaji (or Panjim). We stayed at an amazing little homestay on a leafy street in the old Latin Quarter of Fontainhas called Afonso Guesthouse (afonsoguesthouse@gmail.com). It was also only a 15 minute (albeit sweaty) walk to the downtown area. The rooms were insanely cheap, super clean and comfortable. The family running the property were so helpful and friendly, arranging transportation for us to Old Goa and making sure we knew how much to reasonably pay for things – very sweet people.

Beautiful bougainvilla in the Latin Quater of Panaji

Beautiful bougainvilla in the Latin Quater of Panaji

Our first day in Panaji, we set off to explore the winding streets, and sweat some more, cause the system needed to be cleaned out after all those Mojitos! Located on the Mandovi River, and backed by terraced hills it is a very pretty town, with an interesting mix of architecture.

San Sebastien Church from our rooftop breakfast patio at Afonso Guesthouse

San Sebastien Church from our rooftop breakfast patio at Afonso Guesthouse

History in a nutshell: Panaji has a history dating back to the 11th century and the Kadamba dynasty. Most of the visible influences now though are a mix of Indian and the Portuguese who arrived in the 16th century. In 1843 it was renamed Panjim and became the capital after the previous capital of Old Goa was decimated by plagues of malaria and cholera. The new name meant the land that never floods. In the 60s the Indian government was forced to invade Goa to make the Portuguese leave. Goa rejoined India and was named Panaji once again.

Maybe they didn't do well in English studies?

Maybe they didn't do well in English studies?

Finished in 1541, the Church of our Lady of Immaculate Conception sits at the head of the downtown core and overlooking the main square. This was the first stop for Portuguese sailors arriving from the home country. They would come here to give thanks for arriving safely before venturing further into the lush continent to Old Goa.

1541 Our Lady of the Imaculate Conception

1541 Our Lady of the Imaculate Conception

After traipsing around town, dripping steadily, and trying in vain to find a restaurant described by locals as the Best in town – the Ritz – we settled for the blessedly freezing, delicious, but not-Goan, Sher-E-Punjabi restaurant.

Who knew Bloomingdales had franchises in Goa?

Who knew Bloomingdales had franchises in Goa?

Day 2 and we took a car about 40 minutes away to the World Heritage site of Old Goa – that at one time was called the “Rome of the East” and had a population more than London or Lisbon. The drive was spectacular and reminiscent of Kerala. Beautiful, lush, dense vegetation on a winding road, with lovely little houses – some old Portuguese, others a whimsical mix of Indo-Portuguese.

Old Goa

Belfry of St. Augustine

Belfry of St. Augustine

Our first stop was at the very atmospheric ruins of the convent and Church of St. Augustine founded in 1572. A movie was being filmed there, so we watched that for a while, before they quickly packed up and we could wander at will. The only major structure left standing here at the massive site was the belfry tower. During one of the repressive regimes of the Church, many orders were dismantled, including the Augustine’s and the church was ordered abandoned in 1835, which started the neglect and decay of this massive building. The weather was bright but grey, which only added to the fabulous feeling of the place. We spent a long time strolling this magnificent site, and it was my favourite spot in Old Goa.

Ruins of St Augustine

Ruins of St Augustine


Beautiful forest surrounding St. Augustine

Beautiful forest surrounding St. Augustine

More ruins...

More ruins...


Across the road, and fronted by massive bougainvillea’s was the 1627 Church and Convent of St. Monica.

Across the road, and fronted by massive bougainvillea’s was the 1627 Church and Convent of St. Monica.

The most revered Church in Old Goa is the Church of Bom Jesus, which was begun in 1594. It was the first church in India to be made minor-basilica. Not sure what that means, but sounds important!

Basilica of Bom Jesus

Basilica of Bom Jesus

A nice baroque-style church, the most fascinating thing for us was the tomb of St. Frances Xavier, the patron Saint of Goa. It is rather strange to look onto the visible remains of the Saint, resting in the heavily decorated glass, silver and gold casket. All the remains except for his finger that is, which is kept in a crystal urn and taken out on December 3, the day of the Feast of St. Francis Xavier, to be displayed to the public. This is done once every ten years, the last being in 2004 and the next 2014. Until recently, people were able to actually kiss the feet of the remarkably preserved Saint at this festival. The exposure though caused a lot of damage to the body. Apparently one an overly-devout attendee bit off the toe of the Saint, and it reportedly gushed blood!

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St Francis of Xavier in his glass-fronted coffin

St Francis of Xavier in his glass-fronted coffin

The Saint’s remains are said to have powers of healing. This is rather ironic, since in 1554 he was also the instigator of the Inquisition in Goa by writing the Pope to request that the Inquisition come to India. It did come, with typically horrific results, but in 1560 after the Saint had tied in 1552 on the island of Sancian, awaiting permission to enter China. The Inquisition didn’t formally end till 1812 in Goa!

Se Cathedral in Old Goa

Se Cathedral in Old Goa

The Se Cathedral of Old Goa is the largest cathedral in India, and apparently Asia. The first building was built in 1510 and dedicated to St. Catherine. The 2nd building was begun in 1515 and gained cathedral status in 1538. The current structure was completed in 1564 and is the seat of the Archbishop of Goa.

Cross decorated with a marigold garland next to the Basilica of Bom Jesus

Cross decorated with a marigold garland next to the Basilica of Bom Jesus

After traipsing (and did I mention sweating?) around Old Goa, we made a stop at a spice plantation and then back to Panaji for a wonderful meal at Viva Panjim, one of the most recommended restaurants by travellers in Panaji and literally around the corner from our hotel. It had mixed reviews about the level of service, but we must have had a good night because if was friendly and relatively efficient. The outdoor seating is set up on either side of an alley, and we had to squeeze in as the odd motorcycle drove through the middle of the tables. The food was very good, and amazingly cheap, given its popularity with foreigners. The two of us had: prawns balchao (lemon, chilli curry), garlic calamari, chicken xacutti (spicy curry made with roasted grated coconut), rice, Kingfisher beer and for desert – bebinca, a dish baked in layers of flour, jaggery, ghee and coconut milk. Total bill? Under 500 rupes – $10! Yummy!!

Sculptures on an old Portugese house in Panaji

Sculptures on an old Portugese house in Panaji

The next day we were leaving in the afternoon so made another attempt to find the Ritz Classic restaurant for lunch… and we were successful! This was the best meal we had in Goa and were the only foreigners in the packed space. So amazingly good as we indulged in a mutton xacutti, a goan fish curry and prawns vindaloo. Great way to end the trip.

So we finally tasted Goa, and really, for us it was the highlight. Goa is very nice, and the history fascinating, but don’t feel the need to return I often feel in other parts of the country. Wouldn’t say no to returning, but just not overly enamoured. The best of Goa for me was the wonderful and affordable food. This, come to think of it, is a pretty compelling reason to come back actually!

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 07:07 Archived in India Tagged goa panaji st._augustine bom_jesus francis_xavier old_goa bogmalo Comments (0)

Lions, Textiles and Art

Returning to Gujarat and Heading Further into the Kutch

sunny 36 °C

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When last I left you we had wrapped up a wonderful Rajasthani adventure and were heading to Gujarat. To get their we took a Volvo bus trip from Udaipur to Ahmedabad. I know it's not indicative of all Indian bus trips, but it was my first and wonderful! Very nice bus, 5 hours downtown-to-downtown, two Bollywood flicks - one good and one bad -- and only 300 rupees! Was fun to watch the movies and we were pretty much able to figure out what was happening through most of them even without subtitles. It was easier to follow the better drama than the pretty bad comedy.

On the Road: Mickey-Mouse-eared Buffalo enjoying the mud bath!

On the Road: Mickey-Mouse-eared Buffalo enjoying the mud bath!

Only had a night in Ahmedabad this trip, just a quick sleep at the very affordable and decent Accolade Hotel then off to Sasan Gir for 4 nights, with a quick but important stop in Rajkot for our alcohol permit and supplies! Funny how important having access to alcohol becomes when you are 'forbidden' to have it. As a friend pointed out, would probably drink far less if it wasn't forbidden. As it was, we picked up a bottle of whiskey, Hercules rum (yum), gin, cognac from duty-free and a mickey of vodka, plus 6 cans of kingfisher beer. For 3 of us over 10 days! Far more than we'd normally drink - honestly - and even had some left over despite our very sincere and impressive efforts (no leftover cognac though). Interesting to note that for this trip at least, it was far more pleasant to get our permits in Rajkot than the shame-laden permit process in Ahmedabad last November.

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On the way, we stopped at the side of the road in Jetpur to check out masses and masses of dried chillies grown in surrounding farms. They were lovely people, with wonderful smiles and fantastic lungs. We were coughing from airborne pepper dust as soon as we started the climb down to see their produce. All kinds and sizes of chillies, including one of my favs – Kashmiri.
Chilli Lady

Chilli Lady

Sasan Gir National Park

Snakebird takes off over the water

Snakebird takes off over the water

Finally arriving in Gir, the differences in the vegetation immediately apparent from last November. As expected it was so much drier, hotter and bare. The fallen teak leaves that formed a thick crunchy carpet were mostly gone, disintegrating into the forest floor.

Langur lunch!

Langur lunch!

This trip we decided to check out the Gir Birding Lodge. The setting was lovely with little cottages set in a large mango orchard. Lovely and quiet with just 6 cottages on the property. The only negative for the lodge was the lack of a dedicated jeep and driver, instead using a roster system of jeep drivers from town. This makes it the quality of jeep and driver uncertain and inconsistant. It's usually much better having one driver employed, or contracted by a lodge. It generally ensures a better quality of ride and knowledge as well; a consistent driver gets to know the client, what they are interested in and where they’ve already been, more likely ensuring a better experience. So while Gir Birding Lodge provided cleaner rooms, far better food and generally more helpful and consistent staff, Anil Farmhouse’s resident naturalist/driver Haneef makes it hard for me to decide which would win out for the best place to stay of the two. Next time will have to try a 3rd place maybe?

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Tickell's Blue Flycatcher

Crested (formerly Changeable) Hawk Eagle

Crested (formerly Changeable) Hawk Eagle

But on to the important stuff – the animals! As always, they are the stars! We had some fantastic sightings, though not as many lions as last November. It was explained (though not sure if true) that the lion rangers that control the traffic around sightings actually regularly 'herd' the lions up to where they can be seen. While we were there, there was a leopard not far away that had been killing children and many rangers had joined the effort to track it. Still at the end of our first drive, we had a spectacular sighting, coming upon a lioness and her two young cubs. It was just us with her and we had quite a while as her babies checked us out. Such a high!

Posing for the paparazzi!

Posing for the paparazzi!


Hey, who's that?

Hey, who's that?


Damn flies!

Damn flies!


Checking out the scenery

Checking out the scenery

This visit was also memorable for vehicle mishaps. We had a flat tire in the forest, had to give our spare tire to another jeep and shortly after visiting with a couple of male lions, broke down by a small stream! The driver and forest guide tried in vain to get the jeep going again before settling down to wait for a rescue vehicle and mechanic to show up. Sandra got her iPhone out and we boogied to Boney M while we waited, hoping the lions wouldn’t amble over to the rivers of Babylon!

Langurs taking a leap

Langurs taking a leap

Bhuj and the Kutch

Salt farming in the Kutch

Salt farming in the Kutch


Beautiful colours and bangles in the Kutch

Beautiful colours and bangles in the Kutch

After Gir, we were off for a 7 hour drive to Bhuj and the Kutch. We stayed at the Kutch Safari Lodge, which has seen better days. It was pretty hot by now so wildlife was unfortunately not really on the table, but fortunately, the incredible crafts of the area was. We saw beautiful embroidery and textile work with incredible detail and art. Sandra picked up a vintage dowry bag, completely embroidered all over with geometrical and floral motifs.

Remnants of the earthquake of 10 years ago still evident everywhere

Remnants of the earthquake of 10 years ago still evident everywhere

We popped into the19th century Prag Mahal palace in Bhuj, which was strange in its very European architecture. The 2001 earthquake caused quite a bit of damage to the palace, and like other parts of area, you can still see evidence of this large quake that caused such devastation. The palace itself had some beautiful elements, but is in amazing state of decay, with roaming pigeons and rotting game trophys. Very atmospheric, but sad to see how badly it is being preserved.

Careful conservation in the palace

Careful conservation in the palace

Dining room in the Prag Mahal Palace

Dining room in the Prag Mahal Palace

During our explorations, we stopped in a village – Nirona – filled with artisans hand-making all types of crafts. Of particular jaw-dropping beauty was the Rogan (or Roghan) fabric painting done by the Khatri family. The last remaining family to do this particular art form. The ‘paint’ is made from castor oil that is boiled to a careful consistency over two to three days. It is then mixed with natural substances to create the colours. To get the right painting consistency, a piece of gum-like paint is worked and warmed in the hand, until a thin string of colour can be pulled smoothly with a metal stylus and laid onto fabric in precise and intricate lines. Once laid down, the fabric is folded and the pattern rubbed and duplicated on the other side. You have about 20 minutes to create the duplication before the paint is too dry to work,so not a quick process.

Rogan fabric painting

Rogan fabric painting

The art form has been done by this family for 8 generations and had nearly died out, because in its original form was a more basic patterned art to create saris. The painters couldn’t compete with the machine dyed fabrics and gradually disappeared. The Khatri family re-positioned the work as art, forming panels of increasing intricacy and difficulty. NO two patterns are the same and the only place you can get these pieces are from the family. So beautiful!
Phenomenal demonstration of Rogan painting

Phenomenal demonstration of Rogan painting

Making the copper bells in the Kutch - feet are very useful!

Making the copper bells in the Kutch - feet are very useful!

We also visited a fascinating demonstration of copper bell making by a lovely man with a wonderful face and brilliant smile. He deftly shaped, hammered, cut and formed the bells, proudly presenting us with the finished product.

Proud copper bell smith and his bell

Proud copper bell smith and his bell


Again the useful feet, this time turning wood

Again the useful feet, this time turning wood

Finally we stopped into a wood turner, creating spoons and ladles, which he coloured with resins held against the spinning wood, creating wonderful colourfast patterns. We barely touched the work in this area of unique, colourful and talented communities, and it left me even more interested in the area than before.

Village hut in the Kutch

Village hut in the Kutch

Mirror-work inside a Kutch village hut

Mirror-work inside a Kutch village hut

We couldn’t leave without a quick trip to the White Rann, a seasonal salt marsh in the Thar Desert. You have to get a permit to enter this vast, white area with salt pooling in every depression, and strong hot winds driving into us. During the summer monsoon time, the area is flooded, creating winter habitats for flamingoes, cranes and other birds.

Salt collecting in the tire tracks in the White Rann

Salt collecting in the tire tracks in the White Rann

After getting our permit from very officious and self-important police officials, and driving past the military post, where the soldiers waved and smiled at us in a stark contrast, we reached the edge of the White Rann. Sadly, this beautiful, alien landscape was littered with familiar garbage and plastic. I left vowing to bring a garbage bag with me if I came again.

CV and Sandra in the White Rann

CV and Sandra in the White Rann

This trip ended like so many -- far too quickly and we were driving back to head to Delhi for a quick laundry and pack for my inaugural trip to Goa. On the way back, we had an unexpected Wild Ass sighting. Straying from the sanctuary into fields of cotton, were happy asses, rolling around in the fields of cotton.

Wild Ass straying to the cotton fields in the Kutch

Wild Ass straying to the cotton fields in the Kutch

Chital speeding across the road in Sasan Gir

Chital speeding across the road in Sasan Gir

Posted by LisaOnTheRoad 21:54 Archived in India Comments (0)

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