We left Arambol two days ago and have been staying in the state capital of Goa, Panaji, since then. Arambol was nice enough, but we were both ready to move on. There was a bit of a contingent of stoned hippies who spent all their time on the beach in Arambol – I’m not sure if they ever went to bed! Between them and the dogs which littered the beach and kept fighting, it started to become a bit less relaxing and seem more grotty.
Panaji is a lovely place, Portuguese in its architecture and its legacy. Most of the houses here are beautiful big Portuguese villas (one of which we are staying in), and the town retains a certain charm with its wide streets, large shops and a feel that is quite different from most Indian towns or cities. Panaji and all of Goa was actually a Portuguese colony until 1961, and this is reflected in the character of the town and many of the people – a lot of the people are almost western in their looks, hairstyles and clothing. It was a big surprise to us when we were walking down the main street as to just how many liquor stores there are here – they seem to be the most common shop! We were also surprised that there was a promotion for cheap Carlsberg in the town, complete with loud western music!
On our first night here, I woke up at 2am to a big thunderstorm, and the sound of rain absolutely hammering down. I got up to make sure that there were no leaks in the bathroom – fortunately there weren’t, so I went back to bed. However, Mahmoud also woke up to find himself absolutely drenched – the roof was leaking directly onto his bed! After a bit of reshuffling of furniture, and Mahmoud changing clothes, the leaking crisis of Panaji was over – we requested a new mattress for Mahmoud in the morning!
The following day, we did a little self-managed walking tour of Panaji – it truly is a melting pot of European and Indian culture, with a heavy Christian influence as evidenced by a number of churches. The Hindu temple to Hanuman was also a good sight – very colourful! The people here are very friendly, not quite so forceful when they are selling or drumming up business – the taxi drivers call out to you as you walk past, and do a little driving motion with their hands – it’s very funny and they always laugh as they do it! The day was very hot and humid thanks to the rain from the night before, and by the end of the walk we were both drenched in sweat AGAIN – it was exhausting.
That evening, we did a river cruise on the Santa Monica, a boat recommended by the Lonely Planet, which advertised it as a cruise with a performance and dancing. It also described it as less rowdy than the other cruises. Well – I can only assume by less rowdy they mean “family-oriented”, because the cruise had a DJ playing all the latest Bollywood songs at the highest decibel rating. There was some dancing, but mostly it was the people who had paid to ride the “leisurely” cruise, who knew all the moves from whichever movie each song was from. Well, it wasn’t what I expected, and it was admittedly atrocious, but I really enjoyed it – you can’t help but crack a smile when you see people enjoying themselves so much. As the only non-Asian person on the boat, I stood out like a sore thumb and as you can imagine, a few people tried to get me up to dance. One guy was pretty persistent, and in the end I very reluctantly did a little dance (copied his moves), and he got his requisite photo with me – hilarious for all I’m sure. Mahmoud was all for me doing a dance, but wasn’t quite so keen to get up there himself – don’t worry, I saw to it that he was included in the fun. Unfortunately he set his camera to some bizarre setting first, and I couldn’t get a good picture – sorry!
Today, eardrums still vibrating, we visited Old Goa, the former state capital of Portuguese-administered Goa, and looked at some of the old churches and cathedrals there. Very interesting, and quite unique architecture – a display of colonial power which is still present today. The story of St. Francis Xavier’s incorruptible body which is entombed there is interesting, although rather macabre I think! It was another hot day, and for the first time since we arrived in India it rained during the day while we were out – we waited in one of the large churches until the rain stopped. Thanks to the rain though, it seems this afternoon is a bit cooler – what a relief!
We’re now off to try some Portuguese food – with Mahmoud having just got over a 24 hour bug, and my stomach a wee bit shaky, let’s hope we cope with whatever they give us!