Goa diary

It’s been almost 2 years since I last visited Goa and a trip has been long overdue. However, this pushed me over the edge and I planned a quick trip with my friend.

Apr 4, 19:04
Enjoyable traffic jam and the bus which I was supposed to board 14 min ago isn’t here yet.

Apr 4, 20:59
“Is hafte mein chauthi baar is bus mein jaa raha hoon. Ye log do hi movie dikhate hain yaar”

Apr 4, 21:55
Dinner is kolhapur style mutton thali. I’ve had better.

Apr 5, 8:00
Bus is running 2 hours late. I’ve just crossed into Goa. Another half hour to Panjim. On the plus side, nothing really opens before 10 anyway.

Apr 5, 8:46
Correction. Rupesh wine store in Mapusa is already open for business.

Apr 5, 10:31
Goan breakfast of bhaji puri to whet the appetite. Feels weird riding an Activa after riding a MCWG for so long. I keep trying to up shift and keep searching for the foot brake pedal.

Apr 5, 11.37
Amazing ride through Cortalim. Finally managed to find Esparan├ža vaz bar and restaurant. Best prawns. Lots of fish. Ladyfish and something called kaalo (‘black’ in konkani). Not drowned in masala. Seafood that has its own flavour. Fresh. And chilled beer.

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Prawns

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Apr 5, 14:16
Left Esparan├ža about 15 minutes ago and am already at Fernando’s Nostalgia in Raia. Best salted ox tongue. Garlic squid is so so. Washed down with beer.

Apr 5, 15:02
The humid sticky heat is actually comforting. Having some baked stuffed crab while deciding where to go next. Tried country liquor called dudhshery.

Apr 5, 16:45
Came to a taverna named Durigo on the Colva Road. Unfortunately it is closed at this hour and will not open until 7. Supposed to serve the best sorpotel. Now we face the decision of waiting here for dinner or moving on to Andron. Short stopover at Majorda or Benaulim beach being planned to let the food digest a little

Apr 5, 17:20
Short stopover at Majorda beach. Didn’t find any interesting shacks.

Apr 5, 18:00
Benaulim beach. Nice leisurely stroll for a couple of kilometres. Watching the sun set.

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Benaulim beach

Apr 5, 18:20
Hair raising ride through some of the smallest villages of Goa made even more tiring because the headlamp on the activa has either high beam or nothing and high beam is worse than a regular low beam.

Apr 5, 19:50
Waiting at Ribandar for the ferry to Chorao. Couple of anglers trying their luck. One chap managed to catch a huge fish while we were watching. The catch doesn’t get fresher than that.

Apr 5, 20:08
On the ferry to Chorao. The lights of Panjim and Porvorim glisten in the distance. The smell of the diesel of the ferry mingles with the smell of peanuts the locals chomp on to pass time.

Apr 5, 20:22
The ride from Chorao to Bicholim begins. All in the search for the most amazing food in Goa – at Andron in faraway Nachinola.

Apr 5, 22:22
Andron. We rode for 3 straight hours to reach this little gem of a place and it has been worth every bit. In fact my entire Goa trip was planned with the intention of eating here once more. Succulent pork chops which melt in the mouth, beef chilly with the most tender beef in Goa, prawns fry and beef tongue. OK actually, everything here melts in the mouth. Even the salad that came with the food is really tasty.

Apr 5, 22:55
Got a chance to ride a friend’s Yamaha R15 from Nachinola to Panjim. Met a foreign tourist who wanted to go to Canacona. Apparently, an autorickshaw driver dropped him off at Panjim and charged him 3000 bucks. He was coming from Palolem. Friend agreed to drop him off at Miramar. He just wanted to get to the nearest beach to spend the night there.

Apr 5, 23:41
Aunty Maria’s in Fidalgo. Used to be the late night hangout during college days. Cheesecake and hot chocolate.
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Apr 6, 10:23
Searching for Laxmi tavern in Verem. I tell my friend to look out for it. He says “the kind of places you want to go to won’t be on the main road. They require lot of research”

Apr 6, 10:57
Climbing up to Reis Magos fort. Rs 10 entry on Sundays and Goa government holidays. Rs 50 otherwise. Monday off.
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Apr 6, 11:48
Reis Magos is impressive. Beautifully restored recently and the view of Miramar Bay is stunning. It is really hot but there is a nice breeze coming in from the sea. Two entire galleries dedicated to Mario Miranda’s work makes for good reading
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Apr 6, 12:13
We have been planning to leave for quite some time now but this fort is just throwing up more and more surprises. Several old photographs of Goa in the Portuguese days

Apr 6, 12:42
Actually managed to find Laxmi tavern. Unfortunately, the owner was just closing shop.

Apr 6, 13:05
Lunch at Gene in Ribandar. Old haunt on the banks of the Mandovi. Rava fried prawns and mackerel.

Apr 6, 15:34
Found a junior at Gene’s and monopolised his time getting college news. Now on the ferry to Divar island.
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Apr 6, 16:16
Divar church is peaceful with not a soul around. Everyone is having their siesta.
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Apr 6, 16:32
At the ferry jetty to Vanxim island. It is so small and so remote, the only connection to the mainland is a hourly ferry service to Divar which then leads to the mainland.
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Apr 6, 16:48
Waiting for the ferry back to Ribandar. It is named the Dudhsagar

Apr 6, 16:54
There are two kinds of people in Goa. People who reverse into a ferry so they can drive off when they disembark and those who drive bonnet first onto it who have to struggle to get it off the boat in reverse when they land

Apr 6, 19:29
Checked out of our room at 7. Had planned to have dinner at Venite, but it was closed. Trudged back to Viva Panjim and now waiting for some Chonak rava fry.

Apr 6, 21:08
Waiting for my bus on top of the Mandovi Bridge and trying not to melt entirely before it arrives.

Apr 6, 21:47
Boarded my bus and I’m on the way back. So long Goa, and thanks for all the fish. I will be back

Fin.

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A sealed letter to the Prime Minister

Dr. Manmohan Singh
7 Race Course Road,
New Delhi 110001

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For Appam

“Joby, wake up”.
“Poda Thoma. Let me sleep”.
“Eda, I am hungry. Let’s go to the thattukada. I want appam beef fry”
“Which thattu. I am not coming to Everfresh.”
“We’ll go to that one near Karicode bus stop”.
“Ok wait 5 min. I will brush my teeth and come”.

Joby and Thomas were in their 2nd year of engineering. Joby was from Pathanamthitta and Thomas from Kottayam. Both of them had met at the Jesus Youth meetings in 1st year and had slowly discovered that they shared similar passions – pazhampori, Congress and train journeys. Classes had been suspended after 10 AM because of placements for the senior batch. Joby had used this time to take a nap, while Thomas had played Age of Empires on his age old PC.

Both of them set off from Shajik hostel after greeting Ramachandran, the watchman. They’d just crossed Najaf Xerox when Joby spotted him.

“Eda Thoma, Spanner”.
“Evide? Shit. He has seen us”

Spanner, whose real name was Rafeeq, was a local thug who had developed a distaste for students from the college after some students had got into a tussle with his goonda friend. The friend had to be hospitalized and Spanner was after blood. Joby’s roommate Prakash had been one of the boys involved in the fight and had gone home to lie low for a while.

Spanner came towards them and grabbed Thomas by the collar.

“What is your name?” he growled.
“Th..th…th…Thomas”.
“Which semester?”
“S4”
He turned to Joby and asked
“And what is your name?”
“Joby. Let him go”.
“Oho, moda. Who are you ?”
“You want Prakash, you deal with him. Let us go”.
“Oho, How do you know Prakash?”
“I know him. Athreye ollu”.

Spanner let go of Thomas’ collar and turned to Joby. He pulled out a thin blade from his rolled up sleeve and grabbed Joby in a choke hold.
Thomas, close to tears, started begging
“Please saar, let him go. He is a paavam fellow. We just want to eat appam beef fry from the thattukada. Please let us go. We will not tell anyone about it.”.

Spanner slowly carved out “Moda” in Malayalam on Joby’s forehead. Moda was colloquial Malayalam for “attitude”. Joby thrashed and flailed, but Spanner’s grip was like a vice. After he was done, Spanner pushed Joby to the ground and walked away.

Joby’s face was covered with blood. Thomas saw another friend pass by and called out “Eda Habeeb, come fast. We have to take Joby to the hospital. Let’s go to Shankar’s”.

They rushed him to an autorickshaw and told him to take them to Shankar’s. On the way, Thomas filled Habeeb in on what had happened.

Joby was sulking and sitting with a bloody handkerchief to his forehead.

Habeeb turned to him and asked, “Eda Joby, appam thinna pore?….”.

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Note for those who don’t understand Malayalam:

There is a saying in Malayalam “Appam thinna pore, kuzhi ennanno?” which literally means, “Isn’t it enough that you eat the appam, do you have to count the holes in it?”. Roughly, “Enjoy the ends, without worrying too much about the means”.

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Madrasman vs Wild – Part 2

So, as mentioned in Part 1, I was in Uttarkashi or thereabouts, just about to embark on the longest walk of my life.

Day 6:
We woke up early and were greeted with “Good maarning aal aaph you. Hamaara common goal hai Surya Taap” by the lead instructor. We’d received our tents and cooking utensils the previous day and after picking up our rations, we proceeded to have a minor squabble about who would carry the heaviest items. On our agenda was a 9 km walk to Morsona. We started off with a heavier rucksack {about 10 kg (at least, that’s what it felt like)} and hitched a ride up to Sangamchatti. From there, we started climbing up. By now, our stamina reserves had increased and we were able to manage without much difficulty, except for some overweight ones who had to be goaded on with “come on come on, aage badho” every step of the way. We reached a waterfall-y place for lunch and managed to devour oily pooris and chana in about 5 minutes. Ahead of this lay a landslide which turned most of our knees to water (except mine of course). I thoroughly enjoyed this risky crossing. I was the leader for the day and we finally reached Morsona at about 2 PM. I ordered our team to pitch camp and then prepared to crash. But it seems we had to cook dinner also on top of all this. We just threw everything into a vessel and made Khichdi of sorts, gobbled it up and went to sleep.

Day 7:
This was the first official day of “giving back to Mother Nature”. Early morning saw several brave adventurers plunge into dense forest armed with pickaxes to fertilize the soil. After this ritual, “Environmental leaders” had to go on a reconnaissance mission in aforementioned, now fertile, forest and search for tell tale signs of fertilizing. Yes, this was a top secret fertilizing mission and there had to be no trace. I was environmental leader for the day and I joined everyone in generally shouting “Environmental leaders, jaake dekhke aao”, which was what all environmental leaders were doing anyway. We finally set off for Gujjar Hut after breakfast. Our guide told us it was 9 KM uphill all the way. Now one interesting thing about our guide was that he always replied “Abhi to hum dedh kilometer aaye honge” no matter at what point we asked him where we were. Finally we stopped asking him. The trek was brutal with a 30-45 degree incline right throughout. We reached Gujjar Hut at about 3pm and had to put up our tents in a hurry because it had started raining. After dinner and bournvita, we went off to sleep.

Day 8:
This was our summit day – the day we would climb Surya Top. We had to wake up at 3 to fertilize the earth and be off by 5 AM. It was 8km to Surya Top and 8km back. This would be our longest walk. One Everest’s-cousin-twice-removed stood before us. We had to cross this fellow before we could proceed. We managed to do this in about 1 hour and after 2.5 more hours of walking, managed to see the mountain we had to climb. By now, one of our teammates had developed altitude sickness or something and could not walk. Our leader for the day, solid chap, took his ruck sack and continued the climb. Now this Surya Top hill is the most depressing mountain in the world. There are two flats areas on the mountain which means, when you look at it when you’re climbing, you feel you’re nearing the peak, only to reach one of the flats. Also, the incline is almost 60 degrees here and we were carrying rucksacks. We managed to conquer Surya Top, 13300 feet at about 10.30. Our guide, superhero, had carried 25 litres of water for all because there wasn’t any water on the way. We began our descent in an hour, and I did this solely by sheer willpower. When Ms.Bachendri Pal had initially said “When the body gives up, the mind takes over” during the first few days, we’d laughed. But we weren’t laughing now and saw the truth in her words. We managed to reach Gujjar hut by 4.30 PM. We’d walked for 12 hours. After a quick dinner, we slept, unmindful of smelly socks which thickened the atmosphere in our tent.

Day 9:
We began our descent this day. We were to descend 9km to Morsona and then climb 3km further on to Agora. Descent isn’t as easy as one would think. Our knees started to hurt with all the weight we were carrying. We were actually glad when we had to climb the last 1.5 Km to Agora. Agora is a campsite and has advanced technology like taps and toilets. We pitched tents and I spent some time discussing with a friend how we’d gone from a life where we were always in touch with somebody, to getting excited over the fact that there was a tap in a place. We went on to create a “Levels of urbanization” guide which the Indian Census people might want to take a look at. We went to bed (tent) under a beautiful moon.

Day 10:
The day we’d all been waiting for. Our guide, master of understatement, had said our last trek was 6km downhill to Sangamchatti, on a “paved concrete road”. This was there for about 10m after which it was rocky descent. However, he’d said we’d make it in about 1.5 hours, and we did. After some minor hassles in finding a taxi back to the base camp, we reached, took a bath (after 5 days) and were ready to leave. We bid goodbye to all our instructors, gathered our luggage and made our way back to Delhi via Dehradun.

We’d originally thought this was a paid holiday. However, it turned out to be a really great experience, where we got to test our limits, our ability to adjust, our ability to give and take orders and most of all, to know how we behave in unfamiliar and risky situations. Every evening had a feedback session where the day’s leader got to know his strengths and areas of improvement. Some took it seriously, some didn’t. But all of us who went, enjoyed it thoroughly. We all cribbed and cursed during the trek, but we had a very good group who managed to see humour in everything and that is what we all enjoyed the most at the end of it. I lost 5 kg at the end of it all (I’ve gained it all back now) but gained a wealth of experience and self confidence. If I get a chance to do it again, I will.

Those who are interested, can check out the TSAF website.

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Madrasman vs Wild – Part 1

I haven’t blogged in a very long time but my employer decided he wanted to give me a hike and so he sent me to the Himalayas for a 10 day trek. Now that I’ve survived it, I thought I’ll write about it.

The Tata Steel Adventure Foundation (TSAF) headed by Ms.Bachendri Pal has a base camp at Rewada in Uttarkashi where a 10 day leadership camp is conducted from February-July. I was fortunate or unfortunate enough to be a part of one of these camps recently and the following is a brief narration of what ensued.

Day -1:
Due to some great planning, we had to travel to Pantnagar from New Delhi for no reason other than to catch taxis to Uttarkashi. 8 hours were spent on a rickety bus which bounced even on flat roads and which included making the acquaintance of a fly which was taking a dip in some Chole Bature at Bikanerwala.

Day 0:
Due to some great planning (contd.), we managed to catch 4 hours of sleep before jumping into Innovas and spending 15 hours in them before we got to Rewada. The camp pamphlet hadn’t mentioned that we had to descend 200m over rocky terrain with flashlights and so we assumed there was nothing to it and managed to reach the base camp. The instructor showed us our tents and the toilets (used in a very broad sense of the word – they were cubicles covered with sackcloth.) and provided us with our rucksacks and sleeping bags which we would need for the next 10 days. We were too tired to care and slept early.

Day 1:
Everything is to the call of a whistle and after the morning scramble to use the toilets (there were only 3 for about 50 of us) we were mustered for PT. PT was on the road from which we descended to the base camp and the terrain we didn’t see in the dark was made obvious to us in the morning and we huffed and puffed up the slope and were quite convinced that what we were doing was the PT. Unfortunately, at the top, we were made to stretch our arms and inner ear muscles for the next 1 hour and also had to carry another fellow on our back for about 200m which almost gave half of us a muscle-pull near the heart.

We repaired back to the camp for breakfast and the rest of the day was full of leadership games. Uttarkashi is at an altitude of about 4000 feet and a friend of mine remarked that the laws of geography don’t seem to apply there as it was blazing hot in the afternoon. I had to tell him that when the temperature at Haridwar (in the plains) was 43, it was bound to be rather warm at 4000 feet.

Amidst all this, I managed to contract a tummy upset of gargantuan proportions which kept me rather worried for the next three days as I wasn’t sure what the procedure was to go on a 60km trek with a tummy upset.

Day 2:
After the usual morning torture of PT, we discovered over breakfast that some more among our lot had contracted afflictions of the digestive system and this put severe pressure on the limited number of toilets. This day was to cover rock climbing, abseiling and flying fox which involved sliding down a rope from one mountain to another. The activities were quite enjoyable apart from the rope burns and one minor thing I forgot to mention which involved carrying a 4 kg ruck sack for about 6 km to reach the place. By evening, we were glad to get back to the base camp mainly because of the toilets there, the woods near the rock climbing area not being very accommodating.

Day 3:

By today, we’d set up a leaderboard for number of toilet visits per day and it had quite a few contenders. We’d managed to conclude that the reason for all this was the water. Our water source was a stream running through the camp and we just had to dip our water bottles in it and drink it as if it was the most natural phenomenon in the world. The watersource near the rock climbing place had tadpoles in it and this stream had god knows what. A river – Assi Ganga flowed through the camp and this was utilized for bathing, brushing teeth, washing vessels and anything which did not include drinking. People upstream had the upper hand over people downstream, whatever use the river was being put to. A running joke in the tent was that Assi Ganga would soon become Nabbe Ganga with all the increased output.

The activity for this day was map reading which involved running up and down the hill at breakneck speed to get the shortest possible time. In the afternoon, we packed our rucksacks with sleeping bags and utensils and items for a makeshift tent and left for the over-night jungle camp. After 5km of brutal torture, we managed to reach to find out that the water source was 1 km downhill. After carrying water uphill, we managed to set up tents, cook a meal over a fire and sleep. The sky was clear and the moon was bright and it was a great experience sleeping in the moonlight.

Day 4:

We returned to the base camp in the morning and I found out that my Woodlands shoes which are supposed to be made for the outdoors had a huge gash on it.I had a full plate with my tummy upset and now this was an added nuisance. I thought “Why can’t I have a normal adventure like everyone else?”. However, I kept a stiff upper lip, acquired some needle and thread and managed to stitch my shoe, thus adding cobbler skills to my repertoire. The activity for the day was orienteering which was a modified version of running up and down the hill at breakneck speed and river crossing which was pleasant considering what we’d done the previous two days. After a few team building games, the day ended.

Day 5:

This was the day of the village visit where we would get to interact with some of the villagers. It was meant to prepare us for the trek and we had to walk 8 km with fully laden rucksacks to the village of Gajauli where we met a huge bunch of children who were excited to see us. We spent some time with them and gave them sketch pens and pencils and returned to the base camp (for the sake of brevity, the actual energy expended is not mentioned at each step. Please assume 200 kJ of energy is required for all activities).

To be continued.

Edit: Read Part 2 here.

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A Madrasman in Bombay

I have been I Mumbai for about a month now, and I have to say that my opinion about the place has changed slightly from what it was a few months ago. There seem to be areas which don’t have flyovers bisecting them, notably what is called Marine Drive. There are also places which consist mainly of relics of the British Raj and have an old world charm about them. This is called South Bombay and in my opinion is the only habitable place in Bombay.

I should consider renaming the previous post “A Madrasman in the suburbs of Mumbai”. The suburbs are hot, crowded, filthy, dusty and full of flyovers. South Bombay is more cooler and hospitable because it is close to the sea, and also because only the filthy rich can afford to stay here. People who talk about the culture and life of Mumbai, generally talk of this area.

The place is colourful and has all the great eateries. Uber-posh hotels like the Taj Mahal Palace rub shoulders with cheap roadside eateries such as Bagdadi and Olympia Coffee house. One has access to a variety of cuisine – Gomantak, Parsi, Kerala, Mughal and what not. The Noor Mohammadi hotel under the J.J Flyover is the meat eater’s paradise. The kebabs and gravies at throwaway prices here are enough to make you keep visiting the place again and again.
The city also has places like the Blue Frog – a posh restobar which is well known for its patronage of music lovers. Also, they let you in for free and don’t mind if you politely refuse their menu which is a 100s multiplication table in disguise. I managed to spend about three hours here without spending a rupee. The city is clearly for all classes of people.

Since eating is our chief pastime, we haven’t done much else and as a result, I’ve run out of things to say. I guess the cheap food makes up for the outrageously priced movie tickets here compared to what it is back home.
Cheers!

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Behind the scenes at a Konkani Wedding

If you’re Konkani, you’ve probably sat through a wedding that takes you the better part of the day. We have clearly not learnt the trick of finishing off the business of tying the knot in 5 minutes and proceeding to have lunch like the Malayalis have done. The only people I have seen enjoying the wedding are kids under the age of 5, who don’t realize what is going on and run around the wedding hall until they drop off sometime just before lunch.

The festivities usually begin the previous evening with everybody invited for some socializing. While the Punjabis socialize with liquor and Tandoori chicken, we sit around and make people uncomfortable by asking them to sing and dance on stage. After much reluctance, the selected performers, then proceed to make the listeners uncomfortable by rendering bhajans which share chords with coconut grating. Konkanis haven’t heard of bachelor parties. The groom generally crashes early mentally preparing himself for what awaits the next day.

On the day of the grand finale, everybody has to wake up early for what is called the ‘Urada Muhurt‘ which I think involves mucking around with Urad dal. This was when games used to start when I was a kid, and of late, I generally miss this ceremony because it is too early and make an appearance only for lunch.

The groom draws the short straw at weddings since he has to sit with the smoke in his eyes the whole day while the bride can make a detour to the beauty parlour in between her thirty-two saree changes. I’m no expert on what really goes on, but I do know that on one of the occasions when the bride briefly visits the mantap, the priest takes off his dhoti and holds it in between the bride and groom so that they can’t see each other. At least, that is what I used to think when I was a kid. Apparently, he uses a spare.

The father of the bride has a rather busy day, and walks around with a bag of cash under his arm. The only time he keeps this down is when he has to lift his daughter from one plantain leaf to another. The mother just tags along with her husband doing whatever the priest tells her to do. The best seat at the wedding is that of the ollo, a chap of about five, who is assigned the duty of sitting with the groom to provide him company. While this takes away the boy’s running-around privileges, he gets to earn a bit of money by way of dakshina and also stuff his face with sweets. Asking the ollo how much he has made is how other members of the audience pass time while waiting for lunch.

Lunch is eagerly awaited. It is usually served on a plantain leaf and has a variety of Konkani delicacies like valval, ghassi and whatnot. The reputation of the wedding depends on lunch, mainly because people have been made to wait so long for it. The only people who don’t get to enjoy lunch all that much are the bride and the groom who are busy prostrating in front of 200 odd relatives who have already had their fill. This is usually the time when the couple curse their grandparents for having too many children. Festivities cease after this and the bride is whisked way by the photographer to pose for the album. After a few family pictures, everybody disperses.

The bride is further subjected to various rituals once she gets to the groom’s house, but that is another story. Or not one at all, since my usual post-wedding-lunch plans mainly revolve around a siesta.

Cheers!

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