For Deepa it was a second coming. She’d stayed there for a couple of years when my father-in-law (an army doctor) was posted there. For me – one who had never seen any water-body bigger than the Brahmaputra river (which is by no means small), it was restless anticipation. I had heard much about it, but the fact that 40 hours hence I would be a part of it was a feeling that can’t be described.
However the trip didn’t start on a very happy note. What I hate about trains is the rush and unconfirmed status of tickets. But since we’d got RAC seats we were entitled to at least board the train. Both of us were cramped into one seat as our other seat was occupied by an elderly person who seemed glad to be not sharing the seat with the other legal heir. The ticket checker blissfully ignored the situation for a couple of hours and a pantry attendant was making a fast buck charging a fee against a confirmed seat from several passengers. Not to be left behind, I joined the party too. He declared his price and an urgent need for sleeper berths for both saw me poorer by twelve hundred rupees.
After shelling out 600 bucks each, we finally got our seats early in the morning of the second day, which was 12 hours after we’d boarded the train. Till then I kept cribbing to Deepa and threatened to get off the train at the next station. She was however cool and was already enjoying the changing scenery through the window, as a tiny corner of the seat we were sharing took her entire weight. In the middle of the night I was sitting counting the seconds till dawn. And at dawn we were transferred to our rightful berths which we realized later on, would have been ours anyway. So much for that extra bribe! For most of the time I had the earphones on alternately blasting Bollywood music and Gregorian chants. Deepa caught up with her sleep all this time.
As the train left Pune station at around 4.30 p.m., the bogey was almost empty except for families with huge bags and small children discussing their plans for the next few days. As the train swayed and meandered like a caterpillar cutting through the belly of the Western ghats, we helped ourselves to tea, chips and other snacks that passed our aisle.
We slept early…as the train rumbled and whistled occasionally, images of the sea that I’d seen in pictures and movies kept going through my mind …ok, I’m lying…I dreamed of the sea as shown in Baywatch. At around 7 a.m., Deepa woke me up excitedly to catch a glimpse of the sea through thick foliage of greenery; it was indeed a surreal experience. Lines of coconut trees raced past as I pressed hard against the window pane not to miss the sight of the waters for a single second.
It was about 8.30 when we reached our destination and our future adopted retirement place – Vasco. The Vasco railway station is a small but very important station of Goa. We struck ground amongst people walking and working in a leisurely pace so reminiscent of Assam, thousands of miles away. Perfect atmosphere for a perfect holiday. A very friendly auto-rickshaw driver took us to Mangor Hill, where we were to set base in a 2 BHK flat which our Goan friend’s neighbour, Victoria had graciously offered us. Since it was mid February, an off-season for Goa, Victoria refused to take any rent for our stay. We were really grateful to her.
I was in no mood to waste time in enjoying the beauty that surrounded the apartment. We threw some stuff into our back pack and hit the road in a matter of just an hour. Victoria’s brother who was leaving for office dropped us off at the local bus terminus. The tickets for Panaji or Panjim (the capital) having been purchased, we took our seats waiting for the bus to fill beyond its capacity as is the case in Delhi. To our surprise that was not to be. No one is allowed to travel standing (what a relief!). Within minutes we left Vasco city and again the green foliage, backwaters, the Zuari river greeted us with open arms. On our way we crossed foreign tourists with backpacks, unbuttoned shirts flapping against the wind as they zoomed by on their bikes.
Before we could even soak in the beauty of Goa, we had reached Panaji bus terminus on the outskirts of the city. It didn’t sadden us though, because it only meant the beginning of our mission, exploring Goa. Getting a taxi for the day within our budget or more precisely at what our Goan friend had advised seemed futile. After an argument with the taxi drivers (I have no grudge against them whatsoever) we decided to take an auto-rickshaw to the city, have breakfast, buy beach clothes and then decide. An auto-rickshaw driver who was watching us haggling with the taxi drivers offered to take us to the beaches and tourists spots for a price that we felt was good enough. He took us to a restaurant near the famous Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. On popular demand we had some South-Indian cuisine. I was happy to sip the chilled beer….yes, beer at breakfast and Deepa didn’t complain; after all I was on a holiday…our first since we’d come to Delhi.
After a small photo shoot with the church in the background, we were off to our next task – buying clothes for the beach. A store near the restaurant had everything on offer. We hurriedly picked up the essentials, threw them into our backpack and were ready to hit the waters. It took a couple of minutes to locate our chauffeur who was all this time squatting on the footpath and gossiping with fellow auto-rickshaw drivers. When he saw us he left his colleagues midway and with an apologetic smile took his seat and started his engine.
On the way, Deepa asked him about places she knew and the driver was happy to answer her queries. One good thing about Goan auto-rickshaws is that they have doors on the sides and curtains that separate the passengers from the driver – pretty unlike those that you find in Delhi which are open on both sides for the elements to assault you and so noisy that you have to shout into the other person’s ear.
Our first halt was at Miramar Beach. This beach is at Panaji. It lies at the point where the river Mandovi meets the Arabian sea. The sandy carpet stretched for what seemed like miles and the beach was girded with coconut and palm trees facing the deep blue waters of the Arabian Sea. A thick grove of shady palms formed a dense canopy over the area. Finally we reached the edge of the waters. There weren’t many people around and after walking in the water for a while, we decided to move on. Miramar beach is actually ideal for evening walks and moonlight picnics.
However, the panoramic view of Aguada Fort from the beach was captivating to say the least. So off we went to Aguada Fort. On the way Deepa clicked photos of various landmarks she had known as a school-girl.
After about half an hour we reached Aguada Fort. Thankfully, there too not many people around – just some tourists and honeymooners exploring the place. We walked around admiring and getting a feel of the history the place. The fort used to house prisoners during the Portuguese rule. The sight of the sea from the fort above was splendid. A grassy expanse separated us from the blue waters. I could hardly wait. Not wanting to waste anymore time, after a short photo shoot we made a hasty retreat to our auto.
On the way near the parking lot a local was selling what we thought were aerated drinks. Glad to be able to wet our throats, I went closer but to my surprise and more to my pleasure found that he was selling pints of beer too. So beer it was again for me and Deepa quenched her thirst with some tame orangey sugary syrup (how unhealthy!!).
Now the driver declared that he was taking us to Calangute beach which was the closest from the fort. That’s the best part about being in Goa. You’re never too far away from a beach. I sipped my beer and waited for the destination. Excited thoughts raced through my mind. We were determined to go into the waters this time in Calangute. Luckily there were a host of restaurants where one could change. The whole place was alive with people enjoying various water sports.
The scene at Calangute beach was completely different from Miramar. There was a line of shops selling ready-to-wear stuff, souvenirs and any number of eateries offering mouth-watering sea food.
Since we had a conventional camera with reel and all (we wished we had a digital camera back then) I bought a couple of reels and batteries and started towards the waters.
As we walked through the warm sands I couldn’t help gaping at the vast expanse of waters before me. The colours – various shades of blue and green left me open-mouthed with wonder. Deepa still teases me about my expression. Yes, indeed, it was love at first sight for me.
Into the water we went and I’ll never forget my first meeting with the waves of the sea! It was an exhilarating experience.
My feet sank in the wet sands and I let the waters caress me. Warm as it was in February, the cool water felt good. Deepa taught me how to ride the approaching wave to the shore – the feeling’s unbeatable – and I didn’t want it to ever end.
I’d known that sea water’s salty but never realized till then that it was that much… who’s complaining though! The sea brought out the child in me and as a tired Deepa went back to terra firma, I was still swimming.
I came out of the waters gasping for air and dragged myself to the wet sands. We lay on our backs and waited for the sun and wind to dry us off. All that swimming had made us hungry and we decided to try out some Goan fare at one of the shacks that stood on the beach. We settled for Sousa Lobo as there was hardly anyone there, for lunch time was way past. In Goa, time stands still and loses its ‘tick-tock’ character. After a quick look at the menu, I settled for a beer while Deepa placed an order for fried pomfret, rice and pork xacuti. My T-shirt had long since gone into the backpack and amidst all the excitement, I really didn’t care at all if people thought I was a Salman Khan fan!
After a hearty late lunch we took the auto to our next destination – Anjuna beach. Having heard so much about the beach…flea market, hookah-puffing hippies, I was unable to contain my excitement.
However by the time we reached Anjuna the sun was setting and the place wore a desolate look. The waves hit the rocks and splashed high into the air as if to swallow the sun. The blue waters we had seen in Calangute has now turned into hues of reddish golden…the sight was breathtaking. But the beach was not. It was too rocky for our liking. We made a hasty retreat, but not before we captured the surroundings on camera.
As the auto took us back to Panjim bus station, my soul was still playing with the waves and I felt a slight pang at the thought of leaving three days hence. As we took the bus back to Vasco, night fell. The city lights danced on the waters of the Zuari and I closed my eyes to recapture the exhilarating moments of the day.
Back in Vasco, we bought some essential stuff for breakfast the next day and after a sumptuous dinner of Goan cuisine at a restaurant, we decided to walk back home. It was a 20-minute walk and immediately after reaching home we crashed out only to be woken up by the sound of an air horn the next morning.
So Day 2 started pretty early considering we were on vacation. The honking we heard was that of a vendor on a bicycle selling different varieties of bread. We decided to have tea in the balcony watching people engrossed in their mundane household activities which we had left hundreds of miles behind…it felt good. The fish-monger, the vegetable-seller, the milkman all came and went, but we lazed around to our heart’s content.