Then at around 9 we decided to begin the day. We had bought tickets for a conducted tour from the Tourist Hostel in Vasco the day before, and we had to be there before 10. A quick bath and we arrived at the designated place and waited for the rest of the crowd to arrive. It was a small bus sans air-conditioning…Deepa was delighted because it meant she could have an unobstructed view of the surroundings without a glass window playing spoilsport.
There were around 20 other people including a honeymooning couple. As the bus started to meander through the narrow Vasco roads, the guide gave a brief introduction of himself and the places we were to visit that day.
Our first stop was at Vasco Murmagoa harbour, the only natural harbour in India. From a hill above, we saw heaps of minerals and huge mean machines loading them onto ships. Besides, one could see a couple of cruise ships and yachts that were anchored there, swaying to the rhythm of the mild waves. The sight was breathtaking and the photographer in me awoke. Since we only had a very basic Agfa camera back then, we could only capture a bird’s eye view of the harbour…nevertheless the photos came out quite well later.
The next stop – Bogmallo beach. The images of Calangute beach were still lingering in my mind but Bogmallo beach was a different story altogether. The colour of the waters here are just out of this world… beautiful shades of blue and green. The water was almost transparent. We decided to go back there another day and spend the entire day at the beach… however that was not to be till a couple of years hence. We’d spent only about 15 minutes there before our guide called out to announce that we were leaving.
After about half an hour’s drive we reached Dona Paula at Panaji, named after Dona Paula de Menzes, daughter of a viceroy. Legend goes that Dona Paula threw herself off the cliff, when she was refused permission to marry a local fisherman, Gaspar Dias.
The guide informed us that Dona Paula was entombed in the Cabo Chapel of the Raj Bhawan and is reported to be seen emerging from the moonlit waves wearing only a pearl necklace. The Dona Paula beach is 7 kilometers west of Panjim and is a must for tourists, particularly couples.
While we took turns clicking photographs of couples from our bus, a professional photographer took ours with the statue of Dona and Gasper in the background.
He wrote down our address in his diary and I handed him a 50 rupee note all the time suspecting that he was not going to send it (I was so wrong! We indeed got the photo at our Delhi house a couple of weeks later!).
As our guide frantically tried to gather his herd back to the bus, Deepa suddenly remembered a private beach nearby which she’d been to as a school kid on family picnics, and is now a part of a hotel property. The bus had already started and the guide was waving and shouting at us to take our seats, while a furious Deepa asked him to leave without us if he couldn’t wait for a couple of minutes and let her take some hasty photographs of the place. She did…the bus waited. We boarded the bus grumbling about the short time we were given at each place. Hearing us protest, the others seconded us. The guide declared with a frown that we would get time to soak in the sun, sand and water at Colva beach.
By now it was lunch time and we were hungry. We were looking forward to some authentic Goan food, but alas, what we got was a Punjabi Dhaba (even in Goa?). Since we were too hungry to lodge our displeasure, we took our table only to find a clumsy, awkward waiter who seemed to be a new recruit. He was unable to understand that I’d asked for beer and brought everything else. I was at my wit’s end and as angry words flew, another waiter who rushed in saved the day. So it was chilled beer, fried promfret, rice and pork vindaloo. The beer was good (as always), the rest was forgettable.
Our next destination was Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa – the resting place of Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552), the Spanish Jesuit missionary, also known as the Apostle of the Indies.
As one enters the church, one is struck by the serenity of the place. Although the entire place was brimming with tourists, the calmness of the place was intact as were the mortal remains of the great saint. A guide showed us around and all of us spoke in hushed tones. We lit candles and prayed to the Lord…I thanked him for making this trip to Goa possible. Sometime later we took our seats and were off to another religious place, the 18th century Mangesh Temple at Mangeshi.
Luckily for us, there wasn’t much of a rush there that day – the kind that one usually finds in the temples of North India. The area surrounding the temple is peaceful and very different from the images that one generally associates Goa with. We bought a couple of items for the offering to the Gods from one of the make-shift stalls that lined the place. The place was filled with the sound of hymns and Sanskrit verses from the Vedas. The priest offered us prasad and with red tikkas on our foreheads and contented hearts, we proceeded towards the bus.
The day was pretty warm and the water, aerated drinks and juices we bought from the shops near the temple gave us great relief. Those who knew about it informed the others that Lata Mangeshkar’s family has a deep and long association with this temple, while others were reviewing the images they’d captured on their digital cameras (lucky guys! they wouldn’t have to wait for a day to get them printed).
Soon we reached Colva beach. After that heavy dose of religiosity, everyone was by then ready for some action at the beach. Getting off the bus, everyone got together and decided that we would spend more time here rather than the half an hour deadline given by our guide. Deepa and I had already decided to spend an hour or more extra, even if it meant going to Vasco on our own. The unanimous decision of our co-passengers fitted our plans to perfection. I felt like a leader initiating a revolution against injustice!
The sand at Colva is something else altogether. Almost white and soft as flour. The scene there was similar to that of Calangute — bustling with tourists trying their hand at the various water-sports on offer. As we walked through the sand we saw people para-sailing. It seemed like fun. Frankly I was a little skeptical (right! I was a bit scared), but Deepa was all for it. So after some negotiations, we handed over 650 bucks and before we knew it, those guys were strapping us with safety belts and stuff and hurriedly explained the procedure. We were ready for take off! But hang on, some forms were thrust into my hands which I signed without even reading. The instructor gave us some instructions to follow of which except for the one that we needed to pull the left rope when the person from the speedboat waved a red flag, nothing else registered. We handed over the camera to the person who seemed to be in charge of the proceedings and within a minute we were airborne – strapped together for life or death, high above the sea. It was scary fun for me for I have a problem with heights. But Deepa enjoyed the experience with child-like enthusiasm. The coconut trees became smaller and smaller, the people on the beach looked little bigger than ants. All this time I had my eyes on the speedboat. Then there was whistling, waving of the flag and pulling on the rope. As the speedboat came to a halt, we descended slowly on the spot with perfect precision. Within a span of five minutes it was over, much to my relief. While strapping off the safety gear Deepa however complained that it was too short!
As we were walking towards the waters for a plunge with a sense of accomplishment, the newly-wed couple from our bus asked us about the experience. Advising them to have a go at it, we took to the waters. After so much excitement, the cold water felt good. However our camera reel had reached its end and we were unable to take any more pics.
After a shot of vodka with Limca and some snacks we rested a while watching the others enjoying like there was no tomorrow. Reluctantly we walked back to our bus. It was then that we saw that everyone else was already inside and our guide was frantically waving to us to hurry up. We had to run the last few yards feeling like naughty school kids. We were the only ones in damp clothes but nothing mattered ‘cos we’d had a wonderful time. The second day’s fun was to come to an end at Vasco Tourist hostel, but for us it began all over again at the studio where we picked up the prints of the day before. Like a pair of kids who had received their Christmas gifts we started to relive the moments again, and the man in the studio refilled our cartridge and made a receipt of the day’s reel.
A hasty dinner of dosa and idli and with ice-cream cones in hand, we walked back to the house. After a long refreshing bath, we sat looking at the photographs. Most of them had come out pretty good. An hour passed, and we were still engrossed in the photos. It was decided that the next day would be spent entirely at Calangute beach.
But the highlight of the day was however, yet to come… something unexpected or rather unknown. When we entered the bedroom, there was a peculiar smell as if something was rotting. After a short hunt for the untraceable smelly culprit, we sprayed perfume and deodorant in the air to suppress the awful smell. Soon we went into deep slumber. About the smell I’ll tell you later. Just for the record it stayed with us in the room… till we reached Mumbai two days later and discovered its origin.