The ‘Om Diaries’ continue – Panaji, Capital of Goa
Goa was recommended by friends and family so my expectations were high. The drive from the airport to my hotel in Panaji took an hour, winding down the coast past brightly coloured houses and glimpses of beach. As we hit the smaller roads I was shocked and dismayed by the amount of litter. It was piled high on the verge, spilling and spewing all over the road, an endless stream of plastic. This was not the paradise I had been promised. People around the world were celebrating ‘Earth day’ and I was astounded by the evident environmental abuse. India will soon overtake the UK as the fifth largest economy in the world. In a few years it will exceed China in terms of largest population. There was rubbish everywhere. I’d never seen so much filth, detritus and shit. How would we ever combat climate change if this mentality and ignorance exists?
The hotel didn’t exactly match my expectations either. The rooftop ‘infinity pool’ was about 8 foot by 6, no sign of the comfy, cushioned sun loungers and parasol. In their place stood a metal table and a broken chair. Nevertheless, the pool was a great place to dip after a long day and I watched the sun go down alone on yet another rooftop in India.
The next day I decided to walk into town. On the map it didn’t look that far and my feet had healed well. It took three hours. It was so hot that I actually stopped at the science centre planetarium and bought a ticket just to have half an hour of air con. 39 degrees centigrade at 10am. I also saw my first Indian cows and did one of the stupidest things ever. My grandfather was a dairy man, I’m well aware of a cow’s fickle temperament, so I really have no excuse. As the cow approached me, I slowly reached out, she then jerked, lowered her head, baring horns three feet long, and started prancing and hopping in agitation. I didn’t know I could run that fast. Idiot.
At this point I decided that I’d head away from the main road. I checked my little map and veered to the left, down an overgrown track where my main concern was the possibility of meeting snakes rather than cows., Finally, I emerged from the undergrowth and there it was, Canzelem beach. A wide stretch of sandy, murky coast with absolutely nobody around. I paddled along the water’s edge and soaked up the solitude. Gaining the momentum to carry on towards civilisation.
I finally reached the actual town of Panaji, also known as Panjim. I spent a couple of hours walking around and taking photos of the desolate streets. There’s a very strong Portuguese influence in the architecture here. A lot of the main buildings look very European, solid stucco, bright whites, pale yellows and lots of arches. These structures looked a lot more solid than the modern blocks under construction. I couldn’t believe that modern builders were still using bamboo scaffolding, climbing a hundred feet up without hesitation.
I was short on cash and really needed to splash out on a taxi to get back to the hills. I tried every damn cash machine I could, none would give me any money. National election time in India and also Easter weekend, so people flocked to enjoy the coast, draining the banks of their cash reserves. I was surprised to see half a dozen large, floating casinos on the river. They appeared very gaudy and overstated, even in the noonday sun, a distant lilt of music emanating from each hull. Gambling is a big part of the tourist industry here. It seems Goa is the Indian version of Vegas. I can’t actually think of anything worse. Almost every shop in the town was closed, shutters down and bolted. Only a few cafes and places to eat remained open for business.
Finally, I found a cash machine and a reasonable looking bar to sit and enjoy a soft drink, no alcohol is allowed to be served during elections. I was tired and my feet had unravelled a little during this six hour trek around the town. As I sat nursing my virgin mojito and looking out across the river, a huge, black rat ran past my table. I didn’t even jump. This is India. I called over the waiter and asked for a refill.
I realised my best option was a bus ride back to base. The terminal was the only place full of life, vitality and people. Flower garlands and fruit displays were a vivid change from the dusty streets and grey shutters, and the dozen or more beige bank vestibules I had visited throughout the afternoon. The ride back was interesting as local people got on and off and stared at me, the sweaty foreigner. They smiled and laughed and said goodbye when they reached their stop, friendly and intrigued by my presence but not brave enough to start a conversation.
It had been a long day. Walking back from the main road I caught a waft of sweetly perfumed frangipani, warm and effusive in the evening sun. I love their pristine flowers and deep scent, at that point I was relieved to have some sense of perfumed beauty to appreciate. Of course the pool on the rooftop beckoned. No beer allowed but at least a cold drink and a nice view would round off a day of exploring.