Trip Meter

PANJIM 0 - Old Goa 23 - Panjim 43 - MH border 86 - Pedne 99 - HARMAL 115 - Siolim 130 - Vagator 137 - Anjuna 141 - Fort Aguada 157 - Panjim 179 - Margao 208 - PALOLEM 256 - KA border 283 - Canacona 308 - Agonda 318 - Cabo de Rama 336 - Bali 353 - Quepem 364 - Asolda 372 - Chandor 377 - Verna 403 - Loutolim 413 - Dona Paulo 450 - Panjim 470

[Numbers beside the place are trip meter readings in km at that point. Places in bold indicate night halts.]

Here's what I did in Goa: I spent one day walking the Portugese quarter of Panjim. Then I hired a scooter in Panjim and started riding towards north. When I reached the Maharashtra border, I turned around and started riding towards south. When I reached the Karnataka border, I turned again and started riding towards north. When I reached Panjim, I stopped.

In the 470 km ride, I crossed 5 rivers - Mandovi, Chapora, Terekhol, Zuari, Talpona. On my way, I met migrant workers from Karnataka working in paddy fields, Austrian expat living in Goa for 26 years making hammocks, Habiba Miranda, labour from Bihar extracting sand from river beds, restaurant cooks from Nepal, Konkani fisher-folk who posed for me with their catch, waiters from Himachal, Marathi ladies participating in Navraatri folk dance competition, a rich elegant lady working for the government to conserve national parks, heiresses of 300 year old palatial homes of former land-lords. I soaked in the white churches, beaches, paddy fields, palm trees, salmon orange temples, highways, fish curry rice, rain forests, hills, forts. The country side was so beautiful, I punched the air a few times and shouted ... and was glad there was no one around for miles to hear that word.

That's my Goa trip in two paragraphs. Still interested? Let's go.

"The colonial histories of Goa and rest of India are very different. The experience Goa had under the Portugese is vastly different from the rest of India's experience under the British. It is not, therefore, fair to assume that Goans are culturally similar to the rest of India."

This was Shyam Benegal in his Tardeo office. I was just staring into his eyes ... listening intently.

"Infact, until a few decades ago, conversations in Goa would go like this: So where have you been? ... Oh, I went to India for some work."

Hmmm ... that line hit me in a way. I knew some old men in Goa still spoke Portugese. I knew Pork Vindaloo was a popular meat dish. I knew they loved prawn curry rice. I knew they loved football more than cricket. But really, how different? And decades after 'liberation' in 1961, still different?


Day 1 - Portugese Quarter of Panjim

The following weekend, I took a night bus from Bombay and landed in Panjim Goa around 11 am. This being first week October, it was still shoulder season. In another two weeks, planes full of tourists would land in Goa and all prices - hotels, bikes, food, shacks - would sky rocket.

I decided to spend the day walking in the Portugese quarter of Panjim. It is a pity a lot of people visiting Goa rush off to the beaches without giving Panjim the attention and respect it deserves. The Portugese quarter of Panjim is a town of pastel shades. Of old homes with wooden roofs and terracota tiles - some dilapidated, some restored. Of narrow lanes, white border sills, wrought iron grills. Of an extremely slow and sleepy lifestyle. Like a discounted version of a European city. It had some interesting souvenir and handicraft shops: Velha Goa, The Bombay Store, Geetanjali by Panjim People, Barefoot ... though prices at these places shoot through the roof. I kept walking, getting surprised by the charm at every corner. Of course there is dirt stench filth. But on a beautiful day like this, you tend to ignore most of it.

I dropped in at Viva Panjim for lunch. It's housed in an old heritage home inside a narrow alley. The owner of the place was friendly and smiled often. Indians and foreigners frequented the place alike. I ordered Saturday special Mutton Xucati with steamed rice. Mutton cooked in a hot spicy coconut gravy was good! I was pleasantly surprised it was not corrupted to suit the bland taste of some other patrons.

I continued my walk up the hill, down the slopes, past the Portugese consulate, past the Archbishop's palace, across the bridge, into the lanes. When I felt fairly certain that I had circled the entire neighborhood on foot, and had walked most of the lanes, I called it a day.

My best encounter-with-a-stranger happened when I was eating dinner at A Ferradura. A lady, possibly in her 50s, walked in and looked around for a table. Since all were full and I was eating alone, I invited her to join me; and she agreed. She told me she lived in Delhi and was working with the government to improve national parks in Goa and central India. Her son was a sports journalist and was currently co-driving the Raid de Himalaya.

I told her I went to IIT Bombay, and she said, "Hey! Do you know Goa's ex chief minister is an IIT Bombay alumnus? You should meet him up!" It was a little awkward ... I didn't even know the guy's name.

"Here, call Natkarni, he is an advocate general, and tell him you want to meet the ex-CM."

I hesitantly picked up the phone, and told her, "Err ... could you help me with the name of ex-CM? Who should I tell Mr. Natkarni I want to meet?"

"Parrikar ... his name is Manohar Parrikar."

So there I was: Couple of minutes later, I had cell phone numbers of Mr. Natkarni and Mr. Parrikar, both of whom I never saw met knew ... and eating some great Portugese food with a lady whose name and number I still don't have. The food at A Ferradura was excellent. I ordered shrimp wafers and sliced beef with potato and freshly baked bread. And as usual, the French girls on the table next to ours ordered 'masala chai' after their Portugese meal.

Guest house owners in Goa have been spoilt with options. Even in shoulder season, they are rarely willing to rent out room to Indian males traveling solo. I walked into a better guest house and asked, "Do you have rooms tonight?" There wasn't any "No Vacancy" board displayed. The lady behind the reception blinked for second and said, "Ummm ... we are full today." Really? I walked to another guest house and asked if they had rooms. The lady asked me all details and then said, "Aaah ... do you want to try the hotel just around the corner?" So with the better guest houses ruled out, I settled for a basic Rs. 350 room in a grittier neighborhood.

That night, I stared at the ceiling fan as it went round in circles for sometime before falling asleep. A room in a run-down guest house in a neighborhood my mom would never approve of - I was definitely spending a night outside my comfort zone.



Day 2 - Old Goa, Panjim to MH border to Harmal
Distance: 115 km

The next morning I hired a scooter - a Honda Activa for Rs. 200 a day - and headed east towards Old Goa. A bus-stop hoarding read: Smile, you are in Goa. I could but smile at it. A narrow two lane road ran from Panjim to Old Goa along the Mandovi river. On the my left were the Mandovi river, mangroves and palm trees across it. On my right were estates with moss covered fort-like walls built in laterite blocks. The road curved turned snaked and it was fun twisting the throttle a little more.

When I rode into Old Goa, my eyes skipped a blink at the sublime scene of Bom Jesus on my right and St Francis and Se Cathedral on my left. A little behind these awe inspiring pieces of architecture was another church - St Cajetan. And then there were a bunch of other smaller churches - St Augustine, St Monica, St Catherine, St Francis Xavier. Surely, Goa must have been a sight in the 16th and 17th century, almost challenging Lisbon and Rome for superiority.

The churches and convents of Old Goa, a world heritage site, are maintained neatly with pristine gardens around them. A lot of them are 'under restoration' and may continue to do so for a lot many years. Old Goa was nothing more than a ghost town now. There was no organic activity around; and I don't know if that's good or bad. Everything looked synthetic. All the churches are within a thousand meter radius. I wondered why aren't they spread out? I was reminded of Vasai, another Portugese fort city, where as many eight magneficient ruins of churches lie within one kilometer of each other. Perhaps the cities were just smaller then.

On my way back, I stopped at a couple of Bar & Rest and asked if they served food. "Lunch?" they seemed a little surprised. They were happy selling Kingfisher beers. One of the owners asked me to follow him and led me on his bike to a small mess - Annapurna. I walked inside the compact dark dining place.

"Lunch?" I asked.

"Fish curry rice," a young man, about my age, said very angrily. He reminded me of Amitabh Bachchan, the angry young man of 70s Bollywood. Only shorter.

"Do you have prawn curry rice?"

"No. Only fish curry rice," the Amitabh Bachchan snapped back sharply.

"Okay," I smiled at him.

Within a couple of minutes, an old guy emerged from the kitchen a plate in his hand. Fish curry rice meant: lots of rice, one vegetable, fish curry with almost no fish in it, two pieces of fried fish on the side and tamarind concoction spiced with raw green chilly. The meal was yum! I ordered extra fried fish and the tamarind concoction. I asked the old guy if they served prawns?

"Prawns 15 minutes," he said.

"Okay."

"No, no prawns," Amitabh Bachchan interrupted.

"Why?"

"Fifteen minutes. You finish rice. And then cancel the order."

I assured him I would not cancel the order. The guy was still angry. I don't think he believed me. Fifteen minutes later arrived six large prawns, almost the size of my palm, cooked in a base of poppy seeds (kashkash). The prawns were juicy - not raw, not overcooked - and the meat melted in my mouth. When I paid the bill, I figured the thali cost Rs. 30, extras Rs. 5 and prawns Rs. 90. This was the best and most inexpensive sea-food I had so far. I asked him what the tamarind concoction was. He finally smiled and said it was called 'kokum'.

I then started my long ride to nowhere. I headed northward. Scooter country-side roads breeze and myself. I turned the throttle and watched NH-17 roll under me. At 4pm, I was having a freaking blast. On my way I met migrant workers from Bihar living along the river coast. They would pull out sand from the river bed and load it up in trucks. One of them was chopping cabbage for dinner using a steel glass (very ingenious, I thought) while his friends angled for some fish in the river. I kept going and when I reached the Maharashtra - Goa border, I turned back. In a little town square, I stopped to see women participate in folk dance competition being held for Navraatri. After a few clicks and smiles, I continued towards Harmal (Arambol). It had been almost two days in Goa, and I hadn't seen the sea yet! I could smell the sea now ... I knew I was close.

As I closed in on the village of Harmal, the magnificent country side of muddy rivers, fishing, palm trees and folk dance changed to streets lined up with shops selling jholoas, sarongs, bikinis, flip-flops. Sign boards displayed money-change international calls internet email flight tickets. Restaurants advertised American English Israeli Indian breakfasts 'Goan' fish curry Falafel humus. This was the 'northern beaches of Goa' where the hippies of the 70's retreated to. This was the true 'God made grass, man made booze, who do you trust?' country.

After enjoying the sunset near rocky cliffs on a clayey beach, I went room hunting.

"How many nights?"

"Just one,"

"Can you check back at 8pm. I don't have a room for you right now."

Was I missing something here? I am being denied a room in my own country? And he will stick me a room if he is not able to sell it to someone else by 8pm? I walked to another guest house. Same response - he did not have room for me but did welcome with a smile a foreigner getting down from a taxi. I was really annoyed and I walked back to first resort. The moment he saw me again, a kind of guilt come over his face.

"Sir, I will give you a room. But do you have identity proof?"

"Sure I do. But what is the entire fuss about?"

"Sir, we have to send information of guests staying with us to the police station everyday. If there are Indians staying with us, the police usually come to check. Now that's a problem for everyone - you, me and other guests."

I think we Indians have come a full circle. Our behavior (misbehavior?) in the past has forced this situation. I had read about police planting drugs on you to extract bribes. Now I heard about the police raids on hotels with Indian tourists. What if the two happened with me tonight? For second night in a row, I was pushing the limits of my comfort zone. I said my prayers and went to bed. But to be honest, I did not sleep well.



Day 3 - Harmal to Palolem
Distance: 141 km

Monday was a beautiful morning and I was glad I wasn't at work today. I strolled to the beach ... the fishermen had just returned with their catch. The beach itself looked slightly better than yesterday evening. One of the beach shacks played Gayatri Mahamantra in loop ... and I stood there listening to it for a while. Gayatri Mahamantra is such a soothing experience ... I almost memorized it.

After a quick hot breakfast of bhaji pav samosa, I picked up my bags and headed south. I skipped the highway and picked up roads connecting the villages on coast. Riding through Siolim, in particular, was a treat; there were beautiful large homes with pastel colored walls and terracota tile roofs. I continued to Vagator beach which was no more than some fantastic views of the sea from the cliffs. 4 km south from Vagator was "the" beach of Goa - Anjuna. The beach is a continuous long stretch of white sand. I left Anjuna and drove through a few villages to reach Fort Aguada. The promises of palm trees, green yellow paddy fields, white churches, lush green rain forests in the countryside were not unfulfilled. Fort Aquada is the big boy's beach. The Taj Goa is here. Vijay Mallya's villa is here. Water sports, parasailing, jet skiing - all happen here. Secluded portions of fort wall provided good vantage positions to watch the ocean.

So far, the trip was turning out to be surreal. All too good to be true. But there was some damage in store waiting to happen. At 1pm, my camera misbehaved and digital files of 218 shots I took so far got corrupted. I immediately pulled out my laptop and downloaded the files to salvage anything I could ... but most of them were gone. I had to reformat the memory card ... very sad. I continued riding towards south. I stopped taking anymore pictures.

But the drive between Margao and Palolem was simply fabulous ... it cheered me up. The winding stretch through ghats, nilgiri trees on both sides, checkered shade, cool breeze with a sweet spicy smell, Konkan railways playing hide & seek alongside - they all made it a memorable ride. I met migrant workers from Karnataka working in rice fields along NH17. I just stopped to greet them. They didn't understand what I spoke - but the world understands a smile.

I crossed Panjim at 2pm, Margao at 3pm and reached Palolem at 5pm. I was just in time for a good sunset on the beach and checked into a hotel. At Rs. 500 per night, it was a tad bit expensive. But the resort was on shore and I could walk barefoot to the beach. When I got there, the beach was a funny sight. Half naked foreigners, Indian gypsies, cows, dogs, Indian families, police patrol, women in burqah - all shared the same stretch of silver gold sand. On my third day in Goa, I finally tasted the salt of Arabian Sea.

The restaurants and in-house pub scene in Palolem was pretty decent. But the Prawn Vindaloo I tried at one of the places was far from great. Palolem is a popular beach and the hotel and guest house owners were haughty and arrogant. The next day I discovered that another beach, barely 10 km away, is a much nicer quiter cheaper place to stay.



Day 4 - Palolem to KA border to Panjim
Distance: 213 km

Next morning, I continued southward till I reached the Karnataka border. The ride again, like Panjim - Palolem, was awesome. Silent rivers, wildlife sanctuaries, empty roads, mangroves, the crows cawed, the koels cooed. The architecture in villages departed from the Portugese style of Panjim to resemble more and more like the south Indian style. A lady with her fish asked me where I was going. "No where particular," I told her. She gave me a puzzled smile and said, "Go slow." At the border, I turned around, left the highway and dived into the village roads. I drove through protected forests, more paddy fields, chillies drying on the roads, steep hills. I drove to quiter beaches, abandoned forts. I braked when I reached a phenomenal expanse of sea in front of me. There was just one Indian family enjoying the sea-view from the fort walls.

"This the Dil Chahta Hai fort, no?"

"No no ... that's a different fort,"

"Rang de Basanti?"

"No baba ... that's a different fort,"

And grandma, directly translating her Hindi thoughts to English sentences, "You stand, I will take out the photo."

And their five year old daughter, "Mama, the dolphins must be tired, no? They are not jumping now."

This time around, I took some Lonely Planet advise and decided to go see 17th century homes in Chandor. On my way to Chandor, I followed some local advise to hunt for the eatery that served fish curry rice, which turned out to be terrific deal at Rs. 30. This was my third fish curry rice lunch; and all of them had been different from each other. The home I was visiting belonged to the Menezes-Braganaza family and Braganza-Periera family. Landlords of Portugese Goa, they built this mansion, decked it up with Italian marble, Belgian chandeliers, German piano, gilted door and window sills, zinc roof, rosewood furniture, Chinese pottery and a whole bunch of stuff (now four centuries old) enough to fill a museum. But after land reforms in 1961, the land was gone, slowly the lords died too, and the old ladies of the home had to throw the doors open to public.

Mrs. Menezes-Braganza, an elegant 90 year old lady, showed me around her home. With 5-10 visitors dropping in everyday, she had memorized her words like a script.

"These glass paintings are from China ... this is 250 year old furniture made by local Goan artisans in rosewood ... these porcelain wall hangings are from Macau ... these are teakwood chairs, the queen of England has similar chairs in Buckingham palace (showed me a photo of the palace dining room) ... this is 250 year old furniture made by local Goan artisans in rosewood ... this is a set of six silver trays from Austria ... this is 250 year old furniture made by local Goan artisans in rosewood ..." And when we had gone around the entire villa, she gently pointed to a small ivory-rosewood box and said, "This is my contribution box."

After Chandor, I hunted another famous Goa residence - the home of Mario Miranda in Loutolim. Everyone knows Mario Miranda, the famous Indian cartoonist (and in pop-culture, the painter of Bombay's Cafe Mondegar cartoons). Shyam Benegal's Trikaal (1985) was shot in his ancestral home. That evening, Mario Miranda was not available, but I did get a chance to meet his wife Habiba.

The light was turning a pale pink. After 3 days of riding, my shoulders were feeling the fatigue. I rode back to Panjim via Dana Paulo, returned the scooter and after a quite dinner of poori patal bhajji, I took the night bus back to Bombay.



A bunch of other nice things happened with this trip. I added one more city to my 100 Cities project, knocked off one state in Indian States list, knocked off one site in the World Heritage Sites in India list. I traveled the length of one Indian state on a scooter (twice). I was in two places at one time (twice).

A lot of small things added up to make this trip awesome. I was riding an auto-start step-through scooter: Which places I chose to go weren't restricted by availability of public transport, the scooter was peppy, auto-start helped me start it without effort, step-through was great when I stopped often. I was carrying one efficiently packed backpack: It was so much easier to move around, check in and check out. I was carrying a sling bag along with the backpack: Camera, map, pen, notes - they were so easy to access. I was traveling solo: I could stop when I felt like, I could go when I wanted to. There were so many times when I asked myself, 'Is this stop worth the encounter? Is that hike worth the shot?' And most of the times I found myself saying 'Yes!'

Go solo on a trip once. While you discover a different you, you also begin to appreciate a few things you already have in life but take them for granted.



Tags: India, Ride

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  1. Amazing travelog about your recent solo trip to Goa. This needs to reach a lot of ppl :) - Prateek Sharma
  2. I just read through the entire post and yes, its incredible. Indeed... more than that... very well written. I will ignore commenting on the pics... they were expected to be great! - Aditi Das Patnaik
  3. super! great shots. very interesting read. nicely done. - Shruti Mahajan
  4. Your travel-blog on Goa gives me enthu to do a bike-trip along the Konkan Coast. - Ankur Pegu
  5. The pictures as always are awesome to say the least. Beautifully captured :) - Tejas Jog
  6. This is the most hilarious of all your travelogs. All the conversations: DCH fort, The ex-CM, Fish curry/prawn curry rice! - Rakesh Verma
  7. I really like the pictures and comments on your trip to Goa. I think the conversations and hilarious and pictures very nice. - Farhina
  8. Enjoyed your description of your travels in Goa and have shared the page on FB. - Kevin Saldanha