Lubna and I recently bought the Outlook Traveler 52 Weekends from Bombay. The intention was simple - to spend as many weekends as possible traveling. We decided to start with Vasai. The ruins of 15th century Portugese fort and sorrouding north Konkan coast was reason enough for us to plan a weekend trip there. I started by calling up Cerejo Farms to make a reservation.

'How many nights would you like to stay?' said the voice on the phone.

'Ah, one,' I said.

'And how many people are you?'


'Sorry, we don't do reservations for two people,' came a curt but non-committal reply. What was that supposed to mean? I probed further and he said, 'We only do reservations for groups and family.'

'But we are a family!' I protested.

'Ummm ... okay ... but you have to come to Bandra to make the payment in advance.'

'Fine,' I said and hung up. I could understand his concerns. He wanted to steer clear of any shady business and the police raids that follow.

The owner of the farm, Ainsley Demello, lived in a comfortable bungalow in Pali Hill, Bandra. He owned farms in Vasai, Karjat and Goa and was a professional breeder of Rottweiler dogs. The tariff was Rs. 1000 per person per night (Rs. 800 for non-AC). The rate mentioned in Outlook Traveler was Rs. 600 (negative points to Outlook for missing out on the detail and not updating the information over years). The tariff was a little steep but I wasn't too sad about it.

The next step was to get a bike. Adi's Pulsar came in very handy. Lubna and I promised ourselves to leave home by 6:00 am on Saturday morning. We wanted to beat the summer sun. At 6:30 am, we were still snoozing the alarm and at 7:00 am we dragged our feet out of the bed. At 8:00 am, we finally left home and took NH8 towards Vasai.

The two hour ride to Vasai wasn't too bad. Traffic and heat were just about bearable. In the great Indian tourist way, we asked for directions at all major turns before we reached Vasaigaon and Bassein Fort. We wanted to do a quick overview of the fort before we checked into resort.

Around noon, we reached Cerejo Farms. My first reaction was, 'It looked so much better in the pictures!'

The farm was a large fenced area with palm trees, twelve cottage style basic rooms, a common dining room with TV and a baby pool. Unlike Bombay, powercut problems plagued this part of the country. Ronny, the keeper, spent good energy running to the diesel generator and back. His wife cooked meals and attended to the guests. There was another family of father-mother-daughter staying at the resort. We ate lunch with them. Chicken, fried okra, green pea pulao, yellow dal, plantains and fresh pav - the food was really good.

'This food is prepared in the East Indian style,' said the mom initiating a conversation. She was the smiling talkative have-opinion enjoy-television mom.

'East Indian?' I checked.

'Yeah, you know, the Bombay-Konkan-Mangalore areas. They all have East Indian style of cuisine.'

I was a little confused.

'I know these places are in western part of India,' she continued. 'But by East Indian I mean East India Co. You know, we call ourselves East Indian because my father, his father and his father worked with the East India Co. Our forefathers were converted from native religion to Christianity by Portugese. That is why we have Portugese surnames. Others who were converted by Spanish missionaries have Spanish surnames. And so on. And later on, all these people worked with the British East India Co.'

I acknowledged the trivia and smiled.

'But ultimately we're all Indians no,' she smiled back.

After a hearty lunch, we crashed all afternoon. When the sun became a little cooler in the evening, we headed out towards Kalam beach. The twisting road lined with palm trees and banana plants connected the little villages along north Konkan coast - Vasai, Giriz, Kalam. It was much like Havelock Island in Andaman but with many more people, vehicles and homes. Clay-tile roofed wooden homes, crosses along the street and old churches added atmosphere to the place.

By the time we reached Kalam beach the sea had receded a few hundred meters. The sun was sinking into the horizon and the sky was a pale pink getting darker each minute. No sand on the beach - just moist hard clay. It was wonderful hearing the waves roll up to the clayey beach and hastily run back. It was like playing touch and go. I am sure the beach and the waves have had a long relationship. We weren't in mood for a dip anyways. We just rode along the beach and managed not to fall off the bike. Even Lubna tried her skills with the bike and managed good two football fields length.

On our way back, we stopped at a local kirana store to buy toothpaste. It was interesting to note how different SKUs made it to different parts of the country. For example, I have never seen a Rs. 10 pack of CloseUp in Haiko or DMart in Bombay. And I couldn't see a 200 gm pack of CloseUp in this kirana store in Kalam. After a dip in the resort baby pool and another tasty 'East Indian' meal, we called it a day.

We hit Bassein Fort early next morning. The fort was center of Portugese operations in India between 1534 and 1739. The fort overlooked Vasai creek and its ramparts were still mostly intact. Some stairs safely led to the top of ramparts and watch-towers. The buildings inside the fort were in ruins and covered with thick undergrowth. We stepped inside a huge building - now mostly rubble and stone masonry - that must have been a sophisticated chapel in its prime. We tried to imagine the floor plan and elevation of the structure with its many arches. Some stone work here and there gave us glimpses into past of Portugese noblemen.

Barely 500m away lay another chapel structure - this time a little more complete. The second chapel was exactly similar to the first and confirmed the floor plan and elevation we imagined. We spoke to the local guard who told us there were seven chapels in the fort. At the end of our hunt, we could identify six. One was completely restored with an intact barrel (wooden) ceiling and plaster. Another was touched up, partly plastered and fenced. The third (and the largest) was being worked upon. The fourth (and in my opinion the most beautiful) lay in ruins. Large stone slabs with inscriptions in Portugese lay on its floor. Were these tomb stones? Two other chapels were in ruins and thick undergrowth. Wow, so many chapels in such close proximity! Why?

The Vasai trip intrigued my curiosity about the Portugese Christians in India, their way of life and their current status.

When I was here four years ago, there was no restoration work initiated by the government. Now there was some. Although restoration ensures the structure will stand longer, the fencing and paint job that come with it is robbing the place of its feel and character. I asked myself, 'What would I enjoy more - unfrequented natural ruins or restored tourist spot?' Although Bassein Fort enjoys seclusion from city bustle, it was not free from human intervention. Temples have sprung up on encroached land. Some visitors seeking immortality have chiseled out messages like 'Ajay loves Rani' on chapel walls.

At 10:00 am we were ready to leave fort and head back towards Bombay. The tourists were starting to come in and construction labour were resuming restoration work. I was so glad we came here early in the morning! It was like having the entire space to ourselves. On our way back to Bombay, we took a small detour to stop at Madh Island at our friend Ram Badrinathan's place for lunch. We talked about Silicon Valley, travel websites in India and percussion music before our conversation drifted to Shyam Benegal.

'You see, Shyam babu is a man of many interests,' Ram said. 'And he makes movies on topics that interest him. He was interested in 1857 Mutiny and he made Junoon. He was interested in Indian family businesses and he made Kalyug. He was interested in lives of Muslims in post-colonial era and he made Zubeida.'

'I have seen Junoon and Mammo by Shyam Benegal and have really liked them.'

'If you liked Junoon and Mammo, you should see Trikaal. It's a great movie by the master,' he said. 'Here, I can lend you the DVD.'

'Oh yeah, what's it about?'

'Portugese Christians in India.'

Tags: India, Ride

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  1. Since (enough of) the secrets of "East Indian Cuisine" have been revealed to you, thanks to your home stay in Vasai, don't you think Lubna and you show rush an "East Indian Cookbook" to press? - Santanu
  2. I really like the pictures. There are not a lot of pictures but they say a lot. - Farhina