This is an account of a very shoe-string budget trip to the northern beaches and touristy places in Goa that I made in the early monsoon season (27th-30th June) in the year 2003. The account was lying around in my hard drive, and a copy of it was online in my website. I thought sharing it with my Ghumakkar friends would be nice and hence I am brushing it up a bit and posting this.
The fact that India has changed a lot in the ensuing decade, and that I have myself changed too makes this for a bit strange reading but the focus on the budget consciousness is very apparent in the writing, and it reflects my then student-hood. I was a ‘poor’ masters student in Baroda in those days. The monsoon season is not the prettiest of beach combing seasons, but the flavour is different when the rain clouds call all the shots, and gives a different feeling for people who love to hike on beaches for extended stretches. That is enough of introductions, on with the story that I wrote then.
Now I had been told that this Konkan Railway was a stuff of which dreams are made of, and that perhaps made me consult the Timetable in a hurry, and then get a ‘general dabba’ ticket for the 1000 odd km journey and I was on my way to Margao (Madgaon)! By the way, the Sleeper Class ticket costs nearly ₹ 400, hence the ‘general dibba‘. It is a 16hrs journey from Baroda. The train set off at 10 pm, and by 4 in the morning it was in Bombay. Then in the early translucent light of a monsoon morning (I was dozing till about 6:30 am), the Konkan came upon me! It starts around Panvel, about 100 km from Bombay Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus. By the way, the scenes around Thane itself are pretty too!
To tell the truth I was enamoured by the shockingly green hills, the constant drizzle and the ash grey cloudbanks hovering on the hilltops. The official Konkan Railway (KR) starts from after Rohe, before which it is Central Railway. The train travels fast, in spite of KR being a single track, diesel driven affair. I was soon clicking away merrily, from bogie windows, at first and then, from the door. The route is a veritable paradise, and the monsoon had sired innumerable creeks, waterfalls and glistening sun-drenched puddles in the countryside, and I was hard pressed to cover them all with my camera! Anyway, I enjoyed the big waterfall around 190 km from Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (I didn’t get the nearest station’s name), and the loo…oong tunnel before Ratnagiri (it is about 6.4 km, the longest in India)
Margao arrived around 2 pm, and I got down into a drizzle (something which kept me company the next 2 days, and was sometimes bothersome, with neither a raincoat nor a umbrella, on me!) I had my fill of Udupi thhali lunch and then bought a Goa map at the Station Tourism Office. The Margao Station is a quaint object with tiled roofs. I boarded a bus for the Margao Town Bus-stop. Then, armed with the Map and my formidable and much maligned walking ability, I started off on my walking tour! I discovered that Colva, Goa’s longest Beach, was a short six kilometres away, and in a running drizzle, with a gamchhaaon me to protect my bag and photo-gear, I reached Colva. !
It is an upgraded village (as is most of Goa) and the beach (mind you the beach) is beautiful, and was thankfully almost empty. The salty spray was exhilarating. I eventually walked another 14-15 kms, along the beach, through villages with names like Sernabatim, Benaulim and lastly Varca (which had a bus-stop). Unfortunately, it was nearly 8 pm when I reached Varca (after having been caught trespassing in the beach garden of the Ramada Beach Resort Hotel) and was told that the last bus for Margao had left half an hour back, I waited for some form of transport, and even tried hitching a ride to no avail and was looking with forlornness into another 10 km of walking when a genie of a auto-walla arrived, he asked for ‘chalis rupee‘ to go to Margao, which I was almost ready to give, and jumped in, at the end he only took ? Twenty after being told that I was just a poor student !
I eventually reached the Margao bus stop and caught a bus for Panjim (33 km) (which I was told was a better place to get accommodation for the night). Reaching Panjim (pronounced like “paand-gym” by Goans), I soon found another Udupi (lodging + food) place, rented a dormitory bed (₹ 50), gobbled up another thhali and went to sleep (with my legs embalmed generously with Moov)
The next day dawned after a night of fitful sleep at 9am (I was put to sleep by tiredness, still itching after the generous bites of legions of ‘khatmals‘ (bed-bugs)). Determined not to come back to the dorm bed at daytime (one session a day is enough), I brushed, bathed and having munched a pair of bananas and a pack of Tiger Biscuit) I set off (by foot again) for the Mira Mar Beach 3km from Panjim Town. From the map I guessed (wrongly of course) that there exists a short-cut through the town, which would be well nigh true for a burrowing mole) and after having climbed (for Panjim has its share of hills) for close to an hour I managed to climb down by a flight of stairs along the hillside) to the other side of the town, and fell upon Mira Mar Beach.
Mira Mar was a very nice beach with a Naval Memorial, and Goa’s first Chief Minister’s samadhi on the beach, and uncountable number of coconut trees. In summer the beach is veritably thick with tourists and the sky and sea blue, and the sands golden, but I got a view with a difference, a splattering of tourists, faint brown-white sands, grey cloudy sky and murky brown-green rough sea! I got myself half wet and gritty in my pants in my efforts to photograph the beach, waves and coloured shells.
From Mira Mar I went to the Town bus-stand, and then I left by bus to a place called Calangute, about 20 kms distant, supposedly Goa’s most beautiful beach. There a Goa Govt. Hotel had dorm beds for ₹ 280 (how sweet !), and aghast with Govt. efficiency, I first strayed north towards Baga beach, but soon retraced my way and set off southwards along the beach to Aguada (where the Taj Resort has, may be ? 5000 dorm beds!) It is a good 10 kms walk on the beach, and on the way I saw a grounded ship, palm thatched resting places of fisher folk, fisher folk cleaning their nylon nets, and in an isolated stretch was brow-beaten by lashing sea winds, when a sudden storm caught up with me, drenching me to the bone. I passed beaches with picturesque names like Candolim and Sinquerim, really fishing villages. By 5pm I was in Panjim Town Bus-stop, and after keeping my bag at the Udupi dorm, I set off again with my camera for Old Goa, where the old Goan Portuguese churches are. However I got to see them only from the outside that too in failing light, and to top it off I ran out of film! Beholding these old edifices before me, I felt for the first time, that it was probably only divine glory that propels men to build such lasting edifices. I decided to attend the Sunday Mass at two of the churches, the next day at 8 in the morning. Back, at the Udupi dorm, I supped on a “sea food” thhali, with pomfret pakoras and oyster curry! The oyster was much too spicy and rubbery like an old boot! Then I chatted with the dorm inmates for an hour and went to sleep with the bloodthirsty bugs!
I got up early and found myself on the first bus for Old Goa, eager to attend Mass. I first attended at the Se Cathedral (c. 1661) and was allowed to photograph both the church and its main altar after the mass. Since the whole religious procedure was in Konkani I understood next to nothing of what the Bishop was saying, but the experience was amazing! “Insert Pic -
Next I went to the older and more venerated Basilica da Bom Jesus” (Church of Infant or Good Jesus)(c. 1605). The whole structure is made of laterite blocks. It has many side altars, one of which houses the coffin and relics of St. Francis Xavier. The whole of the main altar is gilded with real gold! The main statue is that of St. Francis Xavier looking up to an insignia of Jesus (in Greek IHS) on a gilded sun! There is a little statue of the Infant Jesus just below that. Other than that there are engravings of various Saints and angels and spirits, all gilded. I managed to get a picture of the Relics of St. Francis Xavier in the side altar, but not of the main altar as photography is prohibited when the Mass is on. Completing the Old Goa circuit, I went back to Panjim and thence to the Dona Paula jetty.
The Dona Paula is in essence a rocky promontory jutting into the sea, and from its high perch one can see a panorama of the surrounding country and seaside! I caught glimpses of the Hilly part of Panjim Town, the breakers bashing the rocky cliffs, the rivers Zuari and Mandovi meeting the sea on either side, and the white golf-ball dome of the NIO (National Institute of Oceanography) The place is basically surrounded on almost all sides by the sea and is definitely worth a visit. Thereafter, I went back to Margao (my train was at 2:10 pm) by bus, via Panjim. And was jolted back to the reality that is India with the news that on account of heavy rains in Bombay for the past two days, trains were running at the maximum speed of 40 kilometres per hour, and my train would leave at 7:30 pm, so I had precious little to do, save nibbling on chikkis, and biscuits!
Eventually, I reached Baroda on Monday evening (a good and healthy 24 hrs later). That’s it I guess. All in all it was a very fulfilling trip and considering the duration and the location the expenses were very nominal.