I've been relaxing in Goa for a few days now, growing out my beard and drinking lassis, all the while intending to write another blog post. I thought, 'hey, monsoonal rains in Goa. The perfect place to kick back and do some writing'. The thing about Goa though, is the food is so amazing and the booze is so cheap that all I seemed to do is eat and drink. But enough of that, I'm motivated and I have a cold, so a break from drinking has begun.
I will start with Bombay. I touched on it briefly last post. The city itself I found to be quite modern and clean comparatively to other major Indian cities. The best thing to do when landing in Mumbai airport is to go straight to the prepaid taxi box because the drivers will try to con you out of those few precious extra rupees you would have spent on food or beer. The trip in to colaba wasn't too long. Maybe 45 minutes. It gave me time to check out the city. Modern vehicles and seaside views make for a refreshing change from delhi. I don't think I saw more than 5 auto rickshaws in Mumbai. After staying a night at the salvos I was convinced I was being eaten alive by bed bugs. I would get up at 6 or 7am and hop in a cold shower and make my way to Starbucks to use their wi fi. My morning ritual consisted of a small snack like a samosa or potato dumpling and a filthy bucks coffee. The black coffee is the money as far as caffeine goes.
Well prepared and shot up with caffeine, I would make my way down one of the main roads stretching through colaba. From memory it was m.Gandhi rd but I can't be sure. Lots of markets and bars, this main road is jam packed with tourists. When I got to Leopold's (the bar featured in shantaram), I was a little disappointed to see it resembled more of a la porchetta, family restaurant vibe then the seedy smokey bar I had imagined. None the less I scoped the bar for gangster types. The best i could come up with was an eastern European looking girl who was burning a hole in the back of toms head with a stare that lasted a whole pitcher of kingfisher. I love how they serve beer at Leopold's. They bring out a small red bowl like dish with kingfisher advertising all over it. 5 minutes later, a huge pitcher of beer arrives and is placed on the bowl. The whole contraption acts as a sort of makeshift beer tap. I dug it very much.
The next day in Bombay we went to a Bollywood film. We saw a film called b.a pass and another one called once upon in Mumbai, again. I urge you to YouTube both films. Halfway through once upon a time, I lent over and asked the man next to me what was happening. Apparently it was a love story where the women couldn't decide who I she really loved. There were gratuitous sex scenes in the back of tuk tuk but no on-screen kissing, of course.
Bombay is an interesting city. Completely diverse in its class and caste system even today. One story I was told that stuck with me was about the taj mahal hotel in colaba. Tata is a very famous Muslim Indian company. They produced tea originally but moved on to automobiles amongst a whole range of other products. The Indian people embraced tata and they went on to become probably the most successful and profitable company in India. So, the story goes, the owners of tata were in Bombay on business and wanted to stay at a posh hotel. They chose the most expensive and grande hotel available. The hotel was European owned and was made for rich tourists and business men. When the tata owners entered the lobby they were instantly dismissed on the grounds they were poor locals. The owners were disgusted and out of spite, built a hotel even grander than the one they were denied from. The taj mahal hotel was built and did so well that it put the other hotel out of business.
To get from Bombay to Goa, there are a few options. I decided on a sleeper bus. It seemed to me that it was a good mix of comfort and affordability. The funny thing was, the man I bought my tickets from stressed the importance of being at the bus depot with plenty of time. Time got away from me of course and I was at the bus depot with five minutes to spare. A pack of giggling locals said my bus wouldn't be running today and I should hop on his bus that will take me to the real sleeper bus. Sounds totally legitimate right? I decided to go with the toothless man with the limps advice and hop on 'his' bus. Everything turned out alright. There were a few bombayites who had the same kind of ticket as me and I actually made friends with a chatty young chap by the name of ashok. He told us a few goan dishes that we must try and gave me a brief run down of Goa and where we might like to stay.
Goa is not at all a large area. With enough time you could easily explore the states beaches, nature and culture. I found their bus system to be very effective, hassle free and super cheap. I rode one bus that blasted out hits from chennai express, the latest Bollywood film. Very generally, Goa can be split into three distinct regions : north south and central. I'm writing this now from the south where I am struggling to find WiFi. Things slow down in the south. The beaches seem quieter and appear to cater for an older calmer crowd. A good place to sit back, unwind and read a book. One of the most interesting things for me about Goa is the architecture. The Portuguese arrived in Goa in 1510 seeking control of the regions spice routes by way of Goas wide natural waterways. Soon after, Portuguese rule and religion spread throughout the state, sometimes by force and it was not until 1961 when the Indian army marched into Goa, that almost five centuries of Portuguese occupation finally came to an end.
The Portuguese architecture is immediately apparent in panaji (the capital), with yellow houses with purple doors and cats lying in front of push bikes parked beneath oyster-shell windows. Numerous times tom and I would look at each other and comment that we could be in Portugal or another completely different location. We visited many of the churches littered throughout old Goa but none of them struck a chord with me. I think after being to massive Hindu and Sikh temples, the churches had lost much of their appeal to me.
Today when I was making my way down to the little shop about 2km away from my guesthouse, I saw a girl I was traveling with and tom both with great big grins on their faces. Turns out they had just rented three scooters and needed me to help them drive the bikes to buy fuel. I didn't feel too comfortable but what the heck, when in India right? So I asked the man who rents the bikes how to turn the bike on and he half rolled his eyes and lent over me and flicked the ignition. I felt like he was used to dumb white tourists doing silly things like rent a scooter without a bike license. Not even 30 seconds down the road I see Tom take a corner too wide, ricochet off another stationary scooter and accelerate head first into a nearby hat shop. Hats went flying, dust kicked up and a group of Indian men huddled around giggling and pointing. You couldn't have written better comedy. I was obviously immediately concerned for the safety of young Thomas, but after I could see there was no real injury, I relaxed. Tom saw the humour in it to, wiping the dust from his shorts and shaking his head in a mixture of disbelief and embarrassment. We all agreed it could have been a lot worse and that maybe the scooter idea wasn't the greatest. The incident was tidied up quicker then anticipated with a pat on the back and a bill for a bunch of rupees.
Tip of the day - just because its called a sleeper bus doesn't mean you actually get any sleep.