Goa Places

Once upon a time in Goa

I will never forget. The beach cloaked in starlight, white waves glistening and breaking on the shore; the constant, sleepless churning black mass of the sea, its rhythmic roars loud and sonorous. The horizon lost to mortal eyes, no end in sight. There I stood, with waves crashing at my feet, not a thought in my mind, watching, listening, waiting. Time ceased to be. It was humbling and peaceful.

No, I wasn’t sloshed — far from it. But the sea at night is an intoxicating experience. In fact, as I waited for an epiphany at the edge of the sea, at one moment I felt like Tuor seeking Ulmo at the coast of Nevrast*. That night remains an everlasting memory of my first visit to Goa last weekend.

However, that wasn’t the first beach I saw en route to Goa. It was cold at dawn as our car raced along NH-17, me and my mates low on sleep, waiting for the journey to end. As morning broke and the first rays hit the eastern horizon, I caught a whiff of the sea. I knew it was near, the long wait about to end.

On the brink of Karwar, breaking through the thickets, the road bent in a wide arc for a stretch of 50-60 meters. From above, I gazed down a line of palm trees with sand at their feet, the sea outstretched not too far ahead. Two hills flanked the beach, rock pinnacles dotted the water few hundred meters inside. The sky was a riot of pink, orange, and blue. I tried remembering when I had last glimpsed upon the sea but failed. It was a majestic view!

Past Panjim, we reached Mapusa by 10 a.m., and onwards to Siolim, our base camp for the Goa trip. From here we covered Arambol, Velha Goa, Mangeshi Temple, Fort Aguada — its picturesque lighthouse, Dona Paula, the beaches at Miramar, Baga and Calangute, and a ferry ride to Fort Tiracol (Terekhol) within two days. In that time, I realized the sheer scale of foreign tourists all over the place. Strangely, I felt like an outsider in my own country.

Of course, food was a big highlight of the trip. I fell in love with Goan cuisine, especially sea food. So much so that apart from breakfast, every other meal featured something from the sea. I remember two meals very clearly; one was on Arambol’s coast inside a small restaurant overlooking the sea at the stroke of sunset, the other atop Fort Tiracol on a hill between two beaches with an unforgettable view. Best thing I had? Fish curry and rice, Goan style. Simply delicious.

Apart from the sandy coastline, I fondly remember my time inside the Basilica of Bom Jesus and Se Cathedral, two iconic churches in Old Goa. The Basilica’s architecture is alluring, especially its flying buttresses. Inside it holds an elaborate altar that takes the breath away at first sight. The Basilica is renowned all over Christendom for holding the relics and mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. Do not miss it on your next Goa trip.

Across the road from the Basilica of Bom Jesus sits the Se Cathedral of Santa Catarina, next to the Archaeological Survey of India building. It has a clean white facade and only one of its two tall bell towers. The cathedral is proportionally larger and grander compared to the Basilica, with a high-vaulted ceiling and multitude of side chapels. With less tourists and low voices, I had no problem sitting there for a long time, studying the altar, feeling right at home.

What did I bring back from Goa? A bottle of port wine, several packets of prawn pickle and cashew nuts — the Mapusa market didn’t disappoint. And quite a few fond memories. They’re better than the best photographs. Of course, two days is way too short a time to even scratch the surface of what Goa has to offer. As I hastened back to the real world, I felt torn apart, and finally understood people’s fascination with Goa. Sun, sand, relaxation — who wouldn’t wanna go back?

* Tolkien illiterates, click here.

Originally published: January 22, 2011

Bengaluru Places

IndiBlogger’s Akshaya Patra Gathering

Acknowledging my blog being dead for a year in front of 200 odd blogging enthusiasts wasn’t easy, even if I meant it as a wisecrack. It seemingly did the trick, however, going by the scattered laughter in response to my candid announcement. “Don’t worry, Jayesh, you’re not alone,” someone chimed from a far corner. The room full of strangers, hanging on my every word as I completed a rather uninspired introduction, suddenly felt a lot more inviting. IndiBlogger‘s session ahead could only get better, I reckoned.

Sunday’s strictly a leisure day for me. So what pushed me to make an exception, instead of laze around hugging my mattress, refusing to do anything but “chillout” on Sundays as is my wont? Given Bangalore’s stick-up-the-bum public transport system, which I detest from the bottom of my artery-clogged heart, even the idea of traversing halfway across the city was enough to stir some bile. If anything, it was to reconnect with ISKCON, soak in the divinity, that pushed me to go. IndiBlogger’s “Akshaya Patra” meet was an added bonus, nothing more.I’ve had a fruitful relationship with ISKCON since my early teens, but for a variety of excuses had lost touch with the institution for the past few years. It was nice to learn about Akshaya Patra, ISKCON’s and India’s largest mid-day cooked meal program that reaches out to over 1.25 million school kids everyday in eight Indian states. Between IndiBlogger’s interruptions, the ISKCON representatives brought the blogging community up to speed with their charity initiatives — they even fielded questions on day-to-day operations, corporate donation programs, food production, and blogging efforts impacting the Akshaya Patra movement.

To hear a religious-cum-spiritual organization interested in social media initiatives to propagate their message is something I don’t see very often. Just like my memory of ISKCON’s Juhu temple, the humble repast or prasadam served continued to be simple yet sumptuous.

Surprisingly, the afternoon turned out none too bad for me. The fact that IndiBlogger’s meet didn’t have a set itinerary helped keep the mood informal, I met some new people, reconnected with some old faces, and left the premises before I could snag a free T-shirt — Manchester United vs. Liverpool awaited.

One of these days, I will go back to ISKCON again. The temple fascinates me.

Originally published: January 11, 2011