Saturday, August 7, 2010

Benaulim, Panjim, Old Goa, Candolim, and Calangute (India)

A taxi from the airport took us out to Benaulim, a quiet beach town in Goa. Quiet, we discovered, meant absolutely deserted in the off-season of the monsoon. Watching enormous waves crash into the shore in a dismal downpour, we abandoned the idea of a seaside holiday.

Instead, we adjusted and used Panjim (aka Panaji) as a base. Although it is the capital of Goa, the city is easy to walk around and the atmosphere relaxed. With plenty of local options for dining in Panjim, we consistently found reasonably priced and delicious meals. Goan cuisine is very different from the Indian food we have had so far, partly because the state was a Portuguese colony for over 400 years. It features many seafood dishes due to its location on the coast and even pork! The notorious vindaloo seems to also have its origins here, probably related to the proximity of spice plantations. Richard was really pleased with Panjim's central bus station, which was easy to navigate and allowed us to make hassle-free day trips to other towns in Goa for about 0.40 USD round trip.

Before the Portuguese moved it to Panjim, Old Goa (aka Goa Velha) was the capital. The area is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site where you can visit several restored churches. The most popular for the pilgrimage circuit is the Basilica Bom Jesus, which has a blingin' gold altar and a dead guy. The corpse is St. Francis Xavier, the Jesuit missionary famous for converting hundreds of thousands of us Asians... and also for bringing the Inquisition to the East. Ok, so maybe the two are related, but it was good enough get universities named after him! [Mom, you can be glad now that I finally made it into a church on this trip... since I am guessing the Buddhist or Hindu temples didn't count]

Old Goa's archaeological museum houses sculpture (both ancient Hindu and Christian), a gallery of old Portuguese viceroys (including one listed as 'Luis de Miranda' - any relation?), and - most amusingly - a children's activity centre with a sign bluntly admitting that parents drag their uninterested children into dull museums and then wonder why they are not engaged or enthusiastic... so here, we are going to give them some crayons and paper!

When another break in the weather presented itself, we crossed off another item on Richard's list, renting a scooter to explore the towns of Candolim and Calangute. Candolim is the less developed of the two, but it has a couple of forts built in the 1600s that are nice to wander around for views of Aguada Bay and the Arabian Sea. Candolim Beach was strewn with debris, the remains of an erosion control project, and most disturbingly, a giant tanker that had run aground and has been rusting on the sand since the 1990s! Even if it was not a red-flagged day, Rich still would have refused to put a toe in the water.

Calangute Beach was popular despite the no swimming conditions, and several lifeguards were still scanning the waves though only a few men were playing even at the knee-deep waters. Most of the crowd was staying dry, hanging out and taking pictures on the sand. Richard got asked to be in someone's picture, but declined, suspecting a scam although we could not figure out what it could be. A couple of ice creams - cashew/sultana and chickoo (sapodilla fruit?) - marked a pleasant end to our seaside visit (is this an English tradition?).

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