I have been to Goa twice before. You must know Goa. The city that is synonymous with India, and incorrectly so. Sure, Goa has sand, sea, skin and sun, and attracts a large share of domestic and international tourists. But is this all that is there to India? What about the heritage, the culture, the colors, the smells, the sounds, the jostling and pushing, the hospitality, the monuments, the history, the diversity, the religion, the dirt and grime, the easy smiles and so much more? I do not imply Goa has none of these; it does, yet it cannot accurately represent India.
So now that I have established how fastidious I am, let me continue where I left off. Yes, I have been to Goa twice before. The first time was when I wanted to heal myself. I wanted to escape the sudden pain that had been inflicted on me. I wanted to find my inner peace. Or simply put, when I did not want anybody to see my tears. It was in April and tourist season had not really picked up. I was happy to escape crowds. I lodged myself in a quiet part of the city, going out to even quieter places, wishing to find my solace. Consequently, the memories of Goa do not stand out for me from this visit. That trip was more about me than about the destination.
The second time was when I was in full spirits, gung-ho with life, and ready to take on whatever came my way. I went with a group of people who ended up becoming friends. This was a more Goa-esque visit. We stayed in the heart of the city, buzzing with life, days starting late, and nights ending even later. I thoroughly enjoyed myself but I asked myself if I would not have enjoyed as much elsewhere if I was in the same frame of mind and perhaps had similar company.
So, you see Goa did not impress me much. Sure, for a one-time visit, it is as good a tourist destination as any other. But I know people who go there every year, and perhaps even more than once a year. This fills me with discontent. There are so many exquisite places in India. Why then would one waste one’s effort, money and time on the same destination over and over again? But then, that is me. I cannot repeat. I need my variety. I need new destinations. I need new experiences. I need new journeys. That is where I get my ecstasy from!
But this time, it is different. I think it is the ‘third time lucky’ adage working. N has his quarterly planning meet in Goa. He gets over with it on a Friday, which is when I join him. We stay till Sunday and then back. Yes, it is a short trip but we both cannot spare more. Also, in our experience, these little breaks help tremendously in rejuvenation. For me, it is barely 48 hours but given that I have not stepped out of Delhi for more than two months now, I am not complaining. Work has been quite demanding and I am glad to get away.
The connectivity from Delhi is rotten. The earliest non-stop flight is at 10:25 am and that too on a lousy airline called Spice Jet. You reach after 1 pm and half a day is effectively wasted. Nonetheless, as I have been trying to see the upside of everything, I realize that taking such a flight means I do not need to get up at an unearthly hour. True to my nature, I am at the airport with about an hour to spare and use that to gobble down a breakfast at Fresco.
I have a page three crowd in my flight which is on its way to attend a wedding in Goa. Destination wedding it is called. Another of those new age things that I have difficulty comprehending. Why would you want to go to a new place where you know nobody for something as critical as a wedding? Who, in their right minds, will leave behind the support system that one’s own city provides? In any case, it is none of my business. I am forced to observe the wedding party as they are dripping with brands, air-kissing quite heavily and are loud. Ah, of course, when did money guarantee class? I immerse myself in my book- The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and the rest of my journey is spent in trying to unravel the mystery along with Blomkvist and Salander.
My hotel is only an hour and 10 minutes away. N is staying at Vivanta by Taj-Fort Aguada and I am joining him there. They have sent a pretty little bus to pick its guests up. As soon as the bus starts moving, I start falling in love. It is drizzling and my surroundings are lush green. The rains have washed away the dust and it seems the plants and trees have been given an extra coat. The narrow roads have been washed clean and Goans are going about their daily lives covered by raincoats or protecting themselves under colorful umbrellas. I cannot take my eyes off.
Sunset as seen from Vivanta by Taj-Fort Aguada
What else draws my attention is the array of colorful houses. Memories of Burano Island come back to life. Oh how young were we! How ‘in love’ were we! Truly, nothing can recreate the magic of a honeymoon. Or even of courtship. I wonder why so many colors, ranging from orange to pink to green to blue. Is it something to do with fishing communities? Fishermen returning at night with their hauls had trouble identifying their homes in the dark? Or were they too drunk? What is it? Wikipedia tells me that coloring the exterior of the house signified the economic wellbeing of the owner. Also, the erstwhile Portuguese rulers fined houses that were not painted. Lastly, white was reserved for the churches. I am, somehow, not convinced. There has to be a drunk fisherman angle. What is life without a bit of spice!
I had not imagined the Taj property to be as pretty as it turned out to be. Located at almost a tip of Goa, flanked by the walls of Fort Aguada, Taj Fort Aguada is sprawled across acres with cottages dispersed throughout its premises. It is built on a hillock and so the elevation of cottages differ, making thus possible different views. I am glad N’s cottage is at a fair height. The view of the sea is unobstructed from here. At that moment, I know I have finally loved Goa. What the beach, shacks, parties could not do, the greenery, the rain and the sea did.
Our dinner that night is at Souza Lobo, an almost 80 year old restaurant. We are accompanied by N’s colleague and his wife. The conversation moves to Delhi and how different it is from other cities, and for all the wrong reasons. N talks about his batch mates from graduation who indulged in theft and vandalism under the pretext of ‘fun’. N says it was considered normal as it was a part of the culture. He does not see anything wrong in what they did. But I disagree. Such behavior cannot be considered anything but unlawful. The law lays down dos & do not’s; there has been substantial thought that has gone behind it. For a person to dismiss it, worse to defy it, is not just illegal but also inhuman. When we cause a loss, even though it may be to property, we essentially harm someone. Even if, for a moment, I let the law be, what about a person’s own conscience? It is disappointing to hear about educated people committing such deeds and other educated people justifying these.
That evening, I also hit the gym after almost two years. It felt good to get my blood, heart and limbs going. The gym is located between the two Taj properties- Fort Aguada and Holiday Village. The hotel car provides the pick and drop. I sigh thinking about the days when I was on a regime. It seems an impossible task now. But more about that in a separate blog post.
The hotel is one where you need not step out. You can just flit from one spot to another, catching the cool sea breeze, listening to the crash of the sea waves, sipping on something and reading a good piece of fiction. There are multiple activities arranged at the hotel itself but we, unfortunately, are unable to participate in any. Though, I do avail their spa services. I have visited Jiva once before and was thoroughly impressed. This time too, I am not disappointed. It is good to leave yourself in the hands of an expert. She pampers me as if it is her own skin she is dealing with. Hmm! I remind myself to do this more often.
My next evening is spent with N’s boss and a few other colleagues. The highlight of the evening is N being called an encyclopedia. Sure, he knows quite a lot. He watches a lot of documentaries, reads a fair bit, and picks up nuggets when he speaks to people. I roll my eyes at this because I know N adds to his anecdotes too, and can pass of facts based on sheer self-confidence. I remember the time when he almost convinced me that plants are green due to a process called ‘chlorosynthesis’. I was a new demure bride who could not contradict her husband. Also, he spoke in such a confident manner that I felt doubtful. But then I checked. (I am too much of a non-believer!) & I tease him till date about it.
The other highlight was how employees of B2C companies feel, especially the ones which are into services rather than products. The customer support of my organization was called lousy multiple times. I was fuming within but I bit my tongue owing to protocol. When I was not a part of this organization but still availed its services, the service I received was exemplary. Good and bad always exist in pockets. A sweeping generalization does not help anybody. But who will argue when you are sitting next to the sea, with music playing in the background and the warm light of the candles bring a glow to your face?
We travelled to a lot of corners of Goa, either to buy or eat or see. Being on the road is my elixir. Being on the road in a pleasant clime with raindrops falling is perhaps divine. Plants, trees, puddles, earthworms, the smell of wet mud- all brought me to my knees. My road trips have brought me closer and closer to Mother Earth. Her beauty is unparalleled. She knows when to be gentle and she knows when to unleash her fury on those who mess with her. This visit was not about me Goa; it was about you in your full glory. I have no itinerary to provide; I am still mesmerized…