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Chapter 4. Cliffs and Beaches

The thing that takes getting used to about Goa is its size; and here's the funny thing: it's its smallness, not bigness that requires getting used to; or maybe, its mediumness. If you're one of those people who've landed up with the idea that Goa equals Panjim (the state-capital), you'll miss the Teracol fort standing at the north extremity of the state; on the other hand, if you've built solid fundae from Goa Interactive, you'll think that each of Calangute, Baga, Old Goa, . . . should require a night's stay to explore all possibilities: with the result that the very afternoon that we came down from Teracol, we took a bus from Panjim to Old Goa, reached the place in half an hour's time, expecting to find a hotel to park ourselves in for the night and sally forth next morning in various directions for Bom Jesus, St Francis, St Cajetan. It turned out that all these churches were within a 10-minute walk radius, and Old Goa is too small and too close to Panjim to make a hotel viable. (For correctness, there is, however, the Mandovi Myth Hotel on the river a few kilometres down from Old Goa towards Panjim.)

(For those Goa-maniacs who would jump at my throat accusing me of philistinism, I agree that one may well spend days at Baga; but so can one at, say, Harmal; my point is if you're on a 5-day trip, park at one or two strategic places, and bike around the rest of the country.)

With all that needless running between Panjim and Old Goa, we missed lazing about that interesting city, Panjim; we didnt even take a walk along its long, beautiful riverfront, which I guess finally becomes Miramar Beach when the Mandovi river opens into the sea. The Mandovi splits this tiny state into northern and southern halves, which are linked by two bridges located just outside Panjim - it's heartening to find a state in India whose administrators had the infrastructural foresight to build a second bridge before the first started having traffic snarls.

Having stayed the first night in Hotel Prainha at Panjim's other, rather muddy, beach, Dona Paula, we crossed over to north Goa, taking a bus to Calangute. This was July, the least popular time to visit Goa, and the place had a rather run-down rainy look.

Close by was Fort Aguada. A word of warning about Goan forts. They're either dilapidated to the point of non-existence, as in the case of Chapora, or being put to some useful purpose, which may or may not put them out of bounds, like the Tiracol fort which is a hotel, or the Aguada, a prison. All of them are interestingly (if somewhat similarly) located. The Aguada prison, particularly, gives a kind of Count of Monte Cristo feeling, with the waves lapping up at the walls. The nearby lighthouse (timings 4-5:30pm) has a view which lets one practically draw a map of Goa's coastline.

We were getting inured to the rain. As it got heavier, the fishing trawlers on the sea underlooking Aguada cliff kept vanishing and reappearing in the murk; it became quite a game trying to spot and count them; eventually, however, we had to run into the lighthouse compound for shelter. The training stood us in good stead when we took a second drenching in the windy ruins of Chapora next day. There again, the soaking was compensated by the unexpected discovery of a cliff-bottom lagoon with fishing boats and a mini-jetty. Having started from Calangute on a hired motorbike, we'd already found a terrific restaurant, Athens, at Baga, and seen the funny hollow-cylinder rocks at Anjuna Beach. These rocks hang over the sea, and big waves thrashing below gush volcanic spouts of water through them. Crabs crawl about the wet, perforated inner surfaces.

At the Sterling Resorts below Chapora we had lunch and a change of clothing. Next stop Siolim, where the ferry took us (bike included) across to Chopre.

Rural Goa is a pleasure riding through. Roads going up and down through hills, green forests on either side separated from the road by strips of red iron-rich earth, farms of unimaginable lushness, the green not diluted by stretching away till the horizon, but held in, deepened by surrounding hills and a low, slate-grey sky. And nowhere, that icon of third-world poverty: babies with distended bellies. Possibly I had only a superficial look at the place; arguably, the state is rolling in natural resources; but one could say the Portuguese have left behind an ex-colony they can be proud of.

Harmal Beach we had a look at from the road above; regulation sand and palm trees. "Tiracol?" - "Straight on".

Hey, where's the road? It's a river! Almost before we could start looking for people around to ask, a ferry docks; catching on to the Goan way of things, we ride straight aboard.

As the ferry gently floats over to the other side, things begin sinking in; the river's Teri, we're almost at its mouth; on one side is the most secluded beach in the world, backed up by casuarinas; on the other a cliff, atop that the Teracol fort, now one of the two hotels at Teracol; this is the north tip of Goa; after you cross over, the STD code, the electricity (about 100 volts, often), the odd government-run bus are of Maharashtra.

"The window's kind of small, isnt it?" Well, what d'you expect; they stuck a roof on the fort terrace; the windows are battlements with iron bars stuck in; they were meant to thrust guns through, not stand arm in arm at.

The interesting part of the view from the Teracol tower is the racing waves. They come in neat rows one behind the other, born with surfy crests some distance from the shore, some breaking on the beach opposite, some on the cliff below, and some getting lost in the Teri river.

While returning from Teracol, petrol gave out at the best place in the world. At the top of a hill, the bottom of which had the filling-station. Thereafter, it was a smooth journey to Baga, where we made straight for Athens, ordered lunch, and went into the sea. What greater pleasure in life than to be having a lovely bath, only to be called away by the Athens waiter, and tuck into the Shark Sizzler? Desserts: well, they say Apple Pie. Let's try One. It comes. We bite. More! More! Howls of hungry souls go around.

The day was perfect till we reached Panjim and shuttled needlessly between Old Goa and Panjim, finally checking into the shabby but not inexpensive Yatri Niwas at Miramar - an extremely depressing hotel; the evening, however, was rescued by a fine dinner at Delhi Durbar, replete with Tandoori Pomfret.

Next day: Churches at Old Goa. I had the pleasure of seeing confession boxes outside a movie for the first time, and enlightening the rest of the party on the functionality of buttresses. The interior decor is quite the same in most of them; the exteriors vary.

Nice trip.

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