26/1/15 - 9/2/15 32 °C
Arrived in Margao after a 9 hour train journey from Victoria Terminus. Travelled 3AC which means 3rd class air conditioned. This might sound quite rough but it's actually fairly comfortable (sheets and a blanket are provided to keep out the chill of the air con) and way better than sleeper class or unreserved which packs people in like sardines. I shared my compartment of 8 berths with a bunch of very excited 11 year-olds who were off on a school holiday. Fortunately they quietened down by 11.30 and I managed to get a good night's sleep. Amazingly, the train left Bombay on time and, even more amazingly, it arrived in Margao a few minutes early. First time I've known that to happen!
35 years ago Margao was just a sleepy small town where nothing much happened and it was difficult to find anywhere to eat. Now it's a small, bustling and vibrant city where the traffic - including thousands of motorbikes and scooters - makes crossing the road a risky adventure. Shopping malls have sprung up and outlets for all the world's major brands such as Samsung and Nike mean that the city Is obviously prospering. It's an example of how Manmohan Singh's decicision to open up the Indian economy has brough wealth to a large section of the Indian population. Sadly, not everyone has been included in the economic miracle and poverty and deprivation are still commonplace.
Margao Town Hall
The Reliance Trade Centre. Hotel Tanish is on the top floor.
After a couple of days I've moved out of the big city and now have a room by the beach at Colva. The pace of life here is slow and peaceful. I spend my days lying in the sun, swimming in the warm welcoming waters of the Arabian Sea, taking long walks along the endless, palm tree fringed white sands, a little bit of yoga, some meditation, the occasional beer, long breakfasts and dinners, people watching and gazing out to the distant horizon. Who said retirement was easy?
There seem to be three types at Colva, in addition to the locals. Firstly, the Indian holiday makers who cluster within a 200 metre strech where the road meets the beach. Secondly, there are the twenty-something couples on gap years and finally a large population of retired people escaping the cold European winters. It seems like a 60 to 80 club rather than the younger version. Where I fit into this I'm not sure. I seem to be a bit of an anomaly.
In 1980 the Indian tourists and the retirees where just a thing of the future. Back then there were just a few backpackers and I remember Barbara and I having huge stretches of beach to ourselves. There are more people now but there is still plenty of room and a feeling of spaciousness. A few more beach shacks which offer surprisingly large and varied menus of well cooked Indian, Chinese and European dishes have sprung up. One of them even has a menu in which Russian is the main language. Other changes are the lifeguards stationed every 400 metres along the beach. They sit all day under beach umbrellas, their faces wrapped in white cloths to ward off the sun. How they cope with the boredom is beyond me. The occasional jetski whizzes past and a paraglider hovers above the glistening blue sea. That reminds me - time for another swim.
The "C Roque" where I'm staying
My room is in the far right corner
Sunset at Colva
Wednesday 4th February
Two things of note happened this morning as I was eating breakfast. Firstly, a couple of small whales appeared about 100 metres off shore, surfaced a few times and then disappeared back to the deep. I'm pretty sure from the shape of the dorsal fins that they were whales but I'm keeping a sharp eye out when I go for a swim ... just in case. Secondly, a coconut fell from a tree landing on the roof above my head and making a satisfying clatter as it rolled down the tiles and thudded into the sand a few feet away. Perhaps a timely reminder that coconuts kill more people than sharks and I should avoid walking directly beneath palm trees.
Only in India!
I finally managed to prise myself away from the beach after 10 days of indolence and caught a couple of local buses to Panaji, the capital of Goa. Most of the town is fairly nondescript but there are some beautiful buildings in the old Portugese quarter which is quiet and clean and not at all Indian. I also visited Old Goa which was once the capital of the colony back in the 16th century but was abandoned due to malaria and cholera. All that now remains are 6 or 7 churches, used either for their original function as museums.
I've set myself a budget of about £25 a day and have so far managed to keep well within it despite the areas I've visited being reputedly more expensive than the average. A room for the night costs 1000 rupees and I spend about 700 a day on breakfast, dinner and water (no lunch). Public transport is ridiculously cheap. Local buses cost about one rupee per kilometre and the ticket for the sleeper bus to Hampi was a mere 560 rupees for a journey of nine and a half hours.