Friday, 21 December 2012


In total, we went on three domestic flights during our time in India: with GoAir from Jaipur to Mumbai and Mumbai to Goa, and with SpiceJet from Goa back up to Delhi. Budget flying is big business in India - and extremely popular. Both airlines we used were good. No frills involved, as you would expect from such operations. Though we were mildy amused by the SpiceJet in-flight magazine referring to its readership as "Spice-jetters".

Anyway, what we really, really wanted after the cacophanous experience of Mumbai and northern India were a few days of quiet on a beach, with some cultural enrichment spinkled into the mix.

Wednesday 28 November
Arrival in Goa and it's time to sample India's "prepaid taxi" system. We have avoided it to date thanks to airport transfers organised by our respective hostelries, but, if truth be told, it's quite a simple procedure. You go to a desk where the different taxi fares corresponding to the various possible destinations are shown on a board. You pay the requisite fare in advance (700 ruppees in our case) and are given a receipt. Someone then ushers you to your taxi driver and the fun begins.

Heaven Goa
Our mode of transport is a small, slightly rickety jeep. The back seats don't have any seat belts, but the driver tells us not to worry. After a while, we begin to understand his insouciance. Maybe I didn't need to tell you this, but Goa really is a quiet, laid-back part of the world - with much less of the chaos we saw elsewhere on Indian roads.

On reaching our guest house, we give the driver our receipt, tip him and then bid him farewell.

"Heaven Goa" is run by an Indian-Swiss couple, Sunil and Karin. Located just outside the village of Benaulim in south Goa, it is a 10-minute walk away from the beach. Admittedly, we favoured this hostelry on the strength of its Swiss connection. Sure enough, it was perfect for us, with a very homely and friendly feel.

Thursday 29 November
Benaulim Beach
We make a bee line for the beach - probably the most beautiful stretch of sand we've ever seen. We laze on sun loungers, go for strolls, swim numerous times in the Arabian Sea and generally relax. On the culinary front, we acquaint ourselves with delicious Goan fish curry. Seafood is staple fare around here: from pomfret and snapper to baby shark, king fish and tiger prawns. Pork vindaloo is another Goan speciality, and not half as spicy as conventional vindaloo.

Friday 30 November
Sé Cathedral
Culture time. As an addendum to our Delhi Magic experience, we have a guided tour of the Goan hinterland on the agenda today. We leave our guest house with guide and driver at 9 a.m. We first reach the town of Ponda, where we visit two successive Hindu temples. Then it's on to a spice plantation. All imaginable spices, and the plants from which they originate, can be viewed (and tasted) here. Next and final stop is Old Goa (Velha Goa). We visit the Basilica of Bom Jesus and Sé Cathedral - the former is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the latter is the largest church in India (see photo). The Portuguese only left Goa in 1961, so (Roman Catholic) Christians are in the majority in Goa. Pilgrims are beginning to arrive in to Old Goa for the annual Feast of St Francis Xavier, which is due to take place on 3 December.

Saturday 1 December
We hire bikes and cycle north along the beach as far as the resort of Majorda. The going is heavy because the tide is in. Things are much much easier on the way back after the receding tide has hardened the sand. We settle for lunch at a beach shack run by a diminutive yet extrovert character who speaks both English and Russian. (the Russians discovered Goa quite a while ago; they tend to stay in the more exclusive hotel complexes). This cool dude (see opposite) brings out the "catch of the day" on a platter, we chose our preferred fish (the black one in the photo), and they cook it. Simple.

We conclude our day on the beach with another swim in the sea, a Mango lassi at our favourite beach shack ("Greg's") and a nice view of the sunset.

Sunday 2 December
Since last year, beach hawkers have been banned from wandering over and approaching unsuspecting, sunbathing tourists on Benaulim Beach. Instead they must set up their stalls on the side of the beach and hope to attract passing custom. Although extremely persistent, they are actually very polite and friendly. As tourists, we would run the gauntlet each day past their shops and onto the beach. Consequently, we ended up being on first-name terms with a good handful of these locals. In turn, they relieved us of some of our ruppees. It was a good-natured game of cat and mouse at all times.

Paddy fields - a common sight in Goa
We make the most of our final day on the beach, soaking in the sun. Stall-owner Sharon (well, at least that's what she called herself) is the specific recipient of a fair chunk of our day's spending. We warm to her personality and persuasiveness. As Brits who have never mastered the art of haggling, we are her dream customers.

Monday 3 December
We catch a taxi back to Dabolim Airport and leave Goa with heavy hearts. First, it's back to Delhi courtesy of SpiceJet. We then hang around Indira Gandhi International Aiport for what seems an eternity before boarding our flight back to Switzerland in the early hours of Tuesday morning. The eight-hour flight home is torture, as I can never sleep on flights - while nearly everyone else can. To compound the ordeal, my video display isn't working correctly, so no films either!

Tuesday 4 December

And so many memories of an incredible country. Hard to condense in a blog.

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