Having traveled to Goa multiple times, working and living there for about two years, struggling to find a well-paying job there, I have strolled around the Goan streets, met enough people to know that Goa is gifted in more ways than just beautiful coastlines, cheap beer, fish – curry and psy-trance. This time, I was more than fortunate to meet wonderful people right from the beginning of my trip who joined me on my thirst to Xplore more of Goa in every which way they could, making sure that I survived those three days in Goa for less than 2000 rupees, eating Bhaji-Pavs, cheap but authentic fish thalis and avoiding all the beach-side shacks and hitch-hiking till the time I rented a scooter.
So, this is how it began, on a shoestring budget, I wanted to make the most of my trip by traveling cheap, which I did not know how but I had a feeling I will. I found a couple of hosts (locals) in Goa through Couchsurfing who were kind enough to provide me shelter for my time there. One was a 60 year old man located in Old Goa who has been hosting traveler for more than 12 years and the other, a guy my age who based in Shiolim (close to Vagator), runs a film club and has been hosting travelers for a few years. Both seemed perfect and it was like Sophie’s choice. My train was supposed to reach Thivim station at 2 am in the night. So I thought I’d call them both to check how far their homes were from the station and make my choice basis that.
How I made the decision? While I was on the train to Goa from Kochi, a girl just walked into my compartment, with a faded scarf wrapped around her head, a worn out backpack on her shoulders, a mile long smile and a glow in her eyes that could be seen through her sunglasses. She lifted her rucksack to put it on the upper seat and I noticed the strength in her arms. This is no ordinary girl, I thought. The train had just left the station when I called Akil (the second Couchsurfer) to ask him how far his place was from Thivim. He told me it’s about 20 mins from the station and also that there is someone else who will be sharing his place with me. Apparently, that someone is on the same train as mine, called Maithli. As soon as I hung up the phone, I asked this mysteriously enigmatic woman if her name is Maithli? Her jaw dropped and her face froze. “How did you know?” is all she said, to which I replied, I was talking to Akil! We realised we were both guests of the same host. Still surprised to find each other in the same compartment, we hi-fived and laughed in amazement. Life is full of beautiful coincidences and this was just one of them. She was also a yoga instructor who trained in Rishikesh, same as me, small world after all. Not just that, our lives were quite similar in a lot of ways, and that’s when I decided to stay with her. I could see so much of myself in her and wanted to spend time with her.
Next morning, we met Akil a very humble and simple man. He sticks to his routine (no bothering between 9-5!) and would help us in every which way he could. We would have breakfast together before we went out pursuing our individual agendas and met for dinner at the end of the day. He told me about a lot of places in Goa that most of us wouldn’t have even heard of. One being a library run by a young couple Arushi and Sameer in their beautiful stone house in a quiet lane in touristic Anjuna, “Lotus Eaters.”
We stood at the gate, which was an antique piece made of wood, metal and creepers, for a lingering long moment before gently pushing it in lest we disturbed the serenity of the place. The airy house with tall walls and high roof gave it the feel of being part of a fort. The garden was fairly well-kept and full. There was a spacious veranda outside the house in which hung the swing chair and then the silence was broken with a sharp deep barking that sounded like a restrained-hound. We carefully stepped forward and behold! The hound was in fact a cute little dog, unknown breed that hadn’t been chained at all but would guard the veranda like his designated post.
So, with that warm-a-welcome we entered the library owned by Sameer and Arushi. This young beautiful couple had taken the bold step of following their heart by leaving successful full time jobs and comfortingly crowded cities to live in peace and contentment instead. Both Arushi and Sameer are consultants for NGOs and experts in their field of work which in layman terms, involves educating the society and removing the taboo around sex; especially in countries like India, other Asian countries and Africa.
If you think it’s merely the work that’s revolutionary then think again! A little mezzanine had been created in the library which was described by Arushi as Sameer’s den which he used to indulge in movies aired on large projector screen. Sameer is also a surfer and travels around the coast in his free time chasing waves. The library itself is different in decor and ambiance. The books are neatly arranged in contemporary yet rustic looking shelves. The collection includes about 3000 books both fiction and nonfiction, however, there is a generous lean towards fiction. The collection was created with their own books as well as contribution from friends. The patrons can enjoy the opportunity to feel like a lotus eater with plenty of comfort, quiet and intelligence in the air…
Arushi & Maithili
Arushi lit up a lemongrass incense stick to keep the mosquitoes away and coyly posed for the camera while her partner refused to face the lens despite our best attempts.
The name Lotus Eaters comes from a classic Greek mythical story of Odysseus, when he was returning from Troy, he encountered a tribal island of lotus eaters which was an earthly paradise. The mysterious lotus when ingested would send them into a blissful state of being and make them forget their homes and the desire of returning to their native land. Their only wish is to live in the blissful idleness in land of the Lotus Eaters and never leave. In modern terms it translates to “a person who leads a life of dreamy, indolent ease, indifferent to the busy world; daydreamer.” If you are in Goa and need a break from the craziness, go to Anjuna and taste the lotus yourself. Beware, for this place is intoxicating and you may never want to leave.
Another such place is 6 Assagao nestled on quiet greens in Assagao, North Goa in a century old Goan villa, home and soul of Nilankur Das and his wife Chan. It houses Gunpowder – The peninsular kitchen, People’s Tree co-founded by Orjit Sen and his wife – A designer store of handmade crafts and clothes by Goan and other local artisans and a stage for community events where political and socio – economic matters are discussed. The place attracts like minded and socially aware people, artists, indie musicians, performers, writers, filmmakers etc. “6 Assagao is a collaborative effort to create an informal space where one can eat, shop, browse through books, clothes and crafts and join in their making if it suits one’s fancy,” Nilankur.
They hosted the documentary screening of the “Story of Stuff” by Annie Leonard which was attended by almost 50 people. Not just that, there was an interesting talk with Occupy Wall Street affiliated political cartoonist – Seth Tobocman about the insights on the biggest worldwide protest of the century.
The restaurant is set in lush green setting and has a very rustic feel to it. Being an artist himself, Nilankur has made sure that there is a personal touch of his skill set in every corner of the house. Chan manages the store full time. I had very interesting conversations with both of them about their ideas, work and an alternative lifestyle in Goa.
Chan working in the store
I also met Hartman D’souza, a director, writer and performer who is associated with Space Goa – a project taking the visual arts to villages in Goa and to various cities across India through a network of artists from India and abroad. The illegal mining rampant in Goa from
2006 onwards spurred the need for a theatre group that would sensitize urban Goans living in blissful ignorance of the carnage barely 60 kilometres away. It coincided with the founders of SPACE reviving discussion on the need for an organization that professionalized the training and practice of the arts for younger persons while yet sensitizing them to larger social concerns.
In my conversation with Hartman, he made me realise how lucky I am to be coming out of a small town and driving on the road to my dreams while tens and thousands of women my age are even scared to dream because of a handicapped society’s immorally moral values that pre defines their lives, future and career and conditions them to live in a pre-set lives that their parents have planned for them since the day they are born. It’s really sad and unfortunate and I left with a heavy heart.
I met my new buddies Akil & Maithili for dinner in one of the shacks in Vagator. We were narrating our days to each other and in the event ended up planning an early morning deep sea fishing trip. From my previous visit to Goa with Sumi, I met a local guy Rohan in Arambol who belongs to a fisherman family. Rohan lives by the sweet lake in Arambol and spends his day in the jungle giving mud baths to visitors. His brothers go fishing in the sea in the morning and trout fishing in the river by the evening. He introduced me to his brother Mahendra, who was initially wary of the idea of taking a girl for fishing. After re-confirming that I don’t get sea sick, he agreed to take me into the deep waters with three other fishermen. Maithili loved this idea and joined me.
We started at 5:45 in the morning and reached the village near Terekhol River from where we began our journey. It was a slightly chilly morning as it was still dark.
Fishing village at Terekhol River
We started from the river where we sailed smoothly and entered into the sea, crashing against the waves which wouldn’t allow us in. A couple of minutes in the water, sailing against the direction of the land, we were surprised by an unusual behaviour of little fishes that were literally flying around us. Some of them fell back into the sea as we kept sailing and some landed in our boat, jumping restlessly on the wooden bottom. All of us helped them get back in the water. Mahendra explained that the sound of the motor irritates the fish and that is why they jump out of the water not knowing where they would land.
By that time, the sun had started to rise but the sky was covered with dense rain clouds. It was about to rain any moment. This sort of weather is perfect for prawn fishing. As the sea started to get rough, all the men on the boat began to lay their nets across the sea. A single net is about 50 meters long and we had three such nets. They leave the nets in the water for 20-40 mins and then pull it up with all the catch.
The nets pulled out dozens of king prawns, tiger prawns, fish, squids, jellyfish, dragon fish, crabs and even a sea snake. The jellyfish is just like jelly. There’s nothing in them but jelly. No eyes, gills, organs, nothing. I was so happy to hold it in my hands. I wanted to take it back with me but Mahender said it will dry up and vapourize in the sun before we even get back to the bank. One of the squids that we caught was so sticky as it had tentacles lined with suction cups (suckers) and would stick on to my hand. When I held it near my face to examine it, it spat some gooey, slimy white liquid on me. I was flinched and put it back in the boat. I guess it was angry.
Mahendra with his glorious catch
The snake had navy blue and white shiny stripes on it and must be about one and a half feet long. It swam happily with his head out when we put it back in the water. It kept coming back to our boat again and again crawling speedily from left to right. That’s the happiest snake I’ve ever come across.
Releasing the water snake Sticky squid Jellyfish
The fishnets were still in the water and the catch was huge. It started to rain unforgivingly and we were shivering because it got so cold and windy. The boat rocked profusely I was struggling to keep my camera dry and that’s when Mahendra covered us with a thick plastic sheet that they had on the boat.
Captain Mahendra taking control of the boat
Few minutes under the shelter, the sky cleared for some time and the sun shone on our face. We dried up quickly but it started to rain again. This went on all throughout in circles as the sea continued to get rougher. If not held on to firmly, one can easily be thrown overboard the boat by the sudden bumps. The other two fishermen got sea sick and started throwing up in the sea. I couldn’t stop laughing at the irony. Me and Maithili sat in the centre of the boat and were transporting medicines and drinking water from Mahendra to these two. One of the two who got sick just sat grumpily at the bow of the boat by himself. I found it too funny and Mathili couldn’t stop pulling his leg.
Well, both of us were also tired because we had no food or water since 4 am and it was already 5 hours in the water and we were eager to go back to the land. As we made our way back, we greeted and waved at every passing boat. As we docked, Mahendra’s family welcomed us all back and were happy to see all day’s catch. 45 kilos of prawns. Everything else, the exotic variety, was for personal consumption, they have a fine taste for themselves!
We had Pakoras and tea with the family before they picked the fish out of the nets which is an even harder job as it takes another 6-8 hours. We thought that we should now leave that job to the experts and bid our goodbyes as we rode back terribly tired but with a sense of pride as we weathered the storm sitting on a wooden bench for 6 hours on the boat. We should carry cushions next time I told Maithili.
picture credits: Maithili
Akil was happy to see us. He got worried because both of us were missing since 4 in the morning. Telling him of our adventure, we drifted off to sleep. I couldn’t sleep on my back as my bottoms were sore and I laid dead on my stomach! In the evening we strolled in the streets of Goa reminiscing how quiet and beautiful it used to be once upon a time, how it has developed so rapidly and become so crowded over the years. Tourism is certainly taking a serious toll on it with so many establishments across Goa and it’s only going to get worse with the construction of the new airport in Mopa, near Arambol. The existing airport will be entirely under the Navy’s control. This means all the influx of tourism will be from the tip of north Goa. Also the construction of a proposed golf course by Delhi based hotel groups in Terekhol, is causing tense clashes between the authorities and the locals. Things are changing drastically in Goa. It will no longer be the paradise it was once upon a time!
Protesters put up sign boards in Keri/Terekhol
picture credits: Sumi Mathai
My last day in Goa was spent with Maithili, Akil and his friends over lunch at a very quiet restaurant by paddy fields famous for it’s fish thali. Akil has arranged a friend’s driver to drop me till airport since the cab drop was no less than 1400 Rupees. When I asked, why he do that for me, he told me that he was impressed by my energy and will to explore in spite of my shoe string budget. He said “You deserve it”. I hugged him and said goodbye to my new found friends (for life) assuring them that they will always have a home in Delhi.
Maithili, Akil and I
With gratitude and love, I left for Delhi to the life and people who have been waiting for me since past month and a half. I am looking forward to meet them eagerly and share my stories with them.
A part of this article is written by my dear friend Maithili