Not too shabby…
‘I’m gonna get married in a white and gold sarong on a beautiful beach in Goa with palm trees and turquoise sea’. Thus proclaimed I, at the tender age of 13, having just seen stunning photos of palm-filled beaches framed by soft blue seas and deciding that the white meringue option in my local church was not for me. And here I am, categorically not getting married, aware of the immense impracticalities of wearing white anything, but nevertheless on a beautiful beach in Goa fringed with palm trees and lapped by a turquoise sea.
One of the huge privileges of my career is the ability to easily travel to those places that Thomas Cook bills as paradise. A mere four hours from Bangkok to Mumbai, and I’m on a beach in Goa within the same day. I’m staying at Patnem, allegedly Palolem’s more mature older brother, more suited to yoga buffs and older fuddy-duds like me, rather than the clubbing or cool backpacker crowd to which, I fear, I shall never belong. From the beach bar next door, soft murmurs of sitars patter over relentless drum beats, a melodic pipe echoes a call-and-response voice pattern punctuated over the top underpins the primal roar of the ocean as white foam rushes up the sandy slope before being dragged back, tumbling. Hitchcock’s murder of crows are hanging about, either waiting for the next corpse or just after some discarded fruit, who can tell? I swear one with a particularly evil looking beak just croaked ‘hello’ at me. Creepy. Next thing it will be saying my name and trying to peck my entrails. Either that, or it’s got crow laryngitis.
Breakfast by the sea
I crunch into yielding golden pineapple and smile when my arm is nudged by the soft furry nose of my latest doggy companion. Yesterday I was the subject of amused smiles when I walked down the small street of tourist shops like the blimmin Pied Piper with two streetdogs in tow. ‘You have new friends!’ guffawed one elderly Indian man pointing and laughing at a brown dog and white patchy dog trailing eagerly behind me (ever with the creativity I have named them Brownie and Patch). Their doggy loyalty even stretched so far last evening to get up and mooch over to where a tourist was handing them a tortilla crisp, crunch on it, before returning to mean old me who refuses to feed them despite their best Shrek Puss in Boots eye impressions. I swear I must give off ‘come hang out here doggies I will love you forever and we can be eternal buddies’ vibes. This morning I reward Patch with a perfunctory pat on his nose before he settles down under my table and snoozes in his best Asia streetdog fashion, feet flicking as he dreams of rabbits. He is probably worn out from his earlier antics of trying to catch (flying) crows. Admittedly not the brightest spark, but cute all the same.
Patch, one of many new doggy friends. Ssh don’t tell my Myanmar doggy!
A slight feeling of ickiness is overcoming me, that post-flight feeling of having partaken in mass germ consumption at 30,000 feet, so I have ordered a fresh fruit salad and a papaya juice. Given I’ve also taken a multivit this morning this is probably overkill and I am missing the amazing lentil puree that was bestowed unto me for my breakfast yesterday, along with a cardamom infused cup of chai (real Indian chai!). Fortunately, it’s a good feeling to know I have twenty one more amazing meals here. Phew. Probably just about enough opportunity to get my daal fix. Yesterday’s lunch was a glowing red tandoori mushroom and onion kebab with perfectly withered golden chips and a feisty Indian salad. It felt a bit odd, eating it without having been totally hammered first, and took me right back to our local kebab shop in Boston, albeit much much better. Dinner last night was paneer butter masala with stuffed kulchi. Yes, I am actually in food heaven. It’s so refreshing to have vegetarian dishes listed first, and the non-veggy meals being an afterthought, and, indeed existing only as a negation of veggy- haha! And not a tofu burger in sight.
Yesterday, in the spirit of adventurousness, I’d bravely gone to enquire about a Goan cookery course three huts up, all geared up to brazenly do it on my own if no-one else was. ‘Closed this season now’. Ah. Not to be deterred, I headed to the yoga hut, thinking that maybe, just maybe, if I tried yoga for the 30th time and in India I might start to enjoy it. ‘Class for intermediates is tomorrow’. Ah ok, how about beginners then? Tomorrow, apparently, the teacher could show me modifications. Are there any other beginners? Not really. Ah. OK. I don’t attend the public shame session but do put it on my to-do list to find a beginner’s class back at home and give it ooooone more chance.
Soft evenings: the best part of the day for me here
The evenings are gorgeous. I take a dip in the sea, spending most of the time trying not to drown under the not inconsiderable rollers and breakers, laughing with an older couple as we get repeatedly drenched in warm soothing waves. After de-oceaning, I wander up the beach as the shimmer of a sun preparing for sleep lights up the beach in a golden hue. A lithe and apparently unshy yoga girl does a full salute to the sun, her body a perfect silhouette against the soft tangerine sky, oblivious to a plump pasty British couple who decide this was a perfect photo op. A group of older men kick a football around. Bored Dads jump eagerly at the opportunity to flex some muscles and exhibit some brawn to their young sons as they pitch in with the locals to help push a beached boat over wooden rollers down to the ocean. Young local boys finish up their cricket game as the light fades, and walk home, dragging the bat behind them and hitting rocks with the wickets. Waiters place shyly flickering candles in hurricane lamps onto checked tables, the beach becoming a blanket of small tranquil lights.
Fuzzy phone shot: a video would have been better, this girl was seriously bendy…
Finally gorged out on tikka masala and this feast for my eyes, I return to my sunshine yellow hut, and sprawl out on my bed. I am under the safety of my mosquito cover, bathed in the sporadic light from my frantically swinging lightbulb caught in the variable current of the electric fan, crying over Monsoon Wedding. The pathos is somewhat disrupted by the slightly off-key live music from the bar and the hacking-must-be-dying cough of the young guy next door. My thoughts drift to my next destination: Mumbai. I am terrified and exhilarated in equal measure, and have already had a glimpse of the gut-wrenching contrast of the slums against the stately skyscrapers from my plane. I’ve always been a fan of Rohinton Mistry and this, coupled with reading more recently the heartbreaking true story ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’ and am fully aware that this Goa week is very much ‘India Light’, and that I will likely have far more to think about than some dodgy music and loud respiratory hacking. It is a sobering thought and I am beginning to understand those who write that India will show both her beauty and her ugliness openly.
Standard evening fare…
My thoughts return to more mundane things, such as who the hell just bit me inside the net, and I engage in an obsessive mozzy crackdown. I kneel up, poised, ready, peeling my eyes and remembering Jurassic Park quotes about vision-based movement. I hear the shrill ‘eeeee’ towards my right ear. I rotate keenly, and locate the bugger. I am just about to upset the Buddhists when, ‘bam’: powercut. Movie off, light off, fan off, dodgy live music off. I abort mission mozzy, and hope that once he’s had his three courses and is pleasantly full he’ll stop biting and go and sit down somewhere with a bloated stomach to watch Eastenders, rather than see it as an ‘all you can eat’ buffet opportunity. I lie back, deflated, and try to ignore the invasive movement of the vast quantity of beach I’ve managed to drag into bed with me. A wry smile falls over my face as I realise that I have defaulted to my Myanmar-nurtured ‘oh well night time powercut might as well sleep’ position. I fall asleep, cocooned under my sarong to the soporific roar-rhythm of the waves pummelling the sand.
Apologies for fuzzy photos! I forgot to bring my SLR camera cable so India is all on mobile 🙂 d’oh…