The cab to YVR arrives on the dot of 0900. Inside it smells faintly of damp wool and cardamom. The driver, Indy, short for Inderjit, is pleased to hear we are going to India, but disappointed it is not a trip to the Punjab, where he was born, has family, owns a house, and is heading in a few days. What are the chances that our travels would coincide so closely?!
As he and Craig launch into a debate about Indian politics I try not to worry that we will end up rerouting to Amritsar in order to visit Craig’s new best friend. An auspicious start to a trip I’ve not been especially looking forward to. The last trip to the Asian subcontinent saw me high-tailing it home with a nasty case of hepatitis.
But that was 1985, pre-bottled water (no more need to travel with a camp stove and iodine tablets to boil and purify the pathogen-laden water) and pre-Dukoral, the oral anti-cholera vaccine now available.
We leave Vancouver at noon on Friday and arrive in Goa at noon on Sunday. Its an 11 hour flight to Shanghai, a 5 hour stop-over there, a 7 hour flight to Delhi that cannot land due to fog and a “technical problem” with the plane, and is diverted to Jaipur, where we sit on the runway awaiting further instruction. After a 2 hour stint in Jaipur, a 1 hour flight back to Delhi, and a 4 hour stop there we board our final 2 hour flight to Goa. The last leg is an hour cab ride from the Goa airport to our hotel in Anjuna. That’s 22 hours of flying and 13 hours in airports. Add in the 11 hour time change and our bodies are tired, jet-lagged and thoroughly confused, but glad to be on the ground. Even Indian ground!
We’ve travelled east to west, which is supposed to be easier on the circadian rhythms, in that we’ve followed the sun, although as the sun does not really move, we haven’t so much followed it as traveled in the opposite direction to the earth’s rotation around the sun. The earth has been turning toward the east and we’ve been going west, fast enough to outrun time in that at every destination we adjust our watches earlier and earlier. But this is an illusion as we crossed the International Date Line mid-Pacific Ocean and lost a day by adding 24 hours. We’ll get it back on the return trip home.
India is a huge country and it varies greatly by region. Goa, the state where we start our trip, is on the west coast just south of Mumbai. Founded by Vasco de Gama in the late 15th, Goa was formerly a Portuguese colony and only became part of India in 1961. Its location on the Arabian Sea in the Indian Ocean, close to Africa and the middle east, was what drew the Portuguese in the first place and it’s capital Panaji was an important trading port.
Today Goa has the highest GDP among all Indian states and boasts the highest standard of living. And yet, the chaos and squalor seen across India is apparent here too in the many tiny shacks, some nothing more than a few sticks and pieces of plastic, the two lane shoulderless roads turned into three and four lanes to accommodate trucks, buses, scooters, cows, goats and pedestrians, the piles of garbage.
But, there is also much to dazzle the eyes with the profusion of lush greenery and colourful blooms, stunningly beautiful women garbed in richly hued silk saris and salwar kameez, grand colonial architecture and Portuguese villas.
Our hotel, the Casa Anjuna (http://casaboutiquehotels.com/hotel/casa-anjuna/), is in the heart of Anjuna village and a 5 minute walk to the beach. Its set in a massive tropical garden. The interior is reminiscent of a 19th century merchant’s home. But the biggest draw is the pool. The first order of business after we unpack is to dive in. Then a curry lunch at a pool-side table.
After lunch we venture out onto the street in front of the hotel and walk to the beach. A couple of cows fall into step with us. They wander the streets and the beach completely unsupervised, eating garbage and annoying drivers trying to get by them.
Some places end up having photographic motifs, recurring themes that seem to dominate the images. In Croatia it was the cats, in Tanzania the elephants, in Uganda the bananas, in Ecuador the churches. Our sense thus far is that in India its going to be the cows!
This is not our first time in Goa. Thirty-two years ago we spent a week here in a squalid bungalow just down the beach from where we are today. We wondered what, if anything, has changed. The restaurants are more plentiful and upscale, with trendy names, like Om, Karma, Krishna and Goa’s Ark. There are more massage & tattoo parlours and even a paint-ball arena and a waterslide park. And there are way more tourists, mostly young backpackers and Indian families. They all have cellphones, which means lots of selfies, particularly for the women, while the men stand to the side yelling into their phones.
But the dirt roads, charcoal fires, flea market and crumbling buildings are much the same. The prices are still rock-bottom and this means that the hippies who were here in the 80s continue to live dirt cheap and so there are more of them too.
The Indian people are amongst the happiest and friendliest of anywhere we have traveled. They smile and greet us. Some ask if we want anything … hashish, cocaine, taxi? Several want to have their photos taken with us. One especially beautiful woman’s husband insists he take a photo of me with her and then asks for my hat so he can take a photo of her wearing it. She spoke not a word and I don’t think she understood English … she just kept smiling and posing.
It’s crowded, noisy, dusty and chaotic but Goa is a great place to start the trip, to recover from the insane marathon of getting here, reset our body clocks and get into travel mode.