Goa, India’s smallest state, was formerly colonised by the Portugese and its influence remains in the Portugese surnames, roadside crosses and impressive old churches. There are also a lot of old Portugese-style villas around; Simon and I stayed at the Marbella Guest House which had been highly recommended by the Lonely Planet guide – and with good cause. It was beautifully restored and a great place to base ourselves during our trip, though we were quite reliant on taxis to go further afield.
Goa is to Brits what Bali or Thailand is to Aussies – so the place is thick with tourists from the UK and Europe who want a cheap and sunny escape from their biting winter. That said, it was an extremely enjoyable place to pass the rest of our time in India.
The beaches are not a patch on the beaches in Australia but for the first time we both got to see a sunset over the horizon.
The primary reason we were motivated to go here after Delhi was because I had come across a five day cooking class offered by a savvy British tour operator called india on the menu. It was expensive but I think it was worth what we paid given the amount of hours put in and how much we learnt. We learnt how to cook food from the different regions of India (ie. North India, South India, Goa and other regional) as well as some of our favourites. The lessons took place on four out of five days, and lasted about four hours each morning in a private home in Betim. At the end of each day we got to feast on what we had made.
There were four of us in the class: Simon and myself and two Scots, Mark (half Scottish-half Chinese) and his mum Mary (Mauritian-born Chinese). The teacher’s name was Judy, an Indian who had grown up in Africa. Thrown in the mix was a Nepalese servant girl named Punjari who was particularly skillful at using a grinding stone to make garam masala.
One of the days of our cooking class was spent in a local market in Mapusa where the local Goans shop for food. There were also other businesses there like a man who operated a mill which was where people came to grind their spices. I came home with a few cones of roasted grams which has an addictive nutty taste.
I love a good market place but of all the markets I’ve visited in the world, this one was definitely one of the more interesting ones. It’s a bit of a cliché to say this, but India truly is a feast of colour.
On one of the last days we were in Goa, we did a tour of South Goa. It was a bit of a bumpy ride – we were on a bus full of Indian tourists and the commentary was in Hindi. Simon and I also proved to be a bit of a novelty; people found it hard to get their heads around our long distance relationship.
At lunch we stopped at a dodgy roadside restaurant where there were lots of flies milling about. As I hung about after I had bravely eaten some dahl and rice, I saw all these women carrying enormous bundles of sticks on their heads. That in itself was kind of incredible, but what really struck me was how beautifully attired these women were. There’s something really moving and dignified in the way Indian women dress, no matter what their social station in life is. I’ve retained so many mental images from India of brightly coloured saris emerging from brown, dusty and sometimes slummy areas. Somehow it gives me hope that we’ll be okay.