If you’re wondering where I’ve been for the last ten days the Northerner and I have been enjoying an Indian summer, quite literally. After 35 years I finally managed to visit my ancestral homeland. We didn’t have the luxury of time to adopt a pseudo-nomadic existence exploring the country’s 25 different states; so instead we opted to take in the delights of Goa.
The former Portuguese colony (the buildings bear all the hallmarks) attracts more than 2 million visitors every year. Goa hugs India’s western coastline with the Arabian Sea lapping at its shores. The best time to go is at the end of October, when the monsoon has subsided. But typically we decided to test the waters. If you don’t mind a downpour in the middle of the day – and we’re not talking about a quick shower like the ones in Britain – then you’ll experience a refreshingly different side to Goa.
Why did we go in September? Well if I haven’t told you already, I’m about to become a full-time student again. Next week I start my Mres (Masters of research) in Primate Biology Behaviour & Conservation after completing my undergrad degree modules! The last year has certainly been a journey.
During our trip I was hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the wild mammals found in Goa, especially the monkeys. But like most species they’ve fallen victim to hunting and retreated to some of the most inaccessible areas of the Western Ghats, which border Karnataka.
Out of tourist season, things move much slower than the already laid back pace found in Goa. The north and the south are divided by the Mandovi river, which has now become a hot-spot for moored casino-boats. With 70 rupees to the sterling pound, many Westerners can gamble like Kings. A lot of the hawkers have now left and shut up shack as there are few visitors to sell to. The areas away from the coast play host to magnificent churches; temples and mosques – a mish-mash of religions bound together. Old Goa a few kilometres from the state capital Panjim, has been declared a World Heritage Site.
For the next 6 weeks the beaches will remain deserted but the sea has a presence you simple can’t ignore. The waves are high and come crashing down with such force it’s strangely hypnotic to watch. The swells churn up the seabed turning crystal blue waters to a muddy grey. Red flags flap furiously and pepper the shoreline, a clear warning to any foolhardy swimmers. The humidity is stifling and despite the cloud cover, the sun is still very strong making you crave the coolness of the seawater.
Even marine life struggles to survive in these conditions. During an eight mile walk down the coast from Arossim to Colva we saw a number of creatures, rejected by the ocean and left to die in the heat.
But the best part of the monsoon season is that the rain breathes new life into the landscape and Goa turns a vibrant green that’s almost illuminous – everything sparkles. India is home to some of the most beautiful animals in the world: tigers; elephants; leopards and of course monkeys – bonnet macaques and Hanuman langurs. Sadly the only primate I got a good look at was the hairy Manc by my side.
We visited one of the spice plantations taking in the exotic smells and learnt about the healing properties of many of the plants. Farmers will do anything to safeguard their crops and our guide told us that wildlife, especially monkeys are seen as opportunist pests and people have no trouble shooting them on sight. I was somewhat relieved that I didn’t have to witness this behaviour.
The market in Mapusa (pronounced Mapsa) makes for an interesting day out. Vegetables, meat, spices and fish sit side by side, a strange concoction of smells hangs in the air, not all of them pleasant, but certainly memorable. I definitely want to return to India for a closer inspection only next time I hope I’ll have photos of wild monkeys instead of dead fish to share with you all.