Wednesday, May 19, 2010


We left Mumbai for Goa, a small state on the southwestern coast and a 13-hour train ride from Mumbai. We took an overnight airconditioned sleeper train for the lovely ride. This was our first A/C since arriving in India and after a few hours we finally cooled our body temperatures down to normal. The berths are set up in double layers and it is like a slumber party for adults with chai-wallahs and other food vendors plying the halls for most of the trip so you can buy snacks and tea at any time. Train travel is huge in India as it is an affordable way to get around this massive country, and people will spend days on trains getting to their destinations. There are different classes from 1st class air coditioned cars with linen and service to sitting packed like sardines on hard wooden benches with only the open windows to cool the car. Besides frying our computer adaptor by plugging it in to charge, the ride was otherwise very pleasant and uneventful and we woke up the next day in Madgao, Goa, rested and ready to hit the beach.

Goa was colonized by the Portugese who came over in the 1500s and converted many people to Christianity, and only recently left in the 1960s. The Portugese influence can still be felt in the many Catholic churches, the last names of people (Fernandes, Rames, etc.), the language and the food. It is known as being a very laid-back place and westerners have been coming since hippie times to hang out on the beautiful beaches. The coastline is all white, sandy, palm-tree filled beaches and we settled on a beach in the south called Palolem, a 1-mile strip of temporary beach huts and restaurants, all advertising the same “multi-cuisine” menu of Indio-Italian-Chinese-Israeli-thai-goan and seafood. Since it's low season, the beach is in the process of shutting down for the next few months of monsoons, so prices are cheap and negotiable and things shut down, however signs of the high-season scene were evident everywhere: yoga on the beach, aryuvedic massage, meditation workshops, tai chi and Goan cooking classes.

We got a "coco hut" on the beach for a few bucks per night and settled in for 5 days of what felt like an undeserved (but still welcome) beach vacation. The heat was much more tolerable with the sea breezes and the ocean to cool off in and the water was warm and inviting. We spent some days just hanging out, reading, playing in the waves, drinking fruit lassis and eating Goan fish curry rice. On our second day there, we were approached by a local restaurant owner who asked if we were interested in being extras in a Bollywood movie that was filming at a near-by beach resort. They offered food and drink for the entire day and 1000 Rupees (about $20) and since we really had no other plans, we accepted.

The day started at 8 am and about 30 other white tourists of all kinds were bused to the set, which was just a nearby beach, and were instructed to hang out under umbrellas until they needed us for shooting. A bus of Indian tourists and locals also showed up to be extras. Indian women are very modest, however, and do not wear bathing suits on the beach. If they do swim, they wear all their clothes or a sari, so all the white ladies provided the skin. We spent the day baking, gawking at the Bollywood stars, all of whom are quite famous, we were reassured by some of the Indians, and walking on cue during the scenes. The movie is called Golmaar III and as you can guess by the title, is a “threequel” and we were not able to gather from the explanations what the movie is exactly about, but our scene involves some jet skis and the stars being chased by a jet ski and some very melodramatic physical comedy….and not much in the way of acting. We got an autograph and a picture with Johnny Lever, a famous comedian, and got some surreptitious shots of the other young stars, all of whom are chased by personal assistants with umbrellas to keep them out of the sun (and keep them from getting tan as dark skin is not considered beautiful), make up and hair people, a person to carry the cell phone, and a whole host of other helpers and quasi-directors. As extras, we had to walk around on the beach a lot—strange because most people lay in the sun when they go to the beach and this looked like a scene from a busy park with all of us strolling in different directions—and most of the people who sign up to be extras are backpackers living on peanuts in India, so there are a lot of dreadlocks and aging hippies in the crowd. Anyways, the movie releases in November so make sure to look out for us in our Bollywood debut!

We spent 2 days touring other parts of Goa on a Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle, a common bike here in India, but more of a classic collectors item in the US, I have been reassured by my husband who was very excited to drive us around. It was actually a perfect way to see the landscape and capture some of the subtleties that you don’t see from a bus window, but cover some ground. Plus, it was cool to ride on the back of a bike—but don’t think this means that I have changed my mind at all about the safety of these things. We braved the crazy Indian drivers who honk before passing, but then take slower trucks on hills around blind curves at breakneck speeds or drive without their lights or on the wrong side of the road. We toured some unpopulated beaches, stopping on the way to admire cashew trees (the fruit is sweet and tastes like cashews) and some Hindu temples. We visited an old Portugese coastal fort and were offered coconuts from a family who just climbed a palm tree to go them. We ate fish curry and prawns at a little local restaurant and saw some smaller towns and villages. We also spent a day touring Panaji, the current capital of Goa, and then stopped in Old Goa, the former capital, that was abandoned due to cholera and malaria and the plague in the 18th century. Old Goa has several huge Portugese-style churches and one in particular that houses the relics of a saint, and many Indian Christians were making a pilgrimage to the town, enduring the ridiculous heat to pray and offer devotion.

We wound up our trip to Goa after 6 days, managing to find an electrician who took our adaptor apart and fixed the blown fuse, and, even though the trains are mostly booked out for the next 6 weeks because all of India is on their summer vacation, we were able to somehow secure train tickets to our next destination. We left the laid back beaches on a blissfully air conditioned day train and traveled inland to the state of Karnatika, arriving in the town of Hospet and then, in 110 degree weather, boarded a bus that took us to Hampi.

For more pictures of Goa, click here.

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