Posted by: itsme | August 27, 2010

South Goa

I certainly don’t want to walk the entire day carrying my backpack. I head to the railway station at Madgaon to dump it at the cloak room. But bags can be deposited in the cloak room only with a valid train ticket.

‘Can I get a ticket in Netravati Express for Kasargod?’ I ask over the counter.

‘It’s a late evening train. The ticket will be issued only after six,’ replies the man.

‘But I need a ticket to put my stuff in the cloak room,’ I complain.

‘You can buy a platform ticket. That’s enough,’ he suggests.

I take a platform ticket for three rupees, dump my backpack at the cloak room and carry just a few things for my day tour of South Goa.

Selling jaggery in the market

Selling jaggery in the market

Madgaon is a busy place. In particular, the market nearby is quite interesting, selling all sorts of things. The smells of freshly baked cookies, cakes and bread tempt shoppers who never previously planned to buy anything from this bakery. Packets of fried snacks is another tempting experience – from jackfruit chips to tapioca chips, from spicy mixtures to palak murukku. I try something called kaju mela. It is a mix of coconut and jaggery, flattened and round, and decorated at the center with a whole cashew. It is sticky and sweet. The taste of jaggery is strong and the texture mainly comes from the shreds of coconut gelled together by the coagulated paste of jaggery. The taste of cashew is overpowered by the jaggery. Another speciality about Goa is something called the xacuti. I have not had the chance to try this condiment commonly used in Goan cuisine. I buy a packet of this powder and hope to give it a try when I am back home.

Outside the market a group of men and women are selling fish. Goan women make quite a picture, the way they wear their sarees and the way they decorate their buns of hair with flowers. No flower is spared – jasmine, hibiscus, lily, marigold, chrysanthemum, carnation – they all come together to make a great display. A Goan woman who sell fish to me represents the quintessential Goan woman.

Madgaon, like Panaji, has lots of old colonial buildings in vivid colours and with beautiful windows. Some windows are rectangular, some contain a rounded arch and others have a pointed arch. Arches frame windows with trefoils or in one case five foiled design. The building now housing Sri Sri Ashram has the most interesting window design – bascially a five-foil pattern with a pinched point at the apex and the cusping is reversed so that it is convex on the inside.

I need to find a decent place for lunch. I ask a passer-by and without hesitation he directs me to Paanchali, a restaurant down a side road. The place has a relaxing ambience and is extremely clean. I order a Goan thali for Rs. 55. Thinly sliced aubergine breaded with rava and pan fried was simply superb. It was crisp and wasn’t oily at all. It was quite different from the way Bengali like to do their aubergines. A dry dish of coconut shreds mixed with pieces of papad was interesting. Sambar was thick and tasty. It wasn’t the conventional South Indian sambar. Perhaps, this is xacuti. Yellow peas in a kurma with coconut milk once again reinforced the Goan love for coconut. There was another dish of gourd with coconut. A rose coloured liquid had a weird taste. I couldn’t make out if it was supposed to be buttermilk or its Goan replacement. I mixed it with rice and ate. Curd was thick the way I like it. Gulab jamun was excellent.

Chandor is a village some miles outside Madgaon. My guidebook tells me that Chandor is home to one of the grandest colonial mansions of Goa, the Braganza-Perreira/Menezes-Braganza house. The entire house was once the residence of Braganze de Perreira, the last knight of the King of Portugal. Today the house is owned in two parts by the descendents of the knight. I have no great interest in seeing this mansion but I am quite curious to see what it has to offer. A mansion as this is quite un-Indian and it will add some variety to my journeys.

For some reason, I can’t get a bus to Chandor but I get a bus to a place called Guirdolim. I am told that Chandor is just a few minutes walk across the railway line. So I sit in this slow bus through Goan countryside. Old colonial buildings pass by, tucked snuggly in midst of large courtyards, picket fences, overgrown gardens and widespread paddy fields. The landscape is green wherever I look. I pass many little villages with pretty churches. The ones at Curtorim and Macasana are two such churches. When I arrive at Chandor, I see that it too has a church with a pretty facade. The facade has highlights of pointed arches and pointed pinnacles on its two small towers. A small belfry stands delicately on top of the gable. Inside the church I find a group practising Christian songs to the accompaniment of a violin.

The facade of Chandor's mansion

The facade of Chandor's mansion

The mansion stands on two levels. On the higher level are long windows with trefoil arches. The windows open to small balconies supported on brackets. With so many little balconies, it gives the impression of a hotel. The design is indeed strange. These balconies all open out from the same long room. A long running window shade with sloping tiles cover all the balconies.

At the center of this facade I find an archway leading to an inner stairway. I open the gate and take to the little approach path. The wide gardens on both sides have an uncertain wild appeal. They are clearly not being maintained. Even the building for that matter does not inspire grandeur or awe. Its once glorious days are long gone along with the knights and their chivalry.

An old woman is eyeing me from one of the balconies on the wing that stretches to my right.

‘You want to see the house?’ she asks.

‘Yes.’

‘Come up.’

I go up the stairs and at the landing I find two doors, each one leading to a separate part of the house, now separately owned. The left door leading to the Menezes-Braganze section, opens. The old woman appears at the door. Strangely there is no smile on her face. She opens the door halfway as if afraid to let me in. I somehow feel I am intruding on her private spaces.

‘Hundred rupees,’ she says.

I gather this is the entry fee to see the house. It sounds excessive. I have never paid this much for any place in India. Even the palaces of Jaipur and Amber are cheaper. I am tempted to tell her that I am Indian, not a foreigner. Her stern glare has me tongue-tied. I feel like a student being chastised, unable to ask or argue. I pay her.

‘This is for my collection box,’ she opens a little woodcrafted box and puts the money in it. I see that there is nothing else in it.

The house has beautiful wooden furniture, high chandeliers, long mirrors and porcelein ware from Europe and China. I don’t know if earlier generations used to live here with so many things or if these have been displayed here merely as exhibits for visitors. The spaces are cramped. I would have liked more room to walk around. On one wall hangs her great grandfather, Francis Xavier Braganza, in a large standing portrait. Though the house has many splendid exhibits, I remember more the way in which the old woman showed me around than the exhibits themselves.

The tour is like a well-rehersed routine. I am expected to follow her quietly and not wander away on my own. I have no chance of admiring any exhibit for more than a few seconds.

‘This is rosewood, 200 years old,’ she says pointing to a piece of furniture. A little later, ‘This is from China, 150 years old.’

I am not particularly interested in such details but I pretend to be impressed by the age of things.

‘This is amber from Burma. This is an enamelled vase from China. This one is from India. This is a chair 300 years old.’

Yes, I can see that it’s a chair. I am trying hard to remember these trivial facts. I am beginning to think that she may have a quiz for me at the end of the tour.

‘This is the bedroom. These are four-poster beds. The bedspread is made by me,’ she points to a white spread of delicate lacework. I am impressed by this personal touch.

‘This piano is not working but can be repaired,’ she says in the ballroom. To be certain that I have heard it, ‘It can be repaired.’ I get the idea. It’s not yet worthless planks of polished wood. A Goan housemaid is swabbing the floor with a wet cloth and a pail of water. The chadelier lights in the ballroom are switched off as we walk to the next space.

‘This is a dinner set for twenty four,’ she says pointing to the contents of a corner glass cabinet. ‘Pattern was given, colour was given. You can see the initials FXB.’

‘These chairs are like the ones in Buckingham Palace,’ she flashes a faded and laminated photo of some room in the palace. I can hardly see the chairs in the picture let alone any similarity.

‘This is for carrying people. This is a side sofa. This is Portuguese silver. This is English silver. This is a …’

It is simply too much and too many to remember. I’m afraid I am going to fail the quiz. The tour comes to an abrupt end. It has lasted only ten minutes.

‘Can I look around for a while?’ I make a request. I half-expect Portuguese soldiers in heavy armoury to pop out of walls and attics and have me impaled for this insolence. Reluctantly she nods. She follows me through the rooms and eyes me like a hawk. I can almost sense a typical aristocractic scorn. I am a nobody in her eyes.

In time, I take my leave, thank her for the wonderful tour and walk out. The property is really much bigger than the rooms I have been shown. A wider tour of the property would have been better to appreciate the overall architecture of the house rather than just seeing period artefacts from different parts of the world. I skip the other wing owned by Braganza-Perreira.

I return to Madgaon in what can be called another slow and beautiful bus ride. The rain is falling slowly. The green fields seem to turn greener in such weather. Thick vegetation greets the eye everywhere. Monsoon is the season when everything in Goa is bursting with life. It is the season of renewal and abundance. It is like a blessing. It is nature at her beautiful best.

Back at Madgaon, I realize that I have time to visit temples near Ponda, a place few miles away. But my luck for the day has wornout. There are no direct buses. I get off at the wrong stops. I get delayed waiting for buses. At 7 pm I am stranded a few miles beyond a place named Manguesh without actually visiting the temple at Manguesh. I am getting concerned about getting back to Madgoan. So I skip the temples and return to Madgaon. In the evenings, the returning crowds of middle-class workers, make every scene busy. The buses are packed. Bus stations are a hive of activity. Markets are filled with exotic smells and shouts. When the night lights come on, everything can be experienced again in a new light.

At Madgaon, I have dinner at Swad. The rasam is strong and burning hot but the rest of the meal is alright. I enjoy a typical fresh South Indian coffee. It will keep me awake as I sit through my journey to Kasargod by Netravati Express.

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