| Sarjit Kaur | Roti for the Soul | Asia Samachar | 19 Feb 2016 |
In the words of George Santayana, the earth has music for those who listen.
Sounds of crickets chirping, became our morning symphony. An ancient and regal tree would greet us, as I open our villa door. Her long branches intertwining her timeless body. Extended from her branch was a hand-like formation with slender fingers. As if, reaching out to us. A cool breeze swept my face. Ahh… it was wondrous, awakening to Mother Nature daily.
Thomas and Susan owned and managed this tranquil resort located North of Goa, where most of the attractions reside. Hacienda Goa Resort is surrounded by natural garden and greens. 17 of us classmates and fellow friends decided to embark on this soulful journey to India.
Our breakie was a familiar spread of South Indian delicacies prepared by Hacienda’s passionate and handsome Chef! They comprise fluffy idly, thosai, bhaji pau and uttapam accompanied by yellow lentils, coconut chutney, mint sauce and yoghurt. These are washed down with masala cha, brewed coffee or pomegranate juice. Hula-la, absolutely heavenly!
Rich Portuguese history
We would travel in our white majestic van to Cathedrals and Forts built by the Portuguese. They had significant influence judging from their 450-year rule here. India seized Goa from Portugal in 1961. The same time Malaya already had three ruling powers: the Portuguese, Dutch and British.
We visited Basilica of Bom Jesus Cathedral, a baroque architecture and UNESCO World Heritage site. She was showcased in the famous 1977 movie – Amar, Akbar Anthony about three brothers who were separated during childhood (a common story line those days!) and raised under different faiths represented by Amitabh Bachan, Vinod Khana and Rishi Kapoor respectively.
A sense of peace and calmness embeds this high ceiling sanctuary. She holds the mortal remains of Saint Francis Xavier whose missionary zeal took him all over Asia. His relics are kept in a silver casket elevated inside. His body was exhumed from St Paul’s Church in Malacca and brought to Goa and miraculously remain in a fairly ‘incorrupt’ condition all these years. “This revered Saint died an immortal”, explained my Christian-faith friend.
Our unknown past
We visited Aguada Fort along Sinquerim beach, overlooking the Arabian Sea. This rustic architecture of reddish-brown rock formation, had a Lighthouse within. It was built as a defense against the Dutch and Marathas then. It was a miraculous feeling, grounding our feet on this ancient soil and experiencing its historic presence. As if, we were taken back in time. To our unknown past …
There was a strange similarity between Malacca, the place I was born and grew up and this newfound place called Goa. St Francis Xavier’s statue at St Paul’s Hill and A Famosa fort were a stone’s throw away from our school, Sacred Heart Convent, where a number of our classmates were of Portuguese and Dutch descent. The sad difference is their Cathedrals and Forts remained intact while our A Famosa and St Paul’s Church have been reduced to ruins…
Variety – the Spice of Life
We took a walking excursion in Sahakari tropical Spice Farm, hovering 10 acres and housing the spices of the world. Goa was a famous trading port for spices in the 1500. Their locally grown spice, added flavor to prepared food and became a tenderizer for meats, hence sought after.
Seeing and touching spices in their natural form was a unique experience as compared to seeing them in their processed form in the grocery store. We learnt from our guide that peppercorn is the King of Spice accompanied by his Queen, cardamon. Cardamon when chewed, helps with memory and depression. Hmmm … just what we need in our four and five series years …
The hottest grown element is peri-peri or African bird’s eye. Think of Nandos chicken; you will think of peri-peri zapping thru your nostrils and escaping your head. We feasted our eyes on peppercorn seeds, nutmeg and cashew nut on trees. We squeezed oil extract from cloves and inhaled the exotic fragrance from vanilla shoots, cinnamon bark and coriander. And surrendered to the trickle of cool lavender water flowing down our spine. Little did we realise that by connecting to our senses, we were connecting to our souls.
While spices are called differently in their localised name across the world, one identity doesn’t change – their botanical name. Similar to our spirited soul. While we wear many hats in our worldly roles, our quest and purpose on earth remains one and of the same.
This trip was a real treat for spice and gourmet lovers and Master Chefs. The icing on the cake was our buffet Indian lunch served from earthy clay pots and coconut ladle. We also had a choice of their popular feni drink fermented from cashew nut, which has 45% alcohol content! Many added India’s famous cold Limca to neutralize its strong flavour.
Food for the Soul
The introduction to spices set the stage for our culinary experience thereafter. We could identify and savour diverse spices added in our dishes. Our first taste of Goan and Portuguese food was in O’Conqueiro where a famous criminal – Charles Sohbraj, also known as the bikini serial killer would drug and kill his victims. He was caught while dining here back in 1986 when he was using the only international phone line available. He loved the Chicken Cafral dish, which originated from Africa, localised with a strong blend of pepper and ginger. Our senses were definitely provoked as the owner related the story. Not sure if Charles or the food was the highlight of the event! Lilliput Café by the beach was another delightful Goan restaurant we visited.
The French spread at La Plage by the beach was fit for a King! We sat at a long table with natural sand as our flooring. Surrounded by palm trees and cool breeze; our feet soaked it its finesse. Our lunch comprise spinach risotto, grilled barramundi, cold carrot saffron soup, butter clams and mango and beetroot salad with feta cheese. A tanned French guy with curly locks took our orders. Outside the restaurant were little French and Indian boutiques selling intricately designed scarves, clothes and ornaments, using Indian cotton fabric and materials. A calm and lighted Buddha caught my attention. This was my present… A painting which was later autographed by the artist himself.
Thalassa Greek restaurant, which is situated on high ground, overlooks the Ozran beach. It offers a beautiful sunset view, similar to Ubud in Bali. We arrived there at 5.30 pm, all decked up in our best, for the occasion. We were reminded to be sharp on time, otherwise risk our reserved table being given up. Demand was exceptionally high!
I watched the sun set till the last orange line disappeared from the horizon. Just 2 minutes before its invisibility, I saw shades of lemon yellow, ochre and orange, layering this floating fire-ball. A stunning 3D dimension. It was simply magical watching the awe of this whole Surya episode. In total awareness and consciousness. The energy and light source of the Universe.
The design and ambience of Thalassa transports you back to Greece with its white décor, terrazzo flooring, rustic wooden shelters and cane furniture. We started off with their avocado, tuna and eggplant hummus with pita bread, feta cheese and olive oil. We then had a tantalizing spread of traditional Greek salad, risotto, succulent lamb kebabs, and fresh ocean seafood which included grilled fish wrapped in banana leaf and baked squid. The fish in Goa is exceptionally tender as they move fluidly in the ocean as compared to coastal fishes which has to negotiate the rocks, hence naturally having a firmer body.
We were treated to lively dance performances by vibrant Greek dancers. Our body and mind swayed to the beat of the music and breeze from the palm trees. As they were dancing, the owner of the restaurant would break plates on the ground, as an ancient mark of respect to the dancers. We were taken momentarily to a different world…
Diverse Communities and Culture
Their Saturday Night Arpora World Market takes you on a new-edge zone! Susan allocated 3 hours to visit this spot, however we responded confidently that we could finish within an hour. What we thought was a two-lane pasar malam stall, turned out to be organized rows of never-ending stalls in a mammoth open area, in a carnival-like setting with live band and music. Arpora showcases diverse cultures of international communities. We were spellbound and didn’t know where to start. We found Mexican burritos, Spanish Paella rice and ala Kenny Rogers grilled chicken served here. I was counting – 60 birds being grilled and rolling simultaneously in proper ovens. Seriously… if I was thrown in a parachute and landed here, I wouldn’t guess I was in India!
We saw Hippies laced in coloured and braided hair locks and endowed with tattoo. At the airport, a child opened his brick-like bag. Out from the bag, came his toys – which were dinosaurs! It reminded me of the Flintstones TV series, the modern stone-age family in Bedrock town. “They are generally ‘organic’ or close to nature”, explained my friend. As I watched them, the animation of Fred, Wilma, Pebbles and Dino came alive on this big Goan screen again.
Exquisite cotton salwar kameez with pencil thin and palazzo pants hung gracefully under various labels. Flavoured tea from Assam plantations were displayed in mini gunny sacks. Many of us spent significant time hunting for spices and ready-made masala to whip Goan meals back home. If you google the recipe for Goan dishes, the combination of spice ingredients is one mile long! Hence, best to buy them ready-made here.
The westerners in Goa leave for their home country between May to October during the monsoon season and return in November. Hence, economic and cultural activities surrounding places like Night Arpora Market, the likes of Thalassa Greek and La Plage Restaurants will not operate during these times. So it is paramount to plan the timing of your trip accordingly.
Shopping and Cruising
We also did some shopping at their Fab India outlet, famous for their cotton Indian motive tops and pants. We saw fashionable purses and handbags made from quality soft sheep and cow leather at reasonable prices at their leather shops. Some owners produce them big time in factories in Mumbai, which is just 1 ½ hours away by flight.
On board the River Mandoni cruise, we were entertained by the oh-so-familiar Ghay, Ghay, Ghay, Ghay, Ghay tune as the opening number, from the classic 1973 Bollywood movie – Bobby. Then came Portuguese dancers in red folk costume, dancing to the catchy Jingling Nona song.
Dolphin watching on our boat ride was another ‘rocking’ experience! I saw trails of continued waves, rushing towards us and forming an artificial seabed. Nope, the dolphins did not come out summersaulting and floating in the air, but enough to see their tails on two occasions. On our way back to the shore and remembering my spiritual teacher’s words, I silently prayed for all the living beings in the ocean. For their souls to be blessed and set free, so they can merge with our Creator.
Goa – Little Europe and A Melting Pot
How would I describe Goa?
A hybrid of India and Europe. The restaurants and night market run by the Portuguese, Greek and French operators by the beach front, make you feel like you are in Little Europe. She is also a melting pot of people and culture. Rich in history, boasting diverse communities and priding in its unique and spiced-laced food. That is gratifying Goa!
Looking back, Goa is the perfect destination to sell to keen travelers who have never been to India. Like a prelude to India. She is different compared to the authentic and predictable Indian cities I have visited namely Delhi, Amritsar, Mumbai and Hyderabad. Goa is also relatively cleaner and we were spared from stomach upset or diarrhea. Modi should capitalize and brand on her splendor, vibrancy and diversity.
Goa was peace and joy. She made us aware and conscious of our natural surroundings; she brought us back in time thru historic channels and to our unknown past; she provoked our taste buds with her rich spices. She stroked nostalgia with her Bollywood scenes and evergreens; she routed us to her tropical beaches and marine ocean; she connected us to her warm and diverse communities. We travelled the world and back in time – symbolically. She was our music. She was our soul.
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