Sunday, January 11, 2015

Life's a Goa beach - from Cansaulim to Colva

Life on Goa beaches begins well before dawn, sometimes around midnight, when the hardy fishermen venture out to sea. Until not too many years ago, the boats used to be human and wave powered. These days many fishermen have fixed little engines and propellers to complement the oars used for guidance. Fishermen often return at daybreak, sort out the catch and let the baskets and nets dry on the sand. 

The nets are laid out on the sand to dry, and fisherfolk sometimes repair the nylon nets before rolling them up in piles on top of the boats. The structure of the boats are occasionally repaired by applying coating of cashew extract to the sides of the boats to aid bonding and to toughen the boats against corrosion. The next step is to wait for favourable winds and tides. Preparation for the fishing expedition on the following night therefore constitutes a complex set of operations. The maze of nets lying in the early morning sun looks like a work of beach-art. 

Hungry crows try their luck looking for bits of fish that may have been left behind on the sand as the fisherfolk remove, clean and sort the catch of the day. The catch then finds its way to the local markets through a chain of intermediaries. 

The waves that had lapped the beach the previous night leave a variety of living creatures and non-living objects on the beach. Sea weeds are commonly found. I wonder where they go after a while, they seem to disappear. Maybe the waves reclaim them. Or, is sea weed soup made out of the lost sea weed? 

Sometimes tree branches in interesting shapes are seen looking very lonely and lost. Sometimes colourfully patterned jellyfish find themselves marooned on the sand. 

Not so interesting to look at jelly fish species are also stranded, some appear to guard the burrows that are the homes of crabs. Scurrying crabs are generally too quick to photograph. 

As the beach stirs to life, boat operators and visitors also appear. First the boat and jet-ski operators. Then visitors like this group who I chatted with. They were getting set to go away on a fishing expedition for half a day, well equipped with fishing rods, bait, rum, more rum, soft drinks and water.  "Show me the rum. Let me see the rum", one of them insisted. The boat operators had to open the "ice box" and prove that there was adequate supply to last the duration of the trip. Maybe they had Drunken Prawns on the shopping list, sorry, fishing list. 

The cool (by Goa standards) mornings and evenings were perfect for small strolls. Most of our early morning or mid day or evening strolls were around the 3 to 5 km range. Sometimes solo, sometimes all three of us. 

Strolling along South Goa beaches from Cansaulim to Colva, and on occasion further south to Varca, is an activity that I've got extremely fond of. The family appears to like doing a subset of that. Several small walks during the day have become common activities during our holidays.  

Some of our walks are before breakfast. Some of our walks are after breakfast.  Breakfast is open from 7 AM to 10:30 AM. We've stayed at Pristine Resort several times over the past four years. Less than a kilometer away from Arossim Beach, along a quiet path that winds past the Park Hyatt property.

Our late morning strolls often stretch from Arossim to Betalbatim, past Utorda and Majorda. Young and dynamic Prajay Kalekar, the owner of Magzika, takes great care of us, taking great personal interest in our orders. Non-veg for the boys, Veg for lady. In deference to the wishes of some customers who may be sensitive, Magzika beach shack has the unique distinction of maintaining separate areas, utensils, oil and stoves for Veg and Non-veg cooking.   

Most lunch sessions turn out to be rather relaxed outings, lasting up to late afternoons. Drinks, starters, main course and fruits. 

Rachedo-masala grilled fish for two is a superb main course for the non-vegetarians. The fish weighs in at about 800 grams, just right for two, grilled in the tandoor, and is accompanied by a varied assortment of salad, rice, french fries, potato in jackets and fruits.  

Meanwhile, the local Feni drink flows over the hours, the number of slices of lime being a good indicator of the number of drinks downed.

The shack mascot gets very comfortable at my feet during the course of the afternoon. 

The mascot believes it is a good idea to change positions now and then, and typically goes through three to four changes during the afternoon. 

Another choice for lunch was the well known Fishka restaurant in Betalbatim on the street opposite the Alila Diwa resort. 

Fishka believes in reusing bottles, being deployed as light fittings all over the restaurant, on the walls and ceiling. I'm quite certain it's a pretty sight after dark. 

The lengthening shadows caused by the low, late afternoon sun gently escort us as we walk the few kilometres from Betalbatim to Majorda, and then to Utorda. 

Junior stops now and then and tries his hand at his age old hobby, which is beach, sea, sun and cloud photography.  

There's something in the Goa beaches for everyone, beginning with children just a few years old. 

This parachute seems to have traveled a long way. Generally there are two people hanging, in this case we can see only one. Did one marine drop off into the ocean on the way?  

The evening is a good time to settle down on the sand and check some photos that have been taken during the day with my handy point-and-shoot. 

Junior wanders around, trying to find the perfect shot of the setting sun, clouds and waves. 

Time to admire more beach art during sunset. A group of youngsters from Delhi has built this walled city. They said it has taken four people two hours to build this structure.  

More beach art. Made by standing on one leg and whirling around. Quite acrobatic. It's hard to take this photograph, with the setting sun reflecting brightly on the viewfinder. This is literally a point-and-shoot operation.

Even more beach art. A beach dog sits by a depiction of the sun in front of a beach shack. 

The beach with sunbeds, umbrellas and people lounging around looks a slightly busy place from inside the beach shack. Nowhere near as busy as North Goa, though. 

Very rarely can the sun be tracked all the way till the red ball sinks into the sea. I guess the haze, and sometimes clouds, prevents the sun being seen beyond a point on its way down. This is about as far as much of the ball can be seen before it starts getting chopped away.  

A position by the waves is a vantage point to feel the coolness of the January evening descending on the beach, say bye to the lifeguards as they wind up the day's operations, and track the setting sun, while munching on a variety of salads and sipping fruit juice. 

The beach shacks light up, and candles are placed on the tables. A flickering row of lights soon appears on the horizon, those of ships parked out at sea, waiting for permission to come into the port. 

Following dinner by the waves, it's time for yet another health drink (with strips of green chilly to add to the flavour) at Balton's Restaurant on the street, just south of the gate of the Park Hyatt. The immaculately maintained interiors have never ceased to impress me over the years.  

Ah, just in case you are wondering what the weather is like in Goa during the early part of January, below is a look at the weather report. Extremely comfortable, particularly during the evenings. It may even be a degree or two cooler by the sea. 

During the late 1990s, walking from Aguada to Calangute and on to Baga used to be my favourite pasttime. Subsequently, the River Princess messed up Sinquerim and Candolim beaches, and the beaches in that area got crowded. So, ever since we moved our "off-season" break to North Goa, and the "during season" holidays to South Goa, walking the beaches of South Goa has become a common activity. I tend to try a few solo, long walks. Like this brisk, early morning walk from Arossim to Colva and back, a distance of 14 km. 

Beach cleaners were a new sight on several beaches this year. 

Large groups, sometimes families, sometimes friends, sometimes office colleagues, are often seen during the morning. I wonder where they disappear as the sun rises.  They often reappear during sunset. They are also reputed to be loyal customers of the water-sports operators, and contribute greatly to their staying in business. 

Meanwhile, morning runners happily chug along....

This beach shack is being constructed in Majorda. Why the construction is happening in January beats me, about two months after the usual designated shack build time. 

Betalbatim is a favourite spot for local residents and students to troop in, and set up a half-day affair of sports, music, song and food. This group seems to be all set for games of Cricket and Soccer. 

A symbol of Indo-German friendship, this couple has set up their tent in the quiet stretch between Betalbatim and Colva beaches. Comfortable seats and flags round off the experience. 

I remembered seeing a similar sight during our last visit a year ago, while I was on my walk in the same area. Digging into my archives, this is the photograph I located. Curious kids looked on as the couple fixed the tent with Indian and German flags. Same couple, perhaps? Or, same group? Will they be here a year from now, I wondered. Best way to find out is to return and do the walk again a year from now.  

Back at Pristine Resort, the surroundings are quite rural and unspoiled, it appears as if time has stood still. Cattle lazily chew cud, while chicken and ducks wander around. 

Good morning, ducks! How's the morning stroll going?

Edwin, our taxi driver from many years, lives right next to Pristine Resort. His home has probably been standing there for many decades, just like the homes opposite with busy poultry and lazy cattle. 

Sights along the beach during sunset tend to be the most memorable. Red flags. Partly red and partly cream flags. The pink and purple haze. The round ball often starts losing its roundness as it slips down.  

Picking up the flags one by one, lifeguards wind up and head home, a job well done, often whistling furiously as careless visitors venture deep into the sea. 

Only on rare occasions does the sun appear to be a red ball until it is very close to the horizon. A moment worth recording. Junior was glad the clouds and haze had stayed away that evening.

Another South Goa holiday has slipped by. Well then, until the next beach stroll, and the next sunset. Looking out of the airplane window, I could identify the Cansaulim area far below, where we had peacefully strolled along - splash - splash - splash- splash - for several carefree days. 

Have a lovely holiday, happy journey, and see you again. 

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