Time runs slowly on a bike. It is partly that there is so much going on around me and partly that nothing is going on and so there is time to think. It is just one of those paradoxes. It is day 23 but, at the same time, I feel we have only just started and that we have been on the bikes for months. The world I occupied before I left – with all its pressure and responsibility (and the world to which I will return) seems like another planet.
Here there is only the road, the kms clicking away and issues of food, hills, sustenance and the fascinating things to see along the way. That is totally absorbing and enough to keep at least part of the brain fully occupied.
Today we woke and got an early start. The first 12 km had a series of 200m hills which we knew would be tough and wanted to do in the early morning cool. We set off at 6.45am with our back lights and on before almost anyone else was around. But of course there are always early risers, including a group of young school children who were bussed to school to start at 7.30.
The hills did not disappoint – up to 14% in places – but were soon over. This was thick jungle on both sides of the road with little habitation. It is strange how small the tourist beach areas are – just a strip of a few hundred meters – then the natural vegetation takes over and remains in control.
We descended, climbed again and then descended finally to the beach road and breakfasted at Benaulim beach. There we met a retired Swedish man who spent 6 months of the year in Goa and 6 months in Sweden. He extolled the virtues of India as a place to live for part of the year – with which we largely agreed – and said this was his 11th year! He is far from the only Scandinavian in Goa – we met another from Norway in the evening. Escape from Nordic winters we suspect.
We cycled on and met a friendly English couple on their bikes who were lost. A combination of our GPS and our large scale map broadly sent them in the right direction for Colva beach. We hope they got there!
On we went and, after a while, found ourselves on the road from Vasco de Gama Airport into Goa town (which is called Panaji – Old Goa being 11km further inland). This involved the usual game of “chicken” with larger vehicles as we strove to maintain our right to use 12” of road without having an offensive horn blasted in our eardrums. However it all passed OK and we crossed the impressive bridge over the Maragoa Bay towards the original places where the Portuguese landed to claim this area for a different European state.
Panaji is a mixture of modern development and ancient waterfront Portuguese style buildings. We could have been in any part of Southern Europe (apart from the saris that is, but perhaps even then). We found our delightful hotel and apologised for turning up early – as we made better time than we thought.
We rested then thought we ought to see Old Goa, so abandoned the luggage and whizzed along the 11km along the river to Old Goa. This was a city which, in its day, was larger than London and Lisbon. The people have moved on – many to Panaji – but it remains with a world heritage site with loads of churches.
Two deserve mention. The Jesuit Church was massive – known as the Basilica of Bom Jesus (i.e “good Jesus” – but that may have meant “good Jesuits” as well). It had a massive statue of St Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuits, and the star attraction were the remains of St Francis Xavier. For centuries, a good set of relics brings in the crowds, and it was as true today as in the past. We were struck again that the vast majority of tourists in India are Indian – exploring the delights and heritage of their own country. Foreign tourism is a part of the beach business, but only a part because even then the Indian visitors massively outnumber those with tattoos.
Over the road was the largest Christian church in Asia, Goa cathedral. By comparison it was vast but slightly neglected. It had the feeling of a project that was commenced with all enthusiasm but where the money ran out when the structure was completed but before all the internal décor was paid for. As a result, the Church was both impressive and hauntingly beautiful.
Coming back to our bikes we met a couple of delightful and impressive MBA students, Abhinav Agrawal and Ahtesham Ali Sayyed, who we met and had talked to on the Kudle Beach near Gokana. It was a lovely coincidence and we wish them well in their studies and careers. Abhinav is the committed Arsenal supporter who, if he makes it to London, I promise to take to the Emirates (although I am hardly a good luck charm for the Gooners).
The wind was against us on the way back so it was a bit tougher. We then went out for a lovely meal in the old part of the town, in a hotel that was originally part of the Hippie Trail but now sells wonderful food in a room covered with drawings and saying from those on the “trail”.
So as you can see, today was another day when nothing really happened but then again so much happened.