India, Day 35 – Margao, Old Goa
Today I went to Old Goa, somewhat north of Margao, to look at the various Catholic buildings there. First, however, I stopped at the railway station to deposit my backpack in the cloakroom. I checked out in the morning and my train is at 22:40.
The bus trip to Old Goa took an hour and half, and included a five or ten minute pause at Ponda while some sort of maintenance work was carried on the bus and I was the only passenger on board. As you can imagine, I was a little apprehensive of what was going on – How long would this take? Would I have to get another bus? – but I sat and read and eventually we started moving again.
At the drop off point for Old Goa, there is a statue of Gandhi, and looking along the palm-lined road towards Panaji, you can see a large brown building on the left and a large white building, or complex, on the left. I went to the brown building first.
This turned out to be the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The building is, as I said, brown – dark brown, and kind of dirty-looking. Like the other buildings I visited in Old Goa, architecturally, it’s not that interesting – just a large square structure. The stone of its walls have an extremely textured appearance, and look like very weathered, stone-filled concrete. From the references in LP and on the information signs, I gather that this is laterite. Inside, the Basilica is decorated with massive golden constructions, the biggest of which is behind the altar. It also contains the tomb of St Francis Xavier.
Across the road are Se Cathedral, the Convent and Church of St Francis of Assisi – the Convent of which is now a museum containing various Hindu and Christian artifacts and what looked to be a portrait of every single Portugese governor of Goa going all the way back to the beginning of the 16th century.
These buildings are all physically connected and are square, whitewashed and pretty boring from the outside. The Cathedral is packed with numerous altars and chapels. At the far end of the complex and slightly removed from it is the the very modest Chapel of St Catherine. When I got there there was a school party having their lunch just outside.
From there I went round the back of the Cathedral grounds and down to Mandovi River. As open water so often is, the river was flat, as was tree-covered Divar Island across the way and much of the nearby forested land, so this wasn’t much of spectacle. I took a photo of a passing barge. I walked along the road, got growled at and followed a short way by a dog, passed under Viceroy’s arch and went into the Church of St Cajetan.
In the grounds was a very impressive tree (one of several, in fact) with a trunk four or five feet wide. The facade of the church, which was based on St Peter’s in Rome, was covered in scaffolding, so not terribly impressive. The inside however, was whitewashed, airy, well-kept (much more so than the Catherdal or Basilica), and pretty splendid. Again, it sported a huge display thingy (I’m sure it has a proper name) behind the altar and the ceilings were decorated with simple but effective panelling.
Next on my self-guided semi-random tour were the ruins of the Church of St Augustine. These were ruinous. The main part that remains is half of the tower, which looks almost like it was sliced down the middle. There were some colourful tiles remaining on one section and, like all the other buildings as far as I can remember, many of the paving stones were recycled gravestones. I went into one area where three women were doing something vaguely archeological and was shooed away.
Near here is the Church and Convent of St Monica, which I didn’t go in, as such, but I did enter (almost against my own will, as I was getting tired by this time) the Museum of Christian Art, which is part of the same complex. This is a very pleasant place, both in terms of its appearance and because there are numerous fans dotted about. There were numerous silver and gold items – crosses, croziers, reliquaries – the most interesting of which was a silver tabernacle and monstrance, which consisted of a pelican (looking more like a phoenix) tearing its breast and feeding its own blood to its two young, all standing on a globe. This symbolises Jesus’s crucifixion, or something.
I walked down the hill from here and stopped for something to eat and a drink. I may live to regret the samosas I had. They tasted OK, but the potato inside was tainted a distressing bright pink, and besides I’m a bit paranoid about food in India. Still, I haven’t been sick so far – not just today, but on the whole trip … actually, I’ve been sick on a couple of occasions, but these were induced by dehydration-induced headaches.
Then it was time to head back to Margao. I thought it would be a simple case of standing on the other side of the road from where I got off and waiting for a bus heading to Margao. Apparently not. I was advised that I should get a bus to Panaji (back on the original side of the road) and go to Margao from there. The advice was good. Although it took me a good few minutes of wandering round looking at signs and buses to find buses actually going to my destination, once I did, the journey was straightforward and faster than the morning’s trip out. Actually, I got on one bus (in my experience up to that point, you get on a bus then buy your ticket from the conductor once it’s under way) to be asked through the window did I have a ticket. The answer being No, I was directed to the ticket office. That bus left as soon as I got off, but another one replaced it immediately.
On the bus, I talked to an older man called Simon – an Indian – his name presumably coming from the Portugese influence. He took great pains to point out how dangerous travelling in India was: Don’t accept tea off anyone on a train, Keep your money and passport in a money belt, Don’t use taxis or rickshaws after 7pm.
Back in Margao, I had a good four hours or more to wait for my train. This is currently down to under two hours. I had a coffee, then decided I needed to go and get some money (having used my last 500 rupee note to buy a 25 rupee bottle of Sprite). I tried three ATMs and they all refused me. I realised that Lloyds TSB must have put a security block on my card again. I went to an internet café and checked my account (not happy about having to have done that, but I’m trusting that the place didn’t have hidden webcams or something looking over my shoulder); there were just the two previous withdrawals I’d made in India showing.
I spent a while looking for a telephone place (in India there are shops – telephone cafés, if you will – that provide telephone services; the sign ‘STD ISD PCO’ is quite common). When I did I eventually dialed the right number (the absence of the ’00′ on the number I had confused me), waited for a couple of minutes before getting through to an agent and was told that, yes, there was a block on my card. I asked – nay, demanded – why, but apparently there were no details. I was told I should be able to use my card in 20 or 30 minutes. The call cost me 87 rupees. I headed back to the coffee shop for more coffee, and that’s where I’ve been writing this, so I don’t know yet if it’s worked.
It worked. My original thought – before being thwarted by my own bank – was that I’d get 5,000 rs out, and if I needed more later – well, I could get more. In the light of these problems, though, I changed my mind and wanted to withdraw 10,000. Of course, when I used the State Bank of India ATM (there are lots of Indian banks, and many of them have 24-hour cash machines, often looked after by a guard) I automatically withdrew 5,000. Then I remembered and took out another five grand.
After that, I bought a pizza from Domino’s (the spicy chicken pizza cost 322 rupees, after tax; I paid with a crisp new 500 rupee note. I got 150 change back straight away, but had to wait about five minutes after I received my pizza before getting the remaining 18) and looked for an autorickshaw to take me to the station. I couldn’t find one (you can’t cross the road in northern India without being propositioned half a dozen times by drivers); there were plenty of taxis and motorcycle taxis (ie, a motorbike – on the back of which you sit whilst being couriered to your destination), but neither of those appeal to me.
So I walked. I walked a lot further than the previous day when I walked from the station to my hotel – but this time I went in the front rather than out of the back. I passed a London man by the sound of him on the way and asked him was the station this way; he said it was and asked if the town centre was that way; I said it was. At the station I retrieved my backpack. Whilst in the cloakroom, I opened it up and took out a fresh top – I was pretty sodden with sweat. As I took off my current top and wiped my armpits with it the cloakroom attendant said it wasn’t allowed and started to tell me where I should go. I gave him a brief glance then put on the new top.
I ate my pizza on the platform, watched some of the time by a dog with that typically doggy hopeful expression. The train was due at 22:40 and arrived nearly an hour later. On board, all the lights were off, so finding my berth was a case of peering in vain for the numbers and asking if 41 was here. I chatted quietly with a first year student on his way to his university in Manipal (at least, that’s what it sounded like – I can’t find it in LP) until someone told us to leave it till tomorrow. The freshman was getting off at 2am, so we just left it.