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Monday, August 16, 2004

The Goan Dozen

For the culturally inexperienced, here are some interesting tidbits on Goa, classified under twelve heads, as seen through a novice's tinted glasses:

1. The image I had of Goa was that it is much smaller than megapolis Mumbai. On this trip, however, I noticed that traveling across Goa by car often takes up to two hours. And should you attempt the same in Mumbai, on a day with zilch traffic (yep, I can imagine it though it'll probably never materialize), it will probably take the same time from Nariman Point to Vashi. My curiosity piqued, I checked the atlas. The result? Goa - 3,702 Sq Km. Greater Mumbai (excluding Thane and Raigarh) - 603 Sq Km. In other words -- Goa is SIX TIMES bigger than main Mumbai !!! So much for its being the "smallest state in India".

2. Perhaps the surprising size of Goa is more understandable given the city's topographical layout. Goa is composed of several mini-cities. On entering from the Mumbai (North) end, you first reach Mapusa city. You then move into Panaji (Panjim), the capital of Goa. Then follows vast stretches of forest before you touch Vasco, the mini-city where Vasco da Gama landed in India. Another stretch of jungle and Madgaon appears on the horizon. Panjim, Vasco and Madgaon form roughly three ends of an equilateral triangle. And all of Goa is undulating -- the city seems to be built on a sea of little hills and hillocks. It's truly a trekker's paradise.

3. Online sources claim Goa's land area is divided into greenery : residential areas in the ratio 20 : 80. A very reliable eyewitness (viz. me) estimates it's more like 50% forests, 25% agriculture and the rest residential areas.

4. Because of the abundance of flotsam and jetsam, the air is sooo fresh and ozonized. Something sorely lacking in cloying claustrophobic Mumbai. A welcome respite for the typical Mumbaikar's overworked lungs.

5. Water abounds in Goa. From the famed sparkling white beaches (I must visit one of them on my next trip) to the little rivulets running down the hillsides on each road, due to the monsoon rains.

6. Bird lovers will have a field day in Goa. The air reverberates with the sweet melodious strains of birds calling out to their mates, competing for supremacy, or simply expressing their sheer joie-de-vivre.

7. Everyone in Goa seems to be well read. The 1991 Census states 77% of the populace is literate. That's a pretty good figure, well above the national average. Konkani is the mother tongue, it's a sweet language, but fortunately most people are conversant with English. Their Hindi, however, is ouch!

8. They say that the way to a man's heart is through his tummy. If so, the ways to the average Goanese male's heart must be choc-a-bloc with traffic, because the Goanese eat well. Really well. Really really well. And because they exercise, it doesn't show. And the stuff they eat ... for the uninitiated, it's like yucky, but for those blessed with the divine Goanese culinary experience, it's like yummy.

9. Color runs in the blood of the typical Goan, irrespective of gender. They'll dress in the most outlandish loose flowing clothes -- hats, scarves, bermudas, tees. Their penchant for flowery patterns is the stuff of legend. A crowded Goan bylane is a riot of colors. A fully decked up male Goanese is more colorful than a peacock in the mood.

10. Goa is known as the "Sleepy City". And for good reason. The city becomes inanimate every afternoon. Shutters down as the sonorous sounds of soporific siesta overtake the somnambulent strains of silence between 2 and 4 pm.

11. And because they get plent of rest, the Goanese are a fundamentally happy race. They're always smiling, laughing, often singing, and ever-ready to help (and feed) anyone, from the neighbor's cat to the unknown tourist.

12. Goa is a fusion of multiple cultures and religions. Predominantly a Catholic city, it is filled with amazingly beautiful Churches and Cathedrals. A bird's eye view of the city reveals a paragon of spires, towers and turrets. And for the reasonable-sized Muslim and Hindu contingent, there are plenty of mosques and temples. Goa seems to be an idyllic haven far removed from the communal overtones of some other cities in that part of India.

Of course, the nostalgic say Goa was far better in the past, and the number of heritage sites has drastically reduced of late. But for people like me who have seen Goa as it stands today, and have liked what we've seen, the mantra is -- Goa Rocks !!! Go Goa !!!

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