Journeys to exotic places typically begin with a kamikaze driver. Our taxi ride, a distance of about 30 kms, that took about an hour in heavy traffic, seemed like eternity, as we made our way from Goa International Airport to the historic Portuguese part of the city called Paniji, was no exception. The heat, the humidity, the blaring horns, the relentless effort to gain inches by weaving in and out of traffic and accelerating and then crashing to sudden stops, in our jet lagged stupor, did not help. The very thought of cycling here became terrifying. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Coming to Goa is our way of joining dots. Our first cycling ride in India, some 12 years ago, started on the east coast city of Chennai, to the southern tip, then up the west coast of Kerala, Kochi and ending in Goa. Our second adventure in India was through Rajasthan and such famous fort-cities as Udaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Bikaner and Pushkar. Our third trip started in Delhi and followed many of the places associated with the life of Buddha and then into Nepal's mountainous Pokhara, Kathmandu and the jungles of the Terrai, and then to back to Delphi.
India being a huge land mass and offering a multitude of places to see and experience our trip, is largely designed to connect dots on a map. Starting from Goa, where our first trip ended we will make our way east to Hampi and then points north toward Amritsar, the heart of Punjab and near the Pakistani border, then to the foothills of the Himalayas and back to Delhi. The route is a series of dots on a map, like children playing hopscotch, we will try not to step on places we have been before. A huge limiting factor will be places to stay within a reasonable day's ride, which will be a challenge off the main tourist routes, both in terms of distances between dots and their quality standards.
We are now nearly at the end of our second week, and so far we have managed to join the nearly endless beach communities, north and south of Goa, all with a minimum of effort, having only cycled about a 120 kms in total.
The initial taxi drive from Goa's Dabolim Airport was not only notable for the training the driver received from the descendants of Emperor Hirohito but as an introduction to India and its mysterious ways. Wanting to minimize our environmental impact and save our rupees, given a choice of pre-paid taxis, we asked for non-AC. Not surprisingly, only the more expensive air conditioned cars were available. Having experienced India before, it was no further surprise, that in this near new Toyota, AC was not available: our small but pricy contribution to minimizeing climate change and an opportunity to enjoy through open windows, all that the drive had to offer.
In a similar twisted way we enjoy other convolutions: we ask for toasted bread to be told that they have "bread toast not toasted". In a small eatery, where omelets are served, I ask for a masala omelet to be told only plain omelets are available, to be given one full of onions, vegetables and chillies, which of course is masala!
To our good or misfortune, on arrival we sourced a wonderful map of Goa and our route , locating dozens of beaches and detailed schematics, on how to find them. As if to aid in the decision making, nearly all of the mentioned sun worshiping opportunities have capsule photos, measuring one cm square, each with near identical white sand and blue seas. Being discerning travelers, we are intent on experiencing and are slowly becoming ready for our final exam: to compare and contrast the beaches of Goa. At Candolim beach, to the north I had an opportunity to refresh my early training in Russian, and resist the vendors offering made-to-measure suits and fur jackets. At Colva beach, we enjoyed a more cosmopolitan environment including a stay in a hotel with a huge pool. Further south, at Agonda beach we discovered the later day remnants of hippiedom, with sacred cow yoga practised on the beach with abandon, stayed in a bamboo hut erected each season and had copious cappuccinos at the German Bakery with appropriate breads and other irresistible goodies. Now even further south at Palolem, in a near hidden jungle setting, at the Castle House Hotel, we are deciding which of the beaches to enjoy, where to get a massage and thoughts of doing a training ride, in anticipation of the hills and long riding days, is pushed further and further back. Will our stay be three days, a week, or longer? Its hard to predict. While each beach has its unique features, and wanting to do well on our final exam, we need to do more exploring, while enjoying the commonalities of sun, sand, good food, and all the intense relaxation one can handle.