Just got back from two weeks in India, so going to write catch-up posts in date order.
RwandAir started offering direct flights to Mumbai (Bombay) earlier in the year, so decided to take advantage. Dad and Marilyn hopped a plane from the UK and we managed to find each other at Mumbai Chhatrapati Shivaji Airport.
It was my first time flying long-haul with RwandAir. Usually I take a quick flight with them to get to Nairobi for connecting flights. This year they have launched a number of new routes under the tagline 'fly the dream of Africa.' It was really something to see their new fleet lined up on the tarmac, but a little less impressive on board. No in-flight entertainment on a seven-hour international flight, though they did provide a magazine listing all the movies you couldn't watch. The first thing I had to do was remove a half-drunk can of beer from the seat pocket, as it seemed no one had cleaned the aircraft. Security issues were then raised as we taxied towards the runway. The staff hadn't checked whether the overhead baggage racks were closed. One of them was open, so three of us hit the attendant call button in quick succession. The call for staff to take their seats hadn't been made yet, but the attendant simply stared down the plane at us, refusing to move. Eventually, another passenger had to unbuckle and close it herself. Not reassuring. If there had been a medical emergency or if passengers had spotted something seriously wrong, we would have been in the air before anyone came to check.
People do say their direct flights to Brussels are better and have in-flight entertainment, but I think they've got a way to go if they're seriously hoping to contend with more established airlines.
Still, it was only a very minor part of the trip, my first out of Africa in almost two years.
Coming down to land in Mumbai was spectacular. Landing was delayed due to traffic, so we did a lot of circling, then came down through the clouds to a stunning mountain scene: gaping canyons and rivers sparkling in the sunlight.
|Mountains Rising Through the Clouds|
Due to the delays, I managed to arrive a bit before Dad & Marilyn, who were supposed to get in before me. I waited at the top of the arrivals escalator for them. Lots of hugs after so long.
Our Goa flight was also delayed, and we landed just after dark. Our hotel taxi collected us and took us about an hour further to North Goa. The very first thing we noticed was the driving - it's crazy! Lorries, cars, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, bicycles, cows, dogs and people all vying for space on the road. A country that can build perfectly symmetrical structures like the Taj Mahal, yet can't follow a straight lane. We were later told by a guide that you need three things to drive in India: a good horn, good brakes, and good luck!
We wove our way through the traffic to Hacienda de Goa Resort. Really gorgeous place with a puddle-blue pool and on-site restaurant. At nighttime the pool area lit up with fairy lights.
|(panoramic - click to enlarge)|
We feasted at the restaurant. I fell in love with their Goan Breakfast. Spicy but delicious. Going to e-mail and ask for the recipe. Their pancakes with maple syrup were also yummy.
|Big Dosa Breakfast!|
Nice rooms and pretty flowers. A peaceful resort and the perfect place to unwind after the journey.
The 15th was Dad's birthday. In the evening we headed out to Thalassa, a Greek restaurant with a stunning view of the beach. We arrived without booking on a very busy night, but within twenty minutes (just long enough for a drink at the bar) they found us a table with a view of the sunset.
|Dad & Marilyn at Thalassa|
We had a really attentive waiter who explained the differences between Indian wine and imported to us, with a little taster, then we supped pink fizzy pop as the sun melted into the sea. I managed to sneak away and enlist the help of a waitress at the cake stand. They have a very yummy cake selection and made up a plate with Happy Birthday written around it in chocolate sauce and cream, then delivered it to the table with everyone singing Happy Birthday. Perfect end to the meal.
As the night continued, we were treated to a display of fire dancing, plate smashing and cabaret, before wandering back past the stalls for home. One of the fresh fish stands had an impressive carved watermelon.
The owner of Hacienda, Susan, was extremely welcoming and very helpful with suggestions of where to eat and what to see, so the next day we booked ourselves on a tour of Goa.
It began with a tour of the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a church built by the Portuguese in the late 1500s. It's called a basilica because it houses the remains of St Francis Xavier, who did a lot to convert the local population to Christianity. When I say 'remains', I actually mean 'his entire corpse'. Which is on display in a glass box.
A bit macabre. He's even missing a toe where some devotee bit it off. The rest of the church is dripping in gold and opulence. There's a fairly gruesome depiction of Christ on the cross, made more so after someone doused it in red paint.
Just to contrast that, we headed to a Hindu temple afterwards. We bought offerings from the flower sellers outside, took off our shoes and walked in.
From there, it was on to the Tropical Spice Plantation. You enter by crossing a rickety bridge over a large lake, to be greeted in a shower of petals. This was a wonderful introduction to India's spices, evoking pages from The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. All of these plants we eat every day: turmeric, black pepper, vanilla, cinnamon - yet never really knowing where or how they grow. A cool, leisurely walk through the forest, looking at all sorts of plants and learning their medicinal properties. We learnt that the world's most expensive spices, in order, are: saffron, vanilla, cardamon and cloves. At the end, our guide poured cold lavender water down our spines to refresh us before lunch. They provided a wonderful spread, served on plates made from pressed palm leaves, and even a sample of Feni, a lethal form of moonshine made exclusively in Goa from cashew nut apples.
Received my first tilaka whilst passing beneath the petals. A sign of welcome, but one that doesn't wash off very easily.
After pausing for ice-cream by the beach, we decided to head back to Hacienda for some well-deserved relaxation by the pool.
The next day, we went in search of Goa's Aguada Fort. It was a Portuguese fort built in 1612. It has the oldest lighthouse in Asia and was named Aguada (water) for the fact it can hold 2,376,000 gallons of the stuff, which was invaluable for a sea fort in such heat.
After a wander around, we headed to the riverside for a boat ride up the Mandovi Estuary to see Aguada Jail. It was built in the 17th century by the Portuguese, to hold both men and women, and only decommissioned in 2015.
We were really lucky. Not only did we get to see the regular sights, we also got to see dolphins. There was even a mummy dolphin with her baby. Though you had to feel a little sorry for them. Within minutes, about twenty tourist boats appeared and followed them around the bay. Lot of motor noise and fumes. It was still beautiful to see them, though.
Rounded up the day with beer on Sinquerium Beach, nibbling bebinca, 'Goa's favourite sweet', which tastes a bit like moist banana cake.
|(panorama - click to enlarge)|
After a bit of rest and some time by the pool, we ventured out in the evening looking for sustenance. Thanks to Google Maps, we found an incredible restaurant within walking distance of the hotel. It was called Bean Me Up, serving a huge range of incredible vegetarian and vegan food. Also - cocktails!
We finished up with a banana split - three spoons.
Goa really was an incredible start to our holiday. I can see why so many people flock there. It's got a real hippie vibe. Very relaxed and easy going. Plenty of beautiful things to see, and golden beaches for miles.
I may add some more pictures to this once my family upload theirs, so check back.