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  • Writer's pictureEvelyn Roberts

Discovering Goa


Rewriting our own story can change everything - especially when we pen ourselves as hero and not victim.

The desire to visit every country that is humanly possible in this lifetime is to me no different than wanting to read every single book by your favourite author.

In Chennai (Madras), yes I landed on the wrong coast! A missed connection in Hong Kong sent me on an extended 36 hour scenic zombified sleep deprived round of extra flights and airports ... all part of the ounce of flesh the gods periodically demand for giving me the life I asked for. It's 5 am in a domestic Indian airport, pungent smells waft, waves of jewel clad women swirl, all in a sea of intense and serious black eyes ... until you hook them with a smile, then they light up with near blinding light. May be the "wrong" city but I've definitely arrived in India, like with the stars I'll swear you can see back 1,000's of years in the eyes of India.

A few hours later and finally in Mumbai, reeling with exhaustion, love my funky, dilapidated old colonial hotel (Bentley in Colaba), shades of Miss Haversham with plants growing out of walls and inch thick old paint. Got a local mobile, purchased my customary uniform of traditional punjabis ... off to do, Internet buy oranges and water and hopefully sleep for 15 hours.

Tomorrow I walk across the city to Chowpatty Beach and the Gateway to India.

Walked about 8 miles around the city, including the whole length of the bay to the (in)famous Chowpatty Beach. One week ago I was walking the pristine private beach of Hope Ranch, Santa Barbara, musing with friends about how we are always connected because there is no separation or boundaries between oceans. Now I find myself in a huge overpopulated bay where pure sewage pours straight into the ocean and on-one, except for some hardy (hopefully) youngsters, would dream of swimming. My previous sentimental image takes on a nightmarish hue from this side of the world. And I'm disinclined to want to eat the seafood from a place where even the locals won't put a foot in the ocean (duh). The beach is strewn with tons of trash; ironically providing somewhat of a living for some souls... and it is still a Sunday pleasure stroll for many locals.

An oddly beautiful city, incredible architecture in a late-ish stage of decay, great market streets and the endless striking Indian surreal combinations of beauty, chaos and filth. Two more days of things to see, then I jump a train and head for north Goa, I will have saturated and exhausted my city tolerance by then.

I love it I hate it I love it I hate it I love it I love it I love it; love is completely the wrong word but maybe the right one doesn't exist?

Right in the centre of Mumbai; a city of 21 million people, (80% of whom live in extreme poverty), sits the most expensive single residency home in the world, built to the tune of 1 billion US dollars. Surreal and normal have merged into one.

Started the day at Gandhi Museum, at his home and his room has been preserved as it was, felt his beautiful presence there. Took in a mid-day Bollywood matinee, fun because now I recognise local areas where it was filmed. Slight problem: it was half English and half Hindi ... but ended in Hindi so I have no idea what actually happened? Took hour boat ride to Elephant Island to see amazing cave carvings from about 600AD (they are highly damaged because some Portuguese soldiers decided to fire their arms in the caves to test the echo... aaarrggh). Journey back took us into a beautiful sunset over Mumbai; bought myself a mini chocolate cake; ate the whole thing; am about to pack and tomorrow I'll be on a train at 6:30 am and 12 hours later - Goa.

In Benaulim, Goa, after 14 hr train trip from Mumbai yesterday. Now I start "working" as the purpose of this trip is to find a location for a workshop planned in 2012, rough job I have! Trip was delightful because of 3 young Swedes I shared a carriage with (the joke of the day with porters etc.was that they were my sons), learned a lot about Scandinavia, saw lots much of the countryside, although the train windows were filthy. I now have a raging cold as it was an AC carriage and you could have hung meat in there, yet outside was about 50 degrees hotter; another reminder of why I prefer to travel lower class and never want AC in a hotel or my home. It's amazingly quiet here after Mumbai, off to drink gallons of hot lemon juice and explore.

When you tell people here you are an astrologer 99.99% of the time they beam and look at you in an almost viscerally altered curious and respectful way. No matter the immense challenges, no-one can deny that the soul of this land is ever palpable and pulsing.

Okay, Goa is starting to make Bali look positively exorbitant - tomorrow I move out of my (very nice) $23 a night hotel into my own self contained apartment (even nicer and quieter) for $11 a night which the lovely woman who did my laundry owns.

Just spent an extraordinary day pounding the beaches of South Goa, (shall I be really nauseating and say "someone has to do it"?). As hard and challenging as parts of Mumbai are is as equalled in calm and beauty as this is, and I now know where all the idyllic beaches I suspected were gone are hiding.

My Aries Moon (exactly opposite Neptune) is really quick with "firsts"; I married my first love (briefly); I bought the very first house I looked at (still have it); my place in Bali was the first I arrived at (I plan to be there until my last breath). So no surprise the very first place I looked at today could well be the "one". It is exquisite; organic food (raw and otherwise), Ayurvedic spa, yoga, 28 completely unique and charming huts in a veritable garden of Paradise, great space for a conference, 2 minutes walk to a magical cove... and six minutes from an Intercontinental for those participants who need a different kind of luxury.

The day was however far from over and we proceeded to other beautiful places in rapid succession, but nothing quite matched the first place for "having it all". I am going to spend 2 more days exploring North Goa and some spice farms and temples centrally. I will then go and actually spend time at what may be our 2012 spot, a few more days at remote Cola beach (the amazing place with the tents); then Hampi, Bangalore ... and home to magical Bali.

After 2 days I finally got my driver's name right: Suhas.

Special day on the pilgrimage to North Goa; met up with and spent delightful time with friends and fellow astrologers, Adrian and Charlotte Duncan, great reminder of the threads and webs that keep us all connected whether we realise it or not. Until 2 days ago I had no idea they were in India even.

So starts the confusion; found a perhaps even more perfect location... only one thing to do, I've got to go and immerse myself in each place.

I also found where the 60's is hiding, literally unchanged and preserved as though someone dropped a giant glob of THC resin onto it and preserved it like an insect in amber... it's in Arambol, North Goa. I was so in awe I didn't even take any pictures. I'm going back later to stare more into that living video of my past.

Some things I'm noticing:

In the west I can't sleep if there is a dog barking anywhere within earshot and I get mega irritable; here for some reason I quite contentedly go to sleep to symphonies of all night canine howling.

I absolutely adore the logic-less chaos of Indian supermarkets.

In India I feel constantly attuned to the staggering power of the accident of birth. Okay, okay I know and respect (and to a degree subscribe to) the theory that there are "no accidents", but that's way too easy to say when you have even an iota of privilege. With the sheer density of population here there is zero denying that we are all like grains of sand; only difference is some of us got polished up really pretty and landed on way balmier, calmer, less polluted beaches. I'm personally convinced there is some cosmic lottery at play, and without a doubt I won big time.

Venus return day (with a little Pluto thrown in there!); spent some of it watching beautiful birds on the river. And believe it or not, I am working. Making connections and setting things up; I will definitely be back with as many (adventurous) astrologers who want to learn and bask in this heaven as we can accommodate.

When you're travelling alone (which I love to do) smiles from strangers take on a whole new meaning; you learn to absorb them by wattage and what they communicate; I've been blessed with some particularly brilliant ones already today.

Found a new little bay and I'm off to explore. Neptune Point is on the way, with a mermaid and a beer bar right there; classic.

For the record I did try to ditch my watch, but life is too full of appointments: yoga, dolphin watches, timing the tide so I can walk out to Monkey island... and oh yes those massages.

Relishing all...

Humility 101: intermediate yoga class with Indian teacher Swami Yogananda. No coddling, no pity, not one iota of western-style wimp-appeasement. Quote: "even if you have slipped disc just do it through the pain", (I don't, but felt empathetic agony at the very idea). So relieved I was too late for the advanced class; tomorrow I humbly creep into the back of the beginner's class with my yoga mat between my legs.

Extremely ambivalent about this mornings dolphin watch; I felt more like we were flushing them out, and my most cherished memory will ever be spending weeks on end on a sailboat with them constantly playing at the helm. Still I believe they have a great sense of humour; we'd go one way and they'd playfully circle right around the other.

And a more perfect morning would have been hard to imagine, so spending it on the ocean was "okay".

Unknowingly I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect beach; obliviously finding myself turning corners, clambering over rocks, getting on the back of motor-bikes... and lo and behold the mystery giggles and twirls and lifts the veils on ever more beautiful places ... and now I've "found" the one which could just be impossible to top (for here anyway).

The saving grace of Goa is because of their very long intense monsoon period (April to October), and some amazingly conscious ordinances there can be no permanent structures built within a certain distance of the shoreline ... so zero concrete hotels, nothing over a very low 2 storey height. It is all dismantle-able huts (some very elegant).

Palolem (finally learned to spell it right), is a mile long arc of golden powdered sand with the most perfectly clear and calm ocean. It is however the "hang-out"; endless (very cool) little restaurants, beach chairs, umbrellas and beach shacks ... and partying, bon-fires, drumming etc.etc. There is a law that shuts down music at 11pm but the little bars stay open until dawn. Luckily my hotel is tucked back and away from this so very quiet (except for midget bongo players ... now silenced). The next beach over is Patnam; again stunning, far less people, but water not quite so calm (a pretty deep shelf and stronger breaks).

And then as I open another teensy door (and hop on a motorbike for 20 minutes) I arrive at Turtle Beach. Thanks to these rare creatures, no beach shacks or tourist attractions at all are allowed on the beach, consequently a take-your-breath-away mile long stretch of nothing and a handful of people (no beach chairs. etc). At the far end of the beach are 2 tiny restaurants (owned by feuding brothers) with incredible food (apparently Gordon Ramsey discovered it and wrote a whole article on them).

So here we have the perfect beach, the perfect water, and almost no people. Local families have hung a few hammocks back amongst the coconut palms, so if you buy a drink and a snack you can just lay there as long as you like. Tomorrow is my last day in this area so I think I'm going back there.

Since I got here it has been a steady 85 degrees, cooler evenings, great breezes, low humidity, and not a drop of rain.

Agonda Beach - where the "overlanders" congregate. Amazing as it is, these people (many with young children and taking several years to do it) are driving from Europe to India, through all the Arab States, Iran and then Pakistan. I'm nowhere near that brave, plus I have friends who would give me lots of grief if I even considered it. The ones I talked to were nearly all German and quite blase about the dangers; although it looked to me like most of them were driving the equivalent of heavily armoured vehicles!

Then I find myself in the corner of a cow field on the top of a remote hill overlooking Cola Beach, Goa; the only place for miles with a signal (and it was very hard to find). Staying in a white tent overlooking a lagoon and the ocean ... living like Cleopatra or the Queen of Sheba (in the good years).

Challenges are invitations.

Just left the South to come North and check out some other places and feeling ever so slightly sorry for myself 'cos I've concluded the north is the far less appealing of the 2.

Yet here I am with the luxury of wifi in my room (bamboo hut) for the 1st time this trip, but of course as the gods would have it the most glorious places have all been down long and winding, barely marked, hidden dirt roads with ne'er a signal to be found for miles.

Have met lots of lovely people, with the Goans at the absolute top of the list, amazingly kind and sweet people, I've felt completely cared for the whole time I've been here. I know for sure I've struck gold when I have to literally wrench myself away from a place: Blue Lagoon, Cola Beach, Goa ... a literal Paradise on earth (even although it is very extravagant for Goa ... a whopping $25 a night). So fickle and changeable as I am, perhaps my next house will actually be a Rajasthani tent. It was total bliss being there and hearing the ocean so close for 5 days, I feel like my whole bio-system was re-calibrated. And the full moon was beyond breath-taking.

I could almost have spent the rest of my life there ... even if it did require climbing hills and watching for cobras daily while stumbling through underbrush looking for signals. One day I got so distracted holding my lap-top over my head that I got completely lost for 2 hours and eventually had to be rescued. I had no water with me, so I was forced to swallow my pride and called the owner, (who luckily lives where there is a signal), he came right away and I, to my embarrassment, discovered I was only about 10 ft from the right path. So much for those Lewis and Clark type delusions of grandeur I secretly harbour.

Off to snobbishly explore a slightly substandard beach, it instantly lost points for having more than 20 people on the horizon.

I just can't fathom what makes some western women think it is alright to walk around topless while guests in a highly conservative, traditional culture? It is particularly disrespectful to the local women and equivalent of the Indian men being so rude to show up in our country and walk around with their family jewels hanging out. Get a grip, sisters.

A few days ago went to an amazing family run Spice Farm. They live in a 250 year old mud and cow dung house, incredibly cool (temperature) and energy efficient. The plants there were all 100% organic and so lovingly cared for... wished all my peeps who actually know how to cook could have been there. Another glorious day.

It is a real treat to have a hot shower (rare in South Goa, but they bring you buckets of hot water). HOWEVER I'm ever so slightly nervous about the nearly bare live wires about 3 feet from the shower head here in my hut! I'm no electrician but I'm not turning this baby on full blast, and it is dampening (pun intended) the joy just a little.

My new digs ... "The Dunes" North Goa style. Not so bad at all, but I am completely enamoured by the south so I believe that will be the new "Heaven and Earth" India base; it's lusher, quieter, simpler. Arambol is a 2 km stroll from Mandrem where I am staying, where the 60's/70's stood still; rocking, smoking, even the salt air is over-ridden by heady aromas of THC. Bom Shankar a half century on. I in my latter, "sensible" years could only take it for a half a day, (and not a soul offered to sell me anything, I have for sure lost my hippie aura).

Last day in Goa, 5am tomorrow I catch a train to Hampi and central India.

Today yet another sacrilege (on a par with the non-cook going to the spice farm): I, one of the few women who detests shopping went to the Queen of Indian Flea Markets at Anjuna Beach ... I bought nothing but 3 light cotton shirts (my "uniform" in Bali). It was however a visual feast!

Then a quick trip to Old Goa, the last hold of the Portuguese who colonised Goa from the mid 15th century until 1961when they got their independence and were absorbed into India, but it seems all Goans still object to being called Indian.

I have a new great love in my life: Goa. I'm richer, slightly wiser, a lot more informed, and much happier for having been here.


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