One of the great dichotomies of India is the apparent mixing–yet dissociation–of social classes. It’s an ironic sight when beautiful, well-maintained Portuguese mansions (above) and small shacks (below) are neighbors.
As I witnessed it, the living situation is very intermingled, with hovels situated in whatever small space is to be found between larger houses and complexes. One of our drivers explained that in a way this is made possible by the caste system, which is very ingrained in Indian culture. Even with people of different castes living so close together, everyone knows their place in society and so maintains a social distance. It was surprising to me as an American, where class-segregated neighborhoods are the norm.
And then there’s the sheer number of people. The cities are densely populated and the labor market seems saturated. Labor is incredibly cheap, at least in this region of Goa. At the conference, it was rare to open your own door or pour your own tea; there would be a hotel employee at every door and every teapot even if they were more in the way than anything.
And then there was the night we wanted some beer with our dinner at the hotel. We asked if they had a beer selection and we were told we could have anything we wanted. Great! Little did we know, the hotel didn’t sell alcohol itself. But for about $1 plus the cost of the “finest” beer in town, our server happily sent a runner to go to the store to buy us each a bottle of beer.
Despite the apparent poverty and interesting labor situation, Goa is a center for tourism primarily for its beautiful beaches. I knew well enough there is a season for beaches, but–though warm–summer is not that time in Goa.
There’s the rain, for one. And the strong currents. And also the rain. (Yes, we’re wearing rain jackets while nearly going for a swim.) There is also a lack of beachside restaurants this time of year, which apparently is what these really great grass huts are for during the high season. I would have definitely popped in to one of these if I’d had the chance.
Goa isn’t all about the beach, though. The incredible old Portuguese churches and Hindu temples deserve a post of their own. I also visited the Reis Magos Fort, the stronghold of the Mandovi River. It was built in 1551 and has been undergoing recent renovations. You know, just in case Goa is ever under attack.
It’s a beautiful spot and even had its own natural supply of fresh drinking water (in the hole to the left in the picture below) so it could withstand a long siege.
Built in 1613, the larger Aguada Fort also sat atop a natural spring, this one used to fill the large surrounding moat with water that was used to refill incoming ships. Hence the name “aguada”, of course.
We hit all the tourist destinations we could in order to get a feel for the history of Goa, but we also tried to soak in some of the everyday life as well. This included a stop at the market (though we were too nervous to buy fresh food because we had no easy way to wash it in potable water). And we did our fair share of walking and rickshawing around town. About the traffic, I’ll just say that the rumblers are the least of anyone’s concern.
Experiencing Goa for the first week of my trip was a culture shock, to be sure. I could only imagine how my life would be different if this kind of chaos was the norm. Yet so many people living there never know anything different.
Stay tuned for some of the more mellow places I visited while I was there. Mellow except for the Indian paparazzi, of course.