Our journey into Goa was a bit of an adventure on it’s own. Few hours before the scheduled departure, we found out our waitlisted tickets were not going to get converted into actual tickets. At this point it was also too late to buy the foreign tourist quota tickets available in the higher class (and consequentlly significantly more expensive) carriage. We got a bit worried as no buses went from Ahmedabad to Goa until next morning and even then the journey would have taken about 25 hours (we didn’t fancy that!) and the next train (on following evening) was fully booked out. After a quick google of our options we decided our best chance wouuld be to speak to the ticket inspector on an off chance there would be some space available on the train. The ticket inspectors based at the station told us we could get on the train in the sleeper carriage with our waitlisted tickets. That would be fine, if it wasn’t for the fact our train didn’t have a sleeper carriage… We waited for the train, determined to get on. When it turned up to our suprise we spotted a sleeper carriage and jumped on – it wasn’t even particularly full. What a relief, we thought! But that seemed almost too good to be true, so we asked the man sitting next to us if this was definitely the train to Goa. He didn’t seem sure, so asked the next man and soon enough it transpired it was not the right train. Luckily for us Indian trains never seem in any hurry, so we jumped off with our bags and were informed by a friendly man on the platform that our train was delayed and it got moved from platform 5 to platform 4. We waited and when the train finally arrived, it was as expected without a sleeper carriage. We found the conductor for the carriage we were waitlisted for and asked if there was any chance we could be let on on the train. He seemed a bit reluctant at first, but when we asked if we could sit in the corridor he agreed to let us on. He even offered his little cabin to us and laid out some bedding for us and gave us a bottle of water. We were very grateful and rather quilty for depriving him of his sleeping quarter, but we said he had another berch on the outside of his cabin. We thought, what a kind man and he was, but it also turned out he was a bit of a business man. He asked for some money for the privilege of being on the train (even though we paid the full price for our two waitlisted tickets), but we didn’t mind as we were just so relieved to be on the train and have a space to sleep too. Soon enough we found out our conductor also rented out his outside birth. We’re not sure where he slept, if at all, but he was there in the morning encoraging us to step out of our little cabin to admire the beautiful views as we approached Goa.
When we got of the train we went straight for the local bus to Mandgao central, from there we took another bus to Ponda and from there a rickshaw to the Sahakari Spice Plantation. The entry ticket included a welcome drink, buffet lunch and a guided tour of the plantation. We decided to go for lunch first, as we were very hungry by the time we got to the plantation. This was our first introduction to Goan cuisine which is significantly different to Rajastani food we’ve been eating for the past few weeks. After satisfying our appetites we went for the tour. Our guide was a very friedly and informative man and he laughed at all our terrible jokes. We saw what coffee beans look like when they are straight of the tree and that they don’t have that lovely coffee smell until they are roasted. We saw tumeric plant, some cardamon bushes, baby pinaples, cinnamon trees, bental palms, vanilla orchids climbing up the tree, tiny cashew flower buds that would eventually flourish into a cashew nut at the end of a bigger cashew fruit. There’s a special Goan liquor made of the cashew fruit, which we’re yet to sample as Friday was a dry day and today – Saturday – is an election day and 90% of businesses seemed to have close for the occasion. At the end of the tour our giude poured some fraguant citronella and lemongrass cold water on our backs, which was a bit of a shock but very refreshing.
We then headed to the hotel we booked the previous night while on the train. We didn’t have high hopes, as reviews were mixed and from the decription it didn’t sound like anything special. The place turned out to be full of character and old-time charm.The Royal Pheonix Inn is located in an old Portouguese villa with a huge veranda overlooking a beautifully illuminated Hindu temple dedicated to the monkey god Hanuman. Inside our room was furnished with some quaint and rather curious old furniture. My favourite was a wicker and wood armchair with the longest arm rests ever – King Kong would be able to stretch out his arms and have a comfy seat. We went out and had some yummy crab for dinner and then retured to our Inn and stayed up late on the veranda drinking masala chai and planning the next steps of our journey.
After our bizzare train ride and late night tea drinking we were due a quiet morning and emerged late from our room to sit on thebalcony again. The peculiar, yet very friendly hotel owner made us some decent omlettes for breakfast, even going halfway across town for eggs: When choosing to come to Panaji, we hadn’t realised that a local election would be shutting most of the town. We first visited the Hanuman temple next door, noticing the furious preprations being made for an upcomming “monkey festival” which we will be sad to miss. Following this we strolled back to the bus station to capitalise on the plans we had dreamt up the previous night, booking busses and trains for the next couple of weeks of our adventure. Afterwards we embarked on a self planned walking tour around the old portugese buildings of Panaji. We particularly enjoyed the wooden interior of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, and the beautiful blue tiled pictures of the Menazes Braganza Institute.
We grabbed a quick supper of overly large Dosas in about the only open restaurant we could find, which turned out to be luckily be ery tasty. Returning to the hotel, we just about had time for one more balcony Chai before taking our big packs to the bus station and boarding the sleeper coach to Hampi.