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Christmas in India

Thursday 17th December

Spent most of the day travelling, having flown from Johannesburg to Abu Dhabi yesterday I had Abu Dhabi to Mumbai and then Mumbai to Goa. I was met at the airport by a taxi man holding a piece of yellow paper with my name on, he then took me across the road to a minivan thing that creaked and rattled its way through the 2 hour drive from the airport to Agonda beach.

We arrived in Agonda in the dark which is a frightening experience….the road is narrow barely fitting 1 car down it, the edges of road are rough and steep drops into bushes and occasionally stagnant waterholes/communal toilets and baths, cows have a tendency to stroll out from the shadows in front of the car and drivers tend to come towards you at breakneck speed with either no lights or full beam lights! Not sure which is worse!

Unscathed we arrive at the beach and the taxi driver walked me round to the beach hut I would be staying in for 2 weeks. Nothing glamorous just a hut on the beach constructed of ply, plastic bags and dead leaves for a roof. Inside it had 2 lights, a double bed, a mosquito net, a shelf unit and a basic bathroom with hot water no less! I also had pretty good wifi in the hut so couldn’t complain!

I set about unpacking, showering and decorating the hut with the cheap chinese christmas decorations I had bought with me from Cape Town.

Once the hut was festively decorated I went to bed. Dozing off to the sound of dogs partying on the beach!

Friday 18th December

Was awoken by the large population of crows that descended on the hut in the morning, squawking loudly and what sounded like wrestling on the thin plastic bag and dead leaf roof!

I kind of spent the morning pottering before hitting a restaurant next door on the beach called Duck and Chill. I sat staring out to sea with a sweet lime soda and some pitta and hummus, happy to be back in india.

Then after lunch I went for a walk up through Agonda, which is one main road running the length of the beach and did some shopping for essentials.

The afternoon saw me chill out on the veranda writing my final South African blog, speaking to friends and reading a very good book called The Mountain Shadow by Gregory David Roberts which is set in Mumbai and is the sequel to Shantaram.

With the added bonus of wifi in the room I was able to start an online Hindi course that night in bed so lay awake until the early hours learning my Hindi alphabet!

Saturday 19th, Sunday 20th & Monday 21st December

I have grouped these 3 days together because they played out much like the day before….woken up by crows, chilled out in the hut, ate on the beach, sat on the veranda reading and practicing Hindi the only noteworthy things to happen were that Krissy arrived on the evening of the 21st and a cow ate my lunch!

These things I feel need slightly more explanation…Krissy is an Australian friend who I met in India last year, she has been volunteering in Burma for the last 11 months but has flown into India to spend Christmas and New Year with me before we go to Tinu’s wedding. Tinu is a friend of ours, Krissy knows him from back in Oz and she put us in touch last year when I was still in India and Tinu and I travelled around Goa and Hampi together for a week with a couple of friends.

Anyway…I digress….now as for the hungry and probably laughing cow….I was merrily sitting on the beach at a table with my toasted sandwich and chips (can’t eat curry all the time!) and unbeknown to me a stealthy cow had snuck up behind me and was sizing up my lunch! The first I knew of it was a head appearing in my peripheral vision staring at me. Now for those that don’t know the cow is holy in India and is basically in charge! They go where they want, when they want and everyone walks or drives round them. I have seen them stare down lorries on dual carriageways in northern India and even with a large brightly coloured noisy lorry hurtling towards them with a lunatic driver at the wheel they just stare and stand their ground assuming the lorry will avert its course so as not to harm the holy cow!

So going back to the stealthy cow, it stared at me as if challenging me to stop it and then it casually strolled around the front of the table and ate the remainder of my sandwich and all my chips straight off the plate! It didn’t even hang around after, just wandered off and disappeared up the beach!

So much for holy cow, more thieving cow!

Tuesday 22nd December

Krissy and I breakfasted on the beach, then sun bathed for the remainder of the morning. After lunch we headed off into town to make a start on trying to find wedding outfits, we perused fabric in 3 shops before settling on the first shop we found owned by a Kashmiri guy. We then picked out our fabrics and designs and got measured up for our Salwar Kameez’s (basically trousers and tunic with a scarf). Once measured up we headed back to the hut with the shopping then headed back up the beach to find a restaurant for dinner.

Wednesday 23rd and Thursday 24th December

Again not much happened of note, Krissy headed off to yoga classes both mornings, I pottered and read until she got back and then we either hit the beach or chilled on the veranda in the sun.

Noteworthy moments over the 2 days are me fabricating cereal bowls out of the bottom of plastic bottles so we could now enjoy the delights of mango corn flakes no less with lukewarm uht milk and Christmas Eve which turned out to be an odd mix of sunbathing in 35 degree heat whilst listening to Christmas tunes about snow falling all around! Hot, sunny Christmases are just not right!

Krissy and I headed to bed about 11pm on Christmas Eve only to be woken up at midnight by a barrage of fireworks going off all around us and above us! They appeared to go on for a whole hour before the final bang was followed by 10 minutes of dog barking!

Friday 25th December

Well Happy Christmas indeed, Krissy headed off to yoga, I pottered and treated myself to a couple of mince pies for breakfast (they survived the journey from Johannesburg quite well!)  Once Krissy was back we exchanged our token gifts…mine from Africa and hers from Burma and then we hit the beach in santa hats!

We had a christmas curry for lunch (well I did!) and then we sat playing African Animal Top Trumps for a bit!

Obviously Christmas day would not be Christmas day without a nap, so we did that before walking into town early evening to try on our wedding outfits before dinner.

The weirdest Christmas day I have had that’s for sure!

Saturday 26th December

Boxing day was a normal affair of beach, veranda and reading so nothing of interest to report! It’s a hard life lazing around doing nothing…it requires a certain skill that takes an age to perfect!

Sunday 27th December

We headed off out today for a full day of sightseeing around Old Goa. Our taxi dude picked us up at 8am and we headed off for a 2 hour drive to Old Goa. He dropped us off by the Bom Jesus church and told us to wander back when ready and he would be waiting in the car park. We had 4 churches to see plus a museum and a lot of walking in between!

We started by heading to the bom jesus church which was full of revellers singing away, so we couldn’t go in the church but had a wander around the outside taking in the architecture of the colonial Portuguese era.

We then headed over the road to the SE cathedral which again we couldn’t go into but we managed to wander the grounds for a while. We then headed into a small museum housing a bizarre mix of Christian, Persian and Hindu sculptures and icons and then upstairs were paintings of Portuguese governors of Goa!

It was roasting hot in the museum so we didn’t hang around too long and headed off to find the next church which was a small chapel next to the museum.

At this point we were thirsty and hot and found ourselves outside a Baskin Robbins ice cream joint so we popped in to cool off and grab a drink.

Once refreshed we headed off to the ruin of a large church up on the hill and then a small church high on the banks of a river.

It was a very church-related day but was nice to get out and see this UNESCO world heritage site and leave the beach hut for a bit!

Once we were done we headed to the car park and found the driver and headed off to see a couple of Hindu temples and a fort!

We were unable to go in the Hindu temples but wandered around the outside admiring the stunning artwork and carvings and the fort we stopped off at briefly before commencing the long journey back to Agonda!

When we got back we freshened up before heading off to pick up our wedding outfits and have dinner. The outfits look brilliant, Krissy picked some blue, green and gold sari fabric which they turned into the salwar kameez and I picked a light aqua blue fabric with gold trim and cream trousers with the same trim! We look brilliant! Can’t wait for the wedding and the celebrations on a houseboat after!

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