It’s early morning in Goa; a Malabar Pied Hornbill polishes its bill against the branch of an equally magnificent banyan tree. In the next cottage, a Brazilian man seems to reflect her actions as he runs a cloth lovingly over his dosa-sized camera lens.
A yellow hibiscus flower shakes vigorously, followed by the nod of a red ixora bunch; a Purple Sunbird is flitting from one to another.
I pick my bag, packed from the night before with my idli camera, and tip-toe out. It’s Friday morning, Mapusa Market must be humming, and my friend Kitty is waiting; as is Derek Monteiro, who knows Goa like a toddy-tapper knows his grove. He will be showing us around. I feel charged and ready to explore.
Saligao and Asagao
We drive through the neighbourhood Saligao, where the houses are so beautiful, even the desolate, crumbling ones belong in coffee-table books. Lacy foliage dignifies them with an elegant shroud. “The Goans from Saligao and Asagao are conscious of their heritage,” said Derek. “They’ll wait to sell a property like this one to someone who will restore it lovingly rather than a builder.” In narrow Demello Vaddo, a street once replete with Demello surnames, a group of children hover around a communal scarecrow-like figure seated on a chair. It is the “old man”. Today is the last day of the year, and the old man will be burnt symbolically, giving rise to the new.
A man chats across a low wall with a neighbour, when we slow down to admire his house, he calls us in. The entrance porch is exquisitely detailed with translucent mother-of-pearl windows. Derek points to the traditional balcao or veranda. The sopo is a permanent cement seat that welcomes visitors.
The bougainvillea —drenched neighbourhood of Asagao further north is hilly in comparison, with wider roads flanked by enormous houses. Pairs of lion sculptures guard many of the gateways, while other homes have figurines of cockerels and saluting soldiers as sentinels.
Mapusa market is a visual onslaught, and the man with the dosa lens is already there, capturing images of the motorcycle-taxis, religious stalls, mountains of spice and the jewellery-laden Lamini women who hail from Rajasthan. Although they come to sell their wares, the Laminis have now become a part of the Goan landscape.
Derek points out to traditional rosary-sausages that look exactly like plump rosary beads. The sun-dried prawns are eaten along with scraped coconut, rice and curry in a dish called kismur popular during the monsoon season when fishermen avoid the seas and fresh fish is not plentiful.
My camera captures candid moments at Shirodkar Bar, a local tavern. I feel competitive delight. The big lens would have frozen their expressions. Besides, we have Derek’s expert guidance. We win.
There is a livestock market where long horned and doe-eyed cattle are on display. We try jaggery-sweetened sanaas, cookie-like brown balls called baal, Kokad, a pink coconut fudge and bolina, a coconut and semolina biscuit. Babinka, a multi-layered feast-cake is packed to be savoured at leisure.
Our final stop in the market is the local institution, Café Xavier. A tall cheeku shake is followed by beef croquet and patties, the local specialty. Dosa lens is there too. He doesn’t have Derrick, instead, what looks like two of Derrick’s uncles. Dosa clearly wins. My smugness switches to envy.
Best time to visit: November to March. Goan hotels offer special rates during the Monsoon season.
Taj Holiday Village, The Sol, a new boutique hotel in Nerul.
Mum's Kitchen, Café Vinit, Panjim, and at various Beach shacks.
Wendell Rodricks, Panjim for designer wear; Sangolda for home wares.
Friday morning — Mapusa; Saturday — Night Market in Arpora; Wed —- Anjuna flea Market