Paradise Lost?

Hi folks, we’ve been to Goa and back since we last talked to you. There’s a whole stack of stuff to tell you about – so together with an assortment of photos and a summary of our Goa trip, the highlights in this edition include sweating it out in Chandigarh, learning to do (and being happy doing) nothing and the visit by Sat’s brother, Jag. Oh yeah, and we’re not going to mention the cricket!

Sat wants me to make it clear that this is a joint posting since his earlier ones have been a bit scathing of life here and mine are usually more upbeat than his!

So let’s kick off with our trip to Goa. Feels like donkey’s ago already but I guess since we had to leave Punjab earlier than planned due to the aftermath of the riots, then we’ve been away for almost 2 weeks…

First off, the travelling. We left the farm for Chandigarh on Tuesday morning and had an uneventful trip to the house there. Being the height of summer now you can certainly feel the difference in temperature in the city after being out in the sticks where it’s already really hot – we were sweating buckets in no time at all. Lovely. That same day, we’d also hired a truck to take the cooker from the farm and swap it over with the one in Chandigarh as that was a better model. So the truck brought the other cooker back to the farm along with the small generator because we rarely needed it there (more on that later!).

Mum had been advised by her doctor a while ago to have some tests on her heart (just for peace of mind) and since Chandigarh has a state of the art Fortis outpatient hospital, and we had the time to do it, we took the opportunity to to get these done. So Tuesday afternoon was spent at the hospital which wasn’t anything like I expected it to be. The hospital was very large, clean and spacious and also quiet. You still get families all turning up for one family member to have treatment or whatever (we were doing exactly the same thing!) but the ambiance within the building was one of calmness and serenity. A welcome haven from the hustle and bustle outside.  Anyway, better pick up the pace a bit on the story-telling here to keep you gripped with “what happens next…”.  Mum’s heart is as strong as an ox but she has high cholesterol (but we already knew that!) and so that’s about all you need to know about that!

On Wednesday Sat and I hired a car and driver for a few hours and went to mooch around a few shops. The highlight of the shopping trip was a minor crash – our driver hit a scooter driver. Since neither of them was paying attention whilst they were driving they were both at fault. The incident itself happened in a car park and at a very slow pace so it was very low impact.  Although there was actually more damage to the car than the scooter, it didn’t stop the scooter driver from having a good moan. Our driver simply inspected the scooter, tweaked a couple of parts on it then started the engine with no problem at all leaving the rider to continue on his merry way, unhurt, apart from a bruised ego.

A quick funny at this point…we saw another guy on a scooter zooming along with his head on one side and muttering to himself. We then realised that he was on his mobile phone – it was jammed up inside his helmet and his head was on one side so the phone didn’t fall out!  Just wish we had a photo of that to show you.  Instead here’s one below which typifies life here – a whole family on one scooter.  You usually see 2 kids squeezed in between their parents – this boy’s lucky as it’s just him (for the moment!)

Scooter Family

Scooter Family

Anyway, we weren’t in much of a shopping mood so we decided to go onto Sukna Lake for a stroll.  Not the best timing as it was midday and the sun was at it’s most intense. There was very little shade at the lake but it was good to be out of the house as there’s nothing to do indoors. It’s a bit of a Catch 22 situation. Stay at home and be bored or be outside and fry. The lake is quite scenic and they even have a jogging path there – and we did actually see one guy jogging (although he was heading towards the cafeteria so maybe he just wanted to get his lunch quickly?).

Sukna Lake

Sukna Lake

Cooking food in the Chandigarh house is a real chore as mum and dad spend so little time there that the cupboards are practically bare and the local supermarket is very limited in what it stocks, so dinner was spent, as usual, in The Rock, more familiarly known to us as Rocky’s. It’s the only decent restaurant within walking distance of the house. It’s very dark inside with a couple of battered AC units coughing out cool air, a few ceiling fans and stain-ridden tablecloths plus a fish tank in the corner (?). On the plus side, the food is pretty good. You still wouldn’t risk a salad or anything raw or even fish! Noodles, chilli chicken, honey chicken and a few bottles of Kingfisher beer are our usual source of sustenance here. Our night out was followed by a second sleepless night back at the house. Let me explain. The house is south-east facing and gets the sun for most of the day and since it’s made of brick and concrete it absorbs heat and retains it.  So by the evening, even the cold water in the tank has heated up considerably making a cold shower to cool down out of the question. The outside temperature does drop a bit in the evening but the house continues to radiate heat. There’s no air con here either so we rely on ceiling fans to bat the hot air around which would be OK until we talk about the bed we have to sleep on.  Actually, bed is a bit of a misnomer. It certainly looks bed-shaped but measured on the comfort scale, it rates somewhere alongside a wooden board.  All in all, rest and relaxation in Chandigarh just doesn’t happen in the middle of summer. Let’s move onto Goa…

Actually, I can’t move onto Goa until I’ve told you about the flights to get us there. Flights, plural, as we flew from Chandigarh to Delhi first but didn’t change aircraft, and then we continued onto Goa – it’s actually only about 3 hours of flying time but ends up being a 4+ hour journey due to the stopover in Delhi. The safety briefing is pointless and the cabin crew have their work cut out for them since kids are allowed to sit on their parent’s laps (they ignore using the seatbelt) and the kids slam the tray table and window blinds up and down relentlessly during take off, flight and landing – a real pain in the arse when you’ve got them sitting behind you. Adults use mobile phones during the safety briefing and again as soon as we touch down. Kids stand up the whole way (if they’re not on their parent’s lap without a seatbelt). And the aroma of body odour is pretty ripe. I think I’ll leave it there – you get the idea.

Our arrival in Goa was a positive one – it was a relief to get off the plane for a start, and all our luggage had arrived on the same flight as us – what more could we want? We hired a cab to take us to our hotel, which was in a resort called Candolim about an hour’s drive away. We’d done plenty of research on before making our choice, much to the lament of mum and dad who’d stayed near the airport (as they usually do wherever they go – saves on travel time apparently) last time they’d been there. The first thing we noticed was that drivers were much more considerate and competent that those we’d seen in the Punjab. They don’t hoot their horns all the time and because the roads are narrower, they’re not itching to overtake everything in sight. They are patient and wait for an appropriate moment. Plus they drive on the correct side of the road. Makes for a much more relaxing ride as a passenger.

The heavens opened about half an hour into the journey but we didn’t mind. After the heat of Chandigarh, some rain was more than welcome (so long as it didn’t rain all week). We’d seen from the plane that the state of Goa is very lush and green with plenty of rainforest and we were impressed with how just how much we could see from the air since we are used to the smog and dust in the Punjab and visibility is much reduced. The view from the car gave us a better insight into the Portuguese influence, particularly in the architecture. The countryside was very picturesque so our hopes were equally high for the beach resorts.

It took a couple of drive pasts to find our hotel tucked away off the main road but we were soon checked in and unpacking. The room was very basic, no great views to report so we decided to go for a walk along the beach which was at the end of the garden. This is where we wish we’d paid more attention to the one comment on TripAdvisor about the ship which ran aground 9 years ago. The “River Princess” doesn’t deserve its name at all and is an eyesore on this part of the Goan coastline. I’m sure there are good reasons why the ship hasn’t been salvaged or moved but the impact it’s having on the local environment and subsequently on tourism is immense. In short, we packed up the following day and checked into a hotel in a different resort further down the coast at Baga.  The hotel owner in Candolim wasn’t too chuffed but there was nothing he could do.

The monsoon season in Goa runs for 3 months from June to end of August. We were aware of this when we were planning our trip but hadn’t fully appreciated how much things close down for this whole period. Shops, restaurants, hotels – much of the area was like a ghost-town. As a result, the place was much quieter than we’d expected and not the tourist hub we were hoping for. Needless to say, we did find bars and restaurants to provide all the unhealthy stuff we’d didn’t have access to for the last 2 months. Our first night in a beachfront restaurant having steak and chips with mushroom sauce, washed down with a mojito cocktail was absolute bliss! :-) Actually, I think that’s about all Sat ate the whole week (oh, as well as Cadbury’s chocolate and Oreo cookies at regular intervals!)

Late on Day 2 it started to rain. And boy, did it rain!? In fact, it rained so much that it didn’t stop until Monday! We weren’t impressed. Here’s a soggy-looking Sat on the beach…

Sat In The Monsoon

Sat In The Monsoon

That brings me nicely onto the subject of beaches. We’d seen the Indian Ocean before when we’d been to the Maldives. There the water was crystal clear and full of sea-life. In Goa the water was murky and dirty with a yellowish tinge to the spume that got washed up on the sand. Admittedly it was pre-monsoon so the water was particularly choppy and swimming in the sea wasn’t allowed due to the turbulence of the waves (though, to be honest, we had no intention of swimming in water that grotty anyway). Again, not being there in peak season, it’s hard to know what state the beaches are normally in. During the time we were there, the beachfront was littered with all kinds of rubbish, from plastic bottles to syringes and from red chillies to light bulbs. We found this quite sad really that for a place that depends so much on tourism, the efforts made to keep these areas clean and even recycle were barely visible. Couple all this to the countless stray dogs that live on the beach and the mess associated with them scattered everywhere and you probably don’t have a very good image of Goa beaches in your mind.

One of the funniest things about the beach is there’s about 5km of it stretching from Baga to Candolim and in-between those two resorts is another resort called Calangute which, in comparison to the other resorts we’d seen, was far busier. Without word of a lie, this whole stretch of beach would be empty apart from a 75 metre section at Calangute where all the Indian tourists would congregate and paddle in the sea. I’m specific about them being Indian tourists since our hopes of meeting other Westerners had quickly faded once we saw what low season meant. We only spoke to one other tourist all week, a very friendly girl from Germany. The other Westerners we saw were either high on suspect substances or ignored us completely. Quite disappointing given I hadn’t seen any other non-Indian people for over 2 months.



Moving on…so apart from eating, drinking, sleeping and the odd jog or walk on the beach, what else did we do? Well, we downloaded and watched the 5 remaining episodes of 24 (series 7)  which we’d missed in the UK so that made me a happy bunny. Sat watched all of his remaining episodes of The Wire (US crime series he was addicted to), we did emails and Skyped and did loads of internet-based stuff until the owner of the wireless network we’d hooked into cottoned on that their usage had gone through the roof and added a password to it so we couldn’t make use of it anymore! Still, it was good while it lasted.

Sat’s progress with his book had slowed a little and he was getting frustrated so to give him some peace and quiet, me, mum and dad went over to Panjim for half a day. It’s the state capital of Goa and also known as Panaji. It’s a busy port town. I wouldn’t have known it was so busy other than when we were in the cab on the way there, mum clearly stated to the driver that we wanted to go to the beach. An hour’s drive later and we’re in the middle of the bustling town’s crowded shopping area with our driver asking where we wanted to be dropped off for shopping. “We want to go to the beach!” was the deafening reply from both my in-laws. So another 15 minutes of traffic jam later and we’re on the beachfront. Much cleaner that elsewhere but this was mainly due to the lack of restaurants and shacks along the beach.

Mum & Dad

Mum & Dad

Our final night was spent at Britto’s restaurant. It’s famed for it’s Portuguese food but it’s the place where we’d eaten on our first night and there was only one thing on the menu we wanted – steak and chips. We drank a fair few cocktails and even had dessert – tiramisu for Sat, apple pie and cream for me. Well, we knew it’d be another couple of months before we’d have these sorts of luxuries again, you have to make the most of it while you can. The other really good restaurant we found was called Take 5. It was primarily a jazz bar but did great cocktails and very good food. Also, this was the first place that Sat had a JD & coke in Goa so it holds special memories for him, particularly as it was happy hour and he had a double! We were the only customers in this bar both times we were there – I’m sure it would have had a really great atmosphere in high season as it had a nice vibe about it.

The day we were leaving we had time to visit the resort where mum and dad had gone to the first time they’d been to Goa. The beach was much cleaner but the resort was very small and practically dead so we didn’t feel we’d missed anything there. It satisfied their curiosity though. Unfortunately we arrived at the airport very early due to the Jenson Button-like driving skills of our cabbie. That wouldn’t have been too much of an issue but for the fact the incoming flight from Delhi was delayed which meant we’d be delayed for our departure. We’d arrived at the airport around 10.30 and our flight was due out at 2.15. In the end we took off at 4.30. That’d be alright if you’re in one of the terminals at Heathrow where there’s enough to occupy you for a couple of hours but at Goa Domestic Airport there’s bugger all there. All you can do is eat samosas (we did), wrestle with melted chocolate (we did) and drink cups of tea (mum did). So we were pretty cheesed off by the time we were on the plane and a repeat performance of the shenanigans from the kids sitting (more accurately, standing) near us didn’t go down well either. Particularly the little lad behind me who wiped melted chocolate all over my headrest and just missed my hair. AAAggghhh!!!!!

And then we get back to the furnace that is Chandigarh. Home sweet home. Not. And then, just to cap it all off, we have the same blind and incompetent cab driver that took us to the airport when we left (I forgot to mention him earlier but I’ll fill you in now). That journey hadn’t been too bad as it was early morning and there was little traffic to bother him. The return leg was beyond belief. He couldn’t find his way out of the bloody airport for a start. He had no concept of building up speed to change gears so he’d be in 5th gear by the time he’d got to 35kph and he’d horn all the time as he clearly (?) couldn’t see anything much in the dark so this preemptive manoeuvre of horning all the time probably made him feel more secure that the road ahead was clear. (I’d imagine my parents having kittens if they’re reading this now!) The silver lining in this journey was a quick pitstop at Domino’s pizza to pick up dinner. A shame that another of dad’s estimates was blown out of the water by our driver. What should have been a 10-15 minute journey home from the pizza place took over half an hour. Anyway, the pizza was very tasty and worth the wait and it was still hot! Another sleepless night on the wooden board with churning hot air followed.

This is when parting with the generator and sending it back to the farm proved to be fatal. In the words of Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, “big mistake”. You’d think the powers that be would have a better grip of getting electricity cuts sorted quickly in a city like Chandigarh but not during the time we were there. We lots power late evening on the day we got back, it came back on for a couple of hours on the Friday morning and then we were without power for the whole of that day. No electricity does have further ramifications in that no power means no fresh water as the tubewell won’t work. Furthermore not everyone has the luxury of a tubewell so there were many people that day who went without fresh water for over 12 hours. It also meant fridges defrosted, there was no TV, you couldn’t boil water (unless you had gas), ceiling fans wouldn’t work, etc. It does make you appreciate these things we have spent years taking for granted. Many people simply sit outside their houses at times like this because they have nothing else to do – it’s funny, but it’s the one time when there’s actually a bit of community spirit.

To kill time last Friday, Sat, dad and I had gone shopping and dropped mum off at a friend’s place since she didn’t fancy coming with us. The AC of the car was a relief from the intense heat everywhere else. We even had lunch in McDonald’s (the healthy eating would resume once Jag went back to the UK!) – no beef or lamb though, only chicken nuggets and chicken burgers.

I’m not sure if I’ve laboured the Indian heat aspect too much but you feel so helpless in this kind of situation. It’s too hot to do anything outside and if you stay indoors there’s not much to do, worsened when there’s no electricity.  We’ve come from a culture where the norm is to be busy all the time and where we always have things to do, life in India is a complete contrast and takes a lot of getting used to. In the West, time is the one thing we always seem to be short of; time for ourselves and for other people. Yet here in India, we’re at the opposite end of the spectrum where time is the one thing we do have in abundance and knowing what to do with it isn’t always obvious. I still haven’t got used to it and I often feel that I am wasting this abundance of time.  But as Sat pointed out to me yesterday, we are continuing to learn during this time, it’s just not in the conventional way that we’re used to. Our relationships with the people around us and how we deal with things are probably the areas where this is most apparent. We’re still trying to operate in Westernised ‘must maximise our time mode’ whereas the pace of life here runs to a different (slower) beat and requires an altogether different level of self management to handle it. I think Sat’s found it easier to adapt than I have but even he has his moments too. I also think that as we never eat well in Chandigarh (we usually eat out) a lack of fresh fruit & veg in our diet has an impact as these are really key things for the both of us to maintain a healthy mind and body. Sat was in quite a (rare!) philosophical mood yesterday as he also said we’d be stronger for this whole experience. I have to agree with him.

Anyway, back to the story….we had Saturday morning to kill before Jag’s flight arrived from Delhi. So we hired a car and driver for the day (a different guy from airport man, before you ask!) and headed off to the lake again for a potter about and some lunch. Soon it was time to go to the airport and it wasn’t long before Jag’s big beaming grin (and the rest of him, in case you thought he was some kind of Cheshire Cat!) appeared in the arrivals hall. We collected our luggage (I’d be lying if I said it was his luggage. I think of the 45kgs he brought over, at least 42kgs of it was stuff for us! The rest of it was his camera and a spare pair of pants!). A short stop in Chandigarh to load up dad’s car and then we were on our way back to the farm. Since Jag’s on his holidays, it was only fair we stopped at a restaurant en route to get him fed and watered after such a long journey. We stuffed our faces on parathas, butter chicken, mushroom dopiaza, chilli chicken and mum ordered a take out portion of noodles which served as a midnight snack for her later on! We also bought a bottle of Bacardi to replace the one dad accidentally smashed just before leaving Chandigarh but at £5 a bottle it didn’t cost a fortune. (Forgot to mention, on our earlier shopping trip we’d managed to track down some Jack Daniels, Bacardi and Jacobs Creek Chardonnay). Couple that with all the goodies Satpal and Parm had sorted out for us (see previous posting for our wish list) then we were well sorted for another few weeks. Apparently the bag of brown rice he brought for us was a running joke – a bit like taking coals to Newcastle (understandably) but we just haven’t managed to find anywhere that sells it! Sat had also got Jag to bring a stash of chocs from Thorntons as a birthday present for me. Much of it had melted by the time it got here so it’s been sitting in the fridge ever since (apart from the odd bar or two that we’ve secretly scoffed – do you see there’s a trend in our chocolate-eating habits??) As we’re going trekking in Ladakh towards the end of the month and we’ll be away for my birthday then this chocolate needs eating – I don’t need asking twice! The birthday pressies my parents and sister sent will come with us on our trek so I have something to open on the ‘big day’. You’d think by now the novelty of birthdays would have worn off. Not with me and Sat!

Earlier this week, Sat, Jag and I went off for a walk into the village.  I know I said we weren’t going to mention the cricket but we’ll ignore the current Twenty20 competition and talk about grassroots cricket instead.  We came across a bunch of boys playing cricket on the football pitch/playing field of the school where I was teaching.  There’s no grass, just dust and it’s the same place the footy competition was held at when we first arrived.  Happily for me, many of the boys were pupils at the school and I was greeted with cries of “Madam ji, Madam ji” which was very welcoming! They were keen to get us involved so Sat volunteered to take strike.  His first ball was a dot ball – he was just warming up (his words, not mine).  The second ball he somehow managed to score a 4 and at this point he decided to quit while he was ahead.  Thus ending his village cricket playing career.   Jag, meanwhile, had taken another 100 photos to add to his ever-growing collection.  Action shot below!



We haven’t mentioned Simba very much in our blog so far.  He’s the farm’s guard-dog/pet/pest/source of amusement.  He’s a few months old and is of no particular breed (in Wigan we’d call him a Heinz 57 i.e. a blend of 57 different breeds).  His default position is to roll onto his back and expect his belly to be tickled.  If that doesn’t get the desired result, he’s likely to run off with your sandal or even your mobile phone.  This is a picture of him looking particularly cute, as if butter wouldn’t melt. We know otherwise but thought a picture of him would please Sukhmuni.



So there you have it, you’re upto date with everything that’s gone on in the last couple of weeks. I must admit, it’s really good to have Jag around. For one, he’s company for us; two, he’s a much more positive person than mum and dad which helps with the overall atmosphere and three, he can be a tourist for the week visiting places and mum and dad are more than happy to go with him and we have some peace and quiet!  He even came for a run with us this morning wearing the new trainers we’d bought for dad that he hasn’t even worn yet! They’ve all gone to Garhshankar and Nawansher (about an hour’s drive away) today to do some shopping which is why I’ve had the time to write this epic of a posting.

So I’ll love you and leave you for now. We’ll be off to Ladakh towards the end of June so we’ll do another posting before we go.

Had a few technical problems since I wrote most of this, so congratulations to Simren (Sat & Jag’s niece) for passing her driving test (first time) yesterday!!!  Anyone living in the Slough area might want to make sure they have fully comp insurance cover!! ;-) (That was Uncle Sat, not me!)

Oh yeah, and for the rest of the Sandhu/Phagura clan – we had lunch at Havelli today. Yum!

Adios amigos!



One Response to "Paradise Lost?"

  • Jo/Sat
    Great to catch up with you guys finally. Yes I know what you mean about time, longest I have been in India during adulthood is 2.5 weeks but I know exactly what you mean – an hour dawdles and encompasses hours! Just generally what a huge divide guys, hot/cold, noise/quiet (even people speak decibels higher), male chauvinism/equality, choas/order….

    1 kamphagura said this (June 20, 2009 at 22:06)