all text and images copyright sue brown 1997/2001
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Casa Mesquita, Colva, Goa
First Impressions

Casa Mesquita is all it's cracked up to be in The Rough Guide. Huge, dark, cool, neglected and full of atmosphere. I appear to be the only guest. A woman named Maria in a turquoise sari shows me around and brings me rose-flavoured tea, which I drink in my room beside the open window gazing at banana plants and savouring the exotic birdsong. I have a rickety four poster bed in which I cannot wait to sleep.

Two dogs sprawl on the verandah outside, a black and tan named Khir and a white, Branco. The house is in the old Portuguese colonial style, built in the 1930's by the father of the present owner, Alberto Mesquita. "In the colonial days," Alberto informs me, you could get anything from anywhere in the world."

The hexagonal red, cream and black floor tiles were imported from Italy. The place is astonishing; everywhere I look I find more detail. Intricate mosaics bedeck the long verandahs. The ice-cream pink hallway has plaster hands sprouting from the wall to hold the curtain rails. The long net curtains hanging over the the internal doors and the Long Room's french windows have a pattern which echo the design of the arched stained-glass fanlights.The high arched windows inside the house have shutters, as do the doors: they are not doors but four hinged panels which open at the centre, fastened by crude iron hooks. I want to take everything home with me in photographs but the cool shade will keep Casa Mesquita's secrets unphotographable.

Maria, the housekeeper has a grandson, Bernardo, who runs naked and alone through the empty echoing house all day. His only playmates are the two dogs who bear his fierce bearhugs stoically.

It is Bernardo's second birthday on the day I arrive. We eat with Alberto, Maria, the birthday boy and his mother that evening, a celebratory meal of Goan home cooking: chicken xacuti, sag paneer, salad and fried rice.

Corner shop, Colva crossroads.
The star-shaped lampshade hanging above the door is a Christmas decoration. Almost every house in Goa has at least one of these at Chirstmastime, lit at night. Larger houses may have three or four along the verandahs. Travelling at night by tuk-tuk or taxi, the effect is a myriad of stars twinkling between the palm trees.

I caught the bus into the nearest town, Margao.
Margao's bazaar is hidden behind and within a maze of shops, very hard to find. Inside is a claustrophobic riddle of narrow passages and lanes filled with unusual sights and scents. Stalls offer coils of tar-soaked rope and fishing nets; glass bangles in every rainbow shade; saris, fabrics and musty cushions; gaudy plastic toys; water jugs and painted buckets; cakes of soap; barrels of biscuits; raw sugar in huge cheeses, chunks of black molasses sugar, and honey-coloured gur. The fragrance is a spicy blend, oddly disturbing at first: liquorice-molasses, spices, and the prickling scent emanating from heaps of dried red chillis, piled to the ceiling, shining with a dull gloss in the dim light. Nearby, open sacks of turmeric and coriander seed add their measure to the bazaar's wealth of colours and smells.
Gokarna, Karnataka

 
Nothing could have prepared me for it: Tony's photographs had made me want to visit, but I was struck dumb by the reality when I stepped off the bus after a long journey. This was the real India, at last. I walked open-mouthed down the red-earth main street.

Gokarna is red. Red dirt streets, red bricks, red tiles, red rusting iron roofs, red dust, red clay: all shades of terracotta, ochre and brown, honey and gold. It has an oddly mediaeval, wild-west aspect. The streets are crowded with religious pilgrims, chanting payers and emerging in streams from the darkened interiors of temples. Shops and stalls sell everything from gilt plastic Ganeshas to brass bells, bananas and home-made ice cream.
 

The Khotiteertha: a vast, open stone-sided ablutions lake with halcyon-blue kingfishers flitting to and from across the tranquil green water.

A solitary white ibis rests on top of the cupola at the lake's centre; women wash laundry on the stone steps.

The people all stare.

Wherever one walks, the children and adults alike call "Namaste!" and down a side street a schoolgirl with bare feet holds out her hand for me to shake: "Namaste, hello! My name Sangheeta. Where you from? What is your name?" She introduces her companions, the questions are repeated, then she thanks me, shakes my hand again, and they continue on their way to school.

I have a room in a guest-house only yards from the sea, a small bare white-washed cell with an earth floor and a rough wooden door. My bed is two thin lumpy mattresses on a wooden bench.

The view from the guest-house is beautiful. A flight of tiny red brick steps that weave up the steep face of the headland: the way to Kudle beach, and further on, Om beach. Other guests tell me about the beauty of these beaches, no more than an hour ot two's walk away.

Near sunset, the fishing boats draw in, and pariah kites swoop down to the sand to catch the tiny silver fish that fall from the nets.

I swim at midnight in the dark velvet sea. Phosphoresence glitters like green sparks. The only light I can see is that of the temple on the hill, high up and twinkling like a star.

At the top of the headland a spectacular view spreads out below. The golden strand of Gokarna beach runs endlessy into the distance. Far on the horizon behind layer upon layer of forest-covered hills the Western Ghat mountains reach to the sky.
Nestled in the protective lee of steep headlands, Om Beach is exceptionally beautiful. Two perfectly curved crescents of beach allow the sea to gently lap at the shore, and at their conjunction a long arm of rock stretches out into the water, to form the shape of the spiritual Indian Om symbol.
The shrine on Gokarna's headland.


all text and images copyright sue brown 1997/2001