Goa, India

Once again, we were booked with Magic Tours of India.  I had multiple couples cancel again at the last minute which provided the usual hectic start to the day.  I rounded up a few additional couples to fill the gaps and the company was very understanding about the change in numbers.  I have to give accolades to this particular company; it is one of the few that are allowed to pick up passengers outside of immigration rather than at the port gate.  It was awesome to find people holding signs saying “Heather Phillips Group” without having to search for them.  Our guide explained later that most private companies are not allowed to do this; one more reason to go with Magic Tours! Since all were paying in cash today we were able to leave immediately (payment would take place on the bus at the end of the tour). As you can see, the port is none too beautiful.

We were curious what our experience would be here compared to Mumbai.  Obviously, the crowds would be much lighter, but we did not know what to expect in terms of scenery.  Our guide, Bentu (Ben) Rodriguez, was Portuguese; this is a Portuguese area.  The first thing we learned is that Goa is a geographic area rather than a city location.  We drove through Vasco DeGama City in order to get to our destination.  The tour was called, “Goa, Past and Present”.  Goa is known for its Catholic churches.  There are 198 Catholic churches, over 400 Catholic chapels and over 300 temples in the area; this is one area of India where Hindus seem to be in the minority.

Ben explained that the shipyard that we passed builds fast warships; many of their orders are from Russia.  Someone asked about bugs and snakes.  Ben told us that they were trained to stay out of the cities.  Quite the jokester was our Ben!  Prior to being a tour guide, he was an entertainer.  He was full of jokes and kept us laughing throughout the day.

The Portuguese came to Goa in 1510 for two reasons:  the spice trade and to convert the local Hindus to Christianity.  They found that black pepper had three purposes.  At the time, salt was used for preserving meat when sailors were at sea.  Pepper preserved meat up to 5 times longer than salt.  It also tasted better than salt.   Lastly, it killed tapeworm in meats.  When pepper is grown, it goes through multiple color changes.  Initially, it is green, then yellow, then red.  If salt is added at this point it turns white (white pepper is a milder form of pepper).  If salt is not added, it then turns black.

The locals were not too excited about being converted to a different faith.  Part of the issue was language; the priests that were sent spoke Portuguese or Spanish rather than the local language. After a while, people would attend mass in the morning to placate the priests but go to their temples in the evening.  Since the conversion wasn’t really working, a three-fold Inquisition took place.  Those that refused to convert were burned at the cross or stake.  Catholics were given houses, property, and shops, making life more difficult for those that refused to convert.  Catholics would marry Hindu widows and usurp their property.  Not too surprisingly, many people left Goa with their Hindu babies.

Who turned things around was a Father Francis Xavier.  He stopped the Inquisition.   He learned to local language and preached using it.  He preached the catechism, taught songs and translated the Bible.  With this change of tactics, 93% of the 250,000 local people became Catholic.  120 churches, monasteries, convents, etc. were built.  Goa became known as the Ancient Rome of the East.

In 1839, the Bubonic Plague wiped out 80% of the population.  Buildings and homes had to be burned to the ground to prevent the spread of plague, so people left the area.  In 1843 New Goa was founded.

Many types of wildlife can be found in the area.  There are black leopards, tigers (5 kinds), deer, rhinoceros, crocodiles and cobras/king cobras, to name a few.  Did you know that snake charmers do not hypnotize cobras with their flute-playing?  Cobras are deaf.  They are hypnotized by the swaying of the flute, not the sound.  They can also feel vibrations through the ground.  Hypnotized or not, I don’t care to run into any cobras!!

Unlike Mumbai, public health care in Goa is excellent.  Ben told us that people only go to private hospitals to die; they prefer public ones for their better care.  There is little unemployment here; all who want to work, work.  He said that women are very hard working; some lazy men live on the government dole.  Unlike Mumbai, 79% of the population is middle class and 40% of those are upper middle class.  There are few at either end of the spectrum (rich or poor).  You could tell by the nicer homes that we passed on the road.  They were well kept and the style was definitely reflective of their Portuguese heritage.  Ben wanted me to mention that Magic Tours offers a unique tour here called “Pickles and Dances”.  If you are ever in the area, give them a call!  Also worth noting is that diamonds cost 1/3 as much here, partially due to the fact that they are not taxed.

We were approaching the town of Panjim which has many buildings in a typical Portuguese style.  We got out of the bus and did a short walking tour.  We passed the Chapel of St. Sebastian.  The houses here were built in 1922; the area is conserved in order to keep the original style. There is a Christmas Street here, so named because the original residents came to live there on Christmas day.  Ben pointed out the roosters decorating a well.  Roosters are a common decoration for the Portuguese.  This comes from a fable about an innocent man that had been accused of a crime.  The judge decided that if a cock crowed, the man was innocent.  The rooster did indeed crow and the man was set free.  Ben pointed out a large red house; there are cooking tours that you can take with his company that take place there.  There was also a run-down red house with a statue of a small boy saluting perched on top of the house; this is another common Portuguese home decoration.  Ben pointed out that the house was run down because of the law of succession.  Four brothers inherited the home and one refused to pay to have it kept up, so it is deteriorating.

Our next stop was to be the Temple of the Monkey God, so Ben talked about Hindu beliefs.  Ancient Hindus believed that there were three types of god – atmospheric (weather), material (gold, silver, wood, etc.) and human (could be plants, animal or people).  Everyone had a god, and virtually anything could be a god.  He talked about the caste system.  He gave similar information to what we had heard in Mumbai but was a bit more specific about the divisions between the castes.  The Brahmins came up with the caste system, so not too surprisingly, are at the top of the heap.  Brahmins were split into two groups – gurus and temple priests.  Below Brahmins were Kshatriyas, split into 4 groups – king, noble, ministers and warriors.  The next level down was Vaishyas – those that worked with their hands.  This included everything from goldsmiths on down to cobblers.  The lowest level was the Shudras, or who did manual work.  Of course, the Untouchables were considered an impure caste were below the level of everyone else.

The three main gods that the Brahmins created were Brahma (creator of the earth), Vishnu (sustainer of the earth) and Shiva (destroyer of evil).  We visited the temple of Hanuman, a monkey-faced god that rescued another god that had been possessed by demons.  I took a few pictures outside, but we were not supposed to photograph inside so do not have any pictures to show of the interior.

We opted to skip lunch today so snacked on a couple of granola bars (the group agreed to skip the meal).  We drove across a long bridge (built in the 1600’s) towards old Goa.  The bridge was lined with mangrove trees, which consume carbon dioxide 24/7.  We passed some casino boats in the river. Goa is the only region of India where gambling is allowed.  Ben told us that there is an entry fee of 2000 Rupees.  The reason the casinos are on boats is that if you lose, you can jump into the water to drown yourself.  If you win, they throw you into the water to drown.  Quite the funny guy, Ben!


Goa is quite the tourist destination.  The local population is 1.4 million but 5 million tourists visit yearly.  Sixty percent of these come from within India.  Goa is so much cleaner than Mumbai but even here there is litter strewn along the sides of the roads and garbage floating in the water.  The rivers and local beaches are cleaned regularly because of the tourists from other areas tossing their garbage wherever they please.

The Feast of St. Francis Xavier is held on December 3rd, and lasts for 9 days, so there were preparations in place for the big event.  There were a few banners with his picture by the side of the road which reminded me of all of the banners we saw in Oman and the U.A.E. of their rulers.  We parked the bus near the Basilica of Bom Jesus and walked to past a tent that had 1,500 to 2,000 chairs set up for the festival.  Mass is provided hourly starting at 4 am and continuing until late at night.  This festival is a BIG deal here.  Locals are required to attend mass at least once during the festival.  The story of why Francis Xavier became a saint is as follows.  He had traveled the world and had always wanted to see China. He died on an island on December 2nd, 1552 and sailors buried his body there.  Missionaries wanted to return his bones to Goa for burial so came to the island to pick it up.  They were amazed to find that it was intact (it had not decomposed).  They had to stop at the island of Malacca to get water and found that people that touched the (still intact) body were healed.  He was buried there (this time using lime to preserve the body) and the body remained intact.  Given the miracles that had occurred, it was decided to promote him to Rome for sainthood.  His hand was chopped off and sent to Rome in 1619.  In 1622 his body (short one hand) was taken to Goa for burial.  The body has been carbon tested to ensure that it actually is Francis Xavier (it is) but is no longer intact.  He is buried in the basilica.  Bom, by the way, means good, so this is the Basilica of Good Jesus.

Across the street from the Basilica is the Se Cathedral (seat of the Bishop) dedicated to St. Catherine.  It was built between 1562 and 1652 and contains 15 altars.  There is the main altar at the front and 7 each on the left and right-hand sides.  Mass here used to be given in Latin and translated into the local language.  St. Catherine of Alexandria was abducted by Maximillian of Greece; he wanted to force her to marry him. She wasn’t too keen on the idea so he had her tortured with a spiked torture wheel.  Being a woman of strong convictions, she still said no.  So, he had her beheaded.   She was martyred and became a saint.

A couple of people in the group really wanted to see a beach in Goa (it is famous for its beautiful beaches) so Ben agreed to take us to a beach for a quick stop on the way back to the ship.   He said it would only be about 20 minutes out of the way.  He chatted with me on the drive, telling me about the music he writes for church.  I was able to listen to a couple of pieces that he had composed and he gave me his website (www.jcilm.info) as well as information on how to look him up on YouTube.  We reached Bogmalo Beach and parked the van about 5-10 minutes from the beach.  It was really, really hot, so most people walked to the beach, took pictures, and then wanted to immediately go back to the van.  Unfortunately, the van driver thought we would be there for 20 minutes, so he was not there to let us in.  Ben interrupted his quick lunch to return with us to the van and call the driver.  We were awfully glad when he fired up the a/c and drove us back to the port!