Eight days in India: Ethiopian Traveler’s Memoir

Taj Mahal Hotel

By Eden Habtamu, Ezega News

 

Addis Ababa, October 26, 2009 (Ezega.com) -- Eden Habtamu visited India recently. She wrote this report about her visit to India, and her stay in Mumbai and Goa. Here follows her travel diary.

 

This is my first time to India. We (me, my best friend, and our Indian host who lives in a different country) spent eight days in this vast country and managed to visit various places. Here is my travel memoir and I hope you will follow me until the last day.  

 

Before I begin, I would like to thank our Indian host who made our stay smooth and exciting.

 

October 25, 2009

On Friday, October 25, the Emirates Boeing 777 plane that carried us from Dubai dropped us at Mumbai’s Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport at around 9:00AM. It took us a while to check out from the airport and book into a hotel. We did not have any idea how far the hotel was from the airport. The driver started taking us to the most crowded and noisy roads we have ever since. Personally I hate noise. I can easily be irritated by the noise of Addis Ababa local taxis. When we got into the main road, the traffic jam won’t let us drive more than 30km/hr. It was like a 100meter drive and 5 minutes waiting, and finding the narrowest possible space to pass by. For a person like me who came from a slow and silent city, this was a scary place. For a moment I was in doubt whether I was in the right place for a vacation or not. What if the entire city is like this? The traffic jam, their noisy horn, and loud sounds that I have never been familiar with all frightened me.

 

I just wanted to make sure that the entire part of the town was not like this everyday, so I asked our host who used to live in Mumbai. He told me to relax as this time is a season of Hindu celebrations. There was even some kind demonstration ongoing. I became sort of okay with it, thinking that these things will pass and we will start enjoying our vacation soon. So, I loosened up a bit and started looking into the crowd.

 

Mumbai: the capital of the State of Maharashtra

The old Bombay was renamed in 1996 to Mumbai. Mumbai’s population is estimated to be around 18 million and covered an area of 440 sq km. Since I live in a capital city with a third of Mumbai’s population, it was not easy for me to think that big. May be I was not relaxing free after only 45 minutes of sleep on the plane during the entire night, starting from our departure in Addis Ababa. 

 

Anyhow, Mumbai welcomed us as its own. Its speedy three-wheel autos – the Bajaj Auto Rickshaws, as they are known - dominate the streets of the Mumbai. They horn, rush, push each other, but never collide or cool down.  

 

After twenty minutes drive, I completely forgot my fear and started enjoying the new, faster world. May be my mind was adjusting itself or may be it takes a bit to get used to Mumbai. Mumbai is full of high buildings, both residential and commercial buildings. The wide roads are full of new or well-kept two-wheel cars (mostly), the Bajajs, and old public buses.

 

I was very surprised since it was my very first time witnessing a Bajaj horning on latest model Mercedes cars. That’s what they call “Democracy on road”, I guess. Everyone seems to be encouraged to horn or speed, although the roads do not appear wide enough to accommodate such a street jam.

 

Because we were tired and hungry, I don’t even remember how long it took us to get to the hotel. And finally we arrived at a very nice and fairly simple hotel. We thought we would take a nap after we refreshed ourselves. But just after a quick shower, we became more alert than ever. The view to the Arabian Sea was so refreshing (the view starts from the six floor of the hotel as another big hotel covers the view from the ground to fifth floor).

 

Our Indian friend started his official tour guide and hosting duty.

We started our first visit at our host’s favorite mall – Orbit Mall. We had to eat something before we toured the mall. Orbit Mall is full of branded and non-branded shops, souvenir shops, cafés and restaurants. We took ourselves to one of those appealing restaurant corners and ordered something to eat. One of the qualities that India should be proud of must be their service sector.  The service sector here accounts for 54.6% of the Indian GDP, while industry takes 27.9% and agriculture 17.5%. Their quality of service and professionalism pleased us before we even got started. Although one should not compare the incomparable, I just could not help myself and think of the Ethiopian Service sector. We had a wonderful lunch which was served in less than 10 minutes.

 

Just after we ate our lunch, our eyes started looking around the shops. We were hopeful that our host had some idea with the kind of girls he was dealing with for eight days on this vacation. When one plans to go to India, it is very hard to stay away from shopping as long as there are a few hundred Rupees left in the pocket, especially for women such as the two of us who are both habitual shoppers.

 

Our shopping and window shopping was full of excitement and fun. We look around, tried a few things, checked the price by converting to dollar and then again to Ethiopian birr to determine how expensive the items were. We talked about our impressions and dropped in and out of shops in a matter of few minutes. That was how we spent our entire afternoon.

 

Time runs very fast in Mumbai. It feels like you have a few hours in a day. Everyone is on a rush and appear to have not enough time.

 

Our host gave us a wake up call from our shopping so that we go back to the hotel. It was time to call it quits and sleep tight, so we can be fresh for the next day trip to Goa (600 km to south).

 

We had a wonderful dinner in a nearby hotel. I was not a fan of Indian food before. I just noticed that this was a mistake as I started tasting the “real” Indian food. Indian dish could be very spicy and hot; however, it is possible to order less spicy food. It was hard not to like and enjoy such delicious dishes.

 

Saturday 9:00am

We rushed to the rented car booked by our host. We started our journey around 10:00AM. We drove by huge buildings of Mumbai, high class residential areas, business streets, and abandoned slums. All are proudly part of Mumbai. We left Mumbai behind and heading south, to the tourist destination, the beautiful Goa.

 

Our driver was not as fast as many of Mumbai’s drivers. The speedometer did not go beyond 80km/h even on empty roads. The climate of both Mumbai and Goa is tropical and, for someone like me who enjoys warm weather, it is a perfect place to visit and/or live in. The weather is so warm and humid but the environment is amazingly green. The zigzag road and the ups and downs made the journey exciting and adventurous. The road took us up the hill and then down to sea level. The spectacular view and the breathtaking landscape won’t give you any space for anything else. During our 12 hour drive from Mumbai to Goa, I didn’t recall a spot which was not green. However, the temperature was so hot that it was impossible to imagine making the trip without the air conditioner.

 

Like most Ethiopians, I used to think we have the greenest country on earth. But this was quickly dispelled when we saw this part of southern India.

 

It was late night when we arrived in Goa. We only had about an hour for a late dinner and to go to our host’s guest house apartment.

 

Goa Beach     Dona Paula Beach     Goa Churches

 

Photos: Beach in Goa, Dona Paula Beach, Goa Church

 

Sunday 11:00am

It was time to kick-start discovering Goa in two days. Our host invited us to the Aunty Maria pastry house. The place is very nice and run by a lady called Aunty Maria. She is the one who bake the cakes, receive orders, serves and gives the bills. I was surprised that she does all of this by herself effortlessly. Nothing was delayed or misplaced. It is a nice place for a sweet Indian “shahi” (tea) or coffee. We started the day with sweets and coffee.

Goa state covers an area of 3,702 sq km with a population of 1.3 million. It is India's smallest state by area and the fourth smallest by population. Located on the west coast of India in the region known as the Konkan, it is bounded by the state of Maharashtra to the north, and by Karnataka to the east and south, while the Arabian Sea forms its western coast. Panaji is the state's capital, while Vasco da Gama is the largest city. The historic city of Margao still exhibits the influence of Portuguese, who first landed in the early 16th century as merchants and conquered it soon thereafter. The Portuguese overseas territory existed for about 450 years, until it was annexed by India in 1961. Renowned for its beaches, places of worship and world heritage architecture, Goa is visited by large numbers of international and domestic tourists each year. Goa is also known by other names such as “A tourist paradise” and “The pearl of the orient”.

Clothing must be light and short to visit the beaches. West side of the state is fully neighbored by Arabian Sea, which brought beautiful beaches to the state. Goa’s people seem a bit relaxed as compared to their Mumbai counterparts. Its coconuts and other local tress give the place a lively sprit.

 

The atmosphere here great for pure relaxation. We went to one of the beaches and take a nice view of the sea. The exotic beach is very ideal for couples, family and friends. Sea-view restaurants are all over the place. You can be in any of the ocean front restaurants to have full view of the sea as you like. I have found their service a bit slower than those in Mumbai. May be it’s their culture or just bad timing.

 

Around 9:00pm we started visiting and buying Indian merchandise, like local handcraft, bags, rugs, wall hangings and jewelries which are abundant and fairly priced near the beach. I still have an image of their beautiful and colorful wall hangings in my mind. 

 

Monday 11:00 AM: Old Goa, Panaji, Goa.

Our host took us to those amazing churches, which made our stay in Goa marvelous. This was the most unforgettable and treasured moment of my trip. The churches of the old Goa (which were turned into museum lately) will take any visitor to the Portuguese past of this region immediately. Here are a few of them:


Se Catherine's Cathedral Church

The Portuguese Viceroy Redondo commissioned the Se or St. Catherine's Cathedral, found southwest of St. Cajetan's, to be "a grandiose church worthy of the wealth, power and fame of the Portuguese who dominated the seas from the Atlantic to the Pacific". Today it stands larger than any church in Portugal, although it was beset by problems, not least the lack of funds and Portugal's temporary loss of independence to Spain. It took eighty years to build and was not consecrated until 1640.


Church of St. Francis of Assisi 

Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Old Goa: it is located adjacent to the Cathedral. Built in the 17th Century, a beautiful octagonal tabernacle ornately decorated has two statues: one of St Francis of Assisi and the other of Jesus on the cross. Vows of poverty, humility and obedience of St. Francis of Assisi are scripted right below these two statues.

Chapel of St. Catherine

Situated in Old Goa, it is dedicated to St. Catherine. It stands as a living monument of the conquest of Goa by Albuquerque. As one enters the chapel you will see a statue of Our Lady. There is also a beautiful altar dedicated to St. Catherine upon which stands another statue of Our Lady of Piety.

 
Basilica of Bom Jesus

The Basilica of Bom Jesus is the most impressive and famous of all the churches in Old Goa. It contains the relics of St. Francis Xavier, Patron Saint of Goa, Apostle of the Indies. He was known as Goencho Saib by most of the people of Goa. The construction of the church began on the 24th November 1594 AD from the funds bequeathed for this purpose by Dom Jeronimos Mascarenhas. It was blessed by the Archbishop Dom Aleixo de Menezes on the15th May, 1605 AD. It became the first church in India to be elevated to the status of a minor basilica in 1946

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After we finished visiting the churches, it was time for late lunch break and for our next astonishing and exciting visit to Dona Paula beach.

 

3:00PM: Dona Paula Beach, 7 km from Panaji, Old Goa, Goa

The Dona Paula beach is a place where two of Goa's famous rivers (Zuari and Mandovi) meet the Arabian Sea. 7-km from Panaji, nestled on the south side of the rocky, hammer-shaped headland that divides the Zuari and Mandovi estuaries.

 

It may not have been the perfect time to visit the beach, as it could be more exotic after 6:00PM when one can observe the sunset or witness the Dona Paula waves only wearing Pearl necklace. The beach’s manmade island serves people to entertain the beach and may think of Dona Paula’s fairy tales. Here are some of the legends.

 

Dona Paula’s Love story myth

Named after Dona Paula de Menezes, this place is called the “Lovers Paradise” due to a myth that has been attached to it. According to one legend, the Viceroy's daughter, after facing objections from her family about her love affair with a poor fisherman, jumped of the cliff.

 
Another legendary story goes, punished for captivating Francisco de Tavora, the Count of Alvor, with her charm, the Viceroy's daughter was pushed off a cliff to drown in the waters below. Her irrepressible spirit still continues to haunt every visitor with legends of her lovers. She is even supposed to have been seen emerging from moonlit waves wearing only a pearl necklace.

 

5:00PM: Cidade de Goa Hotel – A Five Star Resort

This resort is 3km from Dona Paula Jetty and locatedonVainguinim Beach.Breathtaking view of the Arabian Sea takes everyone beyond the horizon. I don’t remember if we ever chatted, rather we were in awe of the astonishing view of the sea. After a few minutes in the hotel, our host invited us to re-visit the beach as he noticed that we were taken by the sprit of the sea. We happily obliged and went out to the sea again.

 

The hot, humid weather and the sea water welcomed us warmly. We played by the sea, and were taken by its silence. The seas seem to have the biggest shoulder on earth to take away all of our burdens, worries and pain, and replace it with peace and tranquility. The beach truly rejuvenates your mind, sprit and soul. We also learned that the Cidade beach is also an interesting place for shell collectors.

 

Tuesday 8:30am-9:00pm

It was time to go back to Mumbai now. We took a long drive from Goa back to Mumbai, passing through the ever green tress that I cannot take my eyes off. Incidentally, I want to mention the ethics that drivers show on one another, especially out of the towns. Drivers happily let one another pass by even by slowing down or stopping. There seems to be a language of cooperation among all the drivers. I didn’t notice drivers say anything bad to each other even at times of high inconvenience. I wish Addis Ababa drivers could learn from that and stop yelling and insulting each other.

 

Another surprising text that you see in every truck is “Horn ok please” or “Horn please ok”.  I was very surprised that almost every truck has this text at the back. I still did not figure out why they want to put out such a message, one that will exacerbate noise pollution in the cities.

 

Wednesday – late Morning visit to Taj Mahal Palace Hotel

Our tour guide took us to this huge architectural landmark of Mumbai, the Taj Mahal Palace. The Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Wing of Taj Mahal are together called Taj Hotels. The Palace brought architectural style, combining Islamic and European renaissance architectures. They call it the “Architectural Jewel of Mumbai”.

 

Taj hotel overlooks the harbor and is adjacent to the Gateway of India, a historical memorial built between 1911 and 1924. As many say, the gateway of India looks like a symbol that welcomes guests to India. Taj hotel opened its doors in 1903 and many high profile customers have stayed here, including Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Char­­­les, former US president Bill Clin­ton, Elvis Presley, and John Lennon. Although the terrorist attacks on November 2008 destroyed parts of the hotel, it is really difficult to see the trace of the damage (at least from distance.) In my opinion this place is a must see place in Mumbai or even in all of India

 

From Wednesday afternoon to Friday, 11:00am-8:00pm

We have been doing in Mumbai nothing but shopping, window shopping, and real crazy shopping at the malls, on the streets, and at small to big shops. We shopped for accessories, Indian traditional cloths, branded items, etc. There is one problem with shopping in Mumbai: you have too many options.

 

I and my best friend planned to buy few things when we went out in the morning but ended up buying absolutely different things. So from my experience, here is what I advise visitors for successful shopping in Mumbai: be focused; test the items you wish to buy properly; have a patient, friendly guide who is knowledgeable; good negotiation skills; a calculator or the ability to calculate fast; a bottle of water; and of course as much Rupee as you can afford.  

 

Thursday late night outing to club “V Lounge”

It was just the two of us, me and my best friend. We went out from the hotel around 10:30 PM to discover the nightlife of Mumbai. We were a bit afraid as it was late night and we hardly knew the city. We asked our hotel reception desk to tell us a decent place to dine and have some fun. They told us to go to “V Lounge”, a place not very familiar for most Bajaj drivers. So we had to walk for ten minutes from the place the Bajaj dropped us to the real location of V lounge by asking people we found along the street. The lounge certainly is very nice for youngsters. The fast music creates conducive atmosphere for entertainment. We dinned and had some drinks while watching the Arabian Sea. The place was full of decent people who lived in their own worlds.

 

Friday night  

Well, it was time to head back home. At last, we needed to do some fast packing, and get ready to leave India. I must say we enjoyed every minute we spent in Mumbai and Goa. It was time now for a run to the airport to catch the mid-night flight to Addis Ababa (via Dubai). Goodbye India.

 

I wish to visit India some day again, perhaps to rediscover what I assumed I discovered in only eight days.

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Eden Habtamu Ezega News 

This article was written by Eden Habtamu reporting for Ezega.com from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She can be reached by email at News@Ezega.com. The article can be reprinted in full or in part elsewhere but only by giving full credit to Ezega.  If reprinted on a website, we ask that you place this active link: Ezega Ethiopian News, pointing to http://www.Ezega.com.

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