Saturday, January 12, 2019

Goa trip - Day 3 - Bird Sanctuary, Basilica of Bom Jesus, Archaeological Museum, Russians, and flea market at Arpora

(This post continues from Goa trip - Day 2 and Goa trip - Day 1)

The Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
On the third day of our Goa tour, December 1, we went to Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. It is on the island of Chorao, which is about 7 km from the State's capital Panaji, along the Mandovi River, mid-north of Goa.

Salim Ali, who passed away in 1987 at the age of 91, was India's most renowned ornithologist and naturalist. He was the first Indian to undertake a systematic survey of birds in the country. He wrote a number of books and popularised the study of birds and amateur bird-watching. He, along with the famous American ornithologist, Sidney Ripley, wrote the 10-volume Handbook of Birds of India and Pakistan.

View of Mandovi River from the sanctuary
It is a mangrove forest that spans over 178 ha (440 acres) housing a variety of birds. Not all of the densely wooded premises is accessible, more so during the rainy season when the water level rises. We went on a nature trail, around 900 metres one-way.

The sanctuary is of relatively recent origin. According to the literature available here, the place where the sanctuary stands now, was until the 1970s privately owned rice fields. When the fields were neglected, for various reasons like people moving to cities, the embankments started to collapse and the area began to get flooded with saltwater from the Mandovi River. Soon, mangroves began to grow and also various forms of aquatic organisms.

The mangroves -- which are highly specialised ecosystems with salt-resistant plants -- house a number of fish and other marine species. There are ducks, waders, raptors, kingfishers, seabirds,  herons etc.


The island is accessed by ferry, wherein vehicles and people are transported between Ribander and Chorao island, free of cost, except for cars that are charged a nominal fee. Ferries used to be very common in Goa, but now in many places bridges have replaced them. For those who haven't seen people and vehicles being transported like this, it's quite a sight. Watch the video below.

We could spot only three or four birds, since it was around 11 am when we reached. If you want to see birds, make sure you are there very early in the morning, maybe as early as 7 am when the sanctuary opens. But we enjoyed the walk of around 1 km into the forest and back. The thick foliage and tranquillity of the surroundings are undoubtedly soothing.

Here I got to learn about 'Roots that Breathe'. Red Mangrove has, what is called, 'prop roots' that not only support the tree but also filter out the salt from the sea water so that it gets the water it needs without the harmful salt. They also have small holes through which it takes in air. In the case of White Mangroves, there are pencil-like tubes that transport oxygen to the roots below the ground.


From here, we went to what is called Old Goa, about 6 km from the sanctuary. This area used to be the capital of Portuguese India and a thriving business centre from the 16th to the 18th century during Portuguese reign. Most of the remains of those times are now preserved as part of Unesco's World Heritage Site.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus
Old Goa has many churches, but the most important of them is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which has the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier. He was one of the missionaries who spread the teachings of Christ in Asia, with a lot of success in India. When he was on his way to China, he passed away on December 3, 1552.

It was found that his body was incorrupt, and a year after his death, the body was brought to Goa, where the mortal remains are preserved at the Basilica in a silver casket. Once in 10 years, the body is lowered to ground level for devotees to pay respects. The last time this was done was in December 2014. We also went to the nearby Church of St. Francis of Assisi.

The entire area was decked up, getting ready for the annual Feast of St Francis Xavier, which is held on the 3rd of December.


Opposite to the Basilica and adjascent to the Church of St Francis of Assisi is the Archaeological Museum. (This is different from the Goa State Museum in Panaji, and the Museum of Goa in Pilerne.) Here there are various historical artefacts like sculptures, pillars, stones, postage stamps, lamps etc. There are also portraits of Governors and Viceroys of colonial Goa.


It was around 2 pm, and we were really hungry. We thought we must try out typical Goan lunch. On the way back from Old Goa, at Ribander, we saw a small, traditional restaurant, named Casa De Cha, which claimed to serve 'authentic traditional Goan food.

Casa Da Cha restaurant at Ribander
We enjoyed the fare. Unlike typical north Indian food items which tend to have masala, this instead had coconut. The course had rice, a couple of curries, including one of fish, apart from fried fish. In the end, they served water with Kokum syrup. Kokum is a fruit-bearing tree, commonly found in Asia and Africa. The juice/syrup made from the fruit is said to have a number of health benefits.

The owners of the restaurant are original Goans who still speak Portuguese. The gentleman at the cash counter explained to us what the name of the restaurant meant. Casa is house and cha is tea, and Casa de cha means a cafeteria


We then went around a bit of Panaji, and headed to Arpora, to see the night market. Though there was some time to kill, we didn't want to go back to the hotel, since we would have felt so lazy to stir out again. So, at a small village on the way called Parra, we halted, and sat on the bench on the pavement, stretched our legs and relaxed, comforted by the gentle breeze.

There we got talking to an elderly man, who was sitting on the bench beside us. On seeing a motorcyclist who hadn't put on the indicator before taking a turn and narrowly missed brushing against a car, the man on the bench, who evidently was someone who has been a long-time resident of the place, launched himself into a lament-filled diatribe on how the youngsters nowadays have no discipline and how value systems have all plummeted in today's world. Least interested in getting into either a debate or an intellectual conversation, we agreed with everything he had to share, and we took leave after some time.

Near the Arpora Junction, we saw the Benz Celebrity Wax Museum. The general online reviews of the wax statues there, some 200 in total, was that they weren't worth the ticket price, we decided to give it a miss; and instead had a good cup of tea from the restaurant nearby. By then, it was around 6 pm, and it was time to head to the night market.


One can make out that a large number of Russian tourists visit Goa from the signboards on streets, especially outside shops displaying the products available there and the prices. Not quite clear why Goa is a favourite of Russians. Shops play Russian songs and many shopkeepers are fluent in Russian. There is an increase in the inflow of tourists when it's winter in Russia. As someone said some tourists even continue to work from here, thanks to the fast and cheap internet connection.


At the market, there were at least 200 stalls on the wide open ground selling mostly clothes, besides consumer durables, and interesting curios. It's a flea market, and there is no fixed price for anything on sale. You need to bargain. So, unless you have a very good idea of what the product is and what the usual pricing is, there is a high risk of getting cheated. Though we don't like shopping in such places, we ended up buying a few clothes and convinced ourselves that they were a good bargain.

A food court -- having a wide variety of dishes and drinks, including south Indian, north Indian and western besides alcohol -- and entertaining English and Hindi pop songs being belted out from a stage, this flea market is a good place for an outing. After dinner there, we headed back to the hotel.

(Goa trip - Day 4 follows)