I set out with another guy from the overland truck early this morning and headed to Paolem, a larger “chill out” beach town 12 kilometers away from Agonda. Larger numbers of tourists stay in Paolem, and as such, Paolem offers an array of activities for tourists. The beach is lined with beachfront hut complexes and outdoor thatched roof restaurants, and on the beach itself, a number of locals offer boat trips to tourists to see the herds of dolphins which allegedly frequent the coastal waters several kilometers away from Paolem.
I use the world “allegedly” in the immediately preceding sentence from experience. After breakfast, we hopped on a small boat carrying several Russian speaking tourists to go on a dolphin spotting excursion. The views from the boat ride were beautiful, and the water seemed much clearer than the waters immediately adjacent the Agonda shoreline. However, while we caught glimpses of dolphins in the distance, we enjoyed none of the spectacular close up views of dolphins which I had enjoyed several weeks ago while on the dive boat in Zanzibar.
After the boat ride and lunch at a beachfront restaurant, we took a taxi to the Cottigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Goa’s second largest wildlife preserve. Upon our arrival, we learned that most wildlife viewing here occurs only in the morning. However, the preserve also has an animal center where specimens of some of the local wildlife are kept, and I checked out the specimens there. In particular, there were a number of hissing cobras which had been removed by the wildlife authorities from peoples’ homes in the area. They are then kept at the sanctuary before they are re-released in the area. The hissing nose made by the cobras was far louder than I would have expected. Definitely interesting creatures to observe.
Surprisingly, the sanctuary also had a 2000 meter singletrack riding trail for mountain bikes, and I rented a bike from the sanctuary headquarters and went out for a spin. Upon finishing the 2000 meter trail, I opted to do a ride on the roads through the sanctuary usually followed by tourist vehicles. I rode first to a watering hole allegedly frequently by local wildlife at dawn. There the park authorities have constructed a tree house some 25 meters high in a tree, and a metal ladder leads up to the top. Given the time of day, I saw nothing there. Thereafter I continued riding to a very small village in the park, and then continued riding along one of the walking trails leading away from the village and past a small dam. As I rode past the dam and next to a small pond, I couldn’t help but wonder if there were crocodiles in the vicinity.
After 2 hours of riding, I returned to the visitor center of the sanctuary, from where I caught an auto rickshaw. It was my intent to simply head back to Agonda and enjoy the evening at the beach. However, along the road back to Agonda and as we neared Chaudi, the nearest medium-sized city and about 3 kilometers from Paolem, I saw a number of large and elaborate parade floats. The rickshaw driver explained to me that in the evening, there was to be a Hindu celebration in Chaudi. Unable to resist the opportunity to catch the spectacle, I had the auto rickshaw drop me off in Paolem, where I spent several hours in an internet café before heading to Chaudi for the evening.
I arrived in Chaudi around 7 p.m., where fairly large numbers of local residents were pouring in to watch the parade that evening. I found a roadside table at a local restaurant and sat with some other tourists who had come from Paolem to watch the spectacle. The onset of the parade reminded me of the parades at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Initially came the bands and dancers, followed by several costumed characters, dressed out of Hindu lore.
What followed thereafter can only be described as incredible – floats with giant scenes from Hinduism’s epic tales mounted on them, most about 4 meters high, began to roll past. The characters were operated by people underneath and behind them, and each float had its own musical accompaniment. The cartoon like characters atop – all prepared with the utmost attention to detail – made me think this was something akin to Walt Disney World meets Pink Floyd the Wall. An eye opening spectacle! There must have been 15 floats or so, which took a total of about an hour to pass us by. There were scenes out of the Mahabharata
and the Ramayana
, the most revered and famous of all Hindu texts: Arguna shooting an arrow with a bow, the blue-skinned Shiva playing the flute, Nandi, the bull which Shiva rides, the elephant-headed Ganesha with his rat (his form of transport), Brahma atop Hansa, the giant goose which he rides, the demon buffalo Mahisha, and many others. All of the foreign tourists in the restaurant – including myself – watched with amazement. Since Chaudi is only a small city, I can only imagine what some of the festivals in the larger Indian cities must be like. Hopefully this is only a taste of similar things yet to come during my travels in India…