It’s safe to say that I brought too many socks to India, which is to say more than a single pair. With the weather regularly over thirty degrees and the footwear of choice being the sandal (or flip flop if you’re a tourist), socks become fairly superfluous to requirement. In that sense, and I am still finding out, many others, I was unprepared for India, or at least Goa.
The first full day I was here I travelled with the friends I was staying with down to Palolem beach, which is noteworthy not just for being a very picturesque Goan beach, but also as the backdrop for many of the beach scenes from the Bourne Supremacy. Regardless, the hour and half journey from where we were staying involved me getting my first lucid experience of the driving in this part of India.
From the brief taxi journey in Mumbai I had gathered that it was very different to anywhere else I had been, just how much though I didn’t realise until the journey to Palolem. The easiest way of describing Indian driving is that there stoically isn’t a system. Vehicles are always moving, flowing, weaving, undertaking, overtaking and jostling for space on roads that vary in surface quality from “undulating” through to “that is a ravine in the making”. It doesn’t help that the roads around Panjim are being… renovated? I’m hesitant to say re-laid because the haphazard construction effort seems so uncoordinated, with road widening meaning that in the morning one side of the road may be open, while in the afternoon the other may be. But not all the way mind you, usually only specific sections, often clouded in dust and smog from the rickety, tar blackened machines farting out noxious fumes.
Driving in this part of India seems to involve a constant motion forward with liberal use of the horn. Far from being a “last resort” attention grabber for drivers, here it is used for everything from thanking someone for letting you overtake them, signalling that you are coming up to a blind bend, or sometimes letting a truck know that you are now overtaking them. Mirrors, like seatbelts, are entirely optional, and the onus seems to be on the driver to let others know of your presence rather than other drivers to be aware of yours.
Like I said before, there doesn’t seem to be a system, so just like the horn usage, sometimes one toot can seem quite jovial when passing another vehicle. Like a cherry on top of a smoothly performed road manoeuvre. Other times one pip seems to be akin to saying “oh you scamp, you should have looked before merging in!”. And then other times you just peep the horn for the sheer thrill of it being half past nine at night.
The lack of systematisation means that lanes mean very little, with frequent sojourns into the oncoming lane expected and somewhat encouraged. This is why you get signs with little ditties such as “Lane driving is sane driving” or “Don’t be a helldriver, be a well driver”. For all that lack of system though, the driving largely works. Sure it’s noisy and chaotic and is sure to turn any (sane) foreigner off from ever attempting to drive here, but our driver - Jodi - was skilled and the lack of road induced rage was heartening.
That didn’t stop me from being unusually alert during the drive to Palolem, despite a stiflingly hot night’s sleep and the expected jet lag and culture shock. The beach itself had tourists without being touristy and, being a Sunday, had its fair share of locals getting blind drunk by early afternoon and then comically beaching themselves in the shallows. Spending the entire day there - including a seafood dinner barely ten metres from the waves - was an unspeakably perfect way to kick things off and expunge any lingering memory of the trip here.
The next day eased me into things further with a dosa breakfast followed immediately by a trip into Old Goa which housed some phenomenally well preserved churches (largely of Portuguese origin). Just being able to wander and absorb was introduction enough, if not to the heat, then at least to a little of the history.
As an unintended juxtaposition to the morning’s activity, I finished the day with a trip to the INOX cinema near Panjim market to see Fury with Brad Pitt and Shia LeBeouf. The film itself was nothing to write home about, before it however was a series of adverts that oscillated between being spoken in Hindi and English, with messages ranging from AIDS awareness, to home insurance, to the best way to portray this country to foreigners to STAND FOR THE NATIONAL ANTHEM. My friend had told me this was a fixture of going to the cinema, however two gentlemen further down the row shot out of their chairs so quickly I barely had time to comprehend what was going on. And in a quaint throwback to UK cinemas of yore, there was an intermission as well allowing one to purchase a variety of junk foods available in the foyer.
Of course, none of this is surprising when technology is involved, as I mused on after the film as I tweeted from a coffee shop in India and conversed with someone in the UK. Unfortunately this is the same patchy internet connection that seems to staunchly refuse to allow me to upload more than one photo a day. Technology, shucks!