Everest, the tallest.

The mountain is in the news again, for three different reasons, all in the same week. One of human conquest, one of human stupidity, and the third of nature’s unpredictability.

First, the one about human achievement. Indian mountaineer, Anshu Jamsenpa summitted twice, within a week. She has summited twice in 10 days in 2011, and last week was witness to her fourth and fifth successful summits.

Anshu Jamsenpa with HH Dalai Lama

Anshu, with HH Dalai Lama

The 37-year-old mother of two from Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh (state in the far east of India), summitted on the 16th May, and then again on the 21st May. Before her second ascent, Anshu said: “My only aim now is to unfurl the national flag once again atop Mt Everest and pay homage to Lord Buddha. I seek blessings and support from my fellow countrymen.” She was blessed by HH Dalai Lama before leaving for the expedition. What a Rockstar!

The second story is about Ravi Kumar, from Moradabad in Uttar Pradesh who is untraceable on the mountain after having summitted on the 20th. Kumar and his guide, Lakpa Wongya Sherpa, got separated during the descent near the Balcony and the latter was later found unconscious and suffering from frostbite at Camp IV.

a8e9f2b6fac66d36d1761c9c30b10f5dIn another incident six climbers suffering from altitude sickness had to be rescued and then sent to different hospitals. The human body isn’t made for 25K feet, and the body cells literally start dying at that altitude. If one isn’t a trained and seasoned super hi-alt mountaineer, please stick to doing mid-altitude treks. Everest or other 8-thousanders aren’t really for you stupids.

The other in-fashion thing for some years now is to go up the mountain with a guide. Everest isn’t a tourist spot, you know. In 1996, most of those killed on the mountain weren’t seasoned mountaineers either. And there is no business that a ward should get separated from a guide. The life of the ward is the guide’s responsibility. Lakpa, this might have been your eighth summit, but your license needs to be taken away.

And finally, “…a piece of mountaineering history has disappeared “, said British mountaineer Tim Mosedale after he descended from his sixth successful summit attempt. Considered to be the last obstacle, some 58 metres below the summit, the rocky outcrop known as the Hillary Step has collapsed. Likely because of the 2015 earthquake. Last year, the American Himalayan Foundation did publish images, but it was not clear whether the rock formation had actually collapsed because of the snow cover. Tim Mosedale who summitted last year as well this year, has confirmed, with pictures that he has posted.

The crumbling away of the Hillary Step makes summitting easier and quicker for the inexperienced climbers, but also will expose them to the elements for a longer time because of the potential traffic jam which will ensue with larger number of climbers passing through that spot.

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Deaths on Mt Everest (data, graph courtesy – BBC)

More than 240 people have died on the mountain (above base camp) so far, and three more already added this year, more so since climbing up has become almost a joke. Teams have to be sent up every year to clear rubbish and debris from previous years’ climbs. There are bodies on the mountain, and plenty debris. Most seasoned pioneers regret what happens to the mountain every climbing season.

But, we need to stop for a moment and perhaps listen to Sagarmatha. The mountain, I believe, is telling us that she feels tired and abused and that we should stop climbing her now.

 

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Tentwallah Movies

Movie Review 

The Cinema Travellers
Shirley Abraham and Amit Madheshiya
Cave Films

Vikalp, a group of five filmmakers from Bangalore came together to revive the screening of documentary films, given the lack of viewership or enthusiasm for documentaries. Over the last three odd years, they have been screening documentaries every fourth Thursday of a month at Everest Theatre in Frazer Town, Bangalore. That is some 40 screenings and they are going into hiatus, post their last screening last night of “The Cinema Travellers”.

This is a story of three personalities, and their environments in the Maharashtra heartland of Satara. This is a story of three people passionate about cinema as their world changes around them. This is a story of two folk using older technology carbon rod arc projectors to show movies in makeshift tents in rural settings where movie halls might not be close by. There definitely was a time, when these travelling cinema guys covered quite a distance screening movies; but the world has changed a bit. And this is also a story of the ace movie projector repairman, and innovator and his passion.

Mohammad, the travelling cinema businessman struggling to make ends meet; Bapu, does it completely out of passion, benevolence and his desire to take cinema to the villagers; and Prakash, the projector repairman, the innovator and inventor. Three related stories, interwoven beautifully.

Mohammad runs a crew of eight-nine men, going from village to village, small town to small town and pitching tent with village fairs, and other social events and screening the movies under the title of “Sumedh Talkies”. They do not make a lot of money anymore, what with Rs 30 a ticket. The projector keeps malfunctioning, the repairmen bungling more often than not and the movie distributors often getting late in getting the celluloid reels to the screening. Must have been a challenge getting movie reels to a moving destination in any case.

Bapu, based in village Ond in Satara, runs “Akhay Touring Talkies” not necessarily as a business, but more of taking cinema to the villagers. His old truck has caught rust, is crumbling away, doesn’t run, is pulled by a tractor to the destination screening location; but houses the projector. Rainfall causes havoc to the truck. The children from the village make the announcements to pull people in. Some of his crew have been with him from the beginning. But, times continue to be bad. The year is worse than the previous one which was worse than its previous one.

Boy watching travelling cinema in Ond, Maharshtra

The magic. The magic of cinema.

And then, there is Prakash. Repairs old projectors. Projectionists would pay obeisance to him, should a projector go bad mid show, just to make the machine work through and bring it to Prakash in the morning. As the travelling cinema business started on a downward spiral, many of these cinema folk fell into bad times, and could not even collect their projectors (which they had left with Prakash) back. Meanwhile, having done repairs for over 40 years, Prakash understood what is wrong with all these machines. He has made a projector of his own, named it Prakash (light, in Marathi and after his own name), which uses the motor to also rewind the reels and runs the moving parts in an oil bath instead of using the usual grease. These certainly are revolutionary changes in a way. His story is one of nostalgia, of machines waiting to be picked up, of water spoiling cans of film, dust gathering on the old machines, journals of dues that moviewallahs owe him and of the dwindling business.

Yet the movie is in a way about looking ahead, with the protagonists making peace with the change around them. Some changes that they accept, some that they despair about and can’t understand. The world has moved, movies appear on the telly, satellite television has arrived, and so has the internet.

Both Mohammed and Bapu go to Mumbai to buy new digital projectors, laptops and UPSes. Works out for the former, even with the loans that he has to take, even with him having to sell his old projector as junk. But the new complications do not work too well for Bapu. For his last shows of the season, before the rains set in, he has to fall back to his old faithful. Ironically, he even latches the door of truck with a strip of celluloid. Prakash shuts his repair shop for the day and heads over to the farms where his nephews still till the land, and the former has created handy seed sowing tools with a definite rate of seed sowing based on the speed of gait of the bullocks and the distance they cover. And that he plans to computerize the operation over time. Prakash emphasizes, how important it is to teach the young and encourage them.

This is, one of the best documentaries I have ever watched. A documentary that my 11 year old enjoyed. For many things really. The cinematography is fantastic, some of the still imagery even better. This is a story shot over five years, of a legacy of over 70 years falling to pieces. Again, as I mentioned earlier, this is a story of hope and not of despair. There is respect for the old, and some delight of the new. There is some sadness, but certainly some moments of joy.

In Abraham and Madheshiya’s not over the top work, you get an given intimate access to a delicate and sensitive experience. The scenes do not seem contrived, and the people seem to be oblivious of the presence of a camera, adding to the authenticity of the film.

The documentary won a special Jury award at Cannes last year, and got selected at Toronto, New York and many others. If you spy a screening somewhere, make time and go see it.

Hrvatska 01 : Zagreb, Croatia’s capital in the northwest

“​Zagreb, Croatia’s northwestern capital, is distinguished by its 18th- and 19th-century Austro-Hungarian architecture.” That is how Wikipedia starts describing the city of about 800000, capital of a country that the EU considers one of the poorest and backward in the union. This isn’t large by any standards, but packs a lot of character. Croatia is one of the parts that former Yugoslavia got broken into. 

Landing in from Heathrow, the new Zagreb airport was quite a change. Small, with one KLM 737 just arrived before us, and three luggage belts but modern.

Immigration takes a while, and so does luggage. But, as a tourist, who cares. Not as if I had some place to get to in a hurry. As one steps out, has a different feel compared to a western European city. Felt somewhat like Bratislava really. The trees look different, but green. The houses look different, but nice. Somewhat picturesque, but not overwhelmingly so. 

Took about 20 minutes to town. The taxi drivers at the airport will fleece you. Uber is available, but has long wait time. What showed 3 minutes turned to 24 as soon as I booked it.

Staying at a mid range place in Donji Grad, the lower city, which is one of the 17 districts of Zagreb. Two days of lack of sleep is about to take a toll, but certainly not before stepping out to buy some food.

If you happen to buy at the local super market, it is pretty cheap. I bought a baguette, some cheese, some prosciutto and a beer in glass bottle (bottle returnable). A quick efficient sandwich, more like four.

All of 50 kuna. But, there is plenty food available,  plenty coffee and plenty beer ( Ožujsko, made by Molson Coors, is the most popular Lager around). All across town.

The Best Western that I am in is in a less touristy area, and this closer to where locals live. Has a different, quieter feel, but is close to the railway station and about 10 minutes from the center of town. It is reasonably priced, provides a turn down service with a chocolate on the pillow and a pretty decent breakfast.

I walked out, looking for a local Sim card. Don’t go by what web sites seem to proclaim about tourist Sim cards with great deals. Those are difficult to find. Get a local whatever Sim to ensure you have telephony, internet would be available in your hotel. 

This area of Donji Grad has a different feel, with neighbors talking to each other, petunias on windows, some dereliction, coffee bars with friends smoking over coffee or a beer, some super markets.

 

 Many of the walls are covered with rather artistic graffiti. Check my facebook post on the same subject and some other interesting images.

 You get the drift. 

As I ambled around, I visited the railway station for a short while. In front of the station is a large park at the end of which is the Opera house. 


There is this ancient hotel, the Esplanade next door which was used by the passengers of the Orient Express which used to stop at Zagreb. The railway station has a quaint feel to it, some buildings from the early 20th century and some rectangular non description ones from the communist era.

There is a small railway museum here too.

Later in the night, I stepped out to get to the main square, with the famous equestrian statue. Found a busker, playing out a very familiar tune.

You will recognize it too. Very often, I find the quality of buskers in western towns often betray the cultural standards of a city. Classical music, if you find, is a good sign.

Ban Jelačić Square is officially known as Trg bana Jelačića, is colloquially called Jelačić plac. This is where the young of Zagreb seem to  hang out, and most tours start from. This is a good place to see Zagreb’s famous blue trams including the old heritage  ones.

Incidentally, the day before, 11th April, marked the anniversary of Croatia’s declaration of independence by a puppet regime, in 1941. These are a handful of people, a bit of an embarrassment to the populace who celebrated the event. The group gathered at Jelačić square.

Touch down Croatia / Hrvatska

Ever read Alistair MacLean novels, as a young adult or even later? He wrote one called ‘The Partisans’, which I read while in senior school. Never mind what that story was about, but the setting was former Yugoslavia. Exotic sounding Zagreb, Mostar, Sarajevo, Graz, Zadar etc which became infamous later during the Serbo-Croat-Bosnian conflict. Somewhere along the line a city whose name started with a Z, sure did pique some interest in me and that interest to get there, sometime in life, remained.
Just before getting my shackles removed, closing my eyes and forefinger jabbing a map of Europe pointed roughly to Croatia. What shackles, you ask. Ah, but that is a story for another day.

Dealt with the Croatian embassy for a Visa. Have never figured why such seemingly immigration risk insignificant countries need such amazing amount of paperwork to issue a tourist visa and why do they charge so much? Am I about to illegally migrate…to Croatia? Not as if there is a large bunch Indians traveling to Croatia either.

 

Meanwhile, getting tickets on miles from British Airways was as much a bitch as it always has been. Can’t fly through here, not from there, not on this day, not on that, not in economy, not this airline etc etc. Getting some workable, but inconvenient combination is akin to expecting a singularity type event to happen and a space time continuum portal, to the other dimension,​ open up. So they routed me through LHR, but couldn’t find me a miles seat to Zagreb. That is supposed to be my destination, you see. In any case, my return trip on miles and paid LHR->ZAG ends up costing more than flying economy to ZAG and back.

The travel day from finally arrived. BA seems to have fallen on bad times. Their planes lack upkeep, the service borders now on surly, the food is just plain bad. Their Twitter CS team is callous in approach as well.

If you are flying short-haul economy, then you pay for food. Their central software system crashes, and disables online check-in too.

But, still interesting things happen. There are things happening everyday which make one gleeful. Finally the app based check-in today morning, self baggage drop and tag printing, and touch less card swipe on board for a coffee. Technology, when it works, is sheer magic.

Then this beautiful innovation of filter coffee in this cup with a cloth net filter.

Why didn’t someone think of this earlier?

Visible sunrises are still a delight. Even more so in England.

And then, John Cleese is going to be back on the tube; so reports The Telegraph.

…And touch down into sunny Zagreb. After a long line at immigration and a (fleecing) taxi drive, here is the view from my upgraded room

More on Zagreb and Croatia as I travel through next some days…

…of Panchkanya, and Bencho of Benares

iyer-kPNFBook Reviewstar_4

Mr. Iyer Goes to War
Ryan Lobo
Bloomsbury

Ryan, is a well known TED speaker, photographer and a film maker. Plenty awarded, and recognized. A fellow Bangalorean and a Koshy’s frequenter. Now he is a debutante novelist too. People are surprised, pleasantly so. But, to me, writing isn’t that far away from what Ryan has been doing in the past. He tells stories, either through this pictures, his films or even his blog posts. Writing a novel, was but the next step. What you might not know is that Ryan also is a competitive shooter; and a fairly good one at that. Now, that makes for a diversely talented individual. Or maybe you would say that photography and target shooting are similar in nature. Maybe, depends on where you are sat at. I can assure you, the feeling of exuberance is somewhat limited should one be facing a barrel instead of a lens.

The excitement started building at the square table at Koshy’s as the book release became imminent in 2016. Conversations over Koshy’s coffee, often, meandered towards how publishers are, how authors are asked to pander to other semi-fraud (or totally) intellectual type but famous authors and how we might have to stand in line to get Ryan to sign a copy of his book for us and so on. How multiple local publishers rejected his manuscript or wanted him to add in sex, or provide a literary angle on LGBTQIA issues in today’s faux liberal world and how Bloomsbury picked it up finally.

This story is about Lalgudi Iyer, a somewhat infirm senior citizen, who has been left in a ‘home’ in Benares by his kith and kin to spend the last days (hopefully) to die, attain moksha and not come back to bother the human kind again. He spends his days and nights in the company of a retired Major (a PVC awardee) who passes away into oblivion, uncared for by his family.

A few days later, accidentally, Iyer’s head gets knocked and he starts getting visions of his past and imagines himself to be Bheem (way back from the epic) out to defeat Bakasur. Somewhat Don Quixote -ish, if you will; or so everyone says. …and Iyer has a Sancho Panza in Bencho, a ‘dom‘ from Manikarnika Ghat. The similarity of his name to the commonly used Hindi invective is unmistakable and perhaps deliberate.

Bencho is an aspiring politician, inspired by Iyer’s erudition and poetry recitation. Iyer escapes from the home, and runs away to find Bakasur, along with Bencho on his boat. They, post many adventures, skirmishes with criminals and the police alike, reach Allahabad and the Poorna Kumbh mela. There are petrol tanker explosions, goons and henchmen chasing to kill, helping policemen, bored wife of a local politician, and the antique smuggling politician too. As Iyer sets each ‘wrong’ right, he asks witnesses to convey the story of his deed to his Panchkanya, an acid burn victim called Damayanti, in Benares. In the epics, panchkanya (as the name suggests) is a group of five women – Ahilya, Tara, Mandodari, Kunti and Draupadi. Sita is added in, depending on who you ask.

In the end, the politician remains, the rich remain, the power wielding police remain. So does the day dreaming Iyer who continues to be Bheem and chasing Bakasur with help from lepers. He imagines himself contracting leprosy given his proximity to lepers (which is a bleak probability), and being unable to use the mace (gada) because of his bad knee and lost fingers. Iyer fades away in his world, without much glory.

Most reviewers seem to find the book humorous. At book readings, I find the hosts unable to stop the glee from dominating their faces; a glee which comes from reading Obelix going “biff”. Everyone that I have asked, who has read the book, finds it funny.

Maybe, I am odd. I do not find the book funny at all. I found it dark, with a continuing unbroken strain of melancholia. To me, it seemed like a story of ambition and failure to win against one’s deranged environment. A story of being called mad, when the surroundings are nothing but.

But, that is not a negative adjective for the book or the writing at all. The book is a fantastic first work and is a tightly run story which I finished (most of it) being driven through particularly nasty traffic during my morning commute. Thank heavens Mr Iyer was with me. Or was it Bheem?

Buy yourself a copy, and read it.

Movie Review: Double Feluda

Feluda would have been 78, if he were real and alive with us.

For all Bengalis who have grown up being Ray or Feluda fans, a movie with the latter in it is something to eagerly wait for. Regardless of the fact there is no sense of suspense given that the stories have been committed to memory long back by many of the viewers. The debate about who has played the best Feluda between Soumitro Chatterjee, Sabyasachi Chakravarty and Abir Chatterjee continues.

Double Feluda, movie poster with two pictures of Sabyasachi as Feluda

Double Feluda, movie poster

Oscar winning Manik babu’s son Sandip followed his father’s trail and made some Feluda telefilms, and then moved on to making regular movies starting with Bombaier Bombete, and contiuned with Kailashey Kelenkari, Tintorettor Jishu, Gorosthaney Sabdhan, Royal Bengal Rahasya. Sabyasachi Chakravaty played Felu in all these outings.

Cinematising a character over multiple decades and many stories, especially when the stories are known by the viewers is difficult. Easier to get a miss than a hit. Unfortunately, Babu da (Ray jr.) missed it more often and continues to prove it. However, that would be too blanket a statement to make.

On to of that, the absence of an appropriate actor to play Jatayu poses a problem. All the Jatayu’s have passed on rather early or at least without having played the role too many times, Sadip Ray might not have been left with too much of a choice in terms of stories to cinematise. One option was to reboot with an early Felu story with a younger Felu, Topshe and no Jatayu. That is what he did with Badshahi Angti with Abir Chatterjee as the new Felu. The reboot idea didn’t last long, inspite of the promise that Abir Chatterjee put on display in Badshahi Angti. Chatterjee signed up with director Arindam Sil to play Byomkesh Bakshi (another super popular detective character) and that put paid to his being Felu.

Double Feluda book cover with Satyajit Ray's illustration

Double Feluda book cover

In the new Feluda movie, Double Feluda, Sabyasachi is back as Pradosh C Mitter and so is Saheb as Topshe. Double Feluda, is two stories in one movie, based on Ray’s (senior) book by the same name.

The first story, Samaddarer Chaabi, is around Radharaman (Samaddar) who had retired in sub-urbs of Calcutta and had stoked his passion of collecting rare musical instruments post retirement. Post a heart attack, in the presence of his cardiologist, nephew (Monimohan) and his househelp Anukul, he refers to a key in his name. The nephew assumes it to be an indication to a will or some stashed away money both of which would be of interest to him. Monimohon reaches out to Felu to unravel the mystery of the key.

The story then revolves around deciphering the Radharaman’s last words, understanding how the musical instruments work and complexity is added by another musical instrument collector who wanted to buy two of the collectibles, a grandson and the lying nephew. The nephew ends up being the villain, and a neighbourhood boy (Sadhan) the hero. The story is narrated somewhat better than on previous occasions.

Saheb is too old to be Topshe. And, Sabyasachi is a 60 trying to play a 28 year old. He has a large pot belly, (seems like) a neck problem and is unable to do much in terms of action. An unfit Feluda is rather unpalatable. Incidentally, the actor playing Sadhan’s father might not be a bad choice for playing Felu in the future.

But, wait. The movie starts with a changed and a fine format of non-boring opening credits with pictures of various Feluda book covers. What also is new is additional new pieces of music composed by Sandip Ray, to go along with. Well done.

The second story, Golokdham Rohosyo, (post intermission) revolves around a theft in a scientist’s (blinded in an explosion) suburb home and leads through to a murder. The scientist is played by an aging Dhritiman Chatterjee. Chatterjee, like always, does a stellar job with a character whose eyes (in dark glasses) are never visible in the movie.

There is at least one script fault in the movie, and at least one translation from the book to the movie problem. However, it does seem that most people watching the movie never caught these. Most likely, because they had might not have read the book carefully enough.For the former, the murder weapon is somewhat malformed. You can’t kill with a murder weapon which is shaped the way it is, in the movie. And the second, I will let you figure out on your own when you watch.

By the way, Sanyasachi’s son also gets a place in the movie and plays a supporting bad guy.

The second story has turned out to be more or a mystery drama rather than a thriller or action movie. Convinces me that Sandip Ray can make movies of other genres, but not a detective thriller. Usually ends up making documentaries, but this time he did not have the scope. Having said all that, the movie has turned to better than his previous outings.

What you will like, if you are a Feluda fan is how the ending credits appear. There are short pieces by people who have acted in Feluda movies in the past – Siddhartha Chatterjee who was Topshe (Felu’s cousin and assistant) in the first two outings; Biplab Chatterjee who has appeared in Joy Baba Felunath and Kailashe Kelenkari. Also the two Mukuls, Kushal Chakraborty and Santanu Bagchi, from Sonar Kella made and appearance. All these actors shared remembrances from the movies that they acted in, of their experiences with Satyajit Ray and how they are remembered by the cinema going people even today. Siddhartha Chatterjee, incidentally, has acted in another 3-4 movies and is a partner in the restaurant chain “Bhjohori Manna”. Kushal Chakravorty, is a civil engineer by training, but continues to act in Bengali movies even now. Soumitra, Feluda of the first two outings, however was conspicuous by his absence.

So, how did the movie fare? If you are looking for an edge of the seat suspense, you will be dissappointed. If you went in with an open mind, two pretty decent stories narrated and shown much better than they have been in a long time. Go spend the money.

Fontainhas, Goa

Touching nostalgia in ‘Bairro das Fontainhas’

All this started while planning for a class reunion in Goa. The thought was to extend the trip on the back of this reunion, and indulge my amateur hobby of being behind the lens. Goa is overrun with tourists and photographers and there isn’t really anything new to shoot. But, just a little bit of research revealed this old Portuguese quarter of Fontainhas in Panjim. It is visited enough, but not enough. It is somewhat touristy, but quiet. If you see what I mean.

The visit was in last April, and quite out of the tourist season. Booking a hotel is easy if you do it early enough. In-season rates are obscene, but quite reasonable in April. Because I wanted to shoot in Fontainhas, I chose La Maison Fontainhas, right inside the quarter. It all started very unpleasantly (read review based on this experience), but the hotel itself is nice and some of the staff are nice. Temper your expectations down a bit, compared to the Tripadvisor reviews you read, and you will be alright. Don’t go by the response (from the hotel) to adverse feedback. But, this post isn’t about the hotel.

The once Latin quarter, is borderd by the Ourem creek on one side and the Altinho hill on the other. It has a relaxed old world feel, bordering on 19th century Mediterranean Europe muddled with (perhaps) a Konkani way of life. The Fountain of Phoenix, from which Fontainhas takes its name, can still be seen near the Maruti Temple in the Mala area. The settlement came to being somewhere early 18th Century, and was caused by a Goan expat (read its history). Most of the houses here are more than a hundred years old; some of them have been converted to galleries, cafes, and boutique hotels.

The place has somewhat been frozen in time in the way it appears, but tries to meld into the 21st century. The houses are still painted brightly (mostly) and add a splash of colour whichever way you look. But, you step out of this enclave, and you have the usual hustle bustle of the rest of Panaji.

DSC_0013

Imagine my surprise when I peeped in through the broken pane of a decrepit old house and and old lady peered back at me. Surprised, I could just mumble “Good Morning, Ma’am” and step back.

By the time I started walking about to shoot at at seven in morning, the sun was already up and it was warm and humid. The neighbourhood had just started waking up. The pav-wallah, had just started their early morning round going to designated houses, selling pav from their blue plastic sheet covered baskets on the back of their bicycles. The pav-wallah seemed like a morning alarm for the neighbourhood. He goes (as is the tradition in Goa) from house to house and rings is bicycle bell. Momentarily the door of the house is opened, by the residents, morning pleasantries exchanged and some pav handed over.

People just about had started opening the windows of their homes. But, few had yet stepped out. Some had started cleaning up the front sitouts, and washing them.

Fontainhas is a  beguiling neighbourhood with colonial quirks, throwing up pleasant surprises in every corner. As I walked around, I chanced up Anita Tea house and ventured in. Place has maybe eight tables, and able to seat may be 20 people at the most. It might have been, say eight in the morning and the tea house was busy serving tea, pav and bhaji. The bhaji looked and tasted something like usal. I sat around stuffing my face and drinking tea. Person sitting next to me got interested in my camera equipment and we got chatting. He was one of the local newspaper delivery people, who had stopped by for tea after his morning rounds.

The winding streets are an invitation to walk around and explore. I dipped into alleyways which looped back into themselves and chanced upon little shrines with candles or little LED lights. The names of the streets, most of them, are still in Portuguese. The arterial street is called Rua de 31 Janeira signifies the Portugese day of independence from Spain, in 1640. Then there is this 18th June road named after day, the civil disobedience movement (for freedom from Portuguese rule) was started by Ram Manohar Lohia and Dr Menezes

Little door painted at the bottom of a wall

Little door painted at the bottom of a wall. May be 3″ X 5″ in all.

Fontainhas, being relatively cleaner than rest of Panjim is evident, is a community with an interesting mix of Konkani speaking Hindus, and Portuguese and English speaking Christians. The Maruti (Hanuman) temple flanks the enclave. Right in the middle is the St. Sebastian Chapel (built in 1818), and right next to it is a “Sai Niwas”. The fringes of the quarter seem to blend into other cultures and what is the rest of Panjim.

Reviews and travelogues paint a picture more steeped in yore than Fontainhas is. Mario Miranda’s amazing sketches show scenes of time that isn’t anymore; Dalrymple’s description of streets full of VW Beetles, violinists heard from every other window, senior citizens in linen etc. don’t hold anymore. Faux historian Dalrymple visited Fontainhas in the early nineties, and that is not what the place feels like anymore. But, that doesn’t make it any less interesting. It is a delightful mix of the old world, and Kinetic Hondas, zooming motorcycles, people walking briskly to work, some backpackers frequenting the one cafe and restaurants and sleepy dogs. Yet the place is laid back, and lets you wind down.

Cafe Chodankar

Or find a place which asks you to F***. Not really, that is a local last name that many people carry.

By the time, I was done with my morning shoot I looped back to Anita Tea house for another cup. It was already shut for the day. Given where this place is, even it shutter is coloured bright orange.

The humidity was energy sapping, and after an early lunch I did as the Goans do. siesta. Felt hungry when I woke up late in the afternoon. Asking the receptionist wasn’t much help. Kinda pretty and dumb, at the same time. So, I walked out to Urban Cafe which I did notice in the morning though it wasn’t open at that time. Is a yuppie /backpacker visited cafe with a relaxed (surprise) feel about it. They had an electricity problem and did not have much to offer in terms of eats. After a coffee, I strolled out to the side of Fontainhas away from the creek to find bakeries. Later in the evening and next day I found a bunch of restaurants and cafes within a kilometer or so. Udupi place, Konkani sea food, pizza (decent one, by the way) and good Goan food.

As I walked about in the evening, went up the hill, went out to the water front and trudged back. Lost my way, grabbed some food instead and found my way back. Place is safe, and there are enough people on the streets till fairly late in the night.

I Ate dinner than night at Viva Panjim. There are boards everywhere in and around Fontainhas and you won’t miss the place though it is in an alleyway. It is a restaurant in an old house, with a little sitout. Beer, chicken liver fry, and a fish curry with rice. Generous servings, amazing taste. Heaven.

Go there to feel the world of yore, experience the cafes, the small boutique hotels,  and the warmth of the people. But, also for things which belong to that land, and non-Portuguese. Locate Anita Tea house there. Enjoy the company of locals, local food, warmth for about next to nothing.

Quick Facts

Places to Stay : Three WelcomHeritage Panjim properties, and Le Maison Fontainhas (at your own risk). There are some other hostels, and guest houses which I wouldn’t really recommend.

Food: Anita Tea Stall, Black Sheep Bistro, Viva Panjim, restaurants at the WelcomHeritage properties, Urban Cafe, Vihar (Udupi restaurant), the Caravela Cafe (good pizza)  and various others in and around Panjim.

You can see some of what I shot here, and then on flickr.

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