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The spice of Goa

The first mention of the Mapusa market was in 1580 by a Dutch chronicler. Today, it gives the visitor an authentic taste of the essence of Goa.

If there is variety, this is it.

A HOLIDAY is often incomplete without the thrill of shopping, so why not shop in Goa even if it is touted as a prime holiday destination, vibrant with its selling schemes. Rather than being cocooned in five-star sterility, it's fun and comfortable to stay at one of Goa's innumerable small homely hotels. Here one gets to speak to friendly staff, and the owner, who are so enlightening on local things, and help in arranging for safe transport to hire to visit spots of interest. After all, life's not just about Goa's beaches or sunbathing. One wants to experience a slice of local life.

The best way to do this is visit the thronging Mapusa market (pronounced Maapsa, from the Konkani "Maap", meaning volumes of measure and "Sa", meaning "to fill"), about 12 kilometres away from Panaji. It is a short mini-bus ride away (Rs. 5 on a non-stop shuttle. The return trip is of course a little different, as shall be told shortly!) Mapusa bus stand is just a two-minute walk from the open grounds of the Friday market, from early morning till late evening. It is positively raucous, with Konkani, Marathi and Kannada echoing loudly, along with American accented English spoken by the uneducated women and children stall holders — they've smartly picked up the lingo from the teeming foreign tourists, in full strength here in the cooler months.

Each trader has a patch in front her where wares are laid out attractively — from antique thingummies, glass baubles, old medicine jars in ceramic and glass, bundles of beads, chains, bracelets, rings, shell belts, mirrored bags, plants, chillies — 12 locally grown varieties, kokum, tamarind balls, jaggery, fruit, bottles of kokum and mango syrups, sausages, a bounty of fish, uniquely tied brooms, terracotta ware, jewellery stores, local bakeries and flowers — mogra, crossandra and gomphrena — all beautifully tied into venis to long strings of marigolds. The sights, sounds and smells of Mapusa are a must in one's lifetime.

Local Goan and Konkani women sell ready-to-eat local fish pickles, mango pickles and Goan masala powders for their unique cuisine. One almost wishes one ate fish, for the women generously offer a taste of their mouthwatering wares.

The pungent aroma of chillies sets everybody sneezing in its particular corner.

Lambadi women from Karnataka are all smiles on hearing their tongue, and most willing to bargain for their exquisite embroidered bags, purses and dress material. St. Francis bakers is a huge presence here, with the most delicious plumcake possible. Goan bebinca too is available here.

The Mapusa market has been going on for a very long time. As the lady who was selling flower seed packets at a small table set up under an umbrella said, "These seed packets used to cost Re. One. When I was a child, I used to come here with my mother to sell them. Today they cost Rs. 5 each, 35 years later."

A happy tired morning or whole afternoon later, laden with one's bargains, it's back to the shuttle bus for the ride back to Panaji. It's still fast, safe and comfortable, but now the driver and conductor allow people to bring on their purchases. A big woman lays her big bag of dried fish at my feet, and proceeds to drape her ample body over my back, thus supporting herself while standing!

Her friend has been content with bags of sausages, and chillies. It's these vignettes that have made the Goa trip memorable and not its beaches or many resorts. It's the people who make the difference everywhere, It is they who make Goa so appealing.

Text and photograph by RUPA GOPAL

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