India has a coastline of over 7,500 kilometres, but ask anyone about their preferred beach destination and it’s Goa that usually comes to mind. “How can I be an exception then?” laughs Subodh Kerkar over a telephonic conversation. The 60-year-old artist, who gave up a career in medicine in pursuit of a creative one, has remained a lifelong resident of North Goa and wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I’ve travelled the world, but have my roots here,” Kerkar says nonchalantly. Born in Margao, his family followed their father who frequently changed jobs as a school teacher and made homes in villages such as Keri, Mandrem and eventually settled in Saligao in the north. Although the regions have undergone a transformation in the last six decades, Kerkar holds on to some of his childhood rituals. Between the ages of six and 16, he would set out on two-hour long walks with his father. Together, the two explored rice and vegetable fields, the riversides, hills, and beaches every day. In Keri, they would cross a bandh, which he describes as a tiny bridge that moves along the river. And in Mandrem they would collect shells, pieces of wood and chipped plywood of boats in soft textures of blue, which the sea would wash ashore. There were no shacks or tourists in sight. The experience was an education for him. Now Kerkar keeps that affinity for the coast alive by making art installations from items that are washed ashore. Many of them are on display at the Museum of Goa, an art gallery he founded in 2015.
Kerkar has also kept up with his morning walks, and sometimes revisits the same old places. On many such long walks, he discovered the stellar rock formations that line Goa’s coastline. Just around the corner from Arambol, Siridao, Keri, Baga and Vagator stand the up to 30-foot-high structures. Kerkar claims they rival the ones in Hawaii, and cannot be found on tourism brochures. “You cannot be loitering in a corner at the beach and expect to discover something new,” he quips. “You have to walk a few kilometres.” He speaks of another hidden gem en route to Baga beach. Climb on to the other side of the hill, and you’ll spot a tiny lagoon, which seems like a private beach with wonderful rocks. Although it’s well-known among locals, it is often overlooked by visitors.
Although Goa’s architecture shows Portuguese influences, it is mainly inspired by Gothic, Mannerism, and Renaissance architectures—all Italian styles popular in Europe around the 16th century when the Portuguese came to Goa with blueprints, explains Kerkar. Local masons interpreted those drawings and built the houses, churches and later even the temples while adapting them to suit the local climate using locally sourced materials. Kerkar loves walking along some of them—to marvel at the dome of Mangueshi temple in Priol village and St. Cajetan Church in Old Goa. He adores the Chapel of Our Lady of the Mount and the Church of the Three Saints, both situated at hilltops and overlooking expansive views of palm-fringed shores. Kerkar believes that most of Goa’s churches have been architecturally compromised, but the ones that have stood the test of time are portals to the way of life in the 16th century.
Brightly painted houses in yellow ochre, blue and Indian red line the roads that Kerkar takes every day. Despite being a tourist hotspot, Kerkar loves to show off his hometown to guests who sign up for his guided walks. “Everyone carries a bit of Goa with them. Goa is not just a state, but a state of mind,” he signs off.
Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.