Next Time You're in ... Goa

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Goa Chitra

Digging up the past Displays of tillage implements evoke Goa's agricultural history

With Goa's connotations of full-moon parties, beaches and backpackers in tie-dyed pants, it's not surprising that most visitors to the Indian state are blithely unaware of its gritty agricultural past. In that respect, the Goa Chitra Museum, tel: (91-832) 657 0877, comes as a genuine revelation.

The brainchild of artist turned curator Victor Hugo Gomes, the museum is situated on a working organic farm (also Gomes' home) in the southern Goan town of Benaulim and showcases over 4,000 traditional tools, items of furniture and other objects sourced from across the state. The exhibits include hundreds of tillage implements, in testimony to a time when agriculture was Goa's mainstay. (Now, tourism and mining are the key industries and Goa depends on neighboring states for such staples as cereals and vegetables.) A sugarcane grinder standing almost five meters high is one of the main focal points of the museum. Gomes took over two years to restore it.

Supplementing the farming-related displays are exhibitions of vintage paraphernalia and antique furniture, many examples of which were rescued from garbage heaps left beside demolished homes and churches. Dismayed at the speed with which local heritage was vanishing, Gomes visited over 300 traditional buildings in the process of demolition, salvaging doorways, window fittings, pillars, railings and even church altars. Folklore, costume, jewelry and marine displays are scheduled to open at the end of the year.

Gomes personally leads hour-long tours of the facility at 11 a.m. and 4 p.m. daily, communicating a passion for his native history that elevates Goa Chitra above your run-of-the-mill local museum. The tours take in an on-site gallery of work by local artists, a performance space and a walk around Gomes' 7,400-sq-m farm, where he grows chili, okra and other crops. At the end, visitors are served a refreshing drink made from kokum, a tangy local fruit related to mangosteen.

Goa Chitra attracts a steady flow of visitors. Novelist Kiran Desai dropped in recently, as did poet and lyricist Sampooran Singh Kalra (better known as Gulzar), who was so impressed that he donated his fee for a reading to the museum. But don't take his word for it. Pencil in a break from Goa's beaches and scrunch your toes in the sands of time instead.