Goa - For the traveler's soul!
Goa was one place that was long pending in my list of places to visit and this February happened to be my first visit. Goa is one place that offers amazing nightlife, along with great beaches for both the party animals and the quiet and peace loving kind of travelers. I guess between that spectrum, I lie somewhere mid way! This is my take on a tranquil Goan adventure, where I did nothing conventional to both my amazement, happiness and dismay. Read on if you're a fan of relaxing by the beaches with watermelon based beverages, scaling the length of the state on a scooty, visiting the grandeur of Portugal architecture and of course getting a tan.
Goa is beyond beautiful with a very rich history, interesting landscapes, coconut trees that are juxtaposed with houses that add a plethora of colors to the roads for the journeying passers-by and not to forget the quaint cafes and restaurants that serve food so delectable, you'd want to visit Goa again just at the thought of food on a famished Sunday.
I traveled to Goa with my sister, Twesha, (hi Twesha if you're reading this), who is my best travel companion and never says no to an adventure. On our arrival in Goa, we stayed at a place very close to the airport because we reached by evening. The first beach that we visited was Bogmolo beach located in Margao, on the center, west coast of Goa. On the shore of this beach is the famous Bogmallo Beach Resort which lights up the sea-side by night. Twesha and I felt the first touch of the texture of sand on our feet as we walked to the shore.
The temperature was surprisingly pleasant at 25 degrees and we could hear the continuous sound of waves lapping against the beach. We spent some time admiring the resort from a distance, the moon and the rising tide for a while. Then proceeded for dinner at Joet's that appeared to be the only shack on the beach. There was some nice Konkani music playing in the shack while we gorged the very tasty butter garlic prawns, chilly mushrooms, Fish fingers and Kingfish with Bibinca for dessert. This was just the start!
Side note: I tried three traditional Goan Desserts: Bibinca, Apple caramel pudding and Alle belle. Of which apple caramel pudding is my favourite! Definitely try it while you're in Goa!
The second morning we woke up at 4:30 am to visit Palolem beach. Palolem is knows for its pristine beauty and is regarded by most as the best beach of South Goa. The early morning drive to the beach was chilly despite the day time tropical hot temperatures and the beach at 5:30 am was crisp with a slight nip in the air. If you are anything like me, who likes a peaceful morning and a good workout, Palolem is the place for you. It's clear blue waters in the backdrop of the rising sun, will steal your love in a heartbeat.
I walked the length of the beach and had some fresh Watermelon juice sitting by the beach while admiring the orange hues of the sky and Goa already felt like a good idea. Also, the shacks of Palolem look really restful for a yogi or a soul-searching wanderer. And just in case you're intrigued, there's also an Ashtang yoga class on the beach ;) I wish I could stay there if I wasn't on a mission to explore Goa. I've book marked the idea for my next trip to learn a little yoga maybe. It's only shortcoming is, the distance from the North side of Goa
After Palolem, we left for Vasco Da Gama, for the INS, aquatic training center. I had booked the day for spending some time in open ocean and trying a few water sports. Here I tried, Scuba diving, wind surfing and sailing. I wish I could try some surfing too, but it wasn't the right time for catching the waves. Another very popular water sport in Goa is riding a Banana Boat. Try it with your buddies if you can. So what do I think about these? See the photos below!
After an extraordinary afternoon of soaking up a lot of sun while enjoying diving in the sea, Twesha and I left for Northern side of Goa towards Panaji. On our way we stopped briefly at Three Kings Church, which is fabled to be haunted. Yikes! It is said that three Portuguese Kings who were fighting for dominion in the area had their "Last Supper" in the Church whilst they poisoned each other. In retrospect, I think the church did feel a little sinister. However I would still recommend people go visit it once. You wouldn't want to miss a place just because it's listed as one of the 7 haunted destinations in Goa! ;)
Next we stopped at Basilica of Bom Jesus. I had read so much about this church in my history books, I couldn't miss it! The architecture of the place is beautifully finished in granite with shades of red. It is listed as one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites and also happens to be one of the oldest churches in Asia with architectural features of five styles of architecture: Roman, Ionic, Doric, Corinthian and Composite! Although the main attraction of the Church is the mummified body of St. Francis Xavier!
A Pro tip: Photography inside the gallery of Basilica of Bom Jesus is prohibited, don't bother carrying your camera!
We also stopped at Sao Jacinto Island which is connected to the main land by a causeway on the way to Panaji. The Island houses an abandoned lighthouse and Sao Jacinto Church. This church faces the Zuari River and one can see the setting sun behind the facade of the Church or from the causeway that connects the island. We spent some time on the island, enjoyed the cool breeze and admired the golden waters of the river with the sun setting in the background.
Once we crossed Panaji, we headed for a Boat House facing Mandovi River where we were reserved for the night. The Boat house was beautiful with spacious rooms and archaic furniture. Also, we were facing the river on which all the Casino ships were anchored. Every once in a while we saw speedboats cross the water front or the musical ferry. Now I didn't go aboard the musical ferry. But it's definitely something I'd like to try when I visit next time. This Ferry runs on the river with a live Goan Cultural show and music that sounds inviting. I could hear them when I stood on the pier in front of the boat house. I wouldn't lie, I may have even danced to the music of "Galyan sakli sonyachi" in the shadows on the pier :D
For the following night we were reserved on the Casino Deltin Royale, with their premium package that included unlimited food and drinks on the house. Also, the added intrigue of gambling on a ship off the coast of Goa sounded like a fun idea! We got dressed and hit the ship housing the casino by a speedboat. By the time we reached, we were already starving and went straight up two floors to the buffet to devour food.
The food layout was excellent with a WOK station where we could select any choice of vegetables, noodles/rice, sauces, and meat/seafood. The rest of the dishes were good too but I primarily ate all the sea food dishes because they taste so fresh when you're near the sea. The squid was so juicy, I almost forgot the creature is slimy and has tentacles.
The shrimps were extremely light and fresh, seared with just butter and salt. Apart from this I tried Goan fish curry, prawn Balchao, Kerala coffee bean chicken curry and flat noodles with Pinacoladas and Mojitos. We ended the meal with Apple caramel pudding and chocolate soufle.
After we were full, we hit the gambling stations and tried our hand at Blackjack and Roulette. I must admit, I am terrible at wagers, gambles and card games (Haha). I was also interested in seeing the deck of the Ship with live performances, with which we completed our Casino ship experience.
The next morning, Twesha and I hired a scooty, (which is very easily available at a myriad of vendors), to leave further north towards Anjuna, Vagator and Arambol beaches. The roads leading up to these beaches were so pretty. They were lined with Coconut trees and the horizon was green from one end to the other. We crossed marsh lands, hills, taverns, shops, streets within towns, rivulets and large houses in so many bright colors. We stopped at a house which said "Yoga classes" on a board outside, just for an opportunity to peek inside and see what an old Portuguese house looks like. (Trust me when I say this, I'm normally not that creepy :P). We ate a very English and Tibetan breakfast on the way at Tin Tin in Tibet momo house and reached Anjuna Beach in good time for getting tanned. We ordered a few cocktails out on the beach while languidly sitting on the reclining chairs. Anjuna Beach, albeit pretty, is not a very swim friendly beach. It has a rocky shore with waves that come crashing against them with a deep furor. But the beach is perfect for relaxing and hearing the soporific sound of water. And just as we were ready with sun block on and with our backs reclined, our stupor was encumbered by two ladies who came to sell jewelry and ask if we wanted to get our hair braided.
I was stunned to hear them speak flawless English with a hint of Russian accent, while they were actually raised in Karnataka. As our conversation ensued, I learnt that these ladies knew at least 10 languages each. Form Konkani, to Kannad, to English, Hindi, Bengali etc. (which they learnt by just staying on the beach and interacting with tourists!). We got our hair braided just because we were impressed by the ladies and haggled a little for the jewelry they were selling.
With an afternoon well spent we headed out to Vagator beach and on the way lost ourselves a little in the by lanes. But because both of us were extremely hungry, we stopped at the sight of the first shop/dhaba that came our way. It was called Teja Restaurant. It was inside a tranquil locality with just the sound of birds chirping around us. The dhaba had some varieties of fish on the menu with different curries. They also sold fried prawns and crabs that we really seemed to like. All dishes were cooked in traditional Goan spices and the meal left us extremely satiated. From there we headed to Vagator for a very brief visit. Vagator is popular for both its beach and the vantage point it offers for looking at the setting sun. All beaches in Goa have the advantage of lying on the west coast facing the Arabian sea, so the sunsets are always picturesque. <3
From Vagator, we left for our last planned destination of the day, which was Arambol beach. Arambol is further north and is known as one of the cleanest and best beaches of Goa. It also has huge waves for surfers and clear surface for swimming enthusiasts to take a dip in the salty sea water. The road leading up to Arambol from Vagator beach is hilly mostly with serpentine curves. The minute you approach the area near the beach the demography rapidly changes. This area predominantly has Russian and Israeli dwellers and shop owners. The markets outside the beach offer some really good clothes and swimsuits at bargain prices. Of all the beaches that I visited in Goa, Arambol is probably the best in my opinion. I heard rave reviews about it even before my visit and I wasn't disappointed after it either. Because I was short on time in terms of the number of days I stayed in Goa, I just picked the best beaches for the visit. I conveniently avoided the beaches North of Panjim and south of Anjuna like Calingute and Candolim. We took a dip in the water and enjoyed the sunset and ended the evening with a few cocktails and listening to the music of acoustic guitar that a fellow guitarist was playing.
For dinner we, stopped at a Thai outlet called Lotus Bistro for dinner. It was a quaint shack with lots of pixie lights, a swimming pool and flowery aromas. The food on the menu looked amazing. We ordered a Bangkok platter for starters and steamed fish cooked in Banana leaves. The meal was amazing and very flavorful. I anyway have a secret inclination towards Asian cuisine, Japanese being my favourite. So after a long day of visiting beaches and eating at great places, when we finally returned to the boat house, the quaint music and the pier lit up with lights felt blissful. I sat the pier for the longest time just smelling the whiff of sea air, and hearing the boats anchored swing with the wind and eventually slept like a baby that night.
The following day, (also the day we were supposed to leave back for Delhi) was reserved for a few special places I had in mind. Like the Houses of Goa museum, Cidade De Goa and Reis Magos fort. Houses of Goa is a unique museum in the shape of a triangle that resembles a boat. It is the work of renowned architect Gerard Da Cunha, while the museum itself houses information on architectural styles of eastern and western influence around Goa. The museum also has a gallery that showcases the work of famous cartoonist Mario Miranda, and has souvenirs displaying his work like Postcards, lamp shades, greeting cards etc with prints of his cartoons on Goa available on sale. I'd highly recommend that place to anyone who enjoys museums or eccentric places (I know I do!).
We next visited the Beach resort Cidade de Goa, designed by architect Charles Correa. Cidade de Goa is a beachfront resort juxtaposed between a hill and the Arabian Sea. It stands flawlessly in colors of Orange and Yellow with balconies adorned with wrought iron railings. The place is so extremely beautiful, you'd feel you unknowingly got an entry into the Garden of Eden maybe (Haha). My friend Bahar Chouksey who's also an architect told me about all these out of the world places and Charles Correa happens to be her favorite architect. Thank you Bahar if you're reading this. :)
Reis Magos fort was another interesting addition to my adventures of the day. The fort is in the village of Reis Magos, located on the northern bank of Mandovi river and was surprisingly close to the boat house we were staying in. It was constructed in 1551 to protect the narrowest jutting headland north of Mandovi Estuary where it still stands, albeit it started crumbling by 1993 and needed restoration. The fort is currently being restored by architect Gerard Da Cunha and is used as a cultural center.
Fun fact: wikipedia tells me that Reis Magos is the Portuguese name for Three wise men from the Bible.
Also next to the fort is a church that I really loved. It is located at a height with long stairs leading up to it. I ran up and down the stairs a couple of time like an excited kid to reach a large wooded door and a hanging bell.
And like all great adventures must come to an end, I ended mine with these places that I'll forever cherish in my memory. Also, I think there are a lot of things I would still like to unravel in Goa like the Dudhsagar Falls and maybe even do a few more conventional things like get a "Dil Chahta hai" photo at Chapora fort. I initially never thought Goa would be a place I'd like incredibly with my inherent inclination towards mountains and adventure. But I was beyond aghast at the fact that I not just fell in love with the place but would want to visit again and again! Find below some more clicks and also an anecdote at the end!