Updated: Oct 2, 2018
Goa is a place unlike any other. It is much more beyond the stereotype of beach, booze and babes. Its culture is unique in the fact that it has seamlessly blended Portuguese (ruled for over 450 years), hippie (a haven in the 70's) and Hindu (Mahabharata mentions Govarashtra - nation of cowherds) aspects in its fabric.
It has something to offer everybody - a dip in the warm Arabian waters, numbing parties at Tito's, a walk by the colourful Portuguese quarters of Fontainhas, riding through the endless greens of paddy, shopping spree at flea markets.... the list is endless!
After umpteen attempts since our college days, we (7 college friends) finally managed to go on a Goa trip. Here is a poor attempt by words at describing emotions :
After a hectic day at work, I was racing against time all of Friday evening, finishing off my last minute shopping (quite unlike me). 100 ft road, Indiranagar has a 100 different things to offer to you, but never quite what you are looking for!
Later that night, we excitedly boarded the sleeper bus from Domlur and spent most of the time catching up and pulling each other's leg. The overnight journey was largely uneventful except for an encounter with a certain Mr. Yogi - a tout who insisted we visit his shack Curlie's in North Goa to score some 'goodies'. He also kept mentioning his Russian girlfriend, whom I have christened Svetlana.
Opened my eyes to the beautiful sight of the Goa countryside, a much needed respite from the hustle and bustle of Bangalore. I hadn't seen so much greenery since my last visit to my hometown of Jamshedpur!
By the time we reached Panjim, it had started raining. We rented scooties (at 350Rs/day) and were on the road again. Driving in post-monsoon Goa is such a delight. The weather is pleasant, you see hues of green all around and the roads are in excellent conditions too! Our next stop was our OYO stay in South Goa (except for the sporadic sheltering we took in between when the rain got the better of us).
South Goa is the least developed part of Goa and that is a wonderful thing. The idyllic setting of Goan fields and unkempt vegetation interspersed with humble thatches and grand villas, which are traversed on dusty, muddy lanes - all appealed to the romantic in me.
We were in for a rude shock when we reached our OYO property at Benaulim beach. Apparently in the last society meeting, it was conveniently decided that bachelors would no longer be allowed to stay there - a decision which had not been communicated to us. We spent the next several hours giving an earful to the customer care who finally relented and shifted us to a different property. (Ritesh Agarwal, if you are reading my blog, someone at OYO customer care needs to be fired.)
With fuller stomachs, we decided to venture further south, to the fabled beach of Palolem. Since it is located quite far from the Goa mainland, it remains largely unspoiled. It is occupied majorly by foreign tourists and negligibly by ogling Indians.
The route leading upto Palolem is quite scenic - long, winding hilly roads. Easily my most memorable drive.
We had dinner at the bustling Martin's Corner, Betalbatim. Amazing ambience - thanks to the performing musicians who took requests to play everything from Ed Sheeran to Kishore Kumar.
We retired to bed after a thoroughly enjoyable, adventurous first day in Goa.
Visited the desolate and pretty Colva beach early next morning for a leisurely walk. The beach is sandwiched between the sea and a narrow river. Before long we were back on the road to Panjim again.
It was time for yet another adventure - one of the scooties had a flat tyre in the middle of nowhere (NH-17 actually). We somehow coordinated and got hold of a mechanic. While he repaired the bike, I made good use of time and discovered an off-beaten path to a little known stream!
Pictures of the Zuari bridge, our site of misadventure and the offbeat trail follow...
Our altercations with OYO continued on Day 2 as well, when we reached the service apartment we had booked in Panjim and found out that the padlock containing our room keys was empty!
After finally settling down in the (swanky) service apartments, we decided to try out some authentic Goan cuisine at Mum's kitchen, Panjim. Although, it did not have much to offer to a vegetarian like me, I liked the unconventional preparation of lady's finger. Bebinca with ice-cream was delicious too! Unfortunately, one of my friend had an allergic reaction to squid and was left red-faced (in the literal sense) along with a lot of swelling.
The remainder of the afternoon was spent visiting the popular churches of Goa - Our Lady Of Immaculate, St. Francis of Assisi and Basilica of Bom Jesus. A word of caution - people wearing shorts are not allowed within the churches.
After seeking absolution for our sins from several of the churches, it was only logical we spend the night onboard a casino cruise. Deltin Jaqk is anchored in Panjim's Mandovi river. Its lower deck has tables to cater to your gambling itches of all kinds. The upper deck serves unlimited drinks and a buffet apart from 'entertainment' (basically, Russian ladies dressed in Arabian attire gyrating to Bollywood tunes).
I had limited luck at roulette but Lady Luck smiled upon me as I tried my hands at black jack. This brought an end to yet another amazing day of the vacation.
Next morning, we had a hearty breakfast at Caravela Cafe and Bistro located in one of the tiny by-lanes of Panaji. They had around 10 varieties of coffee, all of which tasted the same to me. The lovely ambience was marred only by the old owner yelling - "You look like well-bred boys. Mind your language."
Refreshed, we made our way to North Goa - the promised land. We had booked a century old Portuguese villa for accommodation- our first AirBnb homestay experience. We were greeted by the domestic help Libertina who made sure we felt right at home in the stunning property adjacent to Candolim beach. Highly recommended for all planning a trip to North Goa. Can't wait to be back at Casa Lenas!
We then visited Fort Aguada which is surrounded by a moat on three side and overlooks the Arabian sea on the fourth (the fort has been aptly named Aguada meaning water). The fort was built by the Portuguese for defence against the Marathas. It also houses a lighthouse, one of the oldest in Asia.
The evening was spent at Baga beach, which happens to be my favourite beach in all of Goa. Lines of shacks and eateries adorn the lively beach.
Later that night we headed to Curlie's in search of Yogi and Svetlana. We were quite disappointed on not finding them. Curlie's is the shadiest place in all of a Goa. It is so secluded, that for a moment you will blame Google Maps for malfunctioning. It is also a remnant of Goa's hippie culture of the '60s - trance music, psychedelic lights and the lot. But, trust us to perform Bollywood steps to electronic music.
I dozed off on the recliner outside Curlie's, with the full moon lighting up the silver sand of Anjuna beach and the sound of lashing waves in my ears. Truly, a bliss like no other.
On our way back, the police stopped us for inspection (a regular for anyone returning from Curlies late night). None of us were intoxicated, but one of my friend got into trouble for possessing bhaboot (sacred ash). Only after touching, smelling and tasting it were the policemen assured that it is not the magic powder they were seeking!
Once home, we crashed into our beds to rest for whatever remained of the night.
The next morning, I was the only one awake early. This provided me the perfect opportunity to explore Goa on foot and spend some time alone. Being a pedestrian allows you the luxury of savouring all the niceties that Goa has to offer.
We had lunch at The Lazy Goose, Candolim - my standout dining experience at Goa. The food, service and ambience was top notch. Extra points for playing Abba and Air Supply.
Not the wisest of decisions, but lunch was followed by a session of water sport activities at Baga beach. The banana ride and parasailing sessions were thrilling albeit a bit costly!
Up next was Chapora Fort, made famous by Dil Chahta Hai. Only a little more than a wall remains here, unlike its counterpart Aguada. Fun fact - Emperor Akbar had joined hands with his enemies - the Marathas and made this place his base camp, in order to fight the Portuguese.
The highly rated Greek restaurant Thalassa was closed for the season, so we had to make do with Antares next door. Antares, it is a crime to sell bhuna bhutta as 'charred corn with a hint of paprika' for 20x the price!
The last day was largely uneventful which we spent in packing our stuff and seeing off friends who had to leave for Chennai and Delhi. We bonded over a game of Uno and Jenga at a cafe whose name I can no longer recollect. We purchased some memorabilia for friends and family from Panjim. Chocolate coated roasted cashews are a must buy! By the time we reached the Airport it had started raining - only the second instance in our 5 days of stay. Our hour long flight had been delayed by more than three hours.
It was only past midnight when I reached home in Bangalore. Threw my rucksack into a corner, emptied out the sand deposited in my shoes and went to sleep dreaming of my next Goan escapades!