Goa. Two syllables that instantly bring to mind days under parasols by the beach, sipping on something refreshing and cool; the soothing sounds of the sea by night; partying till 6 in the morning in Baga and heading to a shack for an early morning breakfast; bike rides on tarred roads vanishing into a horizon of green fields; and of course, swimming in the sea.
Goa isn’t just about raves and beer and general debauchery. It’s about food and people and the sea and so many little moments that make you want to keep going back to it month after month, year after year. I know I’ve been doing that since my first time there, way back in 2004. It’s my one retreat to detox my system of urban life, let down my hair, kick back my feet and watch the sun sink into the sea. It’s like a feast for the senses and I never tire of the place, ever. Every time I go there, I discover something new – people, places, food, things to do, moments to capture. But there are moments from those trips that are etched in my mind forever. Here they are.
1. The journeys.
I’ve flown down a couple of times, but the most memorable journeys have been the bus rides and the drive down. The bus slices across the Ghats, offering a view of the sea at most points and sometimes, mist-laden mountains. The one time my friend and i drove down, we lost our way at around 3 a.m in the morning and relied totally on the GPS to help us find our way back. We took the state highway through Belgaum to Goa, and what a drive it was. Rickety, pebbly, kachcha roads with great views of the lush-green valley. *Sigh*
2. Shacking by the sea.
Our arrivals usually follow a pattern: Get to the room, dump luggage, freshen up, head to the beach, find a shack, sink into a cane chair facing the sea, vegetate. We’ve spent entire days there, sometimes talking, but at most times eating and doing little else. And of course, every time we go, we pay our respects at Britto’s and order almost everything on their menu.
3. Viva Carnivaaaaaal!
I saw the Goan Carnival for the first time last year, in March. The weather was unbearably hot, with a sea of people lining the streets of Panjim waiting for the floats to pass by. It was colourful, fun, overwhelming (especially when a King Kong-size Grasshopper float went by) and so full of life. I loved every minute of standing on the streets and clicking away. They have a carnival every year, so if you’d like see, be brave and make a trip in March.
4. Shopping at the Tibetan Market
The market is perfect for buying silver jewellery. Slightly heavy on the wallet, but the designs are absolutely gorgeous. You’ll also find some quaint hair ornaments, little idols of Buddha, and yes, Tibetan businessmen and women who drive a hard bargain.
5. Beach bumming.
By far, the best thing to do when you’re in Goa. Find a sunbathing chair with a parasol above your head to protect you from the scorching sun, and sit there all day. The shacks will bring your food and drinks to you; all you have to do is eat and drink. Watch the people go by. Get a foot massage. Get a fake tattoo. Watch a family of old aunties in Gujarati-style sarees cosy up to a non-Indian for a picture that their husbands are taking. Watch the sun dip, slowly, slowly… There’s nothing that a day of beach bumming cannot cure (except, maybe, for skin cancer). It cleanses your soul of everything bad. Really.
Most of the shacks serve good food (tough luck if you’re a vegetarian), but should you go, ask for Prawn/Chicken Vindaloo and Goan Pav. It is absolutely delish. Oh, and try the Alpine Chocolate Mousse at Britto’s. Sinful, sinful! Dine at Seashell Inn, Calangute for a taste of continental food and hit the Fisherman’s Cove in North Goa or Mum’s Kitchen in Panjim for nice spicy Goan food. Many people will tell you that Infantaria has food to die for, but i beg to differ.
7. Dolphin sighting and water sports.
One time, my friends and I decided that we would do all the touristy things we could possibly pack in two days’ time. So we did a lot of water sports and sight-seeing. The high point was sighting dolphins when we motor-boated to the middle of the choppy sea. A family of dolphins, diving in and out, evasive, beautiful. I’ve heard that Butterfly Island is beautiful too, so go if you can.
8. People watching.
On my March trip last year, my friend wanted to wake up early and go to the beach. I hate waking up early when i’m on holiday, and i hate it even more when i have to do that in Goa. Who rises before 3 p.m anyway? But i’m glad i went that day, because i captured one of the best pictures i have taken to date. It was the right moment at the right time, and i was at the right place to see it happen.
Sometimes, you’ll see dogs playing with the waves, running towards them and backing away. And sometimes, you’ll see them do this:
9. Discovering new parts of Goa.
I’ve never stayed in South Goa unless it was for an office trip or the Adfest, because it’s quiet – almost nothing of “interest” happens there. In January of this year, though, i stayed at Palolem and kicked myself for having missed out on the pleasures of a noise-free, crowd-free, party-free Goa for so long. They have silent parties here – there are a couple of DJs (or sometimes, just one) playing at a place, and you put on a pair of wireless headphones, tune into the music of your choice and dance. There’s an estuary of sorts, lined by beach huts with sit-outs where one can spend evenings. And a secluded part of the beach, for which you have to wade through water – shoulder- or knee-high, depending on the tide – to reach, is home to tiny crabs that make beautiful patterns in the sand.
10. Watching sunsets on the beach.
Stand on the beach, at a distance near enough for the water to sweep in and touch your feet. Look out at the horizon, all pink and orange and light and shade and gleaming and dark. Let the sea water sweep up to your feet and pull out the earth from under them. Feel the sensation of being swept into the sea as the water retreats with the sand and your feet sink deeper into the surface.
There are many ancient churches, forts and temples worth visiting in Goa , but I’ve never managed to do it yet. Except for the first time. Perhaps i’ll do it the next time i go there and return home with more pictures and newer stories to tell.
Getting there: From Bangalore, Goa is an overnight journey by bus, about an hour by flight, and a night and a half day’s journey by train. It takes approximately 11 hours to drive down to Goa. The good thing about a flight is that it’s quick and gives you more time in Goa; if you don’t mind a bus, opt for a sleeper and reach in the morning. The train journey is the most enjoyable and also the most scenic, although you end up losing a lot of time.
Go if: You want to party all night (North Goa), need a quiet holiday (South Goa), like water sports, like history, want a beach holiday or are planning a mad trip with a big bunch of friends.