Category Archives: Goa

Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa Review: Pousadas, Ponds, and Portuguese Influences

Some of the images and information in this review were provided on request by the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa.

A light rain was falling as I alighted at the lobby of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa in Cansaulim, a 5-star luxury hotel in South Goa.

The lobby at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

I stepped out of the car and was struck by how much it reminded me of my favourite 5-star timeshare resort in Goa, Club Mahindra Varca Beach Resort, of which I’m a member.

The Front Entrance at Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa

The resemblance ended there. As I was taken to the check-in counter on the lagoon, I saw that the property was much larger and more lavish than I had imagined.

The lagoon at the check-in counter of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Here’s a 360-degree view of the lagoon from our check-in counter.

 

I was in Goa having being invited to speak on Pinterest marketing, at the 6th edition of the Exotic Wedding Planning Conference, a one of its kind event organized by Exito, and conceptualized to bring the top wedding planners across the globe to a single platform.

As the Official Country Winner in the Luxury Wedding Destination category at the 2016 World Luxury Hotel Awards, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa seemed like the perfect place to organize a conference of wedding planners in Goa.

View of the Lobby at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

The conference was from the 13th to the 14th of August, 2018, and I had arrived a day early to relax and prepare for my talk, which was on the 2nd day.

After checking in, another speaker and I were transported by buggy to our respective rooms. The Indo-Portuguese style room and suites are a distinctive feature of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa hotel.

Buggy transport at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

At first sight, my room looked like any other 5-star hotel room. But when I explored it further, I saw that it had a large verandah (balcony) with a view of the lagoon that runs through the property.

Welcome to Goan-style verandah living

My room was part of the Indo-Portuguese style villas, called Pousadas, that are divided into five landscaped courtyards, each distinctive in theme, architecture and landscape.

Indo – Portuguese style Pousadas at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

The Pousadas are predominantly single-storied and have spacious balconies with stunning views that overlook the sea, lagoons or tropical spaces, perfecting the concept of ‘verandah living’ that is innate to the people of Goa.

The furniture in the rooms was styled like antique Indo-Portuguese furniture, which I love. It is locally sourced with design features from the early 1900s.

The huge Portuguese-style wooden bed in my room

The other feature I loved in my room was the lavish bathroom with a sunken shower. I love beautiful bathrooms and this one looked and smelled wonderful.

My lavish bathroom with the sunken shower

I had mixed feelings about the fact that it led to an outdoor shower room with a pebble floor and vegetation, that opened out to the sky, and the only thing separating my bathroom from that room was a pane of clear glass.

The open shower made me a tad uncomfortable

Imagining that a peeping Tom could look into my bathroom made me cringe, so I called up the resort host, who assured me that there was “absolutely” no cause for worry.

The walls enclosing the outdoor shower were designed so no one could look inside, she said, so it was “absolutely private and confidential.” She said “absolutely” quite a few times. Although it didn’t mitigate my discomfort, I said, “Screw it, let’s do it,” Richard Branson-style.

Once I decided to take a bath, I found I didn’t really care after all. I was more focused on enjoying the bath products from Forest Essentials. From the shampoo, conditioner and shower-gel, to the delightfully lemon-scented hand soap, all the products felt luxurious and smelled divine. Even better that they’re cruelty-free.

After my nice hot bath, I felt relaxed and squeaky clean. I polished off the welcome platter, with delicious Goan sweets, like bebinca. Even the logo had an edible bottom, Willy Wonka-style. Nice touch!

The delicious welcome platter with Goan sweets

For dinner, I ordered a plate of saffron arancini from the 24/7 room service and prepared to spend my evening curled up watching a movie and resting in preparation for the next day.

The saffron arancini were tasty but not mind-blowing

I also got my blazer and trousers pressed by the laundry service, which returned them promptly in an hour.

The next morning, I called for a sunny side up with sausages and potatoes. It was delivered in a steel tiffin, which I thought was wise since it’s both environmentally-friendly and keeps the food warm.

The breakfast, delivered in a tiffin, turned out to be a disaster

However, the breakfast itself turned out to be something of a disaster, because the kitchen had forgotten to send salt and pepper, and didn’t tell me that toast was not included as part of the order.

In the time it took the delivery boy to go fetch the salt and pepper, the eggs were cold as ice and practically inedible. I shoved them down anyway, in my hurry to get to the conference on time.

Later, when I told a sales representative from the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa about my disastrous breakfast, she notified her higher-ups, who apologized and sent a bottle of red wine to my room, to make up for the gaffe.

I called a buggy to take me to the Pyramid Ballroom since there was no way I was going to find my way around the enormous property by myself. I was all ready for the talks, engagement and networking activities and the day went off well.

The conference was very well-organised and went off without a hitch. The food at the networking luncheons was excellent and the speakers included some actual celebrities like Devika Narain, the wedding designer for Virat Kohli and Anushka Sharma’s hush-hush wedding in Italy.

The conference was held in the Pyramid ballroom

In the evening, we were invited for dinner and cocktails at another ballroom (whose name I can’t remember). A new friend of mine, Boi, and I navigated our way over the vast and gorgeous swimming pools to the dining area.

The lagoon-style pool at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

The resort grounds and architecture are a treat for the eyes. Designed by famed resort architect, Simeon Halstead from Spain, and landscape designer, Peter Imrik of Napa, California, it has the cheerful and relaxed atmosphere of a small Indo-Portuguese village.

Village Square at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Spread over 45 acres, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa property is like a picturesque township, full of green courtyards and gardens, linked by Venetian-style canals and waterways, tiny bridges and cobbled streets.

The Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa resort is full of green courtyards and gardens.

Once Boi and I managed to find our way to the dining area, we were greeted by a lively bar area and a delightful singer who kept us enthralled with songs from the 80s and 90s.

The bartender was rocking

I contented myself with a couple of Pina Coladas and enjoyed getting to know my fellow-attendees. The dinner was a multi-cuisine spread that had so much choice, I was confused at which way to go – Goan or Asian or Italian?

A representative image of the food at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

I finally settled for the seafood ravioli followed by Crêpes Suzette for dessert. Both were delicious. Although many of the conference attendees stayed on to party till 1 a.m. or later, I called it an early night since my talk was the first presentation on the agenda the next morning.

I retired to my room and slept early. The next morning I rushed off to the Pyramid Ballroom at 8.30 am, without a chance to eat breakfast because I wanted to run through my Powerpoint and make sure that the animations were working.

As it was my last day at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa and I would be in the conference all day, I also packed my bags and took them with me.

Thankfully my talk went off well. Image © Exito

My talk went off well. It was well-received and I got some great feedback from the attendees.

Since I had to check out that day, I’d booked myself into another hotel for the night – a budget hotel in Nuvem called the Indismart Woodbourne Resort. It turned out that Boi was staying there too, so we decided to leave together after the conference and split the cost of the cab fare.

In the hurry for us to get to the hotel, where her father was waiting for her, I forgot to check out of the Park Hyatt. Luckily they sent me an email with my room service and laundry charges, which I paid online.

My stay at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa did not lack comfort. However, one of the things I would change was the wasteful use of plastic bottles in the rooms and conference areas. These could easily be replaced by jugs with glasses.

No plastic bottles, please

To their credit, they do use glass bottles at their all-day Village Café restaurant, but it would be great if they extended this eco-friendly practice to the entire hotel.

Sustainable Practices by the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

On request, the staff outlined for me, the sustainable practices followed at the resort. Their corporate social responsibility program is called Hyatt Thrive, which includes energy-saving and water consumption reduction initiatives, engagement in community causes, and environmental clean-up drives.

In addition, the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa operates a series of initiatives under the Hyatt Thrive program that are geared for the betterment and livelihood of the local community and benefit the environment in the Cansaulim area.

These activities include an Apprenticeship Programme, organic farming programme, sustaining and promoting a local small-scale art industry, enriching the lives of village youth through sports and festive celebrations and other community activities.

Some of the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa’s ‘Green Initiatives’ include:

  • Renewable sources of energy

Renewable sources of energy through windmills and solar panels that generate power used for the external illumination of the hotel.

  • Water conservation measures

The hotel implements rainwater harvesting measures. All the lagoons in the hotel are waterproofed to save water. Water circulation is kept off for five hours. Water in the sewage treatment plant is recycled and used for irrigation of landscaping.

The lagoons at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa are waterproofed to save water

Drip irrigation methods help reduce water consumption. Hedges are mulched with coir dust and grass clippings to retain moisture, reduce erosion, provide nutrients, and suppress weed growth and seed germination.

  • Recycling of biodegradable waste

The hotel has a wet garbage plant that processes about 500 kg of wet garbage per day, and a vermicompost system that uses earthworms to convert pre-composted grass clippings to organic manure, which is then used for landscaping.

  • Air pollution control

A scrubber plant removes and neutralizes particles like dust and gases from exhaust streams.

  • Organic Chefs’ Garden

Their ‘Chefs Garden’ is an in-house, organic vegetable garden where fresh herbs and tropical fruits are grown and used by the kitchens at the resort.

An in-house spice farm grows cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper and other aromatic spices. Neem is a natural insecticide used for the plants.

Other green initiatives include the use of reusable cloth laundry bags and cane baskets in place of plastic, and energy-efficient light bulbs, instead of incandescent bulbs.

Types of Accommodation at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa, Cansaulim

The resort has two categories of accommodation, rooms and suites. The Suites include options like the:

  • Park Lagoon View Suite
  • Park Sea View Suite with Lap Pool
  • Vista Suite
  • Park Sea View Suite
  • Imperador Suite

Rooms are available with a single bed or twin accommodation with a view of the lagoon, pool and ocean.

Imperador Suite with Outdoor Sunken Bathtub. Courtesy Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

The busiest times of year for tourism in Goa are from October to February. The rest of the year is usually off-season – although over the last few years Goa is becoming a popular destination for MICE Events.

Activities at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort And Spa

The Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa also seems to be quite popular with Indian families, and I saw a bunch of them lounging about the lobby on my arrival. Not surprising, since it won the Most Child-Friendly Hotel award at the 2016 KidsStopPress.

Camp Hyatt – the kid’s activity centre at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Its Sereno Spa also won the #1 award for most luxurious Spa resort at the 2016 asiaSpa India Awards. Unfortunately, I never had the chance to check it out because my stay was too short and hectic.

Outdoor Spa treatment room at Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Places to visit near the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

Arossim beach is walking distance from the resort. Again, I was unable to visit the beach since my visit was for business and I had no time for anything else.

Arossim Beach, Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa

To see more stunning images from this property, check out the video below.

https://youtube.com/watch?v=6HJXZy-mlSA

 

Disclosure: My airfare and stay at the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa was sponsored by Exito. However, this review reflects my honest and candid opinion of my stay.  

A Weekend At Baga Beach, Goa: Misty Mornings And Mambo Nights

The weekend trip I took to Goa in February 2005 was very different from any other trips I had taken. First, because I went with three other people I had only met once! And second, because we stayed in North Goa.

I usually prefer the South because the beaches are much more beautiful and secluded there. But then North Goa is more “happening” and my friends and I really wanted to check out the nightlife.

We reached Mapusa at seven on a Friday morning and decided to sink anchor at Baga. No trouble getting a cab, and a little later, with the help of (or despite) my broken Konkani, we managed to find comfortable lodgings at the Sea View Resort at Baga beach.

The Sea View Resort at Baga beach

Although our Baga Beach accommodation cost a little more than we’d planned to pay, the place was very cosy. The high ceilings and tiled roof felt just like an old Goan home, and our rooms were a stone’s throw away from the beach.

After dumping our backpacks in the room, my friends and I headed down to the shack in front of the resort for breakfast.

A beach shack on Baga intriguingly called Monalisa’s Angelheart

Intriguingly called Monalisa’s Angelheart, the name and logo were about the only things that distinguished it from the multitude of little shacks that dotted the beach.

The beaches of North Goa – except for Baga, Candolim and Sinquerim, are really not my preferred destination for a Goan holiday.

The blue waters of Baga beach

Most of North Goa is lined with rocky beaches like Anjuna and Vagator that are better known for parties and drugs, than for their white sands.

My German friends, Patrick and Wiebke were backpackers and the sort of folks who were completely open to new cultures and experiences.

So much that they were not even averse to travelling in the overcrowded second-class compartment of a Mumbai local train at peak hour. Now that’s an adventure by any standards!

I found them so different from the tourists whose only experience of India is restricted to the rarefied air of their five-star hotel and air-conditioned transport.

On our first afternoon in Baga, they decided to take in a little sun on one of the recliners in front of the shacks.

Patrick and Wiebke sunbathing at Baga

Since I prefer to avoid the sun, I contented myself with slapping on the SPF45 and relaxing in the shade of Monalisa’s Angelheart.

Back then I lived in Mumbai. Life there was so crazy that it actually took me a while to wind down. It was weird at first because I kept thinking that I had something to do or somewhere to go.

It was only after a while that it hit me that I had nothing to do but eat, have a cold beer, lie on the beach and sleep. Ooooh, heaven!

It’s not surprising that Goa has spawned more poets, writers and musicians than professionals and businessmen.

There’s probably something about the sea air, the atmosphere, the languid pace of life, that brings out the creative side in its inhabitants.

The patrão and his minions push their boat out to sea

One of my favourite things to do in Goa is to pig out on seafood. I mean, nowhere in Mumbai can you get such fresh, delicious mussels fried in rawa or semolina (yum!) squid and pomfret?

To me, the seafood in Mumbai reeks of lead, cadmium, mercury and all the foul stuff that the industries there pour into the sea (not to mention the untreated sewage, yuck).

But in Goa, the fish always tastes fresh and delicious. I got Patrick (the only other person in our group to eat meat) to try out the Chicken Xacuti, which he claimed was “perfect.” It’s hard being a vegetarian in Goa.

Fishing boats anchored in the bay

After a few hours in the sun, Patrick and Wiebke were good and roasted. Patrick actually got sunburnt, poor guy.

We were too tired from our bus journey to check out the party scene, so we went for a walk down the beach late in the evening and stopped off at a beach restaurant called Drop Anchor.

The restaurant was built at a height of about 10 or more feet above the beach. The décor there was a perplexing mix of low sofas in North Indian style and curtains with an Oriental motif. We were offered a hookah but declined.

The tide was coming up as we walked back to our little rooms after dinner. We sat on the beach for a while enjoying the cool sand beneath our feet, till a rather large wave nearly wiped us out and had us rolling with laughter at our encounter with a “mini-tsunami”.

I woke up when it was still dark and early the next morning – an unusual occurrence for me since I’m not a morning person. I got out my camera and decided to go for a walk on the beach and take photos.

Early morning on Baga Beach

It was a cool, pleasant morning with none of the chill of winter. I enjoyed exploring the beach in the early morning light.

Sunrise at Baga Beach

The sun was just rising above the coconut trees while the moon still hung like a lantern over the fishing boats.

The moon shines over the sea

I walked around taking photos on the beach, watching the fishermen take their boats out to sea and making friends with a little doggie who took a shine to me.

This little guy took a shine to me. It was love at first sight for us both.

When the others woke, Wiebke and I decided to go for a dolphin-watching trip. We saw a few fins, but this was the closest we got to the dolphins. It was fun, though.

The closest we got to a dolphin on our boat trip

Over the next couple of days, we explored Baga, the flea markets and the party scene at Tito’s Café Mambo, an open-air disco and bar, where we saw creepy Indian men trying to dance with any gora women who would give them the chance.

Flea market at Baga Beach

After a few drinks and laughs at Café Mambo, we retired to our rooms for the night. The next day, we hired a beat-up old Fiat and drove to Anjuna beach where we hung out on the rocks for a while.

Anjuna Beach in the North of Goa

Anjuna was where the infamous and sad case of 15-years old Scarlett Keeling unfolded in 2008. This beach is notorious for its party and drug scene.

The rocks at Anjuna beach

Then we drove through Candolim, checked out a few of the fake antique furniture stores and went on to Sinquerim beach, which adjoins the Aguada Fort.

Aguada Fort at Sinquerim Beach

On our last day, before we caught our bus from the Mapusa bus stand, Patrick, Wiebke and I went for a delicious Goan lunch in a restaurant nearby where Patrick regaled me with hilarious stories of their trip to Cambodia.

By this time I was missing my family immensely. They were all I could think about. As a mom, it’s hard to take time away from your child and family, and this was the first trip I took with friends a few years after my child was born.

It was also the first time I had been away from my child for so many days, and the pangs of guilt were getting to me. I desperately wanted to go home as soon as possible.

The weekend in Baga was a welcome respite, no doubt, but by the end of it, I was glad to be home and hold my baby in my arms again.

All photos are © Priya Florence Shah

India for Introverts: 5 Destinations To Avoid The Crowds And Follow Your Bliss

One of the biggest complaints I hear from foreigners who travel to India is that the crowds and noise can be distressing. This can be even more overwhelming if you’re an introvert, like me. People and noise drain my energy and tire me out very quickly.

But India is not all crowds, noise and beggars. If you hate these, then I recommend you avoid all Indian cities, except as layovers, because you will find these three things in abundance in most cities.

Even though Indians are not known to have a concept of personal space, it’s possible for introverts to find destinations, in this vast country, where they’ll get nothing but peace and quiet. I know, because I found some of these places by actively looking for them.

So, if you love a quiet holiday, whether by the beach or in the mountains or the forests, here are five delightful destinations where you can avoid the crowds and follow your bliss.

  1. Talpona Beach, Goa

I went to Talpona Beach, Goa, in May 2018, because I wanted to take a road trip with my family and my two Labradors. I know Goa pretty well, having lived there for two years when I was completing my Masters at Goa University.

Sunset at Talpona beach

I thought I’d seen almost every beach in Goa worth seeing, until I chanced upon the perfect family accommodation at Talpona beach, in Canacona district at the very south of Goa. We stayed there for a week in a quiet little cottage with our dogs.

There were very few people, mostly locals, on the beach and the few creatures we encountered were stray dogs, cows and crows. With excellent food, Wifi and only my family around, it turned out to be a very restful and relaxing vacation, in spite of the road trip.

Read about my visit to Talpona Beach here.

  1. McLeodganj, Himachal Pradesh

I went to McLeodganj a number of years ago to do a 5-day Introduction to Buddhism course at the Tushita Meditation Center. McLeodganj is a little town near Dharamshala – the Dalai Lama’s summer capital – in Himachal Pradesh.

View of the snow caps from McLeodganj

We spent hardly any time in the town itself and, except for my classmates, there were no crowds to disturb the serenity of our experience. The meditation sessions were an introvert’s dream. To sit in silence and contemplate was just what I needed at that point in my life.

The main meditation hall at Tushita. Image by Jaypee – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

But you don’t have to stay at a meditation centre to find peace and quiet here. You can use AirBnB to book a quiet little cottage or room with stunning mountain views in the hills of McLeodganj.

Read about my visit to McLeodganj here.

  1. Pahalgam, Kashmir

Pahalgam is a sleepy little town in Kashmir with scenic locales and sights that would be perfect in a Bollywood movie (and many have been filmed here, too).

We went to Kashmir on a 10-day trip in 2011 and Pahalgam turned out to be one of my favourite places ever. Walking along the quiet banks of the Lidder River, listening to only the sound of gushing water, was one of my favourite things to do.

The beautiful Lidder River

There were no crowds and the only people we met in the tiny market were locals going about their business. We saw no other tourists on our visit there – none where we were staying, at least.

I envisioned myself staying for a week in a little cottage by the river, enjoying the spectacular view of the pine trees and water gushing by my front door. Oh, Heaven! Accommodation in Pahalgam is also very cheap, so perhaps I’ll do that one day.

My dream cottage on the banks of Lidder River Pahalgam

Read about my visit to Pahalgam here.

  1. Mahabaleshwar, Maharashtra

Mahabaleshwar is a pretty popular tourist spot near Pune, so it’s not a place an introvert would think of as peaceful and quiet. No, for that you have to avoid staying in the town and instead book yourself a room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar.

Our room at Club Mahindra Sherwood Mahabaleshwar

This quiet luxury resort is located in a forest where you’ll see very few humans around, except when you venture into the dining room for your meals. The only people who’ll disturb you are the people who come to clean your room.

You may see a monkey or two and a few forest creatures, but these are welcome distractions. The resort is pretty far from the town (most of Club Mahindra’s resorts are), so you don’t have to go to any touristy places unless you want to.

Read about my visit to Mahableshwar here.

  1. Pangong Tso, Ladakh

This remote destination is an introvert’s delight. A high-altitude mountain lake with spectacular views and few people to disturb your reverie… What more could one ask for?

On a trip to Ladakh in May 2016, we stayed for a night in a tented camp at Pangong Tso (Lake). I wished I could have stayed longer, never mind that it was freezing cold and the food and amenities were pretty basic.

Pangong Lake Tented Camps

For that matter, almost anywhere you go in Ladakh, you’ll find almost no crowds, and the only thing that will assail your ears is the wind blowing through the rugged snowy peaks.

If sadhus and holy men are the ultimate introverts, it’s no surprise that they choose such remote places for their reflections.

Read about my trip to Ladakh here.

I hope that, with these 5 locations for introverts in India, I’ve done my bit to change your vision of India as a place filled with crowds and noise.

Peace and quiet can be had in many places in India if you know where to look. These 5 travel destinations will help you find it.

Talpona Beach, Goa: Summer Road Trip With The Dogs

The view at Talpona Beach

I love peace and quiet, so that’s exactly what I choose when I go on vacation. This time I wanted to take my dogs with me too, instead of leaving them in a pet hostel in Pune.

The last time I went on a road trip with my dogs was to Murud beach in Dapoli. That was a trial to see how well they took the road journey, which was a long 7 to 8 hours. Since they seemed to enjoy it, I decided that our next road trip would be to Goa, around 12 hours away.

Vacationing with pets is like going on vacation with little kids. There’s extra stuff to carry, things to worry about – such as will there be aggressive strays on the beach? Will they puke all over the car? And so on and so forth and what have you. (Any fans of The Middle out there?)

To complicate matters, a few weeks before our trip, my 8-year old lab, Tiara, was diagnosed with urinary bladder stones and had to undergo surgery to remove them. Luckily, she recovered from her surgery faster than I did.

Tiara looking sad as usual

To plan the perfect summer beach vacation with our dogs, I turned to my favourite hotel search engine, Booking.com, because they allow you to filter your choices so you can see only the pet-friendly stays.

I first booked a place at Agonda, one of my favourite beaches in Goa. Then, I realised we’d be travelling with my brother, and the driver too. So, beach resorts wouldn’t work for us. Hmm, cancel the booking.

I looked again for family rooms or cottages on beaches nearby and found a cottage intriguingly called Talpona Paradise Beach House, at Talpona Beach in Canacona. So I made the booking and contacted the owner. After some back and forth, he offered me the cottage with air-conditioning for the same price.

  • Pet-friendly? Check.
  • Family-friendly? Check.
  • Free Wifi? Check.
  • Air-conditioning? Check.
  • Available for a week? Check.

Having booked our cottage months in advance, we set out at around 7 am on the 19th of May, 2018. We had packed everything we could think of – dog food, bowls, drinking water, a whole bag of food and snacks for us (because we had no idea what to expect).

Chewie enjoying the drive and the view

We picked up my brother and I opened up Google Maps. It showed us a route that completely bypassed Mapusa and Panjim, going instead via Belgaum and Molem sanctuary. The route was also much shorter (9 hours) than I expected (12 hours).

The route from Pune to Talpona Paradise Beach House

The dogs and we settled in for our long road journey. The road to Belgaum (or Belgavi, as it is now known, thanks to our frustrating tendency to never be happy with the way things are) was pretty straightforward. A highway with two one-way lanes.

Once we crossed Belgaum, things got interesting. The long and winding road now led through lush, green forests and wildlife sanctuaries, such as Bhimgad Wildlife Sanctuary, Kali Tiger Reserve, Castlerock Wildlife Range, and Mollem Wildlife Sanctuary.

From Belgaum to Talpona, the road passes through a number of wildlife sanctuaries

The drive through these woods was quite a treat, with green, verdant foliage all around us. When we were on the ghats (hills) the road weaved and turned in hairpin bends until our stomachs lurched and the dogs woke up from their deep slumber.

I was thrilled with Google Maps for leading us through a route that was so scenic, beautiful, and most of all, almost free of traffic. We made good time, despite two pit-stops, and reached the beach house by 5.30 in the evening, around 10.5 hours after we left Pune.

The house itself was very comfortable. I wanted peace and quiet, and I got it in spades. Talpona is a small village that has little but a small grocery store and a couple of restaurants that serve (the almost non-existent) tourists. To actually buy anything you need, you have to drive to Canacona market, about 15 minutes away.

Talpona Paradise Beach House

The air-conditioner was in the living room, but it cooled the entire house. The owner gave us the number of the caretaker, a sweet girl called Prasanna, who greeted us when we arrived. He also gave us the number of Deepak, who ran a restaurant nearby.

Deepak’s wife makes a mean crab curry, with the result that I pigged out on the stuff till I had crab coming out of my ears. The rest of the seafood was delicious too.

Deepak’s restaurant just down the road

The Wifi started out excellent, then failed a couple of days before we left. Deepak’s 15-year old son, Shantanu, installed a Jio router for us, but it was extremely slow. Other than those few hiccups, the place was perfect.

There was a pack or two of stray dogs, but we managed to intimidate them into staying away while we took our dogs swimming every day. Being Labs, both our dogs love water and enjoyed their swims thoroughly.

The dogs enjoy a swim with our driver, Ashok

The sand and the waters were clean and free of garbage, thanks to the conscientious villagers. However there’s a strong undercurrent that can pull you into the water if you’re not careful, and there are rocks under the waves in some parts, so swimming is not as safe here as it would be at, say, Baga beach.

A view of the cottage from the beach

Spending a whole week here was heavenly. A lot of the time I would just sit and look at the waves or watch lizards sun themselves lazily, heads bobbing on the porous laterite walls.

Eagles circled the cliffs nearby, while a murder of crows cawed and teased my dogs, and mynah birds cooed in the trees. Butterflies floated past in a daze. Blades of grass eagerly pushed out of a bed of dry needles from the two casuarinas in the small garden.

The steps and bamboo gate leading to the sea

A row of steps led to the sea, while a flimsy gate of thin bamboo sticks strung together kept out cows and people. We ate our meals looking out at the waves, sitting in cane chairs with blue cushions around a grey plastic table, in what passed for a balcony.

Relaxing at Talpona Paradise Beach House
Chewie finds a coconut to play with

A large white bougainvillaea growing in the garden reminded me of the Singing Bush from The Three Amigos.

The bougainvillaea that reminded me of the Singing Bush

I noticed that the sun would set not in the middle of the horizon like it did at Agonda, but in the north-west. I guess we were much further south than I thought.

Sunset at Talpona beach happens in the north-west

The route to the beach house is just as scenic. A river meanders down through patches of mangroves, while pillars of a half-finished bridge stand in the river just ahead of a mangrove forest, like lovelorn lovers waiting to be united.

Bridge being built across the Talpon river

Thick mangroves line the river all the way to the sea. In a little bay at the mouth of the river, behind a spit of sand, sits the Rio de Talpona Guest House with an enviable view of the river and ocean.

The view from Rio de Talpona Guest House

Small houses built with locally-sourced laterite stone line the roads, sometimes painted in garish colours.

Most houses in Goa are built out of locally sourced laterite stone

My child and I also went on an excursion to the nearby Galgibag beach, a nesting point for turtles. I woke up a man called Samir, one of the guards who was supposed to be keeping an eye on the new nesting site cordoned off with nets (to prevent stray dogs from digging up and eating the turtle eggs).

Turtle nesting site at Galgibag beach

He told me the forest officer sits at Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary while forest guards watch the nesting sites in shifts. However, turtles have been decreasing at Galgibag, while more come in at the Agonda nesting site.

Two days before we left, to our delight, my aunt and cousins from Panjim dropped in and spent the day with us.

When my cousins came to visit

They loved the house and the beach and decide they would come again sometime for a picnic. All of them being ardent dog-lovers, my dogs were thrilled with all the extra attention they were getting.

https://youtu.be/f0_0e483z5k

On the last day of our vacation, we experienced the highest tide, probably because of the onset of the monsoons. The seas may have been choppy, but the sunset was sublime. Even Chewie agreed.

High tide at Talpona Beach
Chewie enjoying the sunset

As we were leaving, I gave Prasanna, the caretaker, a generous tip, and told her we’d be coming back every year with our dogs. I really meant it.

As we passed through all the wildlife sanctuaries on the way back, I stayed alert and even managed to spot a peacock running into the forest. Thank you, Google, for taking us through such a lovely route. However, I do have a wishlist for you.

It would be nice if Google Maps gave us advance notifications of fun things to see and do along our route, and also if we were offered a choice of the faster or the more scenic route. Imagine how much more fun our road trips would be!


Belligerent Canine Meets Bare-Chested Woman On Beach In Goa

It was a warm, somnolent day on Baga beach, Goa, when my dog decided to transform from Lassie to Cujo. The lazy December sun looked down gently on the sands buzzing with winter vacationers.

Interspersed among the usual crowds of foreigners were dark-skinned locals, offering oil massages, chatting up flaxen-haired young things, and selling all kinds of trinkets (best described as ‘beach junk’) in at least five different languages.

Simba, the docile dog turned belligerent canine.

My husband and I were sitting on the sands with Simba, our mixed-breed mutt who had a dachshund and a German shepherd in the DNA mash-up (no idea how they managed that). We fondly referred to him as ‘the long and the short of it.’ He didn’t mind. Simba had better things to occupy himself with than such ethnic slurs.

We were enjoying the sun, the waves and the sand. The faint strains of reggae wafted over from Britto’s beach shack, a few meters away. Meanwhile, Simba ran into the waves, wet himself thoroughly and then ran back to roll in the sand. He was covered with the stuff from tip of nose to tip of tail, until we couldn’t tell where sand ended and dog began.

Simba covering himself in sand on Baga Beach

Always a sweet, happy mutt, he was especially excited on this visit to the beach. The crowds of foreigners and Indians milling around had got him a little worked up.

In those days, Baga was well-known for the topless foreign women who chose to make it their personal tanning booth. Pretty young (and also not-so-young) things that would probably not have dared or cared to bare back home, readily shed their bikini tops and lay down to tan themselves on Baga’s benevolent sands.

Back then, no one objected to such behaviour, and a lot of Indians appreciated it thoroughly. The cops ignored the impotent ‘No Nudity Allowed’ signs in favour of watching the topless girls, jostling for a better view with other Indian males.

Indian women like me were, depending on the width and depth of our personal perspectives, either mortified or indifferent to these goings-on.

A generously padded, curly-haired redhead – possibly an Irish woman seduced away from all dietary strictures by Goa’s wine and vindaloo ethos – walked across the beach in front of us.

She too was topless and it was hard not to notice that, as she scurried across the sand. For some reason, my otherwise sweet, docile Simba decided to take offence. He chased after her, nipping at her ankles.

For lack of an image of a topless redhead, here’s one of my brother instead

The lady (let’s call her Sadie) squealed at the sight of a furry, brown dog apparently determined to take a chunk out of her leg, and scurried even faster. I watched her work up the sand trying to avoid my mutt, and I wasn’t sure whether to be mortified or mirthful. A little bit of both, I decided.

I chased after Simba and leashed him. I had no idea what set him off – her size, state of undress or some other impulse known only to Dachshund-Alsatian crossovers. Either way, he had no way to communicate to me why a topless, white foreigner would merit such a reaction from him.

Sadie rode off into the sunset at a fairly decent clip, never to be seen or heard from again, while my husband and I returned to our spot on the sands laughing and wondering at Simba’s unaccustomed behaviour.

Perhaps he was overcompensating for the lack of policing from the cops gawking at women on a beach where toplessness was clearly not allowed.

Simba enjoying the water

For the rest of our vacation, we kept our canine fashion critic on the leash as long as there were foreign women around. It was a needless precaution, though – whatever had set Simba off, Sadie had taken with her.

Note: As this is a family website, we are unable to provide images of topless redheads. Not that we have any…

Also read: A Road Trip With Dogs To Murud Beach, Dapoli

10 Of The Best Beaches In Goa

A version of this article was first published on Goa-Beach.com and reprinted in Canadian World Traveller Magazine.

The beaches of Goa are like the curves of a woman’s body – sensuous, warm, inviting.

Goa’s beaches are speckled with coconut-thatched beach shacks that serve ice-cold beer and spicy Goan cuisine. It is easy to find cheap accommodation in a beach resort or hotel very close to the beach in Goa.

This list of the best beaches in Goa includes some of my all-time favourite beaches. You won’t find any of the more popular, overcrowded beaches here – like Colva and Calangute beach – that are done to death in every Goa travel guide or information brochure.

These are only the best beaches to visit, some a little off the beaten path.

1. Candolim Beach

Candolim is the birthplace of Abbe Faria, a Goan Freedom Fighter and the Father of Hypnotism. When we stay at Candolim, we usually book one of the rent-back apartments a stone’s throw away from the beach.

View of the stranded ship at Candolim beach

There is little or no shelter close to the beach, but you can hire a beach umbrella, sample the excellent local cuisine available in the beach shacks that dot the beach, and sun yourself in solitude. This Goa beach is very popular with package tourists but still not too crowded to be enjoyable.

2. Sinquerim Beach

Sinquerim beach has clean, white sand, and is close to the historic Fort Aguada, the early 17th-century Portuguese fort that was built by the Portuguese to control the entry into River Mandovi and to protect old Goa from enemy attack.

Aguada Fort at Sinquerim Beach

You can take a long walk from Sinquerim beach all the way up to Candolim beach, which continues all the way north to Baga.

3. Baga Beach

Baga is really an extension of Calangute beach. But unlike Calangute, which is crowded, steep and marred by dangerous undercurrents, the beach at Baga is flat, safe for swimming, and has clean, white sand. A little creek joins the sea between the beach sands and a hill that is home to the Retreat House.

Little creek at Baga Beach

Baga is a small fishing beach with a grove of shady palms close to the water’s edge. There are a few buses that come all the way to the beach’s edge, but none after dark. It’s a long walk to the Calangute taxi stand from the beach, so if you plan to stay after sundown, make sure you have your own transport.

Beach shacks at Baga Beach

Although not among the famous “nude” beaches of Goa, Baga is still quite popular with topless sunbathers who strip off to catch some sun, while the locals gawk. You can catch some action of a different kind if you like water sports and fishing.

Also read: Belligerent Canine Meets Bare-Chested Woman On Beach In Goa

After dark, night-time revellers frequent Tito’s – one of the more lively watering holes of Goa’s nightlife. Baga has a Saturday night flea market where you can shop for colourful Kashmiri handlooms and other artefacts all along the road leading to the beach. 

Flea market at Baga Beach

4. Bambolim Beach

Bambolim beach is a small, clean, largely peaceful beach, in a shaded spot before the mouth of the river Zuari. The entrance to the beach is easily missed and lies along the hill between Goa Medical College and the Goa University.

The road goes all the way down to the Hyatt beach resort from where you can make your way to the beach. The beach is carpeted with broken mother-of-pearl and other shells, which makes it a haven for shell-collectors. Thick coconut groves line the beach and provide shade and privacy. It’s the perfect beach for a quiet, cosy picnic.

You can enjoy lunch at the hotel restaurant, serenaded by one of the local singers or bands. When you decide to head back home, take the road that goes to the beautiful Goa University all the way up to Dona Paula.

5. Arambol Beach

Arambol Beach is near the traditional fishing village of Arambol and is an isolated stretch of beach known for its rocky and sandy terrain. Until recently Arambol was a favourite Goa beach for hippies and its claim to fame was the wild parties it was host to.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sCC_XUZSDOE

The main beach is relatively good for swimming. To the north are quiet bays where you can take long walks with starfish underfoot. There’s a hot spring near the main beach that runs into a freshwater lake. Sporty types can enjoy activities like dolphin watching boat trips and paragliding.

6. Vagator Beach

A Goa Trance favourite, Vagator is one of the more beautiful white sand Goa beaches. To reach the beach, you have to walk down a steep cliff. The sea here is not safe for swimming, but during the tourist season it has an active nightlife.

The south beach is fairly spread out and more secluded. A little further south of the main beach you’ll find the quieter Little Vagator or Ozran beach with a freshwater pool. You can also visit the nearby Chapora Fort. Accommodation is not always easy to find because there are few hotels here.

7. Benaulim Beach

My strongest memory of Benaulim is that of being bitten by a stray dog when I was 12. But I also remember all of us – the entire family – feasting on a delicious meal of shellfish we dug out in bucket-loads from the sand.

Benaulim beach is more peaceful and serene than Colva and still rather undiscovered by domestic tourists.

According to Hindu mythology, this is the place where the arrow of Lord Parsurama landed when he created the state of Goa. Known in Sanskrit as Banali, it was changed to Benaulim by the Portuguese. The main attractions on this beach are the dolphin cruises.

The church of St. John the Baptist on the hill is a wonderful example of Goan Christian architecture. With the first drops of the Indian monsoon, the village breaks into a celebration of thanksgiving for the Feast of São João.

8. Palolem Beach

Palolem beach, situated in the Canacona district, is also known as “Paradise Beach”. A few decades back, it was among the virgin beaches of Goa. It is a fishing beach popular for its dolphin cruises and fishing trips.

At the northern end of the beach is a tiny, island in the middle of a freshwater stream that can be reached by swimming across at low tide.

Island at Palolem beach can be reached at low tide

The Palolem Beach Resort is one of the more popular places to stay, but be sure to book well in advance. You can laze in a hammock and sip your beer while enjoying the delicious fresh catch brought in by the fishermen.

Golden sands of Palolem Beach

There are a lot of little resorts along the beach with bamboo huts on stilts. The accommodation is nothing fancy, spartan even, but at less than $10 per day, you can’t really expect more.

9. Agonda Beach

Agonda beach is a virgin stretch of beach twelve kilometres from Palolem and, until recently, was undiscovered by tourists. It is very popular with backpackers and is one of the best beaches in Goa for foreigners.

I took a boat trips in this little fishing vessel

Agonda is sometimes frequented by day picnickers. The waters are crystal clear and it’s easy to see the bottom of the shore while swimming. Watch out for the sharp barnacles if you decide to climb any of the rocks there.

Imagine a view like this…

It’s not difficult to get accommodation here – there are plenty of reasonably priced homestays and beach cottages here.  If you’re staying at Palolem, you can drive down to Agonda for the day. The more adventurous can rent a bicycle in Palolem village and cycle cross-country to Agonda beach.

Besides the usual dolphin-watching trip, you can also take a day trip to Butterfly Beach and Honeymoon Beach, two secret beaches between Palolem and Agonda that can only be reached by boat.

No prizes for guessing why it’s called Butterfly Beach

Also read: Destination Agonda Beach: A Backpackers Paradise In Goa

10. Cavelossim-Mobor Beach

Cavelossim Beach is a small stretch of beach 11 kilometres south of Colva beach. South of Cavelossim beach is the Mobor beach, that currently boasts of five-star resorts like the Leela Beach Resort.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Oa2rTw-rJo

Both beaches are not very crowded and there aren’t too many beach shacks here. Mobor has a fishing village with a small lagoon near the mouth of a river, and it’s fun to watch the seagulls that come to feast on the fish drying on the sand.

Which are your favourite beaches of Goa? Do share your own in the comments below.

This article was published in the Winter/Spring 2014  issue of Canadian World Traveller Magazine.

Windshield, Meet Cow

It was a morning like any other in Goa. Lazy, languid, leisurely. But also not like any other, because we had planned a trip to Terekhol Fort (also called Fort Tiracol) – my husband, me, and our friend, Raju.

Raju was a biker. And since all three of us couldn’t possibly fit on his dilapidated bike, we rented a car in Panjim for our long drive to the fort. It was early in the day, but I fortified myself for the drive with a peg of vodka and relaxed in the back seat, while the guys took over tedious job of driving there.

Terekhol fort is about 60 kilometres north of Panjim, on the top of a hill bordering the mouth of the Tiracol river. A ferry from Querim takes you across to the hillock. From there, it’s a short drive to the top. The sweeping, vertigo-inducing view of the Arabian sea from the fort is worth the drive there.

It was August, a month when riding a bike in the blinding rains would be madness. But we had a car. And windshield wipers. And a smidge of Smirnoff to keep our spirits up.

You could see the rain coming a mile away. A cloudburst, followed by a white wave that washed over the paddy fields and soaked the thirsty soil in its long-awaited beneficence.

The rains ebbed and flowed over us like the tide washing over the sand, as we drove on to Terekhol, dodging traffic on a road that was wide enough for no more than one and a half cars. Every time a bus came along, we had to drive off the road and wait until it passed by.

We were in a good mood, not least because of the little cocktail I’d imbibed before starting out. We listened to our favourite songs and laughed at stuff that only 20–something’s in the pre-millennial era would find funny.

We were now getting close to the Tiracol river and the ferry that would carry us to the hill on which the fort stood. Lush monsoon vegetation lined both sides of the road in a green hedge.

Ahead, a curious cow poked her horns out of the bush. Not knowing the cow’s intentions, we slowed down instinctively. The horns vanished and we sped up again.

The sound of breaking glass split the morning air like a crash of thunder. Our car had stopped dead in the road, and we were covered in cube-shaped pieces of glass. We were also missing a windshield.

The belligerent bovine, having committed its dastardly act, had hightailed it into the bush, seemingly unhurt, while we were left in the wake of its wavering departure, in mild shock and minus a windshield.

Whether it was the vodka or the shock, I’ll never know, but I took it all in quite torpidly, the way a slightly inebriated beach bum surveys the calm ocean in front of him.  I didn’t panic nor did I emit any sounds that communicated panic. Instead, I giggled.

None of us was injured, so we debated on what to do next and decided to carry on with our journey as if nothing had happened. Thanks to the cow that couldn’t decide where she wanted to go, our windscreen was shattered, but our resolve was not.

We reached the fort without further incident, parked the windshield-less car under a tree and covered it with a plastic sheet to keep the rain out.

After enjoying the sunset from a unique vantage point and spending a pleasant night at the Fort Tiracol Heritage Hotel, we drove back to Panjim, stopping under trees and holding up the plastic sheet over our windshield-less car every time the rains threatened to flood it and soak us inside.

View of the beach from Terekhol Fort

We put in a new windshield at an auto repair shop before returning the car to the rental agency. I continue to live in perennial mistrust of cows, especially ones that can’t make up their minds, and beg my driver or companion to always give them the benefit of the doubt – and a wide berth.

Destination Agonda Beach: A Backpackers Paradise In Goa

A panoramic view of Agonda Beach in Canacona, South Goa

I first went to Agonda beach in 1991, when there was not a soul or shack on the beach. At the time, I was studying at Goa University at Taleigao Plateau, doing a Masters in Marine Biotechnology.

I was staying in the hostel at the University campus and set out for Palolem beach in Canacona with a bunch of other hostelites and a local, Raju, who became a close friend of mine (he passed away a year ago, bless his soul).

He was a baker who lived near St. Inez church in Panjim and loved being our tour guide, showing us new places and restaurants to the detriment of his own business (and the chagrin of his doting parents).

Via Palolem En Route To Agonda

We were planning to spend the night with a friend of Raju’s at Palolem, so we took the bus to Margao and caught another bus to Canacona bus stand. From there we walked to Palolem, where Raju’s friends, the Gaitondes lived. Long walks were no challenge to us young girls, charged up with the eagerness of youth and the desire to explore.

Goa University Hostelites, on Palolem Beach in 1991

As this was in December, the Gaitonde’s Palolem Tent Resort was full. So we had to adjust our expectations for decent lodging. A few of the girls slept at the Gaitonde’s home, while the more adventurous ones, I included, settled for a changing tent on the beach, where we shivered on the cold December sands.

Posing on Palolem beach – Land Ahoy! That’s me in Raju’s oversized leather jacket.

In 1991, Palolem was not yet overrun by tourists. And Agonda, 12 kilometres away, was completely undiscovered. The next morning, we hired a bunch of cycles and set out for Agonda.

We had to cycle over steep, hill climbs, sometimes preferring to get off and walk instead. A few hours later, we reached this pristine beach with nary a shack in sight. The only habitation was the fishing village nearby.

Agonda Beach is between Cola and Palolem beach in Canacona, Goa

After a few delightful hours spent at this unspoiled paradise, we set off back for Palolem and then took a bus back to our hostel. The next day, our bodies ached from all the cycling, but we made some warm, fun memories that have served me well until today.

My second visit to Agonda was many years later when there was just a single shack on the beach. In the last couple of years, I have gone there almost every New Year’s Eve.

My doggie, Simba, playing on Agonda Beach years ago

Agonda Today: A Haven For Backpackers

On my third visit, a couple of years ago, I found that the place had changed tremendously with lots of options for lodging and boarding. Thankfully, there are no five-star hotels there just yet – just basic beach resorts, homestays or rooms let out by locals and many excellent restaurants and eateries on the beach.

So many little resorts at Agonda Beach

One of my favourite beach restaurants is Agonda Sunset, run by a bunch of friendly and really sweet Nepali guys. The food here was tasty and reasonably priced. My favourite dish was the chicken schnitzel and I enjoyed whiling away the evening sipping on the ginger honey lemon tea.

Chicken schnitzel, my favourite dish at Agonda Sunset
Love the Ginger Lemon Honey tea too

Every time I visit, I look for accommodation within walking distance of this beach shack. In 2015, when we were in Goa for a family reunion, I stayed at Wave On Waves, which is just opposite Agonda Sunset.

Wave On Waves opposite my favourite beach shack Agonda Sunset

If you’re willing to shell out more for authentic Italian food, try La Dolce Vita, for its Italian pizzas made in a wood-fired oven. I found them too pricey and didn’t much care for them.

Try La Dolce Vita for authentic Italian cuisine
Pizza at La Dolce Vita

If you’re a digital nomad, you’ll love the fact that Agonda is awash with Wifi connections. No matter where you stay – in the little resorts, homestays and the beach shacks – you can settle down and log on to the internet, and even get some work done if you’re so inclined.

Imagine working with a view like this…

The one thing you won’t get here is a pharmacist, so carry all your medicines when you go, because you’re unlikely to get anything except Himalaya Herbal products, and the nearest town’s an hour’s drive away.

Despite all this development, this South Goa beach is still one of the most peaceful, picturesque and relaxing beaches in Goa, far away from the madness of North Goa beaches like Baga, Calangute and Anjuna.

I would even recommend it over Palolem, which is now too commercial for my liking. It seems to be quite popular with foreign tourists and backpackers, and the Indian tourists are mostly families.

I took a boat trip in this little fishing vessel

Only once did we see a bunch of Indian guys behaving obnoxiously with a couple of foreign women in the water, upon which a local came along, reproached them and promptly kicked them out. Otherwise, it’s relatively free of the obnoxious and badly-behaved tourists you find on North Goan beaches.

The water is clean and clear, and the swimming is great here. The large waves also make it a haven for surfers. I highly recommend the dolphin watching trips which also take you on an excursion to secret beaches – Butterfly Beach and Honeymoon beach – that can only be reached by boat.

You can see why it’s called Butterfly Beach

I took a boat trip from Agonda to see the secret beaches, situated between Palolem and Agonda. On the way, there were some interesting rock formations like Turtle Rock. The secret beaches are tiny, isolated and quite charming, and this is a trip worth taking if you’re staying at Agonda.

No prizes for guessing why it’s called Turtle Rock

I actually hesitated to write this destination review about Agonda beach, Goa, because so few people know about this South Goa beach, and I loathe the idea of more people discovering it (especially the obnoxious tourists).

Luckily most of the party-goers prefer to stay in North Goa where the party scene is, so I head in the opposite direction, to South Goa. The beaches are better, the water is cleaner and the people are better behaved.

The sunsets at Agonda are sublime

If you do go to Agonda, please be a responsible tourist and let it remain lovely and peaceful. If you’re looking to party or want a rocking nightlife, stay north of the Mandovi. Don’t come here and screw it up for the rest of us.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rlgwPfmPXcY

Update: Agonda beach was voted #1 among the Top 25 Beaches in India & Asia and #18 among the World’s Top 25 Beaches in TripAdvisor’s 2018 Traveller’s Choice Awards. Damn! Here come the tourist hordes.  🙁

All photos (except the Google Map) are © Priya Florence Shah.

The Cynic’s Survival Guide To Your Goa Beach Vacation

So, you’re going on a Goa vacation. You’ve made an online booking in what may be the last of the decently priced hotels in Goa, have your flight tickets in your hand and are raring to go. Goa beach culture – here you come!

Good for you. I salute your prudence and good taste. To be sure, there aren’t many options that compare to a Goa vacation. You’ve made an excellent choice.

I love Goa, and recommend it highly over India’s other beach-based tourist destinations. Kerala’s Kovalam? Gimme a break. Mumbai’s Juhu? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. Lakshadweep? Hey, I thought you want to be where the ACTION is!

So, your plane lands at Dabolim Airport. Or your train pulls into Margao Station. Or your bus wheezes to a halt at Panjim. Or you’ve survived a self-driven car journey and are trying to figure out if this IS Panjim or just another of those towns with pseudo-Portuguese names that you’ve passed through.

Read the hoardings and see what area the joints they advertise are at. Don’t tell me you can’t see all those Dantesque monstrosities that vie for your attention.

Eat that lobster platter. Drink that beer. Take that pleasure cruise down the Mandovi River. Move into that Goa resort, because no other resort even comes NEAR in terms of ‘tropical ambience’, hospitality, facilities, cuisine (don’t bother looking for the room rates, though).

You’ve finally arrived at your hotel, dumped your baggage, taken a shower and are now ready to ‘do Goa’. Everyone has been very courteous and helpful.

The receptionist has handed you a list of the services available at the hotel and pointed out that the shopping arcade is just behind the bar. She has informed you that the hotel offers the best pleasure cruises down the River Mandovi in Goa.

Nothing unusual in all this. You, as an experienced globe-trotter, smile and nod in all the right places. You’ve checked out a zillion beach-towns before and Goa holds no surprises for you. Right? Wrong.

You ask the receptionist which way the beach is. She gives you directions. Okay, here’s where you need the survival guide. Scroll down if you’re in a tearing hurry to get at it, or hear me out first. I strongly recommend the latter course of action.

It doesn’t matter which particular Goa beach you’ve chosen to patronize on your vacation. It could be Calangute, Baga, Anjuna, Vagator, Colva, Cavelossim, Benaulim or any other – the fact is, it is a Goa beach and you are a tourist. In this rather vulnerable capacity, there are some things you should know of Goa and its people.

As a tourist, you belong to the tribe that made Goa, The Tourist Destination, happen. Before you and your kind did your number on this place, it was a quaint, sleepy fishing state that made and consumed the very excellent brew called ‘feni’.

The local populace caught fish, washed it down with feni, found a spot of shade for the afternoon siesta and was content and happy. These were (and still are) simple folks who never asked to be invaded by sweating, white-skinned aliens in Bermuda shorts, smelling of designer perfumes.

These simple folk never asked that their beaches be jammed with suntan lotion-slathered foreigners that jabbered at each other (and them) in unintelligible dialects as they marinated themselves into painful sunburns.

Cow sauntering on Baga beach in Goa

The point is – once this alien tribe DID descend, it changed Goa’s economic landscape forever. The tourist trade overshadowed the fishing industry, and even though the tourist season lasted for only four months a year, there were more bucks in the tourist trade than in fishing.

So fishing continued, but it was no longer the primary economic driver. Tourism was – and is. And that’s you. You’re Goa’s primary economic driver. Chew on that for a bit, alien in Bermuda shorts.

That salty sea-breeze you’re inhaling also carries a mercenary spirit with it. These simple folks whom you and your tribe have dislodged from their siesta have four months to make money out of the likes of you, and they are not – I repeat NOT – going to miss a trick.

So, here’s your Goa vacation survival guide and may it serve you well:

  • Get used to the local water

Unless you have oodles of undeclared money stashed away in some bank at Zurich, get acclimatized to the local water.

Mineral water costs only 20 Indian rupees outside your resort – inside, you’re paying service tax, VAT, luxury tax and whatever else one can possibly weigh down a bottle of water with. You’ll end up paying much more that way.

  • Stay away from the feni

DON’T drink the feni, unless you know what to expect. Feni does not hit you from the front – it sneaks up on you from behind. You’re okay till you leave the bar; once you’re outside and the breeze hits you, you are WASTED.

No pleasant interim stage of tipsiness – you go from nothing at all straight to blotto and wake up with a prize-winning hangover. Stick to Scotch, gin, vodka or whatever else you’ve been killing yourself with before you came here.

  • Avoid the local cuisine

Unless you’re an Indian tourist, don’t eat anywhere outside your hotel or resort, especially not the local dishes. Genuine Goan cuisine is meant for cast-iron stomachs.

Western innards pampered by hygiene, soufflés and light seasoning are no match for it. So – smile at the xacuti and nod approvingly at the vindaloo, but order the Chicken a La Kiev or Russian Salad.

Goan prawn curry. Credit: Schellack at English Wikipedia, via Wikimedia Commons
  • River cruise? Maybe not.

Before you opt for one of those river cruises, ask them what it entails. If it includes a stopover at some small island, run the other way. They’re going to make you their captive audience to a jazzed-up version of the local dances, and you will die of mortification (unless you’re into that sort of thing).

  • Taxis are expensive

Get ready to pay through your nose for the taxis that are the main means of transport in Goa, which has a practically non-existent public transport system.

You won’t find no Uber or Ola here, mister. It’s a mafia out there.  Learn how to ask “How much to (your destination)” and get someone to interpret the answer.

  • Don’t condescend

DON’T address a Goan waiter as ‘patrao’. You will hear the locals call each other that, and it has no insulting connotations. However, the typical Goan is fiercely partisan and will not allow an alien to presume that he’s privy to local familiarities.

He can call him patrao. You can’t.
  • Don’t mess with the locals

DON’T get into a brawl (or even low-grade argument) with ANY local outside your hotel or resort. The staff at Goa hotels and resorts do not represent the typical, unadorned Goan. They’re trained at hospitality training centres and are probably too polite to get into your hair.

If you get aggressive with a local, on the other hand, he will emit a sharp, short whistle. Five seconds later, you will be set upon by a horde of his buddies who will pulp you first and ask questions later.

  • Don’t go ‘antique’ shopping

DON’T enter any of the so-called ‘antique stores’ you’ll see near every popular beach. These shops would like you to believe that Goa dates back to the Middle Ages (it doesn’t) and that every local family has suddenly decided to sell off its family heirlooms (they haven’t).

Never mind the ‘certificates of authenticity’ some may offer you, or how genuine some of the stuff looks. For more dope on how such ‘antiquities’ are manufactured, ask any street kid in Mumbai’s Colaba area.

  • There’s no work getting done here

DON’T go to Goa unless you have all urgent and pressing matters of business tightly wrapped up. Only an uninitiated imbecile hopes to find any business communication centre or courier open before ten in the morning.

They close again at 1.30 p.m. for the siesta and sometimes open briefly again after five. Even outside siesta timings, Goans spend most of their waking hours in a kind of stupor that barely supports metabolic life – sort of like those ascetics you read about in books by Lobsang Rampa.

DON’T expect to be able to mobilize any locals to help you meet emergencies of any kind. Emergencies do not exist on the Goan mindscape. While in Goa, you had better get used to the  ‘susegad’ lifestyle – terminal lassitude raised to its infinite power.

  • Don’t forget your liquor license

If you’re leaving Goa via road, make sure you have a license for every bottle of booze that you carry back. The police have flying squads that will intercept you at key points just beyond the border. It is NOT legal to take liquor out of Goa without these pieces of paper, no matter what anyone tells you.

Have you visited Goa? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.

All images are © Priya Florence Shah unless otherwise mentioned.