I love Goa. Not because it's the ideal holiday location, or because of the beaches or all night parties. It's much deeper. It's the feeling you get when you breathe in. The greenery, the architecture, the colours, the smells, the fish and fisherfolk, the Konkani and seated above it all, the people and their attitude towards life.
I've made many a trip to Goa, for business, pleasure and parties, and they've always been the most relaxing, and enjoyable trips of my life.
There is no best way to get to Goa. Boat, bus, train and air, each have their own charms to offer. Flying to Goa from Bombay takes you down by the coast, with beaches all the way. You need to stay on the port (left) side of the plane. From Bangalore, it's more fields, and then trees and mountains. By bus, there's the stars in the ghats and villages by day and the same holds for the train. A boat to Goa is relaxing and refreshing provided you aren't prone to sea sickness.
Within Goa, I always travel by bus.
I travel by air a lot, and I like it more because of the bus ride from the airport to Panaji. One passes through Chikalim, then on past Saõ Jacinto island, over the Zuari - which is beautiful on both sides, and through numerous villages to get to Bambolim and Panaji. Small eateries on the side of the road invite you in with signs of Sorpotel and Sannas.
Goa is synonymous with great beaches. Right from the north to the south. Southern beaches are far less crowded though. The beaches at Baga and Calangute are extremely popular with foreign tourists, and an unending line of deck chairs greet you as you walk down to the beach at Baga. Calangute on the other hand is just filled with crowds. If you're not interested in getting into the water, then a night walk without the crowds is better.
I'll let you in to a little secret. If you're taking a night walk, walk slowly near where the waves come in. Perhaps even stop and sit for a while, and look closely for movement. If you're lucky, you might see small birds running after the wave as it goes out trying to get at the microscopic creatures they bring in. I don't know what they're called though, and it's really tough to see them at night. At first I thought that they were crabs, but then they chirped and flew away.
Further south, the beach of Bogmalo is a long stretch of white sands and blue water, and little else. There aren't too many people around this area. Sitting in one of the beach side shacks eating Rava Fried King Fish and sipping beer is sheer heaven and not to be missed.
One of my favourite beaches is the Cove at Dona Paula. It's a really small beach, and at high tide, the water covers it completely. The area is really safe for swimming as the cove formed by rocks some way out completely shield you from currents in the open ocean. The rocks on the side are nice to sit on and ponder. It's hard to find though, so get to Dona Paula, and ask the locals for the beach between the two resorts. Also ask about the legend of Dona Paula and get some Goan sausage bread at Menino's on the Jetty, and if you can, get Sunday mass at the Governor's mansion.
Goa's two main rivers - the Mandovi and the Zuari - are a lifeline for the inner parts of the state. You'll find children swimming in them, and fishermen going out for freshwater fish. These are areas of Goa not touched by tourists, and if you know a local, it's best to go around with them. Both rivers meet the sea at Panaji.
There's too much to do in Goa, and too much to miss if you're on a short trip. Dining aboard a boat is an experience, but not all boats have great chefs, so pick carefully. You're better off in a well visited on shore restaurant. The river cruise is nice, but nothing great, though if you're into gambling, there's the casino boat that goes down the Mandovi.
When in Panaji, check out the colours around you. Buildings are painted in bright colours that reflect the sun's light. Yellow, Blue, Green, White. Most of it was done up for the International Film Festival in India, so it's still fresh. All the government buildings, the ministry, the police headquarters are in their finest. Also check out the little eateries by the Mandovi's canals. Elsewhere, one sees Portuguese style houses everywhere, many serve as local bars, shops and restaurants.
The Goan people though, are what gives Goa its charm. The laid back attitude that's apparent everywhere. Life is too short to be taken seriously, and one should always spend time appreciating its finer moments. It's in the bus conductor who'll hold up a bus while someone runs a mile to catch it, and the bus driver who'll stop the bus anywhere you want him to. It's in the little old lady standing on the side of the road with her fish basket, and the man collecting toddy from palms. It's in the afternoon siesta to urak and fenny. It's everywhere. If you try to fight it, it will exasperate you. Just go along with the flow and you'll be happy.
The best times to visit Goa are in winter, during New Year's and during the Carnival that happens just before Ash Wednesday.
I don't think I'll ever get enough of Goa. The bird and wildlife sanctuaries are on the agenda the next time I visit. But for now, I'll let the sun go down.
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