Nestled along the warm and boundless blue of the Arabian Sea, Goa is breathless and mesmerizing. I was longing for a beach holiday for sometime, and so ultimately when I received the invitation from Goa Tourism to visit this little speck of paradise, I simply couldn't refuse it. The invitation was godsent.
The first thing I did was drop in at my travel agent's office for my air tickets. But I was politely told that there were no seats available for the next 15 days, this being the peak tourist season in Goa. So ultimately the Travel Consultant with great difficulty managed a rail ticket for me. I would have to travel to Pune by train, and from Pune by road to Panaji, the state capital of Goa.
The journey was indeed tiresome. It was evening by the time my bus reached Panaji's Kadamba Bus Terminus. Though I was dead tired, the sheer salubrious air of Panaji invigorated me. I hopped into an auto-rickshaw and straight away went to Miramar beach, which is where my hotel was located.
Miramar beach is just 4 kms from Panaji city center, and my hotel, Miramar Residency was located right on the beach. After checking in, I straightaway rushed to the bathtub and had a warm shower. The shower made me relaxed and I lazily lay on my king-sized bed for an hour or so.
When the clock struck 9'o clock, I thought it was time for dinner. I was hungry as well. The bellboy told me that room service was available. So I called up Foodland - the in-house restaurant of Miramar Residency -- and ordered a traditional Goan Thali comprising of King Fish curry and rice. But before grabbing my dinner, I wanted to have a sip of the vintage Goan wine Feni which is made of cashew and about which I had heard a lot from my friends in Calcutta. I ordered a bottle of Feni and it arrived in my room in no time.
After a sumptuous Goan meal, I finally rested for the night. I left my windows open so as to allow the sea breeze in. That night I slept like a log. The sea breeze was blowing at full blast and since I was a little inebriated with Feni, I felt as if I was floating in thin air.
After a good night's sleep, I woke up to the chirping of the birds. I could clearly see the red molten ball slowly rising up across the Miramar beach horizon. It was truly an ethereal setting, but I could not spend much time at the beach since I was scheduled to go on a sightseeing trip of Panaji city.
My car came bang on time and I hopped into a brand new Maruti van. We first visited the Boca De Vaca Spring that is located right in the heart of Panaji city. The Spring is located next to the Mahalaxmi temple.
The most fascinating aspect of Boca De Vaca Spring is that no body actually knows the source of the water, and I was told by my guide - Krish that this particular Spring is 700 years old, which is indeed mind-boggling.
Our next stop was Dona Paula, which is about 7 kms away from Panaji city. The drive is beautiful and there are Portuguese style villas/houses on either side of the road.
Dona Paula is a secluded bay that offers a magnificent view of the Mormugao harbor. This idyllic rocky tourist attraction lies at the spot where the Mandovi and the Zuari Rivers meet the Arabian Sea. It is easily one of the most popular spots on the itinerary of tourists visiting Goa.
We could see a few ferries taking passengers across the bay. The more adventurous ones were busy with water sports activities. By the way, water scooters, boating, parasailing, yachting, windsurfing and fishing are available in this area.
There is a romantic legend behind the name Dona Paula. Dona Paula is the village where the lady of that name, Dona Paula de Menezes is believed to have loved, lived and died - a gory death in the second half of the 18th century.
The fishermen of the area have a marvelous collection of ghost stories about Dona Paula. On moonlit nights, they say - on pitch dark nights, say others - at the stroke of midnight, she rises from the sea and roams the area, wearing a string of pearls and nothing else.
It was 4 p.m. and Krish, my guide politely asked me whether I would like to venture out a little from Panaji city to a fishing village close by. I readily agreed because it would provide me with a once-in-a-lifetime’s opportunity to visit an authentic Goan fishing village. Krish suggested we go to Wadwad, which is where his ancestral house was. He further informed me that his father still lives in their Wadwad home and that he was a painter.
So off we zipped towards the sleepy fishing village of Wadwad, leaving the narrow lanes and by-lanes of Panaji. Wadwad is just 8 kms away from Panaji, and the drive was beautiful. We encountered a steep hill, and once we crossed that, we reached Krish's place.
His father who is all of 75 years came out to greet us and offered me a glassful of Coconut water. And then we started our conversation.
Krish’s father, Namdev Phadte nostalgically recalled that he went away to Mumbai in 1944 for higher studies. In those days he used to travel by ship. His passion was photography and he got an opportunity to work under the tutelage of the well-known Parsee photographer, Nusarwanjee. Their he came in touch with Raghubir Mulgaonkar and began learning the art of painting with pencils and watercolour.
Namdev Phadte can speak chaste Portuguese. He had spent nearly 35 years with the Portuguese administration at Goa. He nostalgically recalled that in those days the Portuguese Government had brought cameras to shoot a film on Goa but alas there was nobody with the skills to operate those cameras.
With the passage of time, the Portuguese in Goa somehow came to know about Namdev and he was soon summoned to shoot the film on Goa on behalf of the Department of Tourism under the Portuguese rule. The film was done in the Portuguese language and was extensively sold in Portugal.
After the Portuguese left India, he started working from his modest home at Wadwad as a painter. Today because of his hard-earned reputation as a painter he is often requested to paint portraits of people from Goa as well as foreigners who visit Goa. But due to old age he takes a lot of time to finish his portraits. Nevertheless, once they are finished, each work of Namdev is a masterpiece as I discovered for myself.
After an eventful day, I finally got back to my hotel at Miramar beach and freshened up, and like every other Goan, I went out to have my fill of Feni at a local bar located very close to my hotel.
The following morning I got up late, and so I really had to hurry everything. That day I was to go on a whistle-stop tour of the world famous beaches of North Goa.
Our first stop was at Fort Aguada. Fort Aguada is just 10 kms from Panaji. This magnificent fort was built by the Portuguese to keep a watch over enemy ships. There is a lighthouse built by the Portuguese just adjacent to the fort. From the northern ramparts of the fort you can see the turquoise blue Arabian Sea right below. The Governor's residence, Caboraj Niwas can be clearly sighted on a clear sunny day.
A little distance away from Fort Aguada is the queen of all beaches - Calangute. The moment we reached Calangute we could sense the ethereal laidback ambience of this world famous beach made so popular by the flower children. The streets are narrow and on either side of the road we could see a number of departmental stores, cyber cafes and traditional Goan open air restaurants. Foreign tourists on motorbikes were zooming past us, probably going towards Calangute beach where there was much activity.
Calangute beach is about 4 miles long and covered with palm trees. It used to be a hippy hangout during the 60's and 70's. Today the hippies have mostly turned into yuppies. But the beach is unchanged - pristine, serene, golden sand and sun. The beach is filled with average sun worshippers and their children. Fresh seafood is everywhere on sale.
After having our breakfast at Cafe Pedro, we started our onward journey. By afternoon we had covered Baga, Anjuna, Vagator, Morjim and Mandrem beaches. We didn't spend much time at any of these beaches because we found them to be a little too crowded. My guide, Krish was of the opinion that Arambol beach was by far the most spectacular beach of North Goa and very quiet - not many tourists venture towards Arambol.
Arambol is indeed stunning. It has a charm of its own. What is more, there is no commercialism. It is at the center of the longest stretch of Goa's northern strand stretching from the mouth of Tiracol River to the mouth of Chapora. Backed by swaying palm trees, it offers rocks in some parts, sand for the most part, and a fresh water pond close to the sea. The sand on the beach is soft and white and very popular with foreigners. A beach shack called itself a Menzes Moa's Corner and a board proclaimed “Scuba Diving School”. The approach road to the beach is lined with shacks selling clothes and souvenirs.
The breaking wave height at Arambol is 0.8 meters; the foreshore slope in September is a moderate 1 in 30. Judging from the number of swimmers in the water, they felt that this was a safe beach.
After spending close to two hours at Arambol chatting up with friendly tourists at the beach shack and endless glasses of Feni, we returned back to Panaji. By the time we reached Miramar Residency it was pitch dark.
After a warm shower and a traditional Goan dinner, I retired for the night. I got up early next morning totally immersed in the romance of Goa. The more I traveled, the more I fell in love with the laidback Goan lifestyle. In Goa life is unhurried. There is no rat race, and the Goans abhor competition and pressure cooker situations. Here in Goa, life is one big party.
Goa is not only about beaches. Historically too, it has a lot to offer. Goa is well known for its magnificent whitewashed churches, temples and mosques, which are centuries old. The ten-kilometer drive to Old Goa or Velha Goa is an interesting one.
The most famous churches of Old Goa lie to the right and left of the road from Panaji: the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Se Cathedral. The Bom Jesus was constructed in the year 1594 and completed by 1605 by the Portuguese. In this church, three architectural styles have converged -- Corinthian (Greek), Doric (Roman) and Ionic (Italian). The dead body of Rev. St. Francis Xavier is still preserved. Every 10 years the body is opened to the public for 45 days starting from 25 November to 10th January. Probably the body of St. Francis Xavier will again be open to the Christian world in 2004.
Opposite the church of Bom Jesus is the Se Cathedral. Se Cathedral is the biggest cathedral in Asia built by the Portuguese in the year 1650. Legend has it that St. Catherine was a beautiful Egyptian lady. But she was a nun. The king of Egypt wanted to marry her but since she was a nun she refused to marry the king. So later on, the king captured her and killed her brutally. The sheer brutality of St. Catherine's killing by the king of Egypt is visually depicted in the main altar.
The importance of Se Cathedral is the Miracle Cross. The cross is still preserved and people who are sick or are suffering from incurable diseases still take away small pieces of the wooden cross and put it on the mouth of the patient.
I have always been fascinated by Portuguese architecture and here in Goa, I never imagined I would be able to witness the very best of Portuguese architecture, wherein the famed Portuguese architecture blended so harmoniously with Goa’s very own vernacular architectural pattern that somehow manages to exist even after decades India took possession of Goa.
Panjim or Panaji, whichever term you use, is one of India’s pleasantest state capitals and is ideally stretched out on the south bank of the Mandovi River. This city is an eclectic mix of the Old World Charms that has blended splendidly with the contemporary. Panaji has remarkably preserved much of its Portuguese heritage and one can still explore the narrow meandering streets, Old Houses with overhanging balconies, the signature red-tiled roofs and pulsating bars and cafes. Don’t be surprised if you come across shops and restaurants with signboards in Portuguese.
The Panjim Inn, Panjim Pousada and the Panjim People’s together form the classic colonial Fontainhas Mansions. I was told by the receptionist that the Fontainhas happen to be Asia’s only Latin Quarter, which in itself was a revelation. The Panjim Inn and the Pousada used to serve as typical Goan homes in the days of yore, while the elegant looking Panjim People’s enjoys the rare distinction of being Goa’s first school where the medium of instruction was English. Today this remarkable edifice has been converted into a chic boutique hotel with just four absolutely gorgeous colonial styled rooms that oozes with the quintessential “Old World” charm.
For the heritage connoisseurs The Panjim Inn is Goa’s lone heritage hotel to be affiliated to the Indian Heritage Hotels Association that serves as a benchmark in terms of quality in the Indian heritage hotel landscape.
There are many visitors from abroad who come to Goa for longer stays of 6 months or more and they are provided with discreet hospitality at the Panjim Inn Service Apartments that are 2 Bedroom affairs and are the very epitome of Goa’s Old World hospitality.
The significance of The Fontainhas is such that even if one is not staying as honored guests, yet it is highly recommended for the first time visitors to Goa as a “must visit” site because of its rich collection of Period Furniture and for the high quality of craftsmanship that has gone into its restoration. The Rough Guide strongly recommends a visit to Panjim Inn for a sense of history.
I was now coming towards the end of my blissful Goan vacation. The next day I would pack up and leave for Calcutta. But the best part of being at Goa was that I was unhurried. There was no tension and no stress. Simply a laidback style of living which helped me recharge my batteries for the rough grind of city life. Goa will beacon me for a lifetime.
Getting There: Dabolim Airport in Goa is well connected by regular flights from Mumbai. One can reach Mumbai by Indian Airlines, Jet Airways and Kingfisher etc… from Mumbai and take a connecting flight to Goa. There is another alternative: From Mumbai you may travel by Konkan Railways to Goa (Karmali / Margao).
In Goa you will find a wide range of accommodation starting from budget to 3-star, 4-star, 5-star and 5-star deluxe. Many domestic tourists prefer government accommodation and so Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) has set up hotels and resorts in all the tourist spots of Goa. The rates are competitive without being too extravagant.