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 during the 2012 Goa Carnival, I simply couldn't refuse it. The invitation was godsent.
With just a day to herald the Carnival, the capital city of Panaji was all decked up for the grand celebration. I was told that the Carnival is celebrated prior to “Lent” and Goans abstain themselves from partying and partaking of sumptous food. The “Lent” is a period of 40 days that evokes the biblical account of Jesus Christ’s 40 days, which he spent in wilderness.
The Carnival is also a time for indulging in Goa’s famed gastronomic delights and as per the advise of Mr. Gonsalvez, I ventured towards Panaji’s M.G.Road and the sight of traditional Goan restaurants displaying their culinary wares like the popular Pork Vindaloo, the Goan Sausage Chourissa, Pig Liver dish of Sorpotel and sea food of all types, made my tastebuds watery with the thought of indulging in the very best of Goan food.
I was awestruck at the manner in which Panaji city has been able to preserve its Portuguese heritage and parts of it still consist of narrow winding streets, old houses with overhanging balconies, red-tiled roofs and numerous small bars and cafes, all of which wore a festive look on the eve of the Carnival.
Over the next couple of days, my gracious host – the Department of Tourism, Government of Goa, designed for me a perfect itinerary, wherein I was scheduled to visit Goa’s Carnival spirit in some of its famed beaches.
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.
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.
As compared to the festivities of Panaji and the popular beaches, I found the Goan village scene to be more original and indegenous in essence. I myself cherished the utter misconception that the Goan Carnival was primarily a Christian festival. However, the ground reality is that the Carnival transgresses all religious boundaries and has nicely evolved into a cosmopolitan cultural highlight of the state, where people from all walks of life participate in the festivity.
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.
Accommodation: 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.