I didn’t go to Goa till I was 23. I am, fortunately or unfortunately, born in a Brahmin family with folks who don’t drink, smoke or eat meat. They don’t travel much, and even if they do, it is either to a temple town or some kind of a matha (religious establishment) in Maharashtra. They spend days planning their travel, painting calendars with red markers, comparing endless modes of transport and picking people who they get along with. An intensive research on the climatic condition is also done.
I never take this long to embark on my adventures. It is all about booking tickets, packing up and leaving. And although I prefer mountains to beaches, the tiny delicious slice of the country called Goa will always be close to my heart. I go there once a year to nurture the seeds of my memories I once planted. Getting here was a task to get here in the initial years though. Given the state’s inglorious reputation, flowing booze and drug-driven hippie culture, my stringent parents would never approve of the idea of a road trip, educational or leisure. “You want to feel the warm sand in between your toes, eh? Your college overlooks a beach,” said my mother, with a wrinkled brow and a prominent pulsating vein on her forehead that I thought would explode. So I had no option but to cheat a little and run to the deep blue sea with a wee bit of guilt in my heart that would eventually be brushed away by a calming bougainvillea-laced breeze.
I repeated the story for five years till I bumped into a nomad on one of my explorations and married him last year. Goa has been the ultimate destination to bring in my October birthday. A mad mob usually tags along, and although we stay at the same place, each time, the sun and the sea have a refreshing story to tell. What still ceases to fascinate me is the unhurried languidness of the place.
Flights exhaust me. So we decided to do the one-way trip by train. The whole length of the platform looked like it was gearing up for a music festival. College kids were clicking pouting selfies, a gang of girls dressed in vibrant hot pants had already put on their sun hats and there was another army of trekkers with their backpacks squeezed between their ankle-length boots. The party began as soon as we boarded the Kokan Kanya Express. The heavenly aroma of alcohol wafted through the compartment and we played UNO with strangers while passing around a bottle of vodka spiked Sprite, occasionally munching on dry chakna.
We alighted at Tivim, a small village in Bardez at noon and went straight to Annapurna Vishram Dhaam, a budget hotel close to Anjuna, Baga, Calangute and Candolim beach. The wooden interiors and rustic verandah of the hotel take me back in time. The clean, comfortable and air-conditioned rooms are equipped with a mini fridge in which one can store about 12 pints of beer at a time. What I love the most about this place is its clear swimming pool. One can loll in it for hours, sipping beer on sweltering afternoons. I wouldn’t recommend the food as much, but if you’re too lazy to get you bum out of the pool, you could stick to a basic chicken chilli or fish fry.
My visit to Goa can never be complete without going to Sai Krupa Mirabai’s. After eating tasteless food at various shacks, I have reached a conclusion that they’re only meant to get drunk. If you want genuine Goan food, you have to go to Mirabai’s. I’ve eaten and drank almost every item on the menu and I haven’t gone wrong with a single one. Be it continental or Indian cuisine, the chefs here know their ropes well. The open-air setting allows you to watch them cook and trust me; they cook with the fierce determination of a teen writing his board exams. Yes, even on a Saturday night. If you’re wandering on the Calangute-Baga road, searching for a decent place to eat, ride into the lane opposite Mocha to find this ambrosial haven.
Of the two whole days that we usually spend in Goa, one is reserved for a long drive or ride to South Goa. Last year we visited Mangeshi, a beautiful temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. The place is a must-visit even for a non-religious traveller, especially for its Indian and Maharashtrian architectural style. Located on a hillock at Proil, in the Ponda Taluka, Mangeshi is one of the largest, most-visited and highly respected temples in Goa.
In spite of the unforgiving October heat, this year, we draped our faces in tight scarves and embarked on a two-hour-long ass-numbing ride to Colva beach. Located on the Salcette side of Goa, the breathtaking beach stretches for more than two kilometres with fine white, powdery sand alternating with coarse seashells. It is a favourite among foreigners and locals alike and one of the safest beaches in Goa to swim in. At Colva, we raided Kentuckee Seafood Restaurant, a 24*7 diner that boasts an authentic Goan experience. The amount of Bailey’s Irish Cream I downed here made me a little lightheaded and the events of the day seemed unreal and distant.
Note: If you’re over and done with the Baga boisterousness dripping with sex and alcohol, somewhat similar to the roaring 20s, I suggest you rent a peaceful villa in Colva with a handful of like-minded friends. It’s perfect for those seeking the sun and sand, sans the raucous crowd. You can rent a 3BHK for around five thousand during off season.
From strolling around a vanilla-scented plantation to venturing out to white water falls, there’s a lot one can do in Goa; not to forget poking around age-old cathedrals. Then come the deserted stretches of white sand dotted with towering coconut grooves reaching out to the blue skies: the serene Arambol beach in Pernem, the Butterfly beach located on Butterfly Island, the immaculately spotless Cola beach and the Sinquerim beach, a pristine stretch of alluring white sand close to Fort Aguada.
We zeroed in on Morjim, a seasonal nesting and hatching habitat for the endangered Olive Ridley turtle. Our stomachs were grumbling for breakfast so we had a stopover at this uber-cool place called Goagrill Sandwich Workshop run by Andriano, who hails from Moldova but has been living in Goa for more than a decade. Initially, we weren’t sure of the food, but the state-of-the-art equipment looked promising. So it was. The coffee could give Starbucks a run for its money, and the submarine sandwich was so delicious I can still feel the burst of flavours in my mouth. Despite of the limited choices, this place is a must-try for those who love a scrumptious continental breakfast. However, those who eat like a squirrel should probably share the sub with someone. It’s impossible to eat the whole thing unless you’re really famished.
The beer marathon at Morjim was capped by a quick supper at Neel’s Bar and Restaurant. Good food. Good alcohol. Killer ambience. No electricity. I give it a seven on ten. Then came the shopping spree—pastel hot pants, Bailey’s Irish Cream—as many bottles as we could carry on the flight and cashew nuts from Zantye’s—salted, plain and roasted. We spent our last night in Goa at a shady casino called Casino Paradise. I wasn’t too keen on betting, but it was disturbing to see people toss heaps of currency before the dealer, gamble more and more to recover the money they’d lost. With diminishing chips in sweaty palms and eyes turning red with whisky, these men reeked of vice even as their wives and girlfriends were unaware of their bankruptcy, or even if they were, chose to be tight-lipped. It was then that I realised how this fatal chaska or taste, so to say, can ruin families.
The dreadful sun, the bike rides, the cocktails and the irregular eating and sleeping patterns called for a detox before we left for Mumbai. After a healthy breakfast at the hotel, I headed straight to the nearby Tattva Spa and Salon in Anjuna for a full body massage. The spa induced a deep state of wellness, away from the worldly cacophony. Beginning with my back, my therapist Labina D’Souza rubbed, kneaded and pressed the entire length of my body using her fingers, palms and knuckles with finesse.
Within an hour, my time in Goa was up. Unfortunately, I had to skip the steam and the bath as we were running late for our flight. It was time to peck goodbye to the joie de vivre, to shirtless firangs with tattooed bodies, to newly-wed women dabbing sweat beads off their upper lips, to frothy waves and glistening waters, to drinking coconut water under palm trees, to eating freshly cooked sea food and witnessing the devastatingly poetic sunsets. I would to return soon.