When the discussion about beach holiday destinations began, the unanimous decision was ‘Goa’!
“Go, Go, Goa” — chorused everyone!
The only problem was the dates. We had a long weekend coming up in September but that was off-season for Goa as the monsoons begin in mid-June and stretch up to September. So, it could be pouring in Goa, the sea would be out of bounds for tourists and the shacks on the beaches would all be closed (October to March is the best time to be in Goa to chill out in those shacks). Many popular places to hang out such as Club Cabana and Thalassa would be closed during this time as the owners are foreigners and go on vacation to their own countries during this time!
But not to be deterred by minor things like downpours (Goa is beautiful in monsoons though), we took a direct Air Asia flight from New Delhi. It landed at Goa International Airport (Dabolim Airport) before the scheduled time, much to our delight (I love flights that land before time :)).
At the airport we noticed how one corner was decorated with handicrafts representing the famed Goan chilli used in the Recheado paste, an essential ingredient in most Goan recipes.
Since we were seven ‘wise little women’, we had voted on covering both South Goa and North Goa in the 3 days that we were there. The first night was booked at a luxury beach resort in South Goa; The Zuri Whitesands in Pedda Varca.
The annoying taxis in Goa
We hired a cab from the airport to reach Zuri, 28 kms away. Now, cabs in Goa are another story in itself for which we were not prepared. There are no Olas or Ubers in Goa because of a strong taxi union. To make matters worse, there is friction between cabs in the North and those in the South, with the understanding that neither won’t step on the other’s shoes! The net result is, each quotes an exorbitant price to cross to the other side! So when in Goa, be prepared to pay what the cabbie asks for, or remain stranded!
Taxis from the airport are disciplined and charge you regular fare to take you to your destination. We paid Rs. 1200 (USD $9 approx) from the airport to Zuri. But if you want to retain this cab for the day, the answer is a firm ‘No’. That’s because you can only hire a taxi, henceforth, from the hotel until you are their guest (and they charge a bomb)! That’s the way the taxi union works!
Sightseeing in south Goa
First Day: The Zuri Whitesands
Zuri is a huge resort, right on one of the most beautiful beaches of Goa — the Varca Beach. The resort was not very crowded as it was off season and we got a great deal at Rs. 7000 per night. The downside was that the check-in here was at 3 pm (we had reached the resort at 11 am) and check-out was 11 am.
We decided to familiarize ourselves with the resort and walk around the private beach while the rooms were being readied. Zuri is careful about the security of its guests and anyone crossing the gate leading to the beach, has to enter their name in a register, on exiting and reaffirming their return through the gates.
The sprawling garden was impeccable with clean walkways and trimmed lawns. The swimming pool was huge with crystal clean water. The beach was just a 5-minute walk through a well-kept, green enclosure. The white, clean sand on the beach, the expanse of the coastline with the swaying palm trees and the totally clean water was unbelievable.
We had decided on doing an authentic Goan dhabha lunch and drinking that extra glass of wine, as liquor is cheap in Goa. (Premium alcohol rates are no different, but vodka, rum, whiskey, wines etc are priced substantially lower — one reason Goa is magical!)
Feni is the local liquor. There are two kinds of feni — one made from cashew and other from coconut (Rs. 300). It is recommended not to mix these into anything other than Sprite or Limca. Another local drink popular with non-feni drinkers is Urak.
We ordered Ukadem Xitt (Goan red/brown rice) with yum Fish Recheado and golden fried prawns — all priced nominally between Rs 250-300. Goans mostly eat brown rice instead of the standard white and their staple diet is fish curry and rice. That would be our next meal.
After a chilled out evening at the beach, watching the sun set, we were back at the resort, to put on our dancing shoes to shake a leg to the accompaniment of live Goan music.
If you don’t have a private beach at your disposal, there are other interesting beaches in South Goa — Bogmalo, Benaulim, Colva and Palolem. And if you are fond of visiting temples, South Goa has plenty, such as the Shiv Temple, Shri Mallikarjuna Temple, Mangueshi Temple, Ramnathi Temple, Shanta Durga Temple etc.
Some popular restaurants that serve excellent Goan food are Martins Corner, Fishermans Wharf and Nostalgia.
After a hearty buffet, we decided to get a cab for North Goa. That’s where the union kicked in again. The resort cab asked for an exorbitant sum of money. So we decided to take a cab from a stand which was a little further away (they would charge us much less than what was quoted by the resort cabbies — Rs 3500 for 8 hours). We had to wheel our luggage on the uneven road as no “outside” cab was allowed anywhere near the resort. We were followed, almost threateningly, by the resort cabbies and had to pretend we were just going for a bite! (With our suitcases?)
On the way, the driver filled us on details about Goa as he casually drove towards the North. We noticed that people are generally not in a hurry to reach anywhere.
The green in Goa is a beautiful fresh colour, and that the driver said was because of the monsoon season. (But when we landed back in our ‘monsoon-ed’ New Delhi, we noticed the ‘green’ here was a dirty green, thanks to the pollution!)
The rich people live in South Goa which is quiet as compared to the noisy North Goa. Also, North Goa is supposed to be cheaper and so is more popular with the tourists.
The coconut trees plantations are owned by the locals and not many coconuts find their way to the market to be sold, as they are consumed by the owners for culinary purposes. And so, in spite of Goa being a coastal state, coconut water is not cheap (priced at Rs 40) here!
The locals are painfully lazy and they love their drink, music and dance. (In fact, most of the workers at the resort were from other states.) Most Goans know how to play at least one musical instrument. They are generally a warm and hospitable lot though we found quite the opposite to be true at some places.
Although Konkani is their local language, most of them understand and speak fluent English. It was amazing to hear young uneducated girls, selling knick-knacks on the beach, while speaking in English with a charming British accent. It seems they’ve grown up around foreign tourists and many speak Russian, French and German too!
We were all prepared to see churches everywhere, but were surprised to learn from the driver that 60% of the population in Goa is Hindu (especially concentrated in South Goa) and so there are many beautiful temples in Goa. Ganapati pandals could be seen in many streets because the festival of Ganesh Chaturthi was ongoing. It seems the Goans are very tolerant about religion and have no hang ups about inter-religion marriages.
Festivals, it seems, are celebrated with much fervour and the city shuts down completely during this time. So, it is important to be aware of festival dates!
Coming from Delhi, it was unbelievable to see that most shops and restaurants closed for in the afternoon (siesta time) between 3 pm – 6 pm (some even between 1 pm – 4 pm)!
The Portuguese architecture is visible everywhere and it is delightful to see brightly painted houses in the midst of vegetation. Many of these houses are more than 200 years old and people still live there.
We stopped at the World Heritage Monument, Basilica of Bom Jesus. This is the only church in Old Goa which is not plastered from the outside. It contains the tomb and mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. It is beautifully decorated from inside and has a high wooden ceiling.
We had our ‘reasonably priced’ typical Goan lunch at Fisherman’s Wharf — Goan prawn curry (Rs 390), Goan fish curry (Rs 390) and Chorizo pao (Rs 350), washing it down with well made cocktails. The Bebinka Goan sweet dish is a ‘must have’ for those craving sweets!
We crossed the River Mandovi to reach North Goa.
The drive along the serene river was beautiful and it was dotted with cruise ships. Lots of tourists take the evening cruise to watch the sunset on the sea but we had booked into a villa that was strategically placed such that we could relax in the balcony watching the sun disappear for the day.
We had booked this villa of four bedrooms at a great (off-season) price of Rs 23,000 per night. This included a sparkling private swimming pool and the services of two ‘Man Fridays’ to help around the villa.
The villa owners had also provided us an old Scorpio to drive around to close by places. It is one thing to be driven around by a driver and a totally different chilled out experience to be on your own.
Later, we relaxed in the pool until 2 am!
The best part about Goa is that one can hire a scooter for just Rs 350 for the entire day (plus fuel cost). You can set off to enjoy the breeze in your face as you cruise through the roads and by-lanes, enjoying the scenery!
Early morning saw us navigating our way through Nerul village to Coco Beach, to watch the fishermen at work. The freshly caught fish is collected in big cane baskets and taken to the market in tempos or on scooters.
Unlike Zuri, the Coco beach sand was a dirty shade of grey and the beach itself was quite dirty. Other than the fishermen, there was no one else here. We had the beach to ourselves. Before leaving for Goa we had made up our minds to stay away from crowded beaches like Calangute and Baga and the famed nude beaches, Ashwem and Ozran.
For the rest of the day, we had hired an Innova which charged us Rs 3000/- for 8 hours / 80 Kms. The driver was extremely chatty and took us around filling us in on some other details.
There were umpteen casinos in Panjim just across the river from our villa just in case we had the urge to blow up some of our moolah. You could go clubbing to get the real feel of night life in Goa, check out Fort Aguada, visit Taj Holiday village, chill out in the various cafes and enjoy a lovely meal in one of the following restaurants:
- Mustard: Bengali/ French cuisine (Excellent pina coladas, Bengali mutton & creme brûlée!)
- Spice Goa: Authentic Konkan food, can’t go wrong with any fish preparations
- Gun powder: South Indian food and also very good cocktails (the chocolate ganache is a must-have dessert)
- Mom’s Kitchen: Very good authentic Goan cuisine
- Florentine: Again a good local joint, famous for its chicken cafreal
- Cohiba: Lovely place to visit on a karaoke weekend, live music etc.
- Cavala: Good food, ambience and live music — popular with international tourists
- Ritz: Known for its fish platter (a variety of sea food preparations)
- Fat Fish: Very good food and vibe. (Butter cheese naan is delicious)
- Antares: Lovely view, expensive but good continental food (popular with international tourists)
- Thalassa: Again similar to Antares but closed during this season
- Brittos shack on the beach: Casual place to hang out to have a beer but closed during off-season.
- Earthern Oven: Great Indian food — Tandoori is good. So is the Raan (mutton) and it has live music and dancers etc. Nice place. Popular with international tourists.
- La Plage: Excellent Italian, French contemporary American dishes. Beautiful to watch the sunset from.
We decided to just snack at one of the famed cafes “Infantaria” during lunch hour and tasted Calamari (dish made with squids, priced at Rs 320), for the first time.
After a casual cruise through the market at Calangute we headed to the pretty, crescent shaped Vagator beach.
Vagator Beach -Not far from the beach, via a steep climb, one can visit the Chapora Fort and watch the sunset as Aamir Khan did in the last scene of the movie, ‘Dil Chahta Hai’.
Just sitting silently on the rocks with your besties, watching the sun set, is the best therapy ever.
Wanting to end the holiday with a bang, we tossed between the night club Titos that plays trance music and LPK which plays regular English and fast-paced Hindi numbers. It was LPK for us and we were delighted to learn on arrival that they took no cover charge for unaccompanied ladies and also threw in a free drink.
Goa is very safe even late at night and we took our time getting back to the villa.
We caught the early morning flight the next day after armed with a cache of famed Goan feni and cashew nuts.