Walking into the slowly lapping waves towards a rock, which juts out into the sea leaving a faint craggy land trail, to the shore. Moving my gaze from left to right, gives a panoramic view of the shoreline. Lights gently flickering as they switch on around the shacks, television screens and carefree tourists lounging on the beach chairs, putting behind them the sun, sea and the gently prancing white froth. Bronze, sun-kissed bodies wrapped in rainbow coloured sarongs and children breaking down their carefully crafted sand castles pick up their buckets and pails. Making their way behind their parents going in sync with their footsteps to their respective scooters or cars, bidding farewell to the beach until they return the following day.
Ever since the Portuguese established a spice route colony in the 1500’s, Goa has flourished as a market for tourists of all kinds. From the hippies who enjoy rave parties, to family holiday tourists, this coastal city offers something for everyone. Known as a tourist destination and “the next best thing to Lisbon” by Rough Guides Magazine, Goa disappoints nobody.
Having decided to tread upon a quieter path, I took time off and took a different route, exploring the serene and calm side of Goa. A weekend is all that one needs to explore these virgin grounds unpopulated by tourists, and still local to their very core.
The sunlight crept in through the horizon as the warm rays maneuvered their way around the paper-thin sheers through the window, and onto my face. Propped up in my king-sized bed that overlooked the endless Arabian Sea at Hotel Vivenda dos Palhacos, North Goa (voted as ‘The best hotel in Goa,’ by British Harpers Bazaar,2009) it felt like a lazy Saturday morning. After getting dressed in my trekking shorts and applying oodles of sun block to protect me from the heat, it was time to go out and explore the Chapora Fort in North Goa.
Built in the mid-17th century by early Portuguese settlers on a hillock, the fort once served as a means of land surveillance. From the bottom, getting to the top of the fort looked like a tiring trek. With a palm-sized hand fan and a bottle of water, I put my backpack onto both shoulders and began the upward climb. Local lovers usually come here as a get-away for the day and seem to be surprised to see me walking along the rugged steps leading up to the top of the hill.
About 45 minutes and five water breaks later, I wiped the trickles of sandy sweat off my brow as I took in the view from the top of the hill. To the left, the Arabian Sea stretched into infinity, serene and calm, shimmering in the morning sun. On the right, was the picturesque Goan countryside, punctuated with trees and a nearby naturally formed lagoon. Lunch was laid out at the West end of the fort, which welcomed waves crashing against the hillock. After a light meal of a staple Goan lunch, consisting of 5-spice fish curry and rice along with a glass of iced cashew Feni (made out of the juice of cashew nuts), it was time to bid adieu to the scenery and make the downward descent to the foot of the fort.
Back in the room, clad with aged Portuguese wall-tiles and an enormous pool, it felt more like a villa than a hotel. Sitting in the verandah of my room, I captured on film the low-hanging cotton wool clouds that drifted eerily above the fishing boats glistening on the horizon. For someone used to European luxuries, all the stately grandeur is more than satisfactory. (The room rate starts at £40 a night, including breakfast and a private beach, the hotel provides a balanced package for visitors.)
After taking a dip into the pool, a trip to Mackie’s Saturday night market was a great way to relax in the local style. The markets variety of goods was enthralling, with a riot of jewellery, spices, wandering cows, tribeswomen, and of course, a handful of tourists. Unlike the Anjuna flea market, here the handicrafts were reasonably priced and most of the stall owners speak the local language ‘Konkani’, not English. “Nicknamed as the ‘whole sale department’ of the Anjuna flea market, one should not be surprised to find the same vendors selling their goods at exorbitant prices at the Anjuna market the next evening,” Puja, a stall owner told me as she packed a pair of Indian anklets for £3. With these in my pocket, looking back at the market content with my purchase, it was time to call it a night.
The sound of birds chirping in the trees and the waves lashing against the rocks teased me, waking me up from the calm of the deep sleep I fell into from the previous day’s activities, preparing me for the day ahead.
Goa’s churches, most of which were built between the 16th and 17th centuries, are today UNESCO World Heritage sites. I decided to pay a visit to the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Panjim. An hour-long drive from the hotel, I hopped into a hired taxi and skipped the scooter as it is easy to get lost in the by-lanes on the way to the city.
Situated in the centre of Panjim, and built in 1619 it is one of the oldest churches in the city. Upon arrival it is hard to miss the Baroque facade that is flanked by two towers on either side. Hard to miss is the Chapel of St. Francis Xavier, whose glass-encased statue that occupies the focal point of the church.
Having given thanks, I left the church in a light and peaceful mood, which reminded me of the touch of the warm silver sand granules of Agonda beach. With the wind hitting my face and the window rolled down, the car followed the newly paved road towards the beach to catch the sunset.
Walking along the stretch of the beach the crimson sun began to set over the Arabian Sea. In the half-light of dusk, the tide slowly receded making way for the meditatively calm moon that began to surface behind the murky grey clouds. The waves, bloodied by a parting sun caressed the shores softly while the lights on the shacks along the beach begin to illuminate in sync, bringing to life another world. The music slowly grew louder as the fisherwomen set up their stalls across the curvaceous beach of Agonda. One of the many hidden secrets tucked away in the little pockets of Goa, it is only a stone throw’s away from the more popular and commercialized Anjuna beach that is always busy and flocked with enthusiastic tourists.
The aroma of freshly cooked mini calamari’s blanketed in a golden yellow crispy breadcrumb crust, dipped in a sweet and spicy chilly sauce that tingle the tip of the nose, lead me to a candle-lit shack. ‘Le Marin’ is known to be one of the oldest shacks in Goa.
After a traditional Goan dinner of prawn curry, rice and fried calamari, away from the warmth of the salty waves that froth at the end of their journey to the shore. Tiptoeing past the tourists, I followed the white crabs that grapple on the slippery rocks making their way into the sand, watching the moon light shining on my weekend sojourn.