In the autumn of 2011, Goa and I met for the first time. Since then I have returned many times to strengthen our bond. Like me, travellers go back to the smallest state of India to experience it differently each time. The history of Goa is as diverse as the people who flock to this destination.
THERE IS MORE TO THIS INDIAN DESTINATION THAN SANDY BEACHES AND FISH CURRY
In the third century BC, Goa was a part of the Mauryan Empire. Following a series of annexations, the Portuguese established a permanent settlement in 1510. They made Velha Goa (or Old Goa) their capital and converted a majority of the people to Christianity. The British colonised Goa in 1812 and after a few years, in 1843, Panjim was made the capital. It was finally in 1987 when Goa became the 25th state of India.
In my numerous visits I discovered a different ethos of the state. Sometimes it impressed with its quiet beaches of South Goa, sometimes the colourful lanes in Panaji, and other times it was the Monsoon soaked forests. Every time there was something new to explore and experience.
When I moved to Goa to live there, I felt like my exploration was complete. For six months, I lived in a 100-year old Portuguese restored heritage villa in a sleepy village of South Goa. Turiya Villa and Spa is a perfect place for tourists to experience the susegad (a Goan concept meaning laid-back) lifestyle. And for me, it was a great opportunity to explore the state like a local. So I wandered away, into the roads of Goa.
My curiosity first took me to Panaji. Fondly called Panjim, this capital city is a vibrant mix of arts, culture, food and history. A walking trail around the Fontainhas or Latin Quarter is a visual treat. The streets in this neighbourhood are flanked by colourful houses, where the last names appear on Azulejo tiles at their doors – Afonso, Botelho, Vaz. This is a clear reflection of Goa’s Portuguese past.
While walking around Fontainhas, I always stop at my favourite store, Velha Goa Galeria, a curio shop selling high-end Azulejo-designed ceramics, exquisite showpieces and candles. Marcou Artifacts, only a few metres away, also sells Goan souvenirs and handcrafted tiles at affordable prices. For apparel, I headed to Sacha’s Shop on Swami Vivekananda Road. This store houses fashionable wear along with books, accessories and collectables.
Further in Campal, the renowned Indian fashion designer, Wendell Rodricks, has opened his flagship store. The store retails upscale designer wear and woven linen for the house. It also doubles up as a cafe.
But for me, Goa is Mario Miranda’s art. An illustrious Indian cartoonist, Miranda was a resident of Goa, who passed on in 2011. His work has been seen in many publications and now are produced on many merchandise. These include t-shirts, cups, books, posters, postcards, among others. These are available in Mario Gallery in Panjim, Porvorim, Calangute and Margao.
My first brush with Goa’s art, however, was at Sunaparanta-Goa Centre for the Arts at Altinho, the affluent hilltop in Panjim. This blue Portuguese bungalow is an art gallery and space for workshops and lectures, with residency rooms. The open courtyard serves as Cafe Al Fresco by Cantina Bodega. Apart from encouraging conversations about arts, politics and culture, this cafe serves an array of scrumptious coffee and quick bites.
The diverse influence on Goa is also seen in its cuisine. The Catholic Goan cuisine comprises dishes like Xacuti (curry with poppy seeds and coconut), Vindaloo (fiery, spicy curry) and Chorizo (pork sausage). My favourite has been the Pomfret Recheado at Ritz Classic. This restaurant dates back to 1976, which was started with an intent of serving traditional Goan food – fish curry and rice. The large influx of loyal customers include residents. The Fish Thali is a complete taster for those who want to sample authentic flavours of Goa. This comes with seven varieties of fish and a bowl of rice. This is also where I tried my first glass of Feni, a local spirit distilled from cashew fruit.
North Goan Trail
For a different food experience, I rode along the gentle turns of Anjuna in North Goa, towards Assagao. Gunpowder, serving food from India’s Peninsular region, has consistently delighted its patrons. Appam with Stew and Kerala Beef Chilli Fry make it to the top of my list. Whisked with fresh spices, each dish perfects the art of cooking. Their kitchen isn’t the only place where the magic happens. With concoctions like the New York Sour (bourbon, lime and red wine), the bar is a close competition.
Anjuna and its neighbouring locality, Arpora, become tourist hotspots from November to February, owing to the weekly flea markets. The Anjuna flea market takes place on a Wednesday evening whereas the Saturday Night Market crowds Arpora. This venue is designed like a spiral escalating on a mound, where the winding pathway cross numerous stalls. The Bohemian market is a vibrant mix of live music, food kiosks, quirky and fashionable clothes, decor items and jewellery, and many other experiences.
For an entirely different experience, I rode towards Salvador do Mundo in Porvorim, to the architectural wonder, Museum Houses of Goa. In the shape of a ship, this museum has been conceptualised by Gerard da Cunha, an eminent architect. It houses all the aspects that are unique to the Goan house, like doors, windows, rare hat stand, old French doors, photographs and postcards, and maps and architectural drawings.
A contrasting, Museum of Goa (MOG), is a recent initiative to make art accessible to the people. Founded by artist, Dr Subodh Kekar, this space holds exhibitions, workshops and art classes. MOG is an insightful place to glimpse at the Goan art scene.
I have occasionally been interested in the cooking class offered in the state. Rita’s Gourmet Goa has many choices for the traveller who want to try their hand at cooking. The best pick is probably the 3-hour cooking class, where guests are welcomed to cook either an Indian or Goan course followed by a meal together.
Initially it was difficult to surpass and move beyond the pristine beaches of South Goa. The entire stretch from Cola, Agonda, Palolem, Patnem and finally Galjibag took me some time to discover— each better than the other. Agonda’s seamless coastline was incomparable to the secluded rocky terrain of Cola. Patnem was a quiet retreat to the bustling and friendly Palolem. And Galjibag, cleanest of them all, radiates the glow of the Goan sands and is rich in fishes.
The thick, lustrous forests of South Goa are enticing. Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, in Canacona, introduced me to the rich wildlife harbouring here. On an early morning summer visit, I saw the Malabar trogon, black-rumped flameback and numerous reptiles.
Another way of exploring the hinterlands of Goa is taking a guided walk of the spice plantations. The Sahakari Spice Farm, in Ponda, introduced me to the various locally grown spices. This included pepper, cardamom, curry leaves, cinnamon, chilli and concluded in an authentic Goan meal. I quickly bought a few spices for my own kitchen, as I left.
On a cool afternoon, the forested roads of South Goa took me to Chandor. Here I visited the Menezes Braganza Pereira House. Built in the 1500s, the west wing of this colonial heritage house is open to visitors. The large Belgian chandeliers, a fine collection of Chinese porcelain, the rosewood furniture and the clear marble floors add to its royal character. After contributing a small donation towards its maintenance, I walked away to see the reflection of the house upon the Goan sky.
Goan evenings are enchanting. On days when I wanted adventure, I put on a life jacket and pulled my solo kayak onto the sea. With low tide and setting sun as my companions, I paddled leisurely above the small waves of Palolem beach.
On evenings when I craved for jazz, I attended gigs by Heritage Jazz. They perform at multiple locations, though my gear-less scooter navigated to Gonsalves Mansion. Filled with character, the Portuguese-styled verandah has hosted many musical nights.
For indulgent experiences, Goa spoils its visitors with choices. The sunset cruise on The Solita, a luxury yacht, is particularly magical. This yacht has a total capacity of 27 and is designed with teakwood. The changing colours of the sky at dusk are best experienced from the rear or front decks. The quiet surroundings and mellow cocktails add a unique hue to the evening.
However, my favourite evenings have been at the Reis Magos Fort. After a five-year restoration process, the fort reopened in 2012. The fort is held by strong laterite walls and served as a defence to the port of Old Goa. Hugged by River Mandovi, my favourite part of this fort is the citadel, from where I have witnessed many sunsets.
I spent the last few minutes, before the Fort’s closure, admiring at the panorama of Panjim. I could see shiny casino cruises, a lengthy promenade, a silhouette of the Three Kings Church, minute crowds, quiet river banks and darkened coconut trees by the sea.
It made me realise how Goa has not changed much in its purpose. It continues to welcome diverse groups, as it has through history.
Other Places to Stay
Park Hyatt Hotel Goa Pousada-style guestrooms, a lake-style pool and 45 acres of landscaped gardens await at this five-star hotel perched on Arossim’s pristine sand beaches.
The Leela Goa A rare combination of opulence and warm hospitality, indulge in luxurious experiences at the spa, golf course, private access beach, restaurants and lounges.
Alila Goa Reminiscent of a stay on Bali, featuring forever panoramic views of lush greenery, a five-star family friendly hotel and close to the beach.
W Goa A Bollywood celebrity escape to the whimsical and playful on Vagator Beach, where luxury doesn’t stay in the lines and celebrates local artisans.
Taj Exotica Resort & Spa Goa Close to Benaulim’s sandy beach, luxury and peaceful charm invites you to explore 56 acres of tropical gardens, a tea lounge and tranquil pool.