Goa is not just exciting and beautiful, it’s intensely addictive too. I don’t know anyone who claims to be bored of Goa, no matter how many times they have already gone. Take me, as a case study. Five visits already, and still not tired of it. Different kinds of visits. First there was the first time. The time when I managed to stay fairly sober all through the trip, observing nuances of the place, constantly watching the wallet for a few notes and what leisure could it buy me, with just one good meal in my little black dress at the Taj at Fort Aguada (that was on my birthday, and it was a deserving one!).
Then there was the next trip and another two after that, where I was perhaps rolling a sneaky joint in my room, dancing to ‘Cotton eyed Joe’ at Tito’s and on a spending spree to buy hippie clothes which I would possibly wear on another next beach trip. Goa has always been a place, where, for a change, I would have never done any research on, before the actual travels would begin. It was always about telephoning my favourite shack in Palolem for a reservation, strut merrily into the coco-huts when I reach, rent a bike from the corner garage..and jiggling into little carefree dances here and there.. on the beaches, on the bike, in night markets, or swimming in the sea. It was also about reliving Bollywood fantasies, where three thick friends can go on a roadtrip to this land of beaches, beers, gossip and glares!
So, predictably, when it was time to make a family vacation to Goa,there had been a large amount of eye-rolling staring at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t imagine that I was going to Goa, a place I had synonymous branded with society dropouts and backpackers who want to spend their days getting high on glorious beaches while listening to Goan trance, but would have to hire a car, not a two wheeler; stay in a resort instead of a shack. It was almost like visiting a ‘new’ Goa. A new Goa, a chic Goa, one that involved culture and luxury instead of beach shacks and bongos, one that Hollywood A-listers such as Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt had travelled to, and all the new rich Russians loved, thanks to its warmth and its relative proximity to Moscow. A one, that I will spend with two restless kids and a colourful set of parents!
This time I had to plan every finer detail. Make itineraries that suited the parents and made the kids happy. So, this summer when we visited Goa, I needed to book a resort. A resort in Goa, is not what I am used to, you know. So, when I laid my first step inside it, I really wondered if we had got our destination wrong. Then I saw the pool, a vast blue lagoon shaped pool that were draped with coconut trees like an organza veil, and all worries evaporated (hard not to in the heat). Luxury hotels (not that I haven’t stayed in one before..!) can also feel ridiculously intimate with their giant beds and baths sometimes when you have warm company. While the two of us could have spent our days reading, we did otherwise and did some touristy things in Goa. And surprisingly- loved it! It was novel.
Like gallivanting off to Old Goa, returning with tales of Catholic churches and Hindu temples and a city abandoned in the 16th century due to outbreaks of incurable diseases.
We bought flower wreaths and wore hats.
We let each enjoy the sea in their own ways. Some of us did cartwheels, some wanted to see the sea upside down. Some of us heard the sound of the ocean while lying on the sand, and watched the waves at eye-level. Some of us ran a mile everyday (not me!). And, some of us ‘plain vanilla’ types just took to swimming in the sea!
We strolled along the beautiful promenade at Dona Paula and watched cliffs being lashed by the sea.
We took the kids and the parents on the sunset cruise over Mandovi, and it was really beautiful.
“Mamma, does Barbie and her friends live here?’, she asked. But of course! Where else can anyone find doll houses painted in pink, purple, green and orange in a row? The most beautiful part of our little summer trip was discovering the neighbourhood and tiny bylanes of Fontainhas, in Panjim. Bairro das Fontainhas, or the “quarter of Fontainhas”, sits at the foot of Altinho, an affluent hilltop area in the centre of Goa’s capital city Panaji. Author William Dalrymple described it as a “small chunk of Portugal washed up on the shores of the Indian Ocean”. You are transported to medieval Iberia,walking through these streets. The narrow lanes are flanked by majestic old villas, with elaborate Azulejo tile work on their doors announcing the occupants’ surname—Andrade, Vaz, Botelho, Pires, Affonso. Many of the old houses had been converted into boarding lodges. Most of the houses had a similar design; big windows, red tiled roofs and ice cream colored walls, and reminded me of Mario Miranda’s illustrations. You tell me, how can a shutter-bug resist?
A living museum from yester-years, this is a colony that still carries the glory of the Portuguese past. The houses were planned to face the streets with unique large ornamental windows opening onto verendahs. Bold colours were painted on houses constructing distinct identity, allowing the sailors to recognize their houses from sea. The covered porches and verandas were designed for socializing contrary to the Hindu styled housing. A little charming chapel called Sao Tome gives you a sense of camaraderie. Perfect reminiscence of what Goa looked like 350 years ago during the rule of the Portuguese. And right there, as the twinsters pranced along the empty roads, and the husband posed for the perfect ‘natural’ shot, I stood against a Azulejo pillar imagining that I would have just strolled past the house where local priests potentially conspired to overthrow the Portuguese in 1787! Did I just cross a chapel that housed the notorious cross of the Inquisition, in front of which hundreds of Goans were condemned to flames? It is difficult to believe that the neighbourhood that I see today developed haphazardly without much attention paid to its design, and amidst all these historical anomalies.
I have to mention the other adventure of our trip.. searching for the ubiquitous bebinca, on a lazy Sunday morning! Lazy it was for the Goans, and hurried it was for us, as we had just an hour to dash towards Margaon, search for bebinca and kokum juice and dash back to our resort to be able to reach the airport on time for our flight to Bangalore. Its amazing how we(without planning) sometimes make dreams for our children come true! Like their first bike ride.. ‘hamara Bajaj, style! Margaon is a Portuguese word that means ‘the village of religious monasteries’. It used to be a quaint temple town before it was conquered by the Portuguese in 1543. A mini- Andalusia, so to say, where the Christian conquest destroyed Hindu temples and built churches on them. There still strives a Hindu colony, where life spills out from each of the patios. Our little ride through the quaint contoured lanes of the old market were such a pleasure. The church of the Holy Ghosh was abuzz with folks attending Sunday mass, and if you paid a little attention, you could hear the hymns from inside, as we circled the church..
Goa is where holidays come to life.. its been a place that me and Raj have loved. We have gone back into our favourite hide-outs every now and then. So we did have to go back. Only this time, we had family, and a set of two that were extensions of our own. Little swallows who fell in love with the sea, the salt in the air and the waves that gave their restlessness a tough competition. We went with my dad and mom, as colourful still as this little beach town and the vibrant neighbourhoods it has.
Much has changed, yet some things still remain like little captive pockets of nostalgia. There’s still the Goa where if you run out of petrol in your bike, and you know a local or two, you can still get petrol poured by the most matronly elderly lazy, who discreetly brings the bottle out when you beep your horn in front of her old Konkani home. There are still communities next door, where families cook together for a big party- children to octogenarians.
There is still the Goa, that has serpentine roads, across dark paddy fields, with twinkle of boat lights when you get closer to the sea. You can still find little stand alone shacks in lesser known beaches with good Goan food and moon-beams that fall like a faulty lighthouse streak on the violet waters.