I love the smell of the sea…
The sudden whiff of fresh air made me realize that I am finally in the place I had long been waiting to visit. That from a distance I could smell the sea, and imagine the sight of gulls flying high with their soaring voices. And, I wonder, do these birds croon to the symphony of the sea waves? A trace of red hue in the sky left by the sun before it disappears into the endless horizon. My hair can no longer stay calm against the gust of wind and as I walk away, leaving behind those footprints, my eyes open to the sudden jolt of the car I am sitting in. I quietly smile, realizing how happy I am as I approach my destination.
That, I believe, is the beauty of imagination. It can transport you to the world that you have partly created and partly that exists for real. Isn’t it wonderful to visualize the things you want to experience, memories that you create and get absorbed by its timeless nature? True, memories are what we live upon in the years to come to recreate the happiness and tell the stories we once encountered.
Here I am to narrate my journey to the coastal land of Goa. For this was heartfelt, meaningful and gave me a deep sense of fulfillment.
Besides the thrill and the excitement of traveling, I feel the best of the plans are those impromptu ones. Could they ever be a bad decision? I certainly don’t think so. In my case, it had only been a blessing. And, I am grateful for it. So, it happened while I was conversing with one of my friends about the daily nitty-gritty of life when Goa was proposed to me. What could I do? I said yes like it was a big rock waiting to be slid into my finger. As soon as that happened, I took no time to jot down all the possible places we could travel to. I was ready with my fully baked itinerary. Tada! My mind wandered to cafes, bike rides, beaches, and sunset walks. I was overjoyed. In a week, plans, tickets and leave sanction, all were done.
I couldn’t wait for May.
For last few years I had become a mountain person. At every chance, I would head towards the hills seeking the cold weather and peace. It still fascinates me, inspires me. But, I needed a change. This time, I wanted to travel in the most unrushed ways. To take some time-off and remain disconnected for a while. To not carry a laptop or unnecessary baggage and leave aside the mobile phone. To cut out from the virtual world and tame the urge to check social media in every 15 minutes. And to be able to do these things was some kind of achievement.
Here we are ready to fly to Goa. We were ready to experience this place in a whole new way. And, I knew we were happy. Chuckling and faces lit up with joy, our glee was obvious as soon as we landed. We knew what each of us was thinking “Yay, we made it!”
May is the month of balmy summer. You can spend your mornings with a book outside with a glass of fresh juice and stroke the furry cat who is as lazy as I am. Also, you don’t see much crowd as most of the locals close their shacks, cafes and head towards Manali, Kasol, and Mcleodganj (the northern hilly parts of India). These places become the melting pot of Israelis, Indians, and Europeans. With less crowd around, we felt this was just the right time to visit.
It felt like a long gap after coming here. As if we forgot how to live and what it felt like to coexist with nature. When the mornings were calm and the honking cars were like a distant dream, I would wake up to the gentle rays of the sun streaming into my room. For next four days, that my room would be a wonderful retreat, I had to wait to discover. My eyes would open to the sound of the cuckoo, I would notice the table fan rotating, and the cotton curtains gently moving and so were the plantain leaves that swayed in the breeze outside. These things were not unusual, but I could closely observe the things around me which I would have certainly missed on other days. I felt connected to my surroundings and it happened so naturally. These are some moments that I particularly remember.
Goa is a laid-back place. Beaches, food, the people and the culture makes the entire place the way it is. While beach hopping was on our minds, we wanted to go beyond the itinerary. At the time, I had no clue, but I was soon to experience many good things. Parties, clubs & Feni (the local drink) didn’t make it to our list. We were looking for something beyond the usual.
Going beyond the beach, riding Activa & Cafe Literati
After a filling American breakfast, we headed to Anjuna beach which was a 10-minute walk from our lovely B&B, run by a French lady. On my way, every house, their color, the road, the coconut trees, even the little church at a distance looked peculiar to me. Somehow, I was effortlessly living in that moment. The brightness of the yellow painted houses and the blue sea blending with nature, all seemed suddenly alive. We were now standing in front of the vast sea. Took a dip every time the waves crashed over us smearing with sand, I knew this was happiness.
It was almost noon and we couldn’t wait to explore Goa in our Activa. Riding in it was one of the best things we did there. Calangute was our lunch stop. Later, we bought some trinkets and gypsy styled clothes. Yeah, you don’t really come here to buy subtle colored pants and top, do you? And going by the temperament of this place, you are likely to buy some Boho inspired clothes. At least I did.
Next, we went looking for a book café – Café Literati in Calangute. Because we are a little bibliophile, this was a deliberate part of our itinerary. The only thing that happened by chance was when we came across the Broadway bookstore while looking for Literati. The bookstore was selling fiction and nonfiction at less than $1 or precisely at 50 INR. Could this be any better?
We drove endless times by the narrow lanes and streets. The Fat Fish restaurant signboard became a landmark giving a nod that we are on the right track every time we crossed it. Funny how random things become familiar and guide you out of nowhere.
We just have to keep looking for the cue I believe. As Buddha says ” When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” And, that teacher could be anyone or could be the most unexpected thing in this world
I felt no more like a stranger. The place where we stayed, the owner, her pets, her plants, all these things brought a sense of familiarity and four days felt like a school summer vacation spent at Granny’s place. Life was easy-going. There was no hurry and we no more cared if we had missed out on few tourist spots. The only important thing was to enjoy.
Goan weekly market and evening at Fort Chapora
The Friday market at Mapusa is grand. This is a huge place for spices, tea of all flavors, vegetables, clothes, pottery. Strolling through the market’s narrow lanes, I captured few pictures. You might have to know your way around, haggling for souvenirs or anything that you find interesting. I could see a lot of foreigners shopping and carrying goods. This weekly market is a place where you can find anything that a household requires. As it was getting humid, we couldn’t stay here for long.
Quickly searched on the Google Map for a beach nearby. And, Candolim was our escape. May is still a good time to visit. The evenings are pleasant except for the afternoons which are little humid but bearable. To us, it was a respite anyway. Coming from a city where day temperature soars to 45 degrees C, Goa was a nice getaway.
Apparently, the season is hot for the locals, but we liked this time of the year. For us, off-season always works best! By the way, I really liked Candolim. Sat for two hours watching the sea, sipping fresh lime and nothing else. We forgot about our phones, messages, and calls. We had dumped them somewhere. Trust me that feels nice to do.
By the way, we did use our phones, but only for a noble cause 😉 Had it not been for the Google Map who was our constant companion, we could have never covered 260 kilometers in 3 days without getting lost.
13 years back, I remember mom, dad and I once went to a place called Patparganj (Eastern part of Delhi). We had to return back to Vasant Kunj (Southern part of Delhi). With no proper knowledge of the routes and no smart apps then, I clearly recall how we were stuck near Aurangzeb road and for nearly 2 hours we struggled to find our way out. Asking people every five minutes, we finally reached home. Yes, these apps are a boon to our lives at times.
The best time to visit Chapora Fort is after 5 p.m. Around this time, you can easily avoid the heat and spend some time there. I believe it’s one of the best vantage points or may be the only vantage point to watch the sea and the land together. The looming clouds, the smoke rising at a distance from a certain village and the sea together made the sight somewhat artistic.
Later, for dinner, we went to a place called Curlie’s. Lit with neon lights and candle light section on one end, I wouldn’t call this place as charming as I had read in the reviews. The food wasn’t that great either.Yes, you can come here to unwind the day’s weariness. The place was partially crowded so that probably was a bonus for us.
The offbeat one: Sahakari Spice Farm
This day was for Old Goa and a tour to one of the spice plantations. The Kochi-Panvel highway was amazing for the ride. Drove by the colorful houses that had elements of Portuguese architecture. They were in the shades of blue, green and yellow. Along with the clean narrow lanes, it made a pretty picture. The first stop was at Basilica of Bom Jesus. It houses the remains of Saint Francis Xavier and comes under the UNESCO World Heritage Site. As photography was prohibited, pictures are not available with me. Inside, there were paintings of his voyages and a modern art gallery.
What I realized during this trip was our approach to seeing things.We saw things in unhurried ways. To us, it was more about quality, we appreciated the things we saw instead of going anxious over to check off places. That didn’t matter much.
More than anything, there was an openness. For instance, when I suggested on visiting Ponda, which was 20 kilometers ahead, my friend showed me thumbs-up despite the heat and humidity. This I think is the true spirit of an adventurer. The willingness to explore and not being hell-bent and rigid about places makes the trip even more worthwhile.
Reminds me of this quote I read somewhere “As with any journey, who you travel with can be more important than your destination.”
A few weeks back on Fox Life channel, I saw an episode of David Rocco’s show. He visited one of the spice plantations in Goa, made mango chutney and salad using the cashew apple. Speaking of which Cashew Feni is made from cashew apple. Although, Feni are of two types: Cashew feni & Toddy palm feni. The cashew feni is particularly home-grown and produced in Goa.
After watching the entire episode, I thought I must go there. Here again, Google map helped us in locating the farm and so, we reached the Sahakari Spice Plantation.
A huge crowd was waiting at the entrance gate. It was Saturday and it seemed a lot of people from nearby places came here for a family outing. Once you enter, the staff welcomes you with a special drink. Ah! I was so thirsty by then, I believed some watermelon cooler is waiting for us. Then, one of the ladies brought a yellowish tinged drink to our table. And, she asked us to drink because it is healthy, cures migraine, cold, and cough. Well, this was a drink made from lemon grass. A lemon grass tea I believe. Couldn’t gulp down much. To my dismay, it wasn’t cold.
As soon as our drink was over, they took us for a guided tour of the farm. I found it quite interesting as she explained about the processes and showed spices in their rawest form. There were things I didn’t know before. For example, I didn’t know that nutmeg and mace come from the same plant. These two spices are an essential part of our kitchens, yet we hardly know about their source. And when I learned about the painstaking process of extracting vanilla, I had respect for both: Nature who is generous to provide us with her goodness and Humans who are ingenious to bring out the best in his environment. By the way, vanilla is the second most expensive spice in the world. And, Saffron being the first.
From spice plants to indigenous fruit trees, this plantation has it all. I absolutely loved this place. They conclude the tour by pouring Citronella mixed water on your back. This apparently lets your body cool off. Following this, we went for the lunch buffet serving vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Seems like this just completed my entire tour. It was delicious; a complete, hearty home-cooked Goan meal. The price is included in your entrance fee which is 400 INR per person. If you ask me, I definitely recommend this place.
It was time to return to Anjuna. We had to drive for 1.5 hours. But, what was incredible about this journey was that our excitement never went low. Yeah, we were exhausted. Yet, we enjoyed a great deal.
This was our last day in Goa. And, I am sure there were places left to be seen, the “must-see” ones. But, we felt fulfilled. The next day our cab driver asked if we had visited Ashvem, Arambol, and Mandrem, the beautiful beaches of Goa. We shook our heads. He was surprised as if we missed out on a great deal and our Goa vacation is incomplete. To which my friend said: “there should be places left to be seen next time.” And, I couldn’t agree more. We saw and experienced what we could, but we truly lived every moment. This journey was complete for us. No regrets! After all, there must be places left to be seen next time.
Around 5:45 p.m, relaxing with our books while sipping filter coffee, I casually said what a good deal it was to buy a book at 50 INR and wish I had bought more than one. “Let’s go then” my friend said. ‘Let’s go and buy books worth 500 INR, 5 books each’. Unfortunately, they were closing their shop when we had arrived. Little disappointed. But, we are crazy adventurous folks. We drove around that area, stopped by few street shops and dined at a place that served the hottest Vindaloo curry. That was one hot curry!
I retired back to my bed. And, there were so many thoughts that were on my mind. This journey had been wonderful and I just have one word to describe it, which is “fulfilling.” I knew I had so many things to write down. Now as I write, I don’t even know if I am doing justice to this beautiful trip with my words.
And…What are those few things I discovered?
I found people of Goa are animal lovers. Saw dogs and cats at almost every place.
I saw houses that are mostly painted yellow and blue.
Roads are good and beaches are a lot cleaner.
People mind their own business. They are easy-going and life seems slow and steady.
And, the best part? I found myself connected to nature, to my surroundings and everything felt right in place, in unison. That, I tell you is the most incredible feeling in this world.
When I woke up to the morning the next day, I saw there was something different. I couldn’t recognize immediately. I went out, sat in the garden, ate my breakfast, patted the tabby cat, and chatted with the lovely owner of the house, Michele. I decided to drive to the beach. I still felt different and quiet. Stood in front of the sea for one last time. I wasn’t sad. But, you know there are lingering emotions always towards the end of the journey.
I can’t describe how amazing I felt with this entire journey. I was carrying back a handful of beautiful memories. It was time for us to leave. And, when I thought this journey couldn’t be any better, the pre-monsoon showers had just hit the land. Then, I realized that all this time that ‘fuzzy’ feeling was nothing, but a warm hug from Nature giving me a parting gift in the form of drizzle.
And, deep in my heart, I told her Thank You.
Goa was timeless: Of beauty, memories, and discovering few things…