Thursday, February 23, 2012

Goa - The Forgotten Facets and Vistas

The Sand, Sea and Palms. The Essence of Goa.

Bacardi Breezers on the Beach Anyone? 

Goa ..Gooaah!, the very word conjures up evocative images of white sand beaches, clear waters, palm trees swaying in the breeze, good food and relaxing in a lounger with a tall drink at hand. This imagery, true to a large degree, ensures Goa one of the top spots in India's pantheon of popular tourist destinations, with both Indian and Foreign tourists.

In the tourist season, however, at popular beaches, reality can often mean, over crowded hotels, littered sand infested with supine evolutions of Homo Erectus, waters filled with shrieking family groups, drunken louts and harried staff at popular restaurants.

When Will We Party?
Now, Now!. The author is not trying to drive you away from visiting Goa, it still remains a great place to go to, with its vibrant culture and relaxed pace of life. 

The point one makes is that there are still areas where the thinking traveller, with a little bit of effort, can find peaceful vistas, less crowded lodgings and partake of the unhurried pace of life, so beloved of Goans.

Britona Church from the River.

In Portuguese times, roads were few and narrow so most people and commerce moved along Goa's rivers and water ways. The village fronts facing the river were the hub of village life and most public buildings were also built with their fronts to the river. After liberation, the development of the road network ensured that the focus of travel shifted from Boats and Launches to automotive transport which was faster, more efficient and cheaper.
A Boat Trip Up River.
Passenger traffic along the rivers dwindled to almost nothing and the focus of life shifted to the 'Tintos', the village squares, which were served by road. Expanding population, too, ensured that villages and towns moved away from scarce river front land, with real estate developers making hay by developing inland plots.

The Author's Transport, Lent by a Gracious Friend.

Mangroves and Birds.
Carrying Iron Ore to to The Sea Port.

The intrepid traveller would do well to take a boat trip up any of Goa's rivers, as the author did a few weeks ago. It is a great, relaxed experience slowly moving up or down stream, a drink in hand, with new vistas opening out with every bend in the river. The only other traffic one meets is the Iron ore barges, and the odd fishing trawler or cabin cruiser. One does not speak of course about the polluting eyesores called 'Deluxe Casinos' which are permanently moored on the Mandovi river near Panaji.

Temple,Trust in God but Keep The Clothes Dry! 
Small fishing ports, lovely promenades, temples, quaint villages, bird and game sanctuaries, mangrove forests and imposing churches are all easy to access by water and offer an ever changing palette of colour. Even the world heritage site of Old Goa can be accessed via the river. It needs be said that some effort has to be made for hiring boats for river journeys as this facet of tourism is not well developed, but with a little effort one can hire a launch or cabin cruiser. It is well worth the trouble, even if a little expensive. 

Fishing Trawlers Moored on the River.
     Small Boutique Hotel. Pool Facing Rooms. 
Experienced travellers, during tourist season, who are normally fed up with hordes of tour groups at all popular hotels, would do well to look out for boutique hotels and home stays. Luckily, Goa has a wide variety of boutique hotels, catering to most budgets. Many of these boutique hotels do not cater to tour groups and as such, offer a more interesting variety of fellow residents.
Boutique Hotel Room.

Home stays, too, are becoming popular and can range from high end stays at gracious mansions to shoe string costs at basic but clean homes. As at all popular beach destinations, stay costs decrease proportionately as you move away from the beaches.

The Interior of a High End Home Stay.
  .A Gracious Home to Stay In

Relaxing at a Home Stay. Tall Drink In Hand!
In Goa this isn't  a problem as the
state has many other attractions to offer the active traveller.

In the author's opinion, the best time to enjoy Goa's beaches is early in the 
morning, before the attack of the tour 
group hordes.                                                 
A Morning Dip is Good for Dreadlocks!
The sands are clean and uncrowded, the light is excellent for photography and one can strike up conversations with Residents taking their morning constitutional.
One can always escape to other attractions during the heat of the day.
Calm, Uncrowded Mornings at the Beach.
Eating is An Art!.

Imbibing Wisely?!.
No vacation in Goa would be complete without an emphasis on food,drink and music . Goan cuisine is a happy blend of Indian and Portuguese cultures. Its treatment of sea food and meats is to die for.
This often hot cuisine, is best accompanied by Goa's own spirit, Feni. This potent liquor, distilled from cashew apple   for its 'Caju Feni' version, and, palm toddy                                                           

Cocktails of The World!. 
for the 'Palm Feni' avatar, is ideal for aesthesing inflamed taste buds when you indulge 'Not Wisely but Too Well' in some of the tasty but fiery Goan dishes. Feni, however, is an acquired taste and beer does just as well.

What's Your Poison?

Goa luckily is one of the few Indian states  that do not have a sanctimonious attitude to imbibing, unlike most, so it is possible to get a decent drink almost anywhere and at prices that don't break the bank. 

Not Exactly The Wharf!.
The influx of foreign visitors has ensured that there are a plethora of  restaurants serving every conceivable cuisine under the sun. Many are of excellent quality and normally are good value. The traveller is well advised to ask hotel staff and local residents as to the most popular  ones, as attrition is high and                                      
They Have 'A' Fresh Sea Rood and 'Wanton' Soup!.
popularity ratings tend to change, due to change of chefs or management.

The popular 'Beach Shacks', many of which have been there for decades, are invariably good and reasonable, but inevitably, crowded.

Food of Love. Play On!.

Music, too, plays an important role in Goan life and there are bands and rock groups aplenty. Some of India's best rock groups and music stars have emerged from Goa. Quite a few restaurants will have a band playing or at least a crooner. At times, however, at popular beaches there can be quite a cacophony with one group trying to outdo the other in adjoining restaurants. Generally though, one can enjoy a variety of music, most of it quite good.  
Which God Would You Like to Pray To?

One hopes that this article offers the traveller a slightly different perspective on Goa, different from the beaches and churches and temples that are most often written about.

Ayurvedic Centre for Russians!.
A Beach Shack

It also offers as 'food for thought', another facet that can be used to promote Goa, and, say something of the business opportunity value for the canny entrepreneur to promote boat tours, an investment avenue which will surely offer decent return on investment.

Lazy Lounging, Boutique Hotel Pool!

Boat for Hire.
Goa is well linked to India and other parts of the world by rail, road and air. 
The journey by road and rail from Mumbai, is a visual delight as traffic moves along the scenic Western Ghats. All domestic air carriers have connections to Goa from major cities in India. Foreign carriers like British Airways, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, Aeroflot, Thomas Cook Airlines and various charter operators fly in directly to Dabolim International Airport. 

Happy Travelling!.