India Diaries : Goa Offbeat

4th Sep 2019

Hop on Hop off tourist buses, Goa

Photo of India Diaries : Goa Offbeat by Family On Wheels

I scoffed a little and laughed a lot (the derisive kinds) as my husband suggested that we visit Goa in the monsoons, during R’s Ganpati vacations.

Goa means chilled margarita on a sunny beach. Without them it’s all day cramped in a hotel room. No Sir, NO WAY.

“I promise you it will be a trip like no other. It will be different and just as nice, if not nicer”, said the man.

Like all good wives, I rolled my eyes and absolutely forbade him to act on this absurd idea.

Like all good husbands, he took this as a cue to buy tickets on a 9PM Air India flight on the 4th of September to Dabolim and reserve rooms at the Riva Gold Coast.

And so, on the third day of Ganpati, with three bags, two boxes, two umbrellas and one boy, as the Mithi River overflew and roads flooded and cars stalled, I set off in a cab for the airport. Halfway to the airport, as the cab made its way through water that was halfway to our knees, the husband informed that he would in all likelihood not be able to make it in time for the flight and that I was to fly with the boy by myself and wait for him at the airport. What an auspicious beginning!

Eventually though, he made it on time. However, the flight got delayed to 1.30 AM and we landed at around 2.30 AM. We were received by the kind and genial Ayub Bhai, who dropped us to our hotel. The staff at Riva, expecting us to be groggy from the odd hours, stood outside in the heavy rains to ensure that we did not miss the blink-and-you-miss entrance to the hotel. After an ultra-fast check in, we were shown to our tiny but cosy room and at 4 AM we finally went to sleep.

For a detailed review of Riva Gold Coast, check out our post on Tripadvisor

Day 1

Since the previous day had ended early next morning, the next day for us started only around noon. The boys wanted to go to the beach and offered me to accompany them, but with no sun in sight and since anyway later in the day we were to go to Fontainhas, I declined. They returned a few hours later, soaked in equal parts by the Arabian Sea and the Indian monsoons, their pockets bulging with sand and big grins on their faces.

Candolim Beach in the monsoons

Photo of Candolim Beach, Goa, Candolim, Goa, India by Family On Wheels

The destination for the day was the Chapel of St. Sebastian in Fontainhas, the Latin Quarters in Panjim. Fortunately or unfortunately, the rain-washed streets with the Ourem Creek on one side and the quaint, colourful houses on the other and no other beings in sight (it was siesta time after all) made us forget all about our destination and we kept ambling along, admiring a house here and a wishing-well there, a painting on the wall a little further on, and so on, till the skies upended and we scurried for cover, running for the first door that said “Open”.

... admiring a wishing-well there, a painting on the wall here ( Fontainhas )

Photo of Fontainhas (quarter), Altinho, Panaji, Goa, India by Family On Wheels

That door turned out to be the Desbue, a French restaurant at the La Maison, an old Portuguese villa converted to a lovely B&B, and what we entered turned out to be a parlour replete with ornate chandeliers, red and beige sofas set along beige and gold walls. We were the only patrons at the restaurant, but lunch hour being over, they took long enough for the meals to be served. That was not entirely bad since it gave us time to whet our appetites while admiring the beautifully done interiors. Food was good and the ambience was better but service was sleepy,.

After lunch we strolled to the Chapel of St. Sebastian which was closed, and then to the Gitanjali Gallery at the Panjim Pousada. The Gallery was rather interesting especially around the chowk area which was a tiny open yard in the centre surrounded by white walled corridors full of a curious mix of artworks, from a large stone Shivalinga to paintings on the walls, ornate doorways, brass pots and stone vases.

Gitanjali Gallery at the Panjim Pousada

Photo of Gitanjali Gallery, Fontainhas (quarter), Altinho, Panaji, Goa, India by Family On Wheels

Since the Chapel of St. Sebastian was closed, my man decided to make it up by taking me to the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Sé Cathedral, even though they had been visited and admired many a times on our previous trips. The dark red laterite basilica stood as it always does, sombre and still and a silent witness to the passing of time while the Sé Cathedral glowed in the evening twilight and even with a fallen tower, stood in all its formidable glory as it had done for the last 400 years.

Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Sé Cathedral in the fading evening light

Photo of Basilica of Bom Jesus, Old Goa Road, Bainguinim, Goa, India by Family On Wheels

After the churches, it was time to show devotion to the great religion we sincerely follow, food.

Dinner was at an old favourite of ours, De Candolim Deck and the pork vindaloo was just as spicy as we remembered it from before. There was a new statue of a mid-stride Johnnie Walker, the whiskey guy. Apart from that, everything else was the same - the open air tables, the friendly waiters and even the awful live music; giving us hope that no matter where we go and how old we get, there will always be some corners of the earth we could return to, to turn back time!

Day 2

On Friday the first stop was the Friday Mapusa Market. it was a sensory overload with fresh and rotting fruits and vegetables, fresh and dried meat and fish, plastic goods, potteries, perfumes, clothing, spices; tourists tasting, trying and photographing; stall owners vying for customers and householders trying to get a bargain, all of which set us in a colourful mood on an otherwise drab and overcast day.

No wonder then, for lunch we returned to the colourful Fontainhas at the newly opened Tataki. They have lovely Asian food and a beautiful ambience with a lovely view even from their washrooms (of the 3rd Mandovi bridge).

Tataki, Fontainhas

Photo of India Diaries : Goa Offbeat by Family On Wheels

Just a two-minute drive from the Tataki took us to Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception Church. Built in 1541, the church, lovingly called the “crown” of Panjim, is located atop a hill and is painted white to signify the Immaculate Virgin. In the same square, facing the Church, just across the main road is a bookstore – Singbal’s Book House, where we hopped in to have a look and ended up spending a considerable part of the remainder of the afternoon.

Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception Church

Photo of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, Rua Emídio Garcia, Altinho, Panaji, Goa, India by Family On Wheels

After our bibliophilic pursuits, as we drove along the Mandovi taking in the vistas and wondering when the lights at the casinos would come on, suddenly we saw a board “Customs Museum”. Intrigued, we referred to the Lonely Planet, the holy bible of travellers. The Customs Museum turned out to be a storehouse of sundry items recovered by customs officials from smugglers. How fascinating! Unfortunately though, it was five minutes from closing time and the guards refused us entry. We begged and pleaded and threatened and cajoled and finally came away defeated before the might of the mighty security guards.

Since my son, in the unique style of grumbling that only kids are capable of, had never stopped lamenting that it seemed he was never to see the seas again nor play on the beaches and that his fate was doomed at the hands of his church-hopping parents, we decided to stop by the Miramar beach next.

There were a handful of people at the beach, just-married honeymooners, bickering families, elderly couples, joggers, walkers, selfie-takers, photographers, a gaggle of young revellers immersing Ganpati and dancing, and us. As my son played in the water, the two of us talked and laughed and bickered, and made up and walked and ran and played with our son, till the skies cleared and the clouds parted for a beautiful red, orange, pink and gold sunset.

The sun is the same and so are the skies, and yet each sunset is so different from the previous one and the one coming next. The last time all of us sat and watched the sunset was on the Seine with a bottle of red and some cheese. The next time all of us would sit and watch another one, would things be any different? Would my son still come running out of the water and hug me? I hope he would, but, like they say, que sera sera…

Dinner was Goan Chorizo pulao, again at the Candolim Deck followed by a short visit to Newton, a supermarket in Candolim, where I bought Goan chorizo and Pinagr, a dark brown Goan sweet made of jaggery and rice flour (and what a hit this unusual looking sweet turned out to be back home!)

Saturday was our initially planned day of departure, but since all of us had voted to stay back another day, and since our current hotel was running full, Saturday started with checking out of Riva Gold Coast and into Sea Mist, just across the road. This room, bathroom and bed were much larger, but the dim lighting and the dated furniture gave it a somewhat gloomy feel. So as soon as we dumped our bags, we headed out again.

Click here, to see our review of the Sea Mist

Sunset at the Miramar beach

Photo of Miramar Beach, Panaji, Goa by Family On Wheels
Day 3

Two days of the Latin Quarters had prepped us for the Portuguese villas in the South. Naturally therefore our destination for the day was Loutolim and the first stop was the Casa Araujo Alvares. This quarter century old building belonged to Eufemiano Araujo Alvares a prominent lawyer during the colonial era. In its time, it housed six members of the Araujo family and their twenty servants. There are various exhibits and an automated sound and light enabled guided tour takes visitors through the different rooms and the exhibits in there, right from the hat stand at the entry to the chapel, the bedroom, the kids room, and the kitchen. There was also a safe room. As the name suggests, this room, with a reinforced door, was meant to protect the family and their servants from the thugs who would attack every so often. The bathroom with three commodes in a row was also a curiosity. (And here I was thinking the water cooler was the only place to socialize!) The exhibits are interesting though the guided tour felt a little rushed.

The quirky Ancestral Goa next door was an outdoor museum modeled on a typical Goan village recreated with the help of mannequins. Visitors are expected to walk through the “village” into a cave with a large footprint, and then on to a large sculpture of Mirabai. However, the rains played spoilsport and our umbrellas were a poor match against the torrential downpour, so we skipped a lot of the displays. The quirky Big Foot exhibit housed inside a cave was a safe haven from the rains, and we did spend some time in there. The story behind the “Big Foot” display, as painted on the walls inside the cave temple, went something like this: there was once a kind man with really large feet and his kindness catapulted him to the gods in heaven. Umm... okay! Not absolutely recommended this place, but hard to give a miss, considering it had such an unusual theme, was not expensive and located right next to the Casa Araujo Alvares.

Portuguese Villas in South Goa

Photo of Ancestral Goa - Big Foot, Loutolim, Goa, India by Family On Wheels

On the way to Casa Araujo Alvares we had seen the magnificent Figueiredo Mansion and had decided to drop by on the way back. So after Ancestral Goa, we went to the Figueiredo Mansion. The mansion was over half a millennium old and the current owners are the descendants of Dr. Podiar, who had built this mansion. The Figueiredos were an aristocratic family of mine owners, members of the Portuguese Parliament, doctors, lawyers and judges and this house therefore, is a repository of timeless and priceless exhibits, from Rose Mandarin dinner sets to cameras and typewriters from the early 1900s and everything in between. We were shown around a bit by the gracious host, Pedro and when we finally left, the six hundred rupees paid per head seemed like not such a bad deal after all.

Dinner that evening was at the Fisherman’s Cove, Candolim which we had been eyeing for a while. We had reached a little before the crowds started pouring in and that meant we got a place to sit without waiting. The staff is good, not particularly efficient, but honest. (When we enquired after an order we had placed sometime back, they informed us without a hint of self-consciousness but rather gaily, that since it had been delivered to another table and dutifully devoured, a second order had been placed in the kitchen and was on its way.) On the whole, this joint is rather popular and rather loud, but with great music and good food, we loved every bit of it. My son seemed particularly happy, swaying and headbanging through our dinner. Of course, it was only the next day that we learnt that his swaying and headbanging was on account of him having downed a few glugs of his father’s “funny tasting” Sprite (vodka Sprite cocktail).

The bustling Fisherman's Cove at Candolim

Photo of India Diaries : Goa Offbeat by Family On Wheels

The next morning was our last day. We packed, handed over the car to the rental agency and got a cab to drop us off at the airport. Thus ended an amazing trip on a rather sorry note: The Husband Was Right After All!

It was a trip like no other. I had lunch at a European restaurant and dinner at a Goan place, I browsed a bookstore and a bazaar, all at my own pace, without worrying about not having checked the boxes that a tourist is meant to check. It felt like I own my time and my space in my own corner of the world. It was mostly an unplanned trip and there was definitely no margarita on a sunny beach, but Goa had packed a little bit of everything else in it, sunshine and rains, beaches and basilicas, art galleries and weekly markets, sausages and bebincas.

Till we meet again, Goa!

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