Come winter, and the whole of North India heads southwards to get some much-needed sun. It was on such a cold January day in 2014 that my family also decided to head south of the Tropic of Cancer. And what place could be better than Goa to escape from the frigid Delhi winter?
On the first day of our vacation, we set out for North Goa, the first stop being Fort Aguada. It is most famous today as the fort where scenes from the movie Dil Chahta Hai were shot. The fort is expansive; the upper fort has beautiful bastions and a giant white lighthouse in one corner. The lower fort, visible from the Arabian Sea, was used to anchor Portuguese ships in the 17th century, but now serves as the Goan jail.
Just below the fort, we went for an hour-long 'Dolphin Safari' on the river Mandovi. In the first 45 minutes of the tour, we didn’t spot a single creature. Disappointed, we turned and were just heading back when someone shouted, "Dolphin!" We all turned in his direction and discovered a school of dolphins swimming along the left side of our boat. They were utterly glossy and looked really excited! We thereafter had plenty of visits from these friendly freshwater creatures over the next few minutes of our tour. The day ended with us relaxing on Anjuna beach and going on an evening safari filled with cultural performances and beautiful views of the sunset over river Zuari.
The next morning, we visited the relatively isolated Baina beach. Another short drive away is the Abyss Marine Aquarium in Verna. The sheer variety of marine life on display in the various glass aquariums there was mind-boggling; I especially loved the turtles. It was still only afternoon, so we headed out to Old Goa, a city within the North Goa district, to get a dose of Portuguese heritage. We visited the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO world heritage site, and also the resting place of the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier. Being an art student now, I can fully appreciate the dramatic 16th-century baroque architecture exemplified by the basilica. Across the road stands the contrastingly white Church of St. Francis of Assisi, another 17th-century Portuguese church. We also shopped for souvenirs at the bazaar in front of the church before calling it a day.
The next day, we drove for over an hour to reach Curti in Ponda, the most important industrial centre of Goa. The famous Sahakari Spice Farm located here offers tourists a glimpse into the practices of organic plantations. The farm staff invited us in a traditional way and gave us a guided tour of the farm and the various spices that grow there, along with their medicinal properties and uses. Later, we were served a sumptuous meal made with completely organic produce; and it was truly lip-smacking! On our way back from Ponda, we stopped at a small temple to pay our respects; this area houses a majority of the Hindu temples in Goa. We also stopped at a beach to go skinny-dipping at sunset and also shop for little somethings like fridge magnets, jewellery, and keyrings. Another thing we didn't give a miss was the world-famous Goan Feni (or Fenny), and we made it a point to bring back some as well.
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While returning to Delhi, I couldn't help but think of the great time I had in Goa. We did not just do the clichéd 'beach thing', but had a variety of other experiences, ranging from the touristy - like Fort Aguada, Old Goa and the boat cruises, to the offbeat - like the aquarium and spice farm visits. And I enjoyed it all with my family, which I hope is enough to dispel the myth that Goa is only worth being visited with friends. It is in fact the perfect destination for a winter vacation with family too!