I have been a frequent traveller to Goa in the past but somehow did not visit this lovely coastal State for almost a decade. This time however the trip was purely to visit our ancestral temples.
Goa and Temples may not rhyme well since it is better known for its beaches, churches and now Casinos. The Gowda Saraswat Brahmins (GSB) were the early settlers of Goa, where they built Temples dedicated to family deities. However, during the Portuguese persecutions in early 16th century, many GSB families fled Goa along with their family deities to nearby regions of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Although the temples were destroyed by the Muslim rulers in 15th century and later by the Portuguese, they were renovated intermittently by benevolent rulers and hence they still stand tall even to date. I visited few temples since visiting all the temples can consume almost the entire day. Some of the temples visited were – Devaki Krishna and Lakshmi Rawalnath (both at Mashel) ; Navadurga at Madkai, Mahalasa and Ramnathi (near Mardol) and Balaji temple near Ponda.
Since my visit was after a long spell of time, I could see visible changes in Goa. The quality of roads and its network had improved by leaps and bounds. It is perhaps the only State where directions are easily understood and even an outsider can navigate without much difficulty. The cost of fuel (Petrol) is the lowest in India thanks to the new Chief Minister, who abolished local levies and taxes.
I chose a Resort at Porvorim for our stay due to its proximity to 2 major towns – Panaji, the administrative capital city and Mapusa known for its vibrancy and markets. Famous beaches like Candolim, Calungute, Baga and Anjuna are also close to Porvorim. Since we were visiting Goa in the month of May, I was expecting a harsh summer. However this time, the weather was not too hot although humidity was high. Since the local transportation in Goa is not too great, the best way to commute is to hire a car or a bike. I hired a scooter through the Resort and found the deal a tad too cheap (just Rs 300 for 24 hours). I made good use of the bike to visit the famous Mapusa market (8 kms); Panaji (5 kms); Calangute beach (8 kms) and other places like Mira Mar and Dona Paula. However take care to check the petrol content before you start, since I had a tough time in the middle of the highway, when the bike ran out of fuel after just 2 kms. I was very lucky to encounter a friendly mango vendor, who offered me his bike and an empty can to fetch petrol from a nearby fuel station (about a mile away). Such people make Goa a great place. Goans are typically very simple, honest and extremely helpful. The inflow of unruly tourists and people from other States has given Goa a bad name of late. The locals are also protesting the existence of casinos, which is destroying their local culture and heritage. Goa is indeed transforming itself into a “sin” city from a small, calm and sleepy State a few decades ago.
The Calangute beach almost wore a carnival look with thousands of revellers, most of them in high spirits (pun intended). We tried para sailing and jet skiing (water scooter) and after much bargaining I found the deal quite reasonable. The same water sports activity was way too expensive at Mauritius, I felt. I also visited Panaji (the capital city), Miramar beach and Dona Paula just to check its popularity with tourists. Panaji is perhaps the smallest capital city in India but it is well maintained and kept clean and green. Miramar wore a deserted look but people were seen crowding around the Bombay style bhelpuri and pani poori stalls. Dona Paula had a fair share of tourists but honestly there is nothing to see here other than the majestic Governor’s bungalow, located at a close distance.
However my visit to the famous Mapusa market was the highlight. I enjoyed speaking my mother tongue, Konkani with the local vendors. Goa is the only state where I can speak Konkani in public although the dialect is different from the one I speak. I was amazed that this market has still retained its old world charm. You can buy the best wet cashews and kokum (no English name for this fruit) at Mapusa. The market has everything to offer, meat, fruits, vegetables, bakery products, clothes, wine and just about anything. I enjoyed bargaining with the local vendors in their local language.
Goa is known for its coastal cuisine including seafood. However the locals mentioned to me that the quality and quantity of fish this season was abysmally low. Being a big seafood lover this was certainly not good news. Despite this I enjoyed the limited variety of local seafood dished out by various Restaurants around Porvorim and Panaji. I also paid a visit to O’Coqueiro, although it has lost its old charm. This restaurant is known for 2 things – a) the famous Chicken Cafreal (Portuguese dish) and b) it was here that the international smuggler Charles Sobhraj on the run, was caught by the Bombay police in 1986. His life size statue has been installed outside the Restaurant. May is also the best season for Mangoes. But seems, this year there was no bumper yield and hence the cost had hit the roof, nothing less than Rs 500 for a dozen. There were lots of mango trees in our Resort, but the fruits had not ripened, to our misfortune.
I chose to travel by train from Bangalore to Goa and back, just to experience train journey after a long time. Nothing much has changed including bad food quality and poorly maintained coaches. However the view of the famous Dudhsagar Falls from the train is just breathtaking. Many movies have been shot here and the latest Bond movie almost finalized this location for an action sequence until the local government objected to it.
Hopefully next time I visit Goa, the place would still retain its charm and not go the wrong way. Viva Goa !!
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