Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Idylic week at Goa

I always thought Goa is the land of cheap alchohols, lovely beaches and scantily clad women all around. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it has also got a long history behind it and as per the legends, it dates back to the Mahabharatas!!

It seems that Goa had been ruled by the Mauryas, the Satavahanas, the Chalukyas and various what-nots till it came under the Portugese rule in the early 16th century with the arrival of Alfonso de Albuquerque. It remained a Portugese settlement till 1961 when it was won over by the Indian Army through “Operation Vijay”. Due to this long association with the Portugese, Goa developed its own unique Indo-Portugese culture with a large Christian population.

We stayed at a resort in the south Goa – close to the Mobar and Cavellesim beaches. These are less crowded than the north Goa beaches. The resort itself was very nice – with swimming pools of various shapes and sizes (obviously for people who felt a dip in the pool to be safer than that in the ocean), flowers and a decent restaurants. As is usually the case with such resorts, food was on the steeper side. Since the villas have a full fledged kitchen, one can counter balance this by occasionally cooking some of the meals and thereby keeping the economics as well as the stomach under control.

In different sessions, we visited the beaches – the Mobar on the first day, the famous North Goa beaches – Anjuna, Baga and Calingute on the second day and the Colva beach on the third day. We also had a peek at the so called “secret beach” in Dona Paula. Calingute is the most famous one and as is usually the case with these “famous” toursit spots – it failed to live upto the reputation. It does have a wide sandy beach but unfortunately the huge flux of tourist has made it almost as dirty as the Juhu Chowpatty!! One can have a nice bath in the ocean but it is not as exciting as the Eastern India beaches like Puri and Gopalpur.

The Anjuna beach was quite spectacular with a green coconut trees along the coast line. There is hardly a beach over there as the sea comes right upto the rocky shore. It is also one of the “famous” ones and therefore has several small shops all along the coast and a band of virulent energetic shopkeepers who pounce on the unsuspecting tourist to the their individual brand of useless junk. The only difference seem to be the energy level of the shop keepers – which was much less than the usual shop keepers. Probbaly this is due to the usual laid back culture of Goa.

I found the Colva beach to be most attractive – picturesque, not very crowded with ample opportunity to have a bath in the ocean. We visited this place on two occasions and on both the occasions, we found it to be enjoyable. There is a place with taps to wash your feet for people who restrain their sea-faring only upto ankle deep waters. There is also a small children’s park outside which keeps the child entertained while you philosophise on life while sitting by the sea shore.

Goa, due to the Portuguese influence, has a large “converted” christian population and an interesting culture. They still some of their Hindu roots firmly entrenched into them. They have a rigid “quasi-cast” system with Braganza’s and Fernandes’s considered to be of higher cast !! Their happy-go-lucky nature is a byword and their curious concoction of English – marred by the word “Man” in every sentence is hillarious.

And food!! This itself can consume several pages but I will try to restrain myself..

We stuck to typical Goan foods at cheap joints – the Longuino’s in Margao, the Georges in Panjim etc. These places are all absolute no-frill joints with the sole focus towards the food. Ambience takes a back seat and cleanliness or hygene has a completely different meaning altogether!! I shudder to think what would happen to most self respecting Bengalis if they ever get a glance of the kitchen where these delicious Goan preparations are made.

We had the classic goan curry rice – prawn as well as fish. Squid was a remarkable discovery – simply stir fried with butter garlic or cooked with masala, either way it was delicious. We also tries mussels and found them to be excellent. In meat preparations, we had the famous traditional goan preparations like Vindaloo, Sorpotel and Xacuti. We also pigged into the Choricos Biriyani – biriyani with the spicy Goan sausages in fond remembrance of my misspent youth. During my days in Pune and later on in Mumbai, one of my favourite “short cut food? was Maggi with Goan sausages thrown into it. It tastes delicious though not a dish for people who cannot handle spice stuffs. Vindaloo also has a similar reputation though the ones we tasted in Goa (chicken) were not very hot.

We also gorged on a sweet dish called Bebinca and had some excellent local beers (Kings). These two serve as a nice counter balance to the fiery stuffs.

Goa served as a complete rest for me. The resort had very poor WiFi connection and even worse mobile connectivity. The mobile phone used to work only in one corner of the resort and that too rather whimsically. This forced me into incommunicado with office and the rest of the world. We ended up eating, drinking, vegetating and playing rummy to our hearts content. The resort also had plenty of flowers (Heliconia) and we spent some time photographing them. There was a solitary kingfisher who used to pay regular visits to the tree in front of our cottage and we spent some quality time trying to capture this illusive bird.

Like all good things in life, this idlylic deary came to an end after a week and we came back to the harsh reality of hustle and bustle in our very own Mumbai.