Goa

The Plan

The planning for Goa was surprisingly straightforward considering the fact that most plans to the little state fail almost instantly. So the fact that everyone readily agreed at least to go on a trip in January was downright stunning. Going to Goa was my suggestion, obviously. It’d been almost 3 years since my previous vacation there and that’s two years too many. The idea spread with the expected efficiency and a three-day trip to Goa in January was decided.

A book everything now, confirm, blackmail and guilt-trip later policy was followed. Thus the return train and our homestay were booked, while the onward bus tickets would be booked later. While the initial group was 14 strong, 3 would drop out and we’d have a surprise last-minute addition bringing the grand total up to 12. Getting people to pay for their bookings and share of the trip was the next step. Legend has it that this is still ongoing.

Due to a disagreement on bus timings, it was decided to go in 2 separate buses. An 8 pm bus for those who could make it and an 11 pm bus for those who could not. The logic behind this was that we can reach early and start our exploration of Goa in the limited time we had. An idea which would prove to be fruitless at the end of the day but one can be optimistic right? With everything set now all that was left was to actually go on the trip.

Day 1: The Arrival

We left on the 18th night from Bangalore without much incident. We had one of our friends who had to, unfortunately, drop out due to commitments at work but had come to see us off anyway. He was replaced by one of the girls who was supposed to go in the 11pm bus since she could make it earlier. A small bit of confusion caused because another one of our friends couldn’t quite work out that we’d be travelling in a passenger bus that starts from the passenger terminal of the bus depot. We found him the in the cargo area with a bunch of transport vans. We left Bangalore almost on time and after a brief stop for dinner pressed on to Goa with the dull diesel drone of the bus keeping us company. While the rest of my fellow comrades on our trip decided to talk for a while, I stayed in my bunk cause I was too cool and way too lazy to bother.

A view to wake up to.

We reached Panaji, or Panjim as it’s also known, by mid-morning, which is where our affair with local Goan transport services began. There was a taxi strike that was ongoing and which would continue for the rest of our trip. Apparently, the universe decided that our planning had happened too easily and that we should have some adversity on our trip to spice things up. The universe is, of course, extremely evil and as I’ve discovered on multiple occasions, hates to see us happy and comfortable. From Panaji, we boarded a crowded, noisy little bus bound for Calangute where our homestay is located. After bouncing along at a pace that our Mughal era ancestors would consider mild, we finally landed in Calangute.

Home Sweet Homestay

We found our homestay to be secluded, peaceful, beautiful and irritatingly with the previous tenants still in the pool. After a lot of grumbling at the caretaker by both us and previous tenants, they finally vacated the house, by which time we had gotten our vehicles from the rental guy. It was a mix of 5 scooters, each with its own unique mechanical issue so that we don’t mix them up I guess. We also got one Royal Enfield, which bucked and vibrated so badly at idle it was like riding an angry horse. Thus, with stay and transport sorted we headed for breakfast.

Hey there. Want a ride.

Goa is a culinary playground, with some of the best veg and non-veg food one can ask for. South Indian, North Indian, Portuguese and traditional Goan are all options. I was particularly excited to eat seafood dishes, as these are usually of sub-par taste and over par price in Bangalore. In Goa, being a coastal area, these dishes are a tradition. It was with this variety of options that we set off for breakfast, will it be a quint shack with Goan traditional fish or a family restaurant serving a variety of veg cuisine, the options were endless. It was to my utter horror that we ended up in KFC.

A restaurant serving foreign cuisine in Goa. BMW for extra foreignness.

I ate my burger while sulking at one corner of the table. This seems to always happen on my trips now, and I think I should start to accept it, but I will not be happy about it! We picked up a friend who had come from Raichur to join our group at the last-minute and headed back to the homestay. After freshening up a little we set off back to Panjim to pick up the rest of our group. Goan roads are pretty well surfaced and maintained so riding there was fun, even if the vehicle felt like it’ll fall apart if anyone sneezed in its general direction.

We’re ready for Goa. But is Goa ready for us?

At Panaji bus stand we found the rest of our troop and after some debate decided we’ll do a little sightseeing before heading back to the homestay. Thus with luggage in tow, we set off to the Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church in Panjim. After going around in circles cause our navigator didn’t realise go straight meant don’t turn right, we found ourselves at the church. It’s an imposing white structure in the centre of the city and is definitely worth a visit. There are hawkers selling candles you can put in certain areas of the church as offerings. Unfortunately for us, the church was closed when we arrived. After the mandatory photo shoot, we headed for lunch.

The other side to Goa. Imposing and Impressive.

Our lunch was at a Kamat pure veg restaurant. At this point, I had given up and just went with it. The food was excellent but nothing special. Overall it was enjoyable. After lunch, we headed back to the homestay to freshen up. A process we optimistically thought would take 30 – 60 min and actually ended up taking more than 2 hours. This caused a bit of grumbling a change of plan. It was decided that we will push the beach and parasailing plan to the next day and would instead go to the Dona Paula view-point in Panjim and maybe get onto a river cruise if we could manage it. With this in mind, we set off to Panjim for a 3rd time that day.

A view of Vasco Port obscured by 4 sleepy idiots.

After a bit of confusion due to the fact that Dona Paula is both the name of the viewpoint and a nearby residential area we finally found our way there. The place has a market that was in the process of shutting down as it was already dark and a viewpoint from which you can see the Vasco Da Gama port. It was a pretty serene place and good hangout spot, even if it was slightly empty. But then again a lack of crowds is not something I would ever complain about. We proceeded with the customary photo shoot.

The pose is always on point when the point of the pose is to point. Lame description? Yes, that’s the point.

 

The entire bunch of idiots.

On the way back we stopped at Miramar Beach in Vasco, just to explore and eat the street food there. While we did attempt to get on a cruise after the beach everything was already closed for the night. The ride back was relaxed with the group splitting up slightly but still reaching on time. The Roads were empty and well surfaced and were a joy to ride on. We finally reached the resort by around 10 pm and had the dinner we had delivered to us.

What followed next is the stuff of Goa stories. It may have involved alcohol and a lot of drunk yelling and talk. It may have been caused by Tequila shots which were unwittingly made from a bottle of Gin. Drunk talk of everything from love and life to the stock market and bus schedules may have been involved. There may have even been a case where I was given the drunken order to read this blog without recognising the fact that I’m its author!! I may have also been punched in retribution for the crimes of oblivious guys everywhere. Did all this actually happen? Am I making it up as a cool Goa story? Who knows. What happens in Goa stays in Goa after all.

Day 2: Beachin’

The following day began late as usual, though we did manage to get ready a lot faster than before. We had ordered idly for breakfast which we had in the homestay and stopped at a nearby restaurant as well for good measure. Our destination for the day was Chapora fort, one of the 2 major forts in the area, the other being Aguada fort which we had visited the last time we had come here from college. The ride to the fort is pretty scenic if a little hot at 11 in the morning.

Guarding the entrance to the fort.

The fort itself is an old ruin on a hill overlooking the point where the Chapora river meets the sea. It’s a bit of climb from the parking area made even worse by the hot afternoon sun. We did slowly trudge up stopping for photos on the way. The dusty path is an easy climb but can be slippery especially during rains so caution is advised. The fort itself is barely there except for a small stump of the perimeter wall. It’s a good spot for photos with nice views of Vagator beach and the sea.

A seat with a view.

There are a few outcrops of land from the fort, one of which seemed to lead down to the beach. But it was too hot and all of us except one overly energetic idiot was too lazy to bother exploring it. After spending some time and taking a lot of photos in ever weirder poses we finally started making our way back down. We had to take a call if we should immediately take up watersports at Vagator beach, which we weren’t prepared for or go back to the homestay and then go to Baga beach. The latter was chosen which in hindsight wasted a lot of time but then again going directly while in jeans and shoes had a high chance of ending badly so it was the right decision to take.

Unwitting vanguards.

We had lunch at a restaurant on the way to Baga beach. Prawn biryani and fish fry was my choice of lunch. Finally, a choice of seafood. It wasn’t great by goa standards but at that point, I honestly didn’t care and it was definitely better than KFC anyway. It was already late afternoon so we rushed to the beach as quickly as we could. After parking and a long walk along the moderately crowded beach, we reach the shack where the games were being organised and began hectic discussions about what all we wanted to play and how much we were willing to pay for it.

In the end, it was decided that a majority of the group would go for the Banana boat and parasailing while two of us, including me, would only go for the parasailing. There was also jet skies and a paddleboard kinda thing which is dragged behind the jet skies, the name of which I don’t recall. We were given a little chit and were told to keep it safe since it wasn’t waterproof and without it, we wouldn’t be allowed onto the rides, especially parasailing. It was given to me for safekeeping while the others prepared for the banana boat. Me, being the ever alert and brilliant person I completely forget about it and dived into the ocean for a swim five minutes later.

Beachin’

Banana boats, as the name suggest, are banana-shaped boats. They are towed by a motorboat a little into the sea before the motorboat takes a sharp turn causing the banana boat to capsize. Everyone on it is thrown into the sea where you splash around for a bit before being dragged back onto the boat where you’ll be towed back onto the shore and promptly dumped in the shallow beach water in the same fashion. The boat rides itself is quite fun. Peoples reaction to being thrown into the sea is amazing fun! This times episode involved people refusing to let go of the boat when it capsized, as they didn’t seem to grasp that the life jackets they were wearing would keep them afloat. I’ve also seen a case where a friend didn’t realise they have dropped us off at the knee-deep water of the beach and was flopping around in the water and calling for help while the rest of us basically stood next to her trying to work out what she was doing.

There’s also jet skiing which is a fun activity to try. The usual fare is you going for a ride with an instructor controlling the ski. If you want the controls they’ll give it to you provided you cough up enough cash. While it is fun, you will want to protect your teeth as you tend to slam into the handlebars if you hit a particularly large wave. So be prepared to get a bloody lip if the sea doesn’t quite agree with you that day. The other attraction whose name I still can’t recall involves sitting on a paddle board and being towed along behind a jet ski. It’s pretty similar to a banana boat but a little more intimate.

Some quietly contemplated, others yelled in joy, he danced.

It was after everything else that we began the main attraction, parasailing. We gave the guy on the boat the chit that had thankfully survived, after which we were taken out to sea and transferred to a bigger boat which had the sail. We then lined up to take turns parasailing while the rest of the group cheered and took photos and videos. Since I had done it before and wanted pictures while the sun was still up, I went first. With a slight tug as the sail bellowed out, I was dragged back into the water before soaring into the air.

Parasailing is something I recommend to anyone willing to try it. As someone who has a fear of heights, I was apprehensive about it the first time I tried, but it is surprisingly peaceful. Once you’re in the air it’s tranquil, giving one time to think and appreciate the sunset. It’s quite addicting. Of course, it’s pretty short-lived since we had opted for parasailing with dip. Which basically meant you’ll be dunked in the ocean halfway through the activity. It was amazing fun. After I finished my turn everyone else went in quick succession with everyone finishing before sunset.

Swimming with them fancy fishes.

 

The end of an epic day.

We headed back to the beach after this, though not before a quick dip in the sea, for a small fee of course. After hours playing in the water, we finally began our journey back to the homestay. This was delayed somewhat due to mixup regarding vehicle keys, another feature of our Goa trips. After freshening up we were back on the beach for dinner and a night of dance. With a lot of Bollywood with some Tamil sprinkled in the music was decent as was the food. It was here that I learnt an important life lesson. We ordered the seasonal fish at the shack. While the dish was awesome, the cost was not mentioned and we just accepted it, even thought of buying another one. That dish finally cost us 2000 rupees.

Colourful shacks with even more colourful patrons.

With heavy stomachs and light wallets, we headed back to the homestay. After a relatively tame night of talking, we finally crashed for our final night in Goa.

Day 3: The departure

The next day we were up relatively early, at least for us. We had to be since the taxi strike was still ongoing and we had to take a public bus to Vasco Da Gama in order to catch our 3pm train back home. While some of us stayed back to pack and sort things out the rest went walking to some nearby shops for souvenir shopping. Some even decided to spend the morning playing in the pool. Breakfast was idly and dosa which we ordered with the homestay caretaker. We also returned the two-wheelers in almost the same sad state we got them in. The new tenants did arrive before we left and decided to rather awkwardly take pictures of the house without realising that we had left our wet clothes out to dry on the chairs on the front lawn. It was a weird morning overall.

Leaving it as we got it. Green and somewhat clean.

We were finally ready by around 11:30 am and with bags and souvenirs in hand we walked to the main road and boarded a crowded, slow, bouncy bus back into Panjim. We parted ways with our Raichur friend who boarded a bus here bound for home. We instead went to the Kadamba transport side of the bus stand in order to get a connecting bus to Vasco. Kadamba is the name of the state-run transport service in Goa, which offers both intrastate and well as interstate bus services. They have a shuttle service to Vasco and to Madgaon from Panjim which goes from city bus stand to city bus stand with no stops in between. The fares were pretty reasonable too. The service is also run to the airport at select times. We bought our tickets and settled into the partially full bus.

Zuari bridge, as seen from my bus window.

We were in Vasco with about 90 minutes to spare. After walking around a bit we finally found a hotel for lunch near the railway station. The bus stand and railway station are less than 150m from each other which is very convenient. Vasco is more of an industrial port and isn’t as tourist full as the rest of the state. It is also the terminating point for the South Western railway line from Hubli into Goa. After lunch, we walked into the station and found our train.

Farewell Goa

There was a little confusion regarding where our coach was since we had booked what Indian Railways calls a ‘Slip’ train. It’s basically a few coaches attached to the end of a train bound for a different destination. The coaches are detached from one train and attached to another at particular stations until they reach their destination. Thus we found our coach attached to a train bound for New Delhi. We boarded and settled in for the journey home.

The slow climb through Braganza Ghat.

 

Dudhsagar waterfall without a lot of water.

The train left on time and slowly made its way through the beautiful Braganza Ghats passing in front of the Dudhsagar waterfall which thankfully had some water at the time. We reached the railway town of Londa where our coaches were decoupled from the rest of the train which continued on its way to Delhi. We waited here a few hours for our connecting train to arrive, munching on whatever snacks the platform vendors had to offer. We also had some policemen come and check our bags for alcohol bottles which they didn’t find. While one is allowed to carry alcohol out of Goa, you are allowed only two bottles per person with bills, anything more will be taxed. This is to stop people from buying booze in Goa cheap, in bulk, and then bringing it to Karnataka where it is far more expensive.

The stakes? high. The pressure? building. The outcome? Unknown. Hotel? Trivago.

The connecting train finally arrived and our 3 coaches were coupled to it. A process which caused a lot of confusion as the coaches were moved from the platform they were on to the platform the train had arrived on without warning, cause a lot of people to chase after it thinking it was leaving. We bought dinner at Hubli and played some games before deciding to head to bed. But not before a remarkably awkward scene where a friend decided to change at our berths using a towel since the toilets weren’t clean resulting in the train conductor or TTE almost catching him with his pants down. Finally, as we neared Bangalore and the temperature dropped we realised we were short on blankets, so the same friend, in his best moment of chivalry, stole my blanket and gave it to one of the girls. Needless to say, it was a cold night.

We reached Bangalore almost on time and after an impromptu plan booked the required taxis, said our goodbyes and headed home, bringing another successful and rather relaxed trip to an end.

Conclusion

Goa is always a good idea if a little hard to actually implement as most plans to there seem to be jinxed to fail. It’s a little state with something for everyone from the hard partier, gambler or beach bum to the architecture buff, nature lover or those looking for a bit of a religious experience. Having a lot more than just the beaches and the booze with a lot of greenery, churches and temples to see. It’s dotted with colonial-era building and ruins to explore and has generally very friendly locals provided you don’t annoy them by being too loud or rowdy.

It’s a foodie’s paradise with all kinds of cuisine. The alcohol is free following too so one can have one’s poison of choice. A recommendation here is to keep shacks to a minimal as they tend to be expensive. You’ll get better and cheaper food and booze slightly inland in the towns. Also, a lot of the places close by 9 pm so if you want to buy alcohol late at night you’re not going to get it. Drunk driving is a big no and there are cops at all the beaches and watering holes looking to swiftly separate you from your money and license. So drink responsibly.

While there are a few flea markets they tend to be touristy and expensive though you can get really good deals if you bargain. A hired scooter or bike is the best way to see the state as the roads are generally very good, though your vehicles may not be. It’s a lot of fun travelling from place to place with the wind in your face through a suntan or in my unfortunate case a sunburn is inevitable. The watersports are also a favourite of mine and worth checking out.

It’s a little state I have a lot of history with and some of my family still reside there. It’s a place to come to relax, to experience new things or visit the past or both depending on one’s preference. It’s a lot of things to a lot of people and is the source of many a tale of that legendary party or that epic fling we’ve all heard and laughed at. It’s a state I’ve visited many times before with family and with friends and it’s a place I’ll be returning too pretty often.

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