A chance visit to Goa occurred this monsoon, as we had to suddenly go there to attend a networking event. Normally, we choose to stay only in the Baga beach area (at a small boutique hotel called Cavala) in northern Goa.
Photo from Flickr
But, this time around, we had no choice as the conference venue was the Holiday Inn, which is located on Mobor beach in southern Goa. South Goa is often perceived as a place for a quiet holiday, which is not what all visitors to Goa may be looking for! So we were excited to be going to Goa but were also plotting ways to head out towards Panaji and, if possible, even further to the action spots in North Goa around the Candolim-Calangute– Baga stretch. Since we had two kids accompanying us, we did want to move around and not get stuck by the rain in a desolated spot. As it happened, we never left south Goa on this trip which turned out to be great as we discovered the charms of idyllic south Goa!
South Goa is quieter than north Goa. Even though we were visiting this part after many years, during the hour-long bus journey from the airport to the hotel, we encountered virtually no traffic. The journey was very beautiful – though you cannot see the beaches which lie alongside the route, the lush greenery, with coconut trees providing an overhang, is a constant companion. Small villages appear unobtrusively along the route where the paddy fields end, many of them providing fleeting glimpses of old homes of the Portuguese style and pristine white churches, but here too — in true Goan style — there is virtually nothing happening. This seems to be picture perfect!
There is little sign of the mad development that engulfs the northern Goa stretch. Every now and then one sees roadside restaurants and bars, one or two of them with a name similar to the famous Tito’s (on Baga beach, obviously). These bars are a great place to pick up the coconut or cashew feni, rather than buying the bottled variety from the liquor shops. The restaurants serve authentic Goan food, with all the pork and seafood varieties that you can imagine.
The Holiday Inn provided good value-for-money even though it can never come close to the opulence of the Leela (which we have visited and enjoyed previously). The Leela is, of course, set amid 30 hectares of luxury and has its own 12-hole golf course and upmarket restaurants including the Riverside, on the banks of the River Sal, which serves Italian food. But if you are just looking for some fresh sea breeze and salty sea water to bathe in, then one can definitely have a good holiday in Goa, including South Goa – unlike other beach getaways like Phuket and Bali you don’t have to necessarily stay in luxury property to have a great holiday here.
The Holiday Inn does not have independent villas, like in the neighboring The Leela Beach – which we discovered is still Goa’s elite property (the distance from the airport helps!). Both the hotels share Mobor beach, as well as properties which lie on the other side of the road (and not on the beach) like the The Byke Old Anchor and Haathi Mahal, which would be cheaper options for those looking for bargains.
The beach was understandably empty due to the monsoon but on a clear morning we saw fishermen hurry out to sea and then return with their plentiful catch — this is a sight you are unlikely to see anymore in the Calangute area or even Colva beach which is the most popular tourist spot in south Goa (made famous by the hippies who flocked there during the 1970s). There was also a sprinkling of hawkers, moving around on Kinetic Honda auto-start scooters – which can be handy when the sudden bursts of rain make it imperative to rush away!
Photo from Flickr
Further south from Mobor, a trip across the Sal on a passenger ferry will take you to Agonda Beach – which is a favorite destination for the select tourists who favor seclusion and of course is visited too by generations of endangered Olive Ridley turtles (who visit in November). Goa’s beach development largely ends a bit further down at Patnem. South from here is Galgibag where sea eagles, dolphins and marine turtles are the only inhabitants that you are likely to find and then there is Palolem, Goa’s southernmost beach. Goa’s stretch of southern coast running from Betul down to Palolem in the very south, is a beach-lover’s dream of golden sands and gentle surf.
Only a handful of Goa coastal water sports were on offer along the Sal River – nothing very much on the sea, because the beaches too wear the perennial red flag, signifying that one should not dare to swim or venture out to sea. The water sports along the Sal include: jet ski and speedboat rides, including water skiing, banana and bump rides.
The tourist shops along the main road connecting to the airport are mostly closed or undergoing renovations. However, you will find some shops for all your purchase. And, the pleasant thing is that the off-season discounts will also be made available here! So whether you are buying beach wear, footwear, or Goan souvenirs and trinkets, you can be sure of a good deal – if you know how to drive a hard bargain. For wine, the local port wine from Vinicola is a must buy — even though it is so sweet – and this is available at every shop.
A well traveled former colleague from Switzerland once told me that Kerala in the monsoon is unbeatable – he had spent three days in a house boat accompanied by torrential rainfall. I like rain too, but just the way it was on this trip – with the rain letting up when we wanted to explore the picturesque environs and then continuing to rain so that there was no humidity in the air!
We didn’t miss the frenzied nightlife that is what we know of Goa in the north of it – instead we had early morning walks on the beach which were a glorious part of life that one can only experience if one gets to sleep on time (which we did). So it was that in the mornings, I found myself humming the lines from Rajesh Khanna’s superhit movie, Anand, “Zindagi kaisi hai paheli…” which had been shown on Air India’s entertainment system on our flight here.
I now believe that South Goa is the place to be if you want to experience Goa in the monsoon – and when it’s ‘season’ again I’ll be sure to head back to North Goa.