It did not rain the next day or the day after. Luckily in spite of Phailan cyclone warning, on the western coast of India, the sun shone brightly from clear sky. My drive to South Goa however was not as pleasant and the biggest mistake was hiring a non ac Maruti Omni taxi for the transfer. Maruti Omnis are perhaps the ugliest and most uncomfortable cars in the world and had I had my way, all of those box like torturous contraptions would have been sent to the scrapyard. The hard springy seats gave me a sore bottom and terrible shock absorbers coupled with bad roads made my teeth chatter non stop. South Goa is less developed than its northern counterpart and on that hot muggy day, too much traffic choked its narrow streets.
The usual emerald tangle of vegetation continued deep into the south Goan countryside and patches of ponds shimmered among rice fields and meadows. Masses of water lilies crowded in them and wild dry grass coloured the blood red land with different shades of yellow. Popular with backpackers, upstate clientele and elderly foreign crowd, south Goa has some of the prettiest beaches in the state along with lush coconut plantations and green undulating hills. Benaulim, Palolem, Agonda, Colva and Patnem are the most famous beaches and the region has the lovely Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary. The 2nd largest Goan city of Margao is the commercial center of South Goa while the old towns of Quepem and Chandor has some exceptionally lovely old Portuguese heritage mansions.
The less known Khola Beach arrived first after leaving Margao and I made a quick photo stop there. Difficult to access and very isolated, Khola beach had a lovely hidden lagoon, romantic beach tents and a warm rolling sea. A steep downhill drive along wild flower filled slopes took me to a forest from where another 10 minutes of hiking finally brought me to the lagoon. It was undoubtedly very beautiful and I lunched there on a wicker table by the still green water of the shallow lagoon. The food was mediocre and overpriced as expected in an isolated spot, but that seemed trivial in comparison to the incredible surrounding beauty. I was very tempted to stay there but the postcard perfect white sands of Palolem beckoned.
The unique beauty of Khola is created by a portion of a fast flowing river which gets caught on the beach before tumbling out into the sea. The water pools into a deep green shallow lagoon right next to the mouth of the river and the cold freshwater body sits right next to the dashing sea. The empty clean golden beach curved lithely into a bite sized bay and dense fringe of coconut palms made it most idyllic. It was one of the most beautiful beaches I had ever seen, but after days of north Goa solitude, I longed for some company and crowd. Palolem came soon and in contrast to Khola turned out to be a huge disappointment. Over developed, over crowded and teeming with hustlers, it was a commercial hell hole and although very pretty, I desperately wanted to escape from there.
Bad accommodations demanded outrageous prices and there were way too many souvenir shops, restaurants and beach shacks hustling aggressively for attention. A few beach huts lay scattered further down but they were either under renovation or absolutely filthy. Disappointed I turned to the nearby Agonda beach and it was beautiful, quiet and just perfect. A predominantly Catholic small fishing village, Agonda was as relaxing and intrepid as it could get. Hardly 40 houses made up the village and apart from 2 resorts, family run guesthouses offered cheap clean accommodation options. A few beach huts clustered at one end and although there were no swaying palms, the surrounding green hills and forests were absolutely enticing. I stayed at the Agonda H20 Beach Resort and chose a bungalow facing the sea. It was a wooden stilted modest sized hut which came with a 4 poster bed and outdoor shower.
At a negotiated 5,000 INR (95 USD) it was not a very pocket friendly option but the resort’s billowing sequined Bedouin tent like seating areas and moonstone coloured sea floored me at first sight and I shelled out a hefty amount for a few days of luxurious peace. My Agonda days were absolutely relaxing and I completely retreated into my shell. I met no one, cut off all forms of communications and spent my days happily with only books, music and thoughts. My best moments were spent staring at the lime green ocean, which deepened with the position of the sun and at nights studying the constellations. Millions of stars crowded the huge open sky and there was no greater joy than counting them till late into the night comfortably from my wind blown bed. For once, the solitude and isolation made the celestial bodies seem to belong only to me and they never felt so personal before.
The isolation however came with a price and underdeveloped Agonda hardly had any facilities to offer. The village had only 1 ATM, 2 taxis and a handful restaurants which offered 1 or 2 kinds of cuisine. The resort’s food was atrocious in both price and taste and the Thali and Dosa Place restaurant became my only dining haunt. It served wholesome breakfasts and awesome fish/chicken and vegetarian thalis at unbelievably cheap prices. I stayed put in my resort for most of my south Goa days and eased away time with sparkling sea, fish scale clouds scattered peachy sunsets and mojitos. Palolem drew me out of my retreat once and the beach was as beautiful as advertised.
The soft white sand was firm under my feet and the beach in spite of being so popular, was very clean. Coconut palms bordered thickly, their jagged fronds spiking the Goan skyline and rocky headlands calmed the sea before it hit the shores. Perfect for swimming and children, the beach was pretty broad too and on one end, thick forests crept over the huge boulders. I walked the entire length of Palolem beach that evening and climbed over the rocky outcrops to catch the sunset. Sea weeds and barnacles clung to the boulders and slugs moved about in shallow tidal leftovers. Catamarans and fishing boats bobbed gently and domestic tourists frolicked fully dressed among the splashing waves. Orange and yellow crabs scuttled around like multi coloured mobile flowers and happy visitors returned merrily from Dolphin and Honeymoon island boat rides. A few jungle camps smoked in a distance and across the headland, sun set over the adjoining Patnem beach. It was paradisaical in real sense and made a perfect ending of my Goa trip.
The sun dipped too low and dark blue shadows extended ominously blurring the edges of the rocks. I left the forested end of the beach behind and craving for some company, headed towards the Draupadi Restaurant. It was a terrific place, right on the beach and had a lively crowd and great music. Pinacoladas and grilled fish fillet accompanied the violet twilight and for once I enjoyed the crowd at the restaurant. It was my last day in Goa and a huge yellow disc of a moon rose as I rode back towards Agonda. Even after so many visits, I was yet to come to terms with Goa’s lush greenery and found its fragrant sappy breeze absolutely heavenly. My train back to Delhi was from Panjim very early the next morning and I went to bed soon with creamy moonbeams streaming on my face. With so much of Goan peace and relaxed beauty, Delhi seemed like another monstrous planet and I wished that my sojourn never ended.
RESPONSIBLE TRAVELING-BECAUSE I CARE.