What can be said about it that has not been said countless times already? Sun, sand, surf, seafood. Yes, that's what Goa has in abundance, yet strangely I had only been there once before and that was during a depressing rainy season. Note to self, avoid Goa during the monsoons unless you enjoy being cooped up in your hotel room.
So, back to this trip.
Goa's sole airport is at Dabolim, around the mid point of the state, and this is good, because there are two types of Goa you can explore. To the north are the more popular, crowded beaches of Anjuna, Baga, Calangute and Vagator, among others. To the south are the relatively less crowded, more peaceful beaches of Colva, Agonda, Patnem and Karwar. Where you want to go to depends on what you are looking for. For nightlife, lots of restaurants and tons of people, stick to the north. For a more family friendly and peaceful time, stick to the south.
For this trip I had chosen Calangute Beach as my base. Goa is predominantly a tourism-driven state these days. Nowhere is that more evident than when you go to Trivago and try to find a place to stay. There are hundreds upon hundreds of places to choose from, from hotels to resorts to home-stays to beach shacks. And many of them are rated very well. I chose Casa De Goa, a nice small hotel near the beach.
Anyway, back to the airport. To move around in Goa most people rent two wheelers or use their own vehicles. And that is absolutely required because the taxi rates here are exorbitant. Renting a taxi from the airport to Calangute was around Rs. 2,000/-. There is a taxi mafia here who regulate the prices, and the costs of even a small trip run into the hundreds. Strangely, I did not see many auto rickshaws here.
So, after leaving the airport you will notice one thing; the utter humidity. I went in April, and was soaked by the time I reached the hotel. I can see why the winter months of November - February are most popular. The weather during the other months would be a bit too hot for many people.
I was hungry after my flight and it was evening, so it was time for dinner. Food, for me at least, is the primary reason you come to Goa. You cannot throw a stone without hitting a restaurant, and they are all very good, for the most part. Being near the sea, you come to eat seafood. The meal above consisted of crab cakes and fried fish cutlets accompanied with rice and gravy. I overindulged and definitely needed the walk back to my hotel to digest the food I had eaten.
The next day it was time for exploring the beaches. One thing I noticed in Goa is everyone has a very lazy and casual attitude, in a good way. The day starts late, not before 8 am it seems, and going to the beach early in the morning will see it mostly barren, apart from the many stray dogs roaming around. You don't see the sunrise since the ocean faces west, but the reward for that are the amazing sunsets, which we shall get to.
Calangute, Baga and Candolim are basically one long beach, around 7 kms long in my estimate, and you can walk the entire length if you want. Walking on sand is a bit more strenuous than walking on the road, so progress is to be made at a more leisurely pace. I find carrying your flip flops in your hand and walking barefoot to be most effective, as you don't kick up sand with every step.
All that walking will work up an appetite though, so back to even more delicious food.
At Baga beach you will find Brittos, a justly famous and large beach side restaurant where you dine with the sand at your feet. Cue even more indulgence, with a medley of fish, crab and pork, all wolfed down with the waves crashing in the background.
In the last picture you will have noticed a dog sleeping. And that brings me to an admiration of the stray dogs in Goa. The dogs here are very chilled and relaxed, like the people. They don't even bark and are very willing to come up and play with you, especially if you give them a little treat.
Now, its all well and good to roam around beaches and eat oneself to a stupor, but surely there must be other things to do, right? Well, yes, so for a change of pace my driver recommended a visit to a spice plantation and the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
The Tropical Spice Plantation, Kerim is on the banks of small river and for Rs. 400/- you get a tour of the plantation which includes food and a welcome drink. It is a nice place to spend a couple of hours away from the hustle and bustle of the beaches.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a Roman Catholic Basilica and one of the famous tourist attractions of Goa. While the outside seems quite barren, the interiors are quite spectacular with their ornamentation.
Most people seem to stay indoors or sleep during the afternoon, and come out during the evening sunset. This is when things really start popping off. The beach shacks start opening, the lights come on, and the sun sets over the horizon. This is the perfect time to find a shack, any shack, lay down on a comfortable hammock, and indulge in some drinks and snacks, with the sounds of the sea and the music from the shacks providing the backdrop.
For dinner I decided to walk down a few hundred metres from my shack to Souza Lobo, another famous restaurant in these parts. Cue the drinks and the freshly caught fish, with the cool sea breeze making everything taste even better. I started back to my hotel around midnight, and that's when I noticed another thing about Goa.
It is really safe here. Unlike any Indian metro you can walk late at night and not feel scared. In fact, some shops were still open at this time, as were most restaurants. I guess that is why they start the days late here, because the days end late.
I passed by countless souvenir, cashew and liquor stores on my short one kilometer walk to my hotel, which brings me to my next point, what can you buy in Goa? Well, Alcohol for one thing. The taxes in Goa are almost non-existent on liquor, so a beer which costs Rs. 100/- in Bangalore would cost half as much in Goa.
But say you don't drink, then what? Well, there are countless souvenir shops, and many of them sell the same things. Don't just buy the item you like from the first store. Explore a few more shops. You will most likely find the thing you want cheaper just a few metres down the road.
Cashews are another item which are much cheaper here than in the cities, with prices being half as much. Goa is also famous for spices, and I found a spice store and stocked up on fish curry powder, Goan garam masala and other spices. They do cost a bit more than the packed spices you find in the supermarket, but their freshness and taste are leagues above.
The days passed by in a blur of food, travel and shopping and I find myself at Dabolim Airport, waiting for my flight back to Bangalore. Would I recommend Goa for a visit? Yes, for anyone who loves the sea and relishes good seafood. If there is one phrase I would use to describe my trip and the entirety of Goa in general, it would be 'Indulge Yourself'.