GOA BEYOND THE BEACHES!
Why is it so difficult to think beyond the beaches of Goa? Even when I was closing my eyes a month ago and thinking of Goa, I would think of beaches too - pristine blue with golden sand and perhaps a bottle of Goa's favorite chilled beer king . However, my last trip to the land changed that. Here is my travel blog story on Goa beyond the beaches.
Goa beyond beaches - streets of Panjim
Imagine passing through a street in Goa with Portuguese houses around you, and filtering out of local Konkani and Portuguese windows. The doors of these houses are open and families are happily giving each other cake and hugs. If you are thinking that this will be a typical day in colonial Goa in 1895, think again. The old world charm of Goa is not lost, not yet. It lives in areas far from crowded beaches, drunken men shouting and checking out unlimited empty bottles of beer thrown outside. If you have seen it all, and want to see something new in Goa - discover Old Goa, explore Goa beyond the beaches, wine and trance parties.
I was in Goa for Christmas and stayed with an Indo-Polish family in an old Portuguese house. And this was probably my best trip to Goa. I went to the beach, but it was just a small part of the trip. I did so much more, things that can easily go unnoticed if you spend all your time at the beach. This is a quick guide to how you can spend the day in Goa, it is a real-life exploration, it is church in small villages, it is the iconic Portuguese house, street photography and of course, some unusual food.
Goa beyond beaches: Visit a heritage home
Goa is home to some very old heritage Portuguese houses and many of them have existed there for the last four centuries. The construction of these houses began soon after the Portuguese conquered Goa in the early 16th century and almost continued until they left in 1961.
The oldest part of the Braganza house - the living room Many pf have disappeared over the years, while only a few have stood the test and lived to tell the world their story. One such house is Braganja Perera House located in Chandor area of South Goa.
It is easiest to reach by cab. Here is the address for reference.
Menezes Braganza Perera Houseschool Bhatt, Chandor, Goa 403714
Goa beyond beaches: Divar Island
The Mandovi River flows through Goa and flows into the Arabian Sea, right next to Panjim. The river is beautiful and surrounded by dense fog of mangroves. Just before the river meets the sea, there is an island that was historically a very important part of Goa. The name of this exotic small island is Diwar. The wall in native Konkani means small.
A Portuguese Villa in Divar
Before the island became an important symbol of Catholicism, it was a major Hindu pilgrimage site. The Portuguese first targeted Brahmins on the island for conversion and this led to the rise of the Roman Catholic Brahmin community. Panjim had become the heart of Goa before the present day, with Divar Ola being the capital of Goa. It has three major churches of the Portuguese period, the most important of which is the Diwar Church.
A church in Divar island
Chapel at Divar island
I went for an architectural walk on the island, as it was famous for its old Portuguese villas, many of which still survive in pristine condition. It was Christmas day and it was very hot in the day, but we had a wonderful time exploring interesting villas with different architectural styles. I had an architect for the company, and this made the walk even more fun. I still remember exploring AlbertNew's art deco style house where we should have started walking, but only really reached the end!
The island is not connected to the mainland by a bridge, so the only way to reach it is through the ghat. The ferry ride is free and if you intend to take your car, you will have to pay a fee of Rs 10. I recommend taking a car as there is no other mode of transport within the island. Even the main city is a bit far from the ghat.
Goa beyond beaches: Portuguese houses
Once you take a little stroll in Old Goa, its homes become addictive, especially from the Portuguese era. These houses have the most beautiful colors and textures, and are very inviting as photography subjects.
A beautiful lane in Goa
The best parts for house walks and house watching are:
- Old Goa
- Numerous smaller town across the state
The best way to locate these gems is on foot, but be prepared to walk a lot. If you are in Panjim, walking can be interrupted by many coffee and cake breaks :) You can eat as much as you want because walking will digest it all anyway. You can also visit the wonderful old lady of Goa, Menezes Braganza Pereira, who actually receives visitors in her centuries old house and also gives them a visit. He is a gem of a person and if you are good, he will also give you a great account of Portuguese history in Goa :)
Museum - Houses of Goa
If you are an architecture enthusiast, I would also recommend visiting the museums - houses of Goa. The museum beautifully chronicles the history of these houses, their cultural and religious significance, the design elements and materials used, etc. The museum charges Rs 150, out of which you can later use Rs 50 for shopping at your curios shop.
Goa beyond beaches: Living with a family
It would be perfect to live with a Portuguese family in a Portuguese house, although even if you live with an Indo-Polish family in a Portuguese house, the experience is very amazing. Anant and Ania are a beautiful couple who have now made a Goa home, and they really love the place. They hosted us in a gorgeous Portuguese villa they had recently leased and our experience was nothing amazing. Add to that wonderful coffee flowing throughout the day, and delicious baked desserts all round, and I never wanted to leave Goa :)
The Portuguese villa of my hosts
We celebrated Christmas with them at a local church, where I stood outside as awkward in my shorts and little pony, while everyone else wore suits and dresses. A few eyebrows were raised, but I pretended to be a photographer and disappeared into the crowd. We also attended him at a Christmas party at our house and met some really interesting people, including Sean, who runs a popular vegetarian restaurant called xxx. More on that later.
Goa beyond beaches: Coffee and Food
Wherever I go, I always look for the best coffee in the city. Best coffee has two ingredients for me - great tasting coffee and interesting atmosphere. There are many places in Goa that offer both.
I can recommend a few here:
B. Urban cafe
C. Hotel Venite
D. Baba coffee
E. Coffee Haven
M at Urban Cafe
The balcony at Hotel Vinete in Panjim
Cafe Bodega in Panjim
While in the city, we experimented with many food types. I'll talk about just one and it will be run by Bean Me Up and Sean. It is close to Vagator Beach, but the place is really quite. Surrounded by trees all around, it creates a great atmosphere for food. As the name itself suggests, all the food served here is vegetarian. The most impressive part of the menu are the desserts that taste just like their non-vegetarian counterparts.
Goa beyond beaches: Saturday Night Markets
The story around the markets on Saturday night is interesting. About a decade ago, a German got the idea and leased land from a Goa man and started this market. When the lease ended, Goen decided to retain the market but threw the Germans out. Not to give up, he only once again started another market. Saturday night market in Arpore is his third attempt and it is certainly very good.
M shopping at Saturday Night Market
The market is very large and hence there is parking behind it. The market offers something for everyone. You can usually find the kind of stuff you can find at flea markers in Goa beaches, especially Anjuna, and also more high-end designer goods. Most designer type shops are run by foreigners and they sell items like clothes, shoes, jewelry etc. It is all quite beautiful, but it is also expensive. We also came across some interesting Indian startups like 'No Nesties', and liked their products.
No Nasties stall at Saturday Night Market
But the most interesting part for me was the food section, which is actually quite large. I spent most of my money drinking coffee, Georgian food and some more exotic desserts. A German couple also comes here every year when the market is operational (during the winter-spring tourist season) and they claim to make the best chicken in the world! Quite a long claim, but our friends agreed that it is the best, if not the best!
Shoes at sale at Saturday Night Market
As the name itself suggests, the market is held every Saturday. The gates open at 40.30 pm and the market usually runs till 3 am. Apart from eating and shopping, you can also have a party there. In the top right corner of the market is a beautiful bar with quiet people who come, drink and dance. This is a great place to chill, although there can be only limited conversation.
There is still much that can be added to the list and it will still be incomplete. But if you love water, I can recommend a waterfall in Goa, which will stop your breath - Dudhsagar will fall!