Dear Goa

It took me 4 trips over 27 years to come close to understanding what people say about you.

It is said that you are not just a destination or a place, but a state of mind. Rarely a day goes by without coming across a write-up about you in a newspaper or a magazine or a blog. Many of these write-ups are so gushy that it is almost embarrassing to read them. But it does reveal one thing: it was love at first visit and an almost instant attainment of that “Goa” state of mind for those who wrote the articles.

Goa, Colva Beach, TravelNot for me though. I visited you 4 times between 1986 and 2013, and you have always been a destination for me, and memorable for all the wrong reasons (for the first 3 trips, at least). I wasn’t impressed with you after the first trip or the second or the third trip… As for the fourth trip, we’ll come to that a little later. Let me tell you a little bit about the first three trips.

The first trip was organised by my school in December 1986. It was a road trip and I was one of the 90-odd students who travelled in 2 MSRTC buses from Pune to Goa. My recollections of that trip are largely of motion sick co-travellers and vomit all over the bus; smell of fish, wherever we went in Goa (yeah, I’m a vegetarian); a blur of church and beach visits, each one indistinguishable from the other; diarrhoea and the hunt for public toilets with water… It was a poorly organised trip and I know that you were not entirely to blame, but… I didn’t take to you at all.

The second trip happened four years later in December 1990, a mandatory field trip in my third year of college as part fulfillment for a BSc in Geology. This time I travelled by train with 20-odd classmates and 3 teachers.

Goa, Field trip
Somewhere in Goa at the start of our field trip in December 1990

My memories from that trip revolve around some of my male classmates sneaking off in the middle of field work to take in some touristy stuff (Read: running off to the nearest beach to ogle at bikini-clad international tourists) and my teachers forever going in search of them; another confusing round of beaches and churches; and hunt for reasonably priced vegetarian food. In fact, the last one is the most enduring memory considering that my food budget was approximately Rs.50/- per day and a plate of dal and rice would cost Rs.40/- (A plate of fish curry and rice was cheaper at Rs.10/-) ! No, Goa, I still didn’t warm up to you. You didn’t give me any reason to.

Let us now travel to January 1995 when I visited you for the third time. This was an official trip; in fact, it was my first ever solo official trip. I used to work for a publisher then and I was sent to Goa to promote our line of Konkani books in select schools there. There was only one problem: I didn’t know the language.

I don’t need to tell you what a nightmarish time I had travelling from school to school attempting to sell Konkani books to bemused and amused Konkani language teachers without speaking a word of that language. And the search for vegetarian food continued, though admittedly it wasn’t as bad as it had been in 1990.The one huge positive of this trip was the journey — I travelled by sea from Mumbai to Goa and back on the now defunct Damania Catamaran Services.

After the 1995 trip, I pretty much ignored you. When I went on an almost month-long hop on, hop off trip along the western coast of India in 1998, I pretended you didn’t exist and jumped straight to Karwar (in Karnataka) from Ratnagiri (Maharashtra). Any meetings, conferences, reunions, etc. in Goa was passed over or declined or ignored.

Fast forward to 2013 to my fourth visit and after a gap of 18 years. There was an important consultation in Goa and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t persuade the organiser to shift it elsewhere. This time I travelled by air. If anyone had noticed me on that November evening in 2013 at the Dabholim airport, they would have seen a glum and resigned look on my face, instead of the excited “yay-I’m-in-Goa” expression that most people arriving in Goa have.

Four days later, I was back at the airport to board the plane that would take me to home to Mumbai. I had a glum and resigned look on that day as well, but for different reasons. For the first time, I had enjoyed a trip to Goa and and I was returning home with the realisation that I was going to miss you.

To be honest, I didn’t expect to have a good time (there was just too much past history), but I did. Presenting a sneak peek at what I did (detailed posts coming up soon).

Spent time at the Beach: Just an ordinary day at the beach with some not so ordinary companions !

Goa, Colva Beach, Unusual beach companions, Working vacation

Worked hard at Souza Cafe, Colva. This is where the consultation I came for happened and a lot of the Cafe’s excellent and incredibly cheap sandwiches, rolls and coffee got consumed.

Goa, Colva, Souza Cafe, TravelSaw many churches, none of which blurred or merged into one another. I still remember their names and individual details after 9 months ! 🙂

Goa, Old Goa, Travel. Se Cathedral, Indo-Portuguese church
The front facade of the Se Cathedral, Old Goa
Dear Goa 7
Detail from the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, Old Goa
Dear Goa 6
Steps leading up to the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception at Panaji

Visited a couple of graveyards, but only during the daytime !

Goa, Aldona Cemetery, Travel
The graveyard at Aldona

Dropped into the Museum of Christian Art. What can I say. I love museums and I loved this Museum’s collection.

Goa, Travel, Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa
A rare representation of the Holy Trinity in Christianity

Drove to the other side of Goa to see a temple in the heart of a forest. I visited the Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla, which is located within the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary followed by a long walk in the forest.

Goa, Travel, Ponda, Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary
The Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla
Goa, Travel, Ponda, Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary
Inside the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary

Got lost in Fontainhas. Not literally, but in the beautiful and colourful houses in that area…

Goa, Fontainhas, Panaji, Travel

Spent an Afternoon in Aldona, exploring the smallest fort I’ve been to and cruising the backwaters there.

Goa, Aldona Fort, Aldona, North Goa
The ruins of the Corjuem Fort near Aldona
Goa, Aldona, Backwaters, North Goa
The backwaters of Aldona

Wondered at signs like these. Why? Oh why do you have signs like these? And so many of them too. 😦

Goa, Bias for foreigners, travel

There are other memories too like dinner at Baga Beach under psychedelic lights, giving directions to our direction-challenged car driver, my first stay in a service apartment, long walks, some delicious meals… and a growing feeling that I needed to come back again and again.

Initially, I did wonder about what was so different about this trip that I changed my mind about you. Was it because I’m older and (ahem) wiser, and maybe you too? Was it because I had changed and you had too? Was it because I was in charge of the trip where I decided when to work and when to play? Or was it because…After a point, I asked myself whether a reason and an analysis was really necessary and if I couldn’t just enjoy the moment, in this case the trip !

And that was it. While you have not yet become a state of mind for me, you are definitely the State on my mind, and I can’t wait to visit you again. And on that note, have you realised that I’m probably the only person you know who has travelled to your state by four different means of transport?

Tell me, are you surprised or shocked at my turnaround  Or just smug with the knowledge that you knew I would join the legions of your fans eventually? 😉

Love,

Sudha

41 thoughts on “Dear Goa

    1. Thanks, Nutsure. I don’t think I will be writing about the Goan food even though most people rave about it – for one it is largely non-vegetarian and I’m vegetarian, and the veg food has coconut, which I don’t like. The veg food I have had in Goa has been non-Goan veg food. So…

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    1. Thanks, Bhavana. Like any other place, Goa has a lot to offer and like any other place it depends on how you take it. I have always found Goa to be beautiful place, but it never appealed to me for the reasons I mentioned in the post. But time and different experiences do help in changing perspectives. That’s what my 4th trip was all about. 🙂

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  1. Lovely post once again!

    I know how difficult it is to find vegetarian food in Goa. Only after numerous trips to Goa now we have figured out where we can get decent veg food in main areas of Goa. I also hate the tea that we get there.

    You traveled by Sea from Mumbai to Goa. I am jealous of you!

    As for the only foreigners board. I have seen similar ones for flats here in Pune – Koregaon Park. Talk of discrimination and this time we can’t blame the British!

    Nonetheless, Goa has its charm and makes you want to go there again and again. I didn’t know of Tambda Surli temple. On my list now. Will check it out when I go to Goa next time. You also seem to have found rare company for a beach. I’ll see if I can find on off those in my next trip too 😛

    Btw I think I can recognize you in the 1990 Photo. You sure have a lot of memories and covered the length and breadth of Goa in those four trips. Also, I love the Souza Cafe walls. The walls remind me of a cafe from Mumbai. I don’t remember the name but it is probably in Bandra or Colaba.

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    1. Sapna, so glad to find someone who agrees about the vegetarian food. Most people I meet just tell me that I haven’t looked hard enough ! 😦 But compared to the 1990 visit and the 2013 one, the options for veg food was much better and cheaper than what I remembered.

      When was in college in Pune, we used to remark that one needed a passport to even enter Koregaon Park. Believe me, it was worse then. Discrimination has only changed forms today.

      I suppose Goa was always charming; that charm however got through to me only now. 😉

      PS: Watch out for my forthcoming posts on the 4th Goa trip. There will be more details on the Tambdi Surla Temple and much more.

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  2. Lovely post, Sudha!

    I have visited Goa twice, and enjoyed it both times. The first time, we visited only a few beaches and churches and got super confused. The next time, this February, we explored a bit of the place on our own, and were enchanted. Goa is not a ‘state of mind’ for us either, but we love the place. We would definitely love to go back there to explore more and know more of its hidden gems.

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    1. Thank God that somebody else also got confused with the churches and the beaches. I thought I was the only one. I think the trick is do only some at a time and at a relaxed pace. So, when are you planning to back to Goa?

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    1. I completely agree with you. Even though, I visited only a few places in Goa this time, they were scattered all over Goa – east, west, north, south – as you will see in my forthcoming posts. When I go back next time, I’d like to concentrate on this one part of Goa and experience it well.

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    1. I think the charm of Goa, for a city person like me, lies in the relaxed pace of life, the siestas and the vistas… Having said that, being from Mumbai, every place I visit definitely has a slower pace 🙂

      Do watch out for my forthcoming posts, where there will be more details on the places I visited.

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    1. Welcome here, Photo Journey, and thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. Glad you liked it.

      The Mumbai to Goa sea journey took about 8 hours by the Damania Catamaran services and was very posh. The first class was on the upper deck and the economy on the lower deck. There were sea hosts and hostesses and breakfast and lunch served on board. Lots of games and music and I remember winning a T-shirt. 🙂

      The journey was the best part of the trip.

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  3. first of all by sea WOWOW.. and i loved the 1990 picture .. reminded me of my school days .. those are some lovely pictures mam.

    I have never been to Goa and i so want to go there ..

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    1. Thanks, Bikram. You should definitely visit Goa and then share your trip with me. I like the college picture too and of some wonderful memories associated with some people in the photo.

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    2. As an aside, not many people were even aware that there was a hovercraft service between Surat and Bhavnagar in the early 1990s, which reduced travel time from 8-10hrs (by road in those years) to just 3hrs. My journey from Bhavnagar to Mumbai (hovercraft+train) took exactly 6.5hrs. It is pity that we have not been able to leverage the potential of sea transport.

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  4. Its hard to like a place if the food doesn’t agree with you. I had a similar experience in 2000-2001. Decent vegetarian restaurants were hard to find, and the staff at ‘veg,non-veg’ joints would treat you with utter contempt if you enquired about vegetarian food. While we survived on bread-butter, fruits and biscuits our cab-driver gorged on his fish and chicken meals…. paid for by us, of course! I hear that Goa has become a more welcoming place for vegetarians. Of the beaches, I loved Benelem the most. It was late December and close to the New Year. The other beaches were crowded and, overall, it was an unmemorable experience. Perhaps Goa deserves another chance.

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  5. I know why you never took to Goa till your last one — your mode of travel. And you blamed the poor state for not taking to it! This series has been a long time coming. Looking forward to it. And you look great in that group photo 🙂

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    1. I don’t think you read my post, if you say that my mode of travel was to blame for my feelings towards Goa 😛 😉

      Thanks. I love that photo too. It shows a happy, confident bunch at the beginning of the field trip. The after the field trip pictures is very very different 😉

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  6. wow! can so understand why u didnt take to goa at first! my first trip there was like yours… i was sick and the churches and beaches blurred into each other and i wondered what i was doing there. but the second trip was so much fun… and the third was truly memorable. now for a fourth to catch up with you… and this time will try out the other offbeat options…

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  7. I enjoyed the photo essay. Brought back memories of my several memorable and not so memorable trips to Goa. Being a Mangalorean, I just could not wait to go to Mangalore – her beaches were much more beautiful and fewer people.
    With my later visits, I have come to understand that the Goan charm is insidious, the churches awe inspiring and well maintained; the lovely colourful Portuguese cottages with their old world charm; speaking about vegetarian food – I visited a beautiful spice farm and they served some amazing vegetarian fare – there was no non-vegetarian fare on the menu!

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  8. nice post. whenever i think of Goa the first thing i can view is beach but this post changed it. i am admired by the historical buildings and sculptures

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  9. Oh! Memories of Goa .. ? On a Bike (1990, 1991?) from Bangalore to Goa and back – 7 days – 5 Bikes – two of us couples and 5 bachelors .. first touchdown in Goa – at Colva – my first taste of Cold Coffee – it still lingers. Then Calangute .. a cruise on Mandovi in the Night Breeze .. to foot tapping Goan (portugese ?) beat and dance. Was Good.

    Sudhagee .. Your writing is fun and lovely .. pics beautiful !

    I returned with family on an almost free 7day Royal Resorts Offer for 7 Days in Oct 2006 ! at Royal Palms, Benaulim ! with our own kitchen to cook. I try to club places to take in more – for the first time I took it leisurely .. a ride on the sea on the Dolphin Trail – yes there were many – and one did the Typical jumps and loops. Four of us riding around on a rented Kinetic Honda! (kids aged 12) .. I loved the shady roads and litter free rustic surrounds and easy, friendly and casual pace of life. Another Day a smatter of Beaches .. some junky .. some clean .. had the white sands of Majorda all to ourselves for a while. And then washed the salt away under the refreshing Keserval Springs – had it all to ourselves again (as few know about it!).

    The Keserval Springs are a surprise .. it is just off the main road .. the terrain looks flat .. you follow the signboard and hardly a 100 meters away you discover a Valley – and the Spring oozing out as small fall(s) out of porous rock !

    Another Day for the Churches and Charm of Velha Goa .. some in rustic and sylvan settings. Also returned to the cruise on the Mandovi, charmed again. I made a promise to return .. but then I make that promise everywhere I go !!! Well nevertheless charmed by simplicity of Goa.

    You Dear Goa .. triggered these memories.

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    1. Whoa ! Those are some memories, I must say. Thank you so much for sharing them here. I haven’t been to Benaulim or Majorda or Keserval Springs. Look forward to visiting them whenever I go to Goa next.

      Cheers 🙂

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