I have had a ritual for the last ten years. Every Indian I have a conversation with, I ask them at some point, “have you been to Goa?”. The answers vary from “yes, it is beautiful” to “yes, it is overrated” to “I didn’t like it” to simply “no”.
Due to the fact that there was no consistency in the answers, I did not know what to expect when I touched down in Daboilim airport some 19 miles from Goa’s capital Panaji, the week before New Year’s day 2015.
I need not have worried. Goa, which is situated on the west coast of India, is beautiful. This place has all the ingredients – sun, sand, sea and entertainment – for a fabulous winter getaway. In December the weather is in the 80’s with little humidity making it comfortable to play sports, sightsee or just lay on the beach.
Below are the three activities I enjoyed most about my stay in Goa.
Goa is beach heaven – there are beaches along the entire coast, roughly 75 miles.The secluded and quieter beaches are in the south; the more crowded beaches that host rave parties and have endless beer bars are in the north.
The hotel we stayed at, the Park Hyatt, was in the south, located on Arossim Beach. Because it was off the beaten path, there were rarely more then a handful of people on the sand or in the sea. There was miles and miles of sand as far as the eye could see. However, there were a couple of beach shacks that took away from the pristineness of nature. Part of me understands that people need to make a living, but the selfish part of me wants my beach experience to consist of only sun, sand and sea without neon flashing lights, billboard menus and the odd white plastic snowman in the sand .
I took a day trip to Northern Goa and visited the beaches of Baga and Anjuna. Lets put it this way – these are not places where one can meditate and find their inner silence. Baga especially was crowded with back to back bars and hawkers selling everything from bananas to foot massages. I could see why Baga was called a party beach. Our driver informed me that by sundown you could not move on Baga beach. I am glad I saw, but I did not stay long.
I first saw rice paddies in Bali 18 years ago. I have seen them intermittently over the years on my various trips to India. I love looking at rice paddies. The green color of the rice plants just pop against any background. I find the fields calm, serene and beautiful. It is so humbling to watch a group of men and women working in the field doing back breaking work in the searing heat to support their families. It makes me realize that I have no right to complain about anything and my first world problems are not that important.
My daughter and I decided to rent a hotel car and driver and take a trip to the famous Anjuna market situated on Anjuna beach some two hours from the Park Hyatt hotel. Held every Wednesday, I had heard the market was a tourist trap but a very fun one. I am glad we checked it out. First, the location is stunning – the market site is on the south of Anjuna beach and stalls overlooking the sand and sea are on a low cliff. Therefore one can be shopping for sarongs with a view of the ocean. Prices are reasonable. My daughter and I had a great day buying toe rings, anklets, silver bracelets and cotton clothes and accessories. Talking to the expats who sold their wares in some of the stalls was fascinating. There was the Belgian woman who told me she wanted to be in India because the country had a bright future and she wanted to be part of it. Besides she added there were few job opportunities in Brussels. Then there was the South African guy who looked like a hippy, happily spending his day making and selling cotton bracelets. And there was the American woman who was doing amazing work creating clothing and accessories from the locally sourced organic khadi cotton. Her company AtelierOm is definitely worth looking up www.atelierom.com.
Arriving early in the morning at the market is the best idea. There is enough parking and generally you have the place to yourself. You avoid the crowds that tend to come in the evening to shop and drink and dine at the various food locations in and around the market.
Going to the market was a great bonding experience for my daughter and I. We left after spending over three hours at the market, loaded down with all the goodies we had bought, tired and hot but with a smile on our faces as we had had a memorable experience.