White sands, swaying palms, and sparkling waters. That in a nutshell is what attracts over two million visitors to Goa every year. It is a slice of India, hugging the country’s western coast, and bound by the Arabian Sea. The crumbling architecture and stately mansions bear testimony to its once Portuguese past that stretched for nearly five centuries. It is a perfect East-meets-West potpourri combining palm vinegar, coconut milk and chillies with some refined Lisbon flavours. And of course the melancholic laid back attitude which Goans claim to have existed since time immemorial. They call it ‘susegad’ there—the joie de vivre—which is incomplete with the siesta. The Goans take pride in it. Call it what you may, ‘Rome of the East’, ‘Tourists’ paradise’, or ‘Pearl of the Orient’, Goa is all that more.
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An hour’s flight from Pune landed me at the Dabolim International Airport and I set off for Colva Residency where I had booked a room this time. Goa has several accommodations suitable for all pockets, right from the seven-stars to the humble guest houses with attached kitchens. Many Goans often let out a part of their home, like the ground floor, to tourists. Colva Residency is a Goa Tourism Development Corporation property, and I was thrilled to see the beach spread before me, teeming with tourists. My car arrived soon and I was pleasantly surprised to see a woman at the wheel. On asking, she said this was new taxi service started that started recently with only women drivers. This state is certainly walking the talk on gender equality, I said to me.
A two-day visit is certainly not enough to explore this beautiful state. I still decided to make the most of it. The Bigfoot Cross Museum, Casa Araujo Alvares (the heritage home of a Portuguese migrant family), and Ancestral Goa (the historic theme park) were on my bucket list. But I could manage only the last two.
I was almost transported a couple of centuries back in time at the Casa Araujo Alvares. One can relieve nineteenth century Goa here, right from the rum cask to the antique telephone. The theme park, on the other hand, is a nice snapshot of what Goa would have looked like in the past, and also covers a lot of traditional and cultural grounds.
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The Bom Jesus Basilica was next on my itinerary. The church, now an UNESCO World Heritage Site, holds the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier. There are helpful guides who will brief you on its history. Tourists from all over the world make it a point to visit the Basilica in Old Goa.
My first day in Goa ended with a boat ride on the Miramar beach. Spotting dolphins was an added bonus.
Ever since I decided to visit India’s smallest state, I was advised by all to try its superb cuisines. Goa is a gastronomic delight with its signature seafood, lamb, chicken, coconut milk, rice and local spices. Goans love their fish, much like Bengalis, and a déjà vu strikes all Kolkata visitors no sooner they lay their hands on the menu. Jamies, near Colva beach, is one of the most popular restaurants famous for its prawn and fish. The Goa prawn curry was the first on my list of tryouts. The prawn just melted in my mouth. Trust me, Goa is the home to some of the best prawn delicacies in the country. Chicken Xacuti was next. The chicken was cooked with poppy seeds and Kashmiri chillies. The taste was new. It was a far departure from any chicken delicacy that I had tasted so far. The spicy Fish Vindaloo was the last on the platter. It is prepared with wine in the UK, US and other parts of the West. Here, in Goa, the wine is replaced by vinegar. Lots of ginger is used to balance the acetic taste of vinegar.
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Goa is a shopper’s delight. Most of the traders at the Colva market are not Goans but people from other parts of country who came and settled there. Clothes and accessories like bags, costume jewellery, showpieces, sunglasses and a thousand other things are available at a reasonable price. One can also visit the Anjuna flea market in North Goa. It is one of the liveliest of all Goa markets and is thronged by both Indians and foreigners. Take your pick from beachwear, local handicrafts, footwear, spices, and accessories. You can test your bargaining skills and strike a fair deal.
The two-day vacation passed even before it began and I was left wanting for more. I had to repack my bags even before I had fully unpacked them. Perhaps the void of not having enough of this peaceful laid- back state will make me return to it earlier than I expect.
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