With vast swathes of golden beaches in the backdrop of a stunning blue sea and sky, the Beaches of Goa is a custom made trip for those who are looking to relax in their own patch of sandy paradise. Unlike the usual madness of a typical sightseeing tourist itinerary, the trip combines the best of culture, cuisine and coast and gives you a space and solitude that is becoming increasingly illusive in modern life. Each visit, each excursion and even each activity is handpicked. Be it visiting a crumbling Portuguese fort, exploring a medieval cathedral, exploring a fish market or simply lazing on the beach, everything is in sync to one rhythm that originates from the murmur of sea waves as they caress the soft sand of the coast.
As you finally see your name in the multitude of placards that people of different hues stand with just outside the arrival gate in Goa airport, you seem to worry about the sea and solitude promised in the trip. Don’t worry! You are in safe and seasoned hands.
We drive up to the hotel and after the check in, settling down and lunch, we set out for our first engagement with Portuguese Goa – Fort Aguada. Standing on the headland overlooking the mouth of the Mandovi River, the fort occupies a magnificent and successful position, confirmed by the fact that it was never taken by force. Built in 1612 by the Portuguese, the fort offers uninterrupted views of both north and south. With its solid ramparts, tallest lighthouse and surprisingly large water storage tanks, the fort is an architectural delight from the colonial days. As we stand at the bastion that stands on the top of the hilltop and watch, mesmerized at the vast expanse of sea from where Portuguese, Dutch and French ships had emerged on the shores of India, we are slowly drawn into an altogether different world.
After returning to our hotel and having a change of clothes, we drive down to the famous Candolim Beach. The beach is long and languid and curves to join the smaller Sinquerim Beach in the south. Popular with slow moving travellers looking for a change from the otherwise happening Goa, Candolim offers the much sought after tranquillity and space to yourself. We spend a lazy evening relaxing in the sand overlooking the vast expanse of the sea and its gentle waves. For the more adventurous, the beach offers a variety of local food served in the shacks that line up the beach.
After an early morning breakfast, we drive down to the famous and usually chaotic fish market for a photography tour. A large part of Goan economy and popular culture is weaved around fish and fishermen and to miss this part is to miss the essence of Goa. Just adjacent to Candolim Beach, is the Calangute Beach and fish market. Calangute has a long and chequered history. Starting as a sleepy fishermen village in the 1960s when it was a popular joint for the hippies, Calangute today is a popular destination for all looking for a local flavour of Goa. As we manoeuvre our way through the large number of shops selling fresh catch from the sea, we encounter a myriad of scents, sounds and sights. As our local guide explains the intricacies of the fish varieties and its economy, we are soaked in the part of Goa that often gets missed in tourist itineraries.
From here we move on to the famous Church of Mae de Deus in Saligao. Stark, stern and yet with a glamorous charm of its own, the Mae de Deus, or Mother of God, Church is a breathtaking site. With its Gothic spires and pristine white walls, it reminds one of a fairytale castle. Situated amidst picturesque surroundings of typical Goan countryside, the church, which was built in 1873, is the finest remaining example of Neo Gothic architecture in the country.
Our next destination is Old Goa, yet another part of Goa that often remains hidden from the average tourist. Founded in 1510 and known as Ela, Old Goa was the principal city of Portuguese empire in the east. Visitors to Old Goa in the 17th century would often get bewildered with its wealth, affluence and culture. Known as the ‘Rome of the East’, Old Goa was often compared with Amsterdam and was bigger than Lisbon. Ironically, the fall of Old Goa was quick and complete, with a number of epidemics like cholera, malaria and typhoid affecting the city, till it was finally abandoned. Situated on the Mandovi river, Old Goa is today a ghost town with few imposing churches and convents, reminiscent of a golden past.
Driving through the relics of Old Goa, we stop at the imposing Basilica of Bom Jesus. Famous throughout the Roman Catholic world, it contains the mortal remains of St Francis Xavier – the Apostle of the Indies. Known for his remarkable missionary voyages, St Francis was a Jesuit missionary known for his devotion and miraculous power. The basilica was constructed in 1605 and the architecture was based on late Renaissance style with strong Doric, Ionic and Corinthian influences. The inside is simple yet grand. The huge and ornate gilded reredos, stretching from floor to ceiling behind the altar is in itself a masterpiece. A UNSESCO World Heritage site, the Basilica of Bom Jesus is the finest specimen of Portuguese architecture anywhere in India. Next to the basilica, is the Professed House of the Jesuits, which is a two storey laterite building that was built before the church. It was here that most of the Jesuits voyages in the East were planned.
After this nostalgic trip into past, we arrive at our hotel for a slightly delayed lunch and rest. For the restless, we can organize another short trip to the beach where you can relax to the sounds of gentle breeze and rolling waves.
Today we start the day early, and it is day dedicated to the sea. After breakfast, we drive to the scuba centre at Calangute and engage in a pool practice session on the technicalities of scuba diving, including use of equipment, breathing underwater, regulator removal, recovery and cleaning, use of alternate air source and basic underwater swimming skills.
After a quick lunch, we drive to the dive point near Grande Island and are given a dive briefing. Post this, we take our dive and explore the aquatic life of Arabian Sea. Since the dive is custom made for beginners, we do not go beyond 12 – 16 meters of depth. The bottom contour is mostly rock, silt and gravel. The aquatic life is rich and includes butterflyfish, banner fish, Puffers, blenny, crabs and lobsters etc.
After exploring the undersea ecology, we get back to the shore, freshen up and drive up to the hotel.
The evening is kept free and you have a choice to visit the flea market at Anjuna Beach, lazing in your hotel room, or relaxing at one of the numerous beaches near you hotel.
After breakfast, we pack, check out and get ready for departure. On our way to the airport, we visit the Goa State Central Library, which incidentally is the oldest public library in India. Established in 1832, it has a wonderful collection of early Portuguese, French, Spanish, Latin and Italian books, manuscripts and more recently, books in vernacular languages. The rare book sections contains a treasure of 16th and 17th century manuscripts, imprints and books on Indo Portuguese history.