Everybody Loves Goa: Love Notes to the Sunshine State

What is it about Goa that makes us return, time and again? | By NGT Staff  
Photo: Sundari/Shutterstock
Photo: Sundari/Shutterstock

Good Things Happen in Goa

By Saumya Ancheri

My distinct memory of Goa is of palm-fringed shorelines rushing past our car windows on a family road trip, 1980s tunes blaring from the stereo system in my lap. It seemed so laid-back after the bustle of Mumbai, even the salty breeze smelled of holiday. I next visited Goa over a decade later, for a friend’s wedding. In the 24 hours I was there, I watched dolphins flit by my boat, ate the most delicious (and cheap!) seafood, twirled poi sticks for the first time, and watched shooting stars fly over the wedding drum circle. I was hooked. A year later, on the last night of a last-minute girls’ trip, a young man came over to our table at Arambol’s Loekie Café after singing at the open mic, drawn by the resemblance of one of my friends to a news anchor on Canada’s CBC. It was a wonderful evening, marred only by a couple of drunk cops who broke up the party. Little did we guess that the magic would last. Two years later, I watched my friend marry the man from that night, with a teary joy that cemented one belief: Good things happen in Goa.

It was here that I returned for a road trip on my 30th birthday with my best friends, to revel in the carefree vibe that made us feel like we were back in college. My last visit to Goa was for the Zambhala spirituality festival—three days of meditating under the stars and in the sea, being introduced to concepts and people who taught us not to settle for less in our daily lives. On that same trip, I interrupted a burglar in our hotel room, and fortunately lost nothing. Goa isn’t all twinkling cocktails and glorious sunsets, but there’s something in the air (or the water) that makes me feel like the world is a good place to be in.

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Time Slows Down

By Neha Dara

Photo: Murgermari/Shutterstock

Photo: Murgermari/Shutterstock

The first time I went to Goa, I arrived on a hot and sweaty day in the middle of summer. I remember sitting at a restaurant and chafing at how long it was taking to get a glass of water. My friend, who I was visiting, lazily waved a hand, brushing off my complaints. In Goa, time works differently he told me, introducing me to the concept of susegad, a word that every visitor to Goa picks up sooner or later. It’s the quality of unruffled contentment that permeates the place, and draws many of us to it.

Over a weekend spent on the back porch of my friend’s bungalow, an old Portuguese style place he had bought cheap and fixed up, I contemplated this elasticity of time. I noted how everything seemed to move slower than usual: The drop of water sliding down the side of my glass, the fly hovering over a plate of garlic prawns, the swirl of smoke rising from a cigarette, palm fronds nodding lazily in the breeze. My thoughts slowed down, my body stilled, and I seemed to move slower too, but more fluidly, more at ease with myself and my surroundings. I’ve gone back to Goa many a time seeking that ease and never come away disappointed. Oddly enough, though time slows down in Goa, my holiday there always gets over sooner than expected.

Over the years, I’ve been at the other end of the equation, telling friends and family I’ve travelled to Goa with to take it easy. Once you’re in Goa, whether you want to dial things down or not, Goa compels you to adapt to its languid pace. The process begins right at the airport, where on my most recent visit, the attendant at the prepaid taxi counter made small talk while slowly counting out my change, oblivious to the line snaking through the arrivals area. There was a time when I would have complained; now I just smile and think to myself, “This is Goa.”

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No Agenda Vacations

By Niloufer Venkatraman

Photo: Axiom/Indiapicture

Photo: Axiom/Indiapicture

In my mind Goa has always been the happy family holiday place. For many of us who live in the western or southern half of India, Goa is something of a no-brainer vacation spot. Children are always occupied when there is sand and water and Goa has no dearth of either. Hotels are available in every price bracket, for every kind of budget. Even planning a last-minute trip is easy—you will find something that works.

I went to Goa as a little girl on a family trip. I went there as a newly-wed on a holiday I won through a contest. Goa is where my husband and I have taken our daughter several times. Even though I was barely nine on my first trip, I remember it vividly as a place of much fun, just as my daughter does now. She associates Goa with happy times: that bouncy hotel bed, sand castles, all day in the pool, chocolate pancakes for dinner.

The great thing about a family holiday in Goa is that I can go there without a list of things to do. I’ve been there with grand expectations and none at all—and both times I’ve been satisfied. For our family, Goa spells unwind, always allowing us to slump into deep, relaxing nothingness. We go to eat lots of seafood and drink rum and Cokes, and enjoy the sunshine. We go to walk aimlessly on the beach, to frolic in a warm ocean, to play in the sand and sink our toes into its comforting softness. Goa works so well for a family because we can head there without an agenda. Sleep late and we miss nothing. Sleep early and we miss nothing. We’re there to meet no one in particular. Do nothing more than bliss out.

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Solo Sparks

By Kamakshi Ayyar

Photo: Oleh_Slobodeniuk/E+/Getty Images

Photo: Oleh_Slobodeniuk/E+/Getty Images

I’ve been visiting Goa even before I learnt to read properly. I’ve built castles on its beaches, spotted dolphins in its waters, and eaten bebinca until I couldn’t move. Each of these trips was in the company of family or friends, and mostly we stayed at one of the larger resorts. But a few years ago, I went to Goa on my own. I had a couple of days off between jobs and decided to take up a family friend’s offer to stay at his gorgeous heritage home in one of Goa’s quiet villages.

Though it was just a four-day trip, I was nervous about spending so much time by myself; the only company in the house was a friendly caretaker. I packed extra books, even a pack of cards if I felt the urge to play Solitaire. As it turned out, I didn’t need any of it. My time alone allowed me to discover a side of Goa I’ve always missed, a side beyond the high walls of resorts that hug the beaches.

I fell into a routine on my first day: It started with a basket full of warm, freshly baked poyie, a local bread that I still dream about, slathered in chunky, golden, peanut butter. I then squeezed in a solid hour of reading, followed by at least three hours in the pool in the backyard. It was the monsoon, so I fashioned a small makeshift shelter for my speakers so I could listen to Jamie Cullum while I floated on my back and looked up at the wondrous grey clouds. Lunch done, I’d strap on my sandals, grab an umbrella and wander the village paths around Anjuna. Most of the stores would be shuttered, their owners enjoying an afternoon siesta; a couple of kids would be walking back home from school. The afternoon stillness made my ears ring; all I could hear were the dragonflies buzzing about and the monsoon breeze blowing gently. My mind was a blank slate, and I felt a lightness as I concentrated only on putting one foot in front of the other. Incredibly green fields, tall, swaying coconut trees and picturesque, windy cliffs were just some of the landscapes I encountered. The evenings were spent chatting with the local villagers whilst I loaded up on more poyie for dinner (eaten with delicious aloo curry and dal the caretaker made), before watching the sunset from the nearby Chapora Fort.

Those four days cemented Goa’s place in my heart as one of my favourite getaways. I had the time to think, and more importantly to do nothing, a luxury I never have in chaotic Mumbai. I barely touched my cellphone or looked at a screen of any sort. I experienced an internal detox, the Goan susegad, that was new to me; it’s something that will keep me coming back for the rest of my life.

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Cementing Bonds

By Fabiola Monteiro

Photo: Axiom/Indiapicture

Photo: Axiom/Indiapicture

In Goa, the heat is welcoming, the fish-curry-rice lip-smacking, and the warm tropical breeze a break from the congested air of a city. It’s in this setting that I’ve found myself forming closer bonds with the people I’m travelling with.

A couple of years ago, my friends and I celebrated our impending graduation with a trip to the stamp-sized sunshine state. It was to mark the end of an era: my friends and I had studied together for five years, seen each other day in and out, laughed, cried, danced, and mended broken hearts together. We had no idea when we’d be in the same place again, or what lay ahead. Naturally we reasoned that only the sweet salve of cheap beer and long sunny days on the beach could ease away our fears of stepping out into the real world.

That week, my friends and I built sandcastles and danced into the night, and spotted familiar constellations in the night sky together. One night, as the waves crashed against the shore, a friend and I curled up in a large hammock, discussing our futures, feelings, and everything under the sun. The details of that conversation are sketchy, but the comfort that I felt in that moment is crystal clear. It’s a conversation that shaped and cemented our friendship. Now, no matter how busy we are, or how little we keep in touch, when we meet, the jigsaw pieces of our lives fit together neatly.

Another time in my life, when my sister and her husband lived in Goa, my dad and I made numerous trips to visit them. Together, we went on long bike rides to quiet beaches, explored the mossy ruins of the church of St. Augustine in Old Goa, and washed down platefuls of fried tiger prawns with cold beer. It was the perfect fodder for happy memories. We’d grown up with family vacations each summer and these visits felt like hitting the refresh button on old bonds built during those childhood holidays.

Goa’s unhurried vibe allows me to stay in the moment, which in turn makes me treasure the people I’m with. Whether it’s new adventures in the ruins of a fort or napping on a beach, I always come away from Goa with happy memories and stronger ties.

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Keep Coming Back

By Diya Kohli

Photo: Exotica/Dinodia Photo Library

Photo: Exotica/Dinodia Photo Library

In my teens I went to Goa, and when I came back I wrote this:

If life was a beach I’d wear cockle shells in my ear
I’d douse my hair in yesterday’s leftover beer.
I’d swim with seahorses pretty and wee
I’d dance every night by a moon-washed sea.
I’d wake every day wondering which crustacean to skewer
I’d go to bed dreaming about a pink and juicy porker

While the poetry of my youth might be dubious, my vision of life as a beach bum was heartfelt and pure. Somewhere in between that first trip and the most recent one, Goa sneakily made its way from my belly to my heart.

I came here as a fresh-faced teen, with a liver strong enough to down beer by the gallon. That college trip was a whirlwind tour taking in all-night Anjuna raves, rickety bus rides to old churches and ruined forts, and nights spent lying on nondescript beaches, watching stars and listening to someone’s off-key renditions of Bob Dylan. On those nights in Goa, I felt that I would be forever young.

The next time round, I was older, wiser, and ringed, and the place that greeted me and my husband was churned by the wild seas. I came to a Goa clad in vivid shades of green. Long, wordless seaside walks with the comfort of a loved one by my side made this trip quietly special.

Over the years, some of our friends moved to Goa and as a result we too have learnt a little about its civic issues, local politics, the vibrant local tiatr, snake species, and much more. Each journey has brought something new. Made me see Goa in a new light and fall in love with it all over again. Over myriad plates of fish-curry-rice and feni cocktails I’ve found myself talking of buying a little home in this beautiful state. And despite a bank balance in the red, in Goa these pipe dreams always seem real.

One February, I made my way to the carnival at Panjim where King Momo, the official “king” leading the parade, grabbed my hand and enveloped me in a bear hug. His beaming smile and bonhomie was heartwarming despite the sweltering evening and his faux satin robes.

On my most recent trip, I spent an evening at a dinner party with a diverse bunch of Goans—from a gregarious ex bootlegger to a poker-faced chef from a cruise liner. The table groaned under the weight of the incredible feast cooked by the hosts with great love, while melodramatic Konkani folk songs played on loop. That night as I made my way home sated with food, wine, and good humour, my heart filled with all the sunshine that this little state has brought to my life.

Appeared in the December 2016 issue as “Everybody loves Goa”.

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