Lébu Wander Guide for Goa: Skip the beaches, discover the villages
an offbeat guide to goa for those into alternate travel
Goa for the runaways, Goa for the romantics, Goa for the Bohemian - they are all you
If I ever become Alice and fall asleep after drinking a potion , the place I wake up would be Goa . The swaying palm & coconut trees, the blue skies, the green fields and a weather that makes me want to while away all my time , and wake up a wanderer. Goa feels like mine and I feel like I leave a part of me every time I go there. Goa does that you, time stops here, it is a place where you are a curious traveler. And every time I have been here, I have wanted to buy a house here and settle down, someday.
If you think that Goa is overrun by party goers and tourists you are right; and hence ditch the beach (ah it rhymed!) the next time you go there. Goa has many versions and no matter times you go, you can surely find a different version. It depends on the kind of traveler you are and what you are feeling like. Its like what cocktail you are in the mood for. Goa can serve you a decadent version; partying till the wee hours , drinking till you drop in the heart of North Goa, the kind that gives you a hangover the next day. The quieter beach bum version with a j**** thrown in at South Goa with its moonlit beaches & silent headphone parties. But the real Goa where locals stay, is away from the beaches in quite villages in centuries old Portuguese houses. The locals attend 400 year old churches which tourists don’t know of. What follows is a guide for places to visit in Goa other than beaches (though there is one private beach resort that we love)
Goa looked so different in my 20s , when I was single
I will admit, the Goa of my 20s looked more like the beach bum version where I went to stay in South Goa (which was emptier some 8 years ago) in Palolem or Agonda, lying on the beach drinking beer with friends, as the night turned to morning and eating my weight in what I thought was Goan food. At this point in my life all I looked for were the best places to stay with friends and for things to do in Goa at night. Then, there was the time when I first went to Goa in the monsoons with V, we were celebrating our birthdays in the first year of marriage, we stayed in Mandrim, the tip of north Goa in a quiet resort where the sea was separated by a river. We hired a scooter and drove in blinding rain, with entire beaches to ourselves, drenched to the bone, then stopped at one of the only open shacks and had beers. A dreamy Goa that was.
Goa is full of runaways, people weary of life, people looking to escape, people with no plans, people who discovered that it was good to take a pause then be hamsters on a wheel. Even if people come for a short time , they want to escape, I did, the romantic in me, the bohemian in me , the curious traveler in me.
Finding another Goa, deep in the villages, where time moves slowly
This year August during the monsoons, when the landscape is a blanket of lush green; I went to find another version of Goa with my childhood friend Vaidehi, the one which locals inhibited , the sleepy villages where 5th & 6th generation Goans live the quite ‘Susegad’ life , who detest what Goa along the beaches has become ; overrun with tourists. I stayed in a 500 year old pre-Portuguese house in Aldona called Cancino’s House (link to Cancino’s House blog post) where the Amaral family welcomed us with all their heart & made me wish that I had discovered that place sooner.
Read here: (I wrote a detailed account of how I found a ‘home’ at Cancio’s House)
Wandering in and around Aldona village
Aldona, the village where we stayed became an oasis. The lush green fields , the empty roads, the white St. Mark’s church, the old Portuguese houses where grandmothers sit and knit and children play football on the streets. We got lost driving around in my hired scooter , got an entry in to the village church after hours; because of a kind priest and couldn’t stop taking photos of the ethereal angel statues that were erected in memories of people who have passed on to the next world. We entered the cemetery and witnessed something I will never forget, all the graves had a cross and on each cross there was an actual photo of the buried person taped to it. A whole sea of photos fluttering in the slow wind as dusk fell was not something I can forget soon , I only felt a deep sense of sadness coupled with the realisation that nothing is permanent. As the words etched in stone of the St. Marks cemetery said ‘ Aizmaka Falea Tuka’ (roughly translates to ‘Me today, you tomorrow’. We spent an afternoon in the deserted Corjeum fort in Aldona, a piece of of history. Afterwards my childhood friend and I drove down the dark village roads to find a house in a quiet lane which served as a small family run restaurant called ‘Altron’, only frequented by locals and tried Feni for the first time (the Goan alcoholic potion made of the abundant cashew trees in the this land) followed by a succulent home style Pork roast recommended by the owner himself who is also the server. Afterwards we went back to the family house of the Amarals (I refuse to call it a homestay since the feeling I got being there was that I was not merely a guest but a part of the house) where the hostess Raquel had prepared a cake in honour of my birthday and Roberto , her husband , sang the birthday song and played his guitar. It’s difficult to feel like a stranger after this. This is another Goa.
Taking my time in the Latin Quarters, Fontainhas
Goa was under the Portuguese rule, till 1961 who stayed there for more than 500 years. And the churches , a lot of the architecture , homes and buildings are preserved. I spent a couple of days combing the streets of Fontainhas in Panjim ,walking with my camera in one hand and my notebook in another. The sun and the clouds played hide and seek and cast dark shadows of the old white, red, blue & yellow buildings with its arches and its arresting facades with family names etched on white & blue tiles. I walked down from the Old Quarter Hostel where I stayed the night to find the white Chapel of St. Sebastian, the chapel built in 18th century was known for its unusual open eyes of Christ. In spite of the Google maps showing me the direction I kept reaching a dead end that was the back lane of a house , there is something about getting lost in an unfamiliar place, you always find something you were not looking for. I found a beautiful red house with a beautiful facade, old, really old. I finally found the chapel , I just had to walk past the red house but it was hid from me since I kept turning back. Sometimes you just have to keep walking and you will end up where you want to. I then walked over to the Gitanjali Art Gallery showcasing some contemporary pieces, this time it was a collection of paintings showcasing the woman in different forms including as a ‘Devi’ or Goddess, I spent a good 1 hour mesmerised by it all. Afterwards I walked towards the Church of ‘Our Lady of Immaculate Conception with its stark white building and the criss cross pattern of stairs leading to the top where the church is. It was empty, I sat in the pews for a long time, I like empty churches.
Lunch at a family run restaurant & drinks in a local bar
By this time I was weary from walking the entire morning and hungry, so hungry , so I went walking to ‘Viva Panjim’ recommended by a local girl who ran a coffee shop. The family run restaurant is in a quiet lane inside a Portuguese house, its very old, and it feels like walking in to someone’s drawing room filled with antique furniture , large wooden mirrors and statues. The restaurant is small and is full all the time. I ordered a Prawn Vindaloo, sopping off the thick gravy with rice. In the evening I found a uber cute local bar, in a old crumbling bar, with almost no place to sit inside, so that everyone just sat in small tools outside the bar on the street, located in the heart of the latin quarter, Fontainhas frequented by locals. Some guys were jamming on their guitar. I picked up a house brewed beer and was going to sit on my own when a brother sister duo invited me to sit with them, he was a local and his cousin was visiting him from France. We spoke about women traveling solo and the weight of patriarchy that we still have to bear among other lighter topics, the kind of conversation that you can have strangers without being judged, that’s one thing I love about traveling. As I walked back to my room through the quiet streets I heard the sound sounds of a band practicing its drums, I stopped & peeked inside the house and even though I couldn’t see anything I heard the sound of drums played with passion. Travel can enliven passion within you for other things.
These are some of the places that I love in Goa, and its hardly comprehensive but it’s my Goa. Add in your recommendations in the comments so that we can share what we love about this crazy, vibrant, quite, exciting, soothing place.
Stay, sleep, rest your head in an alternate Goa away from the popular beaches:I wrote about some amazing places I stayed in recently in August 2018 & wrote 2 separate posts for The Leela Goa, a beautiful resort & my experience of staying at the Cancio’s House, a 500 year old home stay in the small village of Aldona here
The Leela Goa, Cavelossim, South Goa
Cancio’s House, Aldona, North Goa
Old Quarter Hostel, Panjim, North Goa (a hostel in the heart of Fontainhas, clean & safe, I stayed alone for a night in my own room but there are dorms & double sharing ones too)
Eat in Goa:
Riverside, The Leela Goa, Cavelossim, South Goa for some of the best Italian food, you can take a quite table if you’re on a date or book the alcove outside for a family (drive down here just for the food even if you’re not staying at the resort)
Fishermen’s Cove, a casual place to drink & grab a bite by the backwaters , Cavelossim , South Goa
Joe’s River Cove, Cavelossim, Goa for cheap traditional Goan food
Viva Panjim, Fontainhas, Panjim,Goa, an old family style restaurant serving Goan & Portuguese food
Altron, a small family run restaurant, Aldona , North Goa, this is where locals go and take their guests
Baba Au Rhum, Anjuna, North Goa
Drink & make merry the Goan way:
Any I mean any place in Goa will serve you a drink & there are numerous places to let your hair down & dance the night away or enjoy some music
I discovered these two places which appeals to my old soul, frequented mostly by locals
Joseph’s Bar, Fontainhas, Panjim ,Goa, perfect if you are travelling solo and/or want to mix with the locals
Cantare, an unassuming local bar in a quite lane in Saligaon with live bands including incredible jazz , prepared to break in to a dance, perfect for a date