Living halfway between Goa and Mumbai has its own advantages. You see, I can have both the quiet town life during the week and experience the lively atmosphere of Mumbai on weekends. Wait, wasn’t I talking about Goa? Yes, of course. Goa interestingly has a great balance of both hip and relaxed and thus gives me a fresh feeling at the same time making me feel right at home. Having lived in Ratnagiri which is very close from Panjim, I’ve made many impromptu trips to Goa like one I mentioned in my very recent posts (Part I and Part II). In most of these travels I have explored some new elements I never experienced before. But some other time about that. This post is about how I’d usually spend a relaxed weekend in my second favourite place in India.
[dropcap]G[/dropcap]oa is mere 230 km away from my hometown: Ratnagiri. For such short distances, I’d typically get on my bike for it’s convenient. However, train journey would save a lot of time and efforts. Besides, one does have local convenient transport options when it comes to visiting Goa. Goa has got numerous bike (or even self driven car) rentals available and thus lot of options to bargain or choose from. Add to it that Goa has wonderfully smooth roads almost everywhere and you have got yourself set for exploration. Of course, if you did not wish to drive a vehicle you could also rely on the local bus transport and Goa’s unique bike-taxis. If am not on my own bike, I have always hired one for myself.
If I am traveling by train, I’d get off at Karmali station. I’d avoid taking any taxis to go into Panjim town and walk a kilometer or two to the bus stop. Well, that’s not the nearest bus stop to the railway station of course but this gives me an excuse to walk a little bit and ask for a lift. I don’t understand much of the local dialect: Konkani, however I absolutely adore the way it sounds. Taking a lift to the bus stop gives me a chance to communicate with the Konkani people. My favourite place to stay in Goa is the Youth Hostel near Miramar beach. It is affordable, with a great view and has easy accessibility to the Panjim’s best eateries. I’d quickly settle down and prepare to leave.
The first place to visit would be the popular Panjim Church (Our Lady of Immaculate Conception Church). This Portuguese era church is one of the oldest in Goa and was developed during 16th century. It has been featured in many Bollywood films. The white-blue combination of the church makes a refreshing impression. I am sure this colour combination has something to do with the Portuguese legacy, although I am unaware of the reason. Next, I’d walk to the Panjim bus stand and catch a bus to Ponda only to get down a little before at Farmagudi. This area including Bandoda, Priol and Madkai is famous for the most beautiful and oldest temples of Goa. It might give you an impression that I am a religious person. But that’s far from the truth. This following view is the sole reason I visit the Nāgeshi temple in many of my Goa trips.
The long green stocks of the palm trees surround the pool in front of the temple. A soothing quiet in the atmosphere relaxes mind. You often do see some kids jumping in the pool and enjoying with friends. Revitalised, I’d return to Panjim by bus. This temple being near the highway, frequency of buses is quiet good. First thing I’d do as I get down at Panjim is find a bike/scooty rental shop and negotiate price for the next day. This would also ensure that I get the bike in hand early morning the next day. Having secured the transport I’d now take a casual walk through the beautiful lanes of Panjim town to one of my favourite places and Panjim’s oldest bakery: Café Central. They have some really innovative and delicious food items like mushroom samosa. After finishing my quick snack I’d continue my walk to the Miramar beach to watch the sunset.
The next morning, I’d start early on and head straight to the Ribandar ferry terminal on the way to Old Goa. The ferries on the Mandovi are my favourite. They have no charge for pedestrians while vehicles are charged nominally. I’d hop on the next one to the Chorao island. Before getting deeper inside the island, I’d perhaps visit Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. If I’m lucky I could spot some of the exotic birds that frequent here. I like the way they have maintained the mangrove forest in this sanctuary. Leaving this corner of the island behind, I’d start my slow and casual ride in this relatively less famous place in the north Goa. The empty roads lined with coconut trees, occasional tranquil pools of water, Portuguese styled exquisite colourful houses makes you fall in love with the countryside charm of the island. If it happens to be a Sunday, neatly dressed locals headed to church for the Sunday mass is a common site. Depending on time available, before I return to Panjim I might hop onto another ferry to Divar island which is even less known than Chorao.
For lunch I might visit one of the classic restaurants like Venite. A visit to Goa is unfinished business without having tested some authentic Fish Caffreal and a glass of Goan Port. After finishing lunch, I’d catch a ferry again to cross Mandovi and pay a routine visit to Candolim beach. The beaches of north Goa usually are filled with so many tourists in summer that I don’t stay longer than an hour. However, it sure is a great atmosphere filled with refreshing air. In order to catch a train back to Ratnagiri, I’d need to return the two-wheeler before evening. With a heart full of happiness I’d bid Panjim adieu.