To any visitor of India, Goa presents an entirely different sight from what one expects, and is confronted with, in the rest of the country. This is so because of the rich influence that the Portuguese culture has had and continues to have on the Goan culture (Goa was a Portuguese colony until 1961, when it became part of India).
In the 60′s and 70′s, Goa was infamous for its hippie colonies and as a major center for drugs. Now, However, those days are a thing of the past and tourists from all over the world flock to Goa to experience and revel in its beautiful beaches and environs.
Goa is the perfect place for a getaway from the hustle and bustle of daily life. Peace, tranquillity, cheerfulness, festive atmosphere, you name it, you got it. It’s a very small state and most tourist destinations are within a couple of hours of each other. The beach, the surf, the people, the surroundings, everything about Goa is incredible in its own way.
Having heard so much about this famous land, I decided to go on my honeymoon to Goa, more specifically the Vagator beach in North Goa. Believe me when I say that the experience was absolutely fascinating.
Vagator beach is about 25kms north of Panaji, the capital of Goa. Panaji in itself is a wonderful place, residing on the banks of the river Mandovi. Buses are available at frequent intervals, as are cabs. Possibly the best way to tour Goa, however, is on a two wheeler which can be easily hired anywhere. You have the gearless Kinetic Honda scooters, 100cc Yamaha motorcycles or the more majestic Enfield bikes to choose from.
We traveled to Panaji from Mangalore in Karnataka. The drive through the West Coast road is another must see. The Arabian Sea forms a wonderful backdrop on one side and the road crisscrosses through hills, fields, rivers and the like.
The journey from Mangalore to Panaji is roughly 350kms and takes approximately 8-9 hours to complete and it was close to 6pm by the time we got to Panaji. As we had to go on further to Vagator on the same day and it was getting pretty dark, we immediately took a cab to Vagator. It takes about 45 minutes to reach Vagator from Panaji. Immediately after leaving Panaji, the landscape changes with vast open fields interspersed with cottages and plenty of greenery. A long and winding road finally led us to Vagator and it was nearly 7pm by the time we arrived at our resort, the Sterling Vagator Beach Resort. It was pretty dark by that time and we couldn’t see the beach, though we could hear the waves crashing against the shore as we settled down in our cottage.
The next day, we got up at the crack of dawn and opened the French windows to have a look. Wonderful, breathtaking, beautiful, I could run out of adjectives to describe the scene. The beach was barely 50 meters away, dotted with palm trees, clean, inviting and absolutely serene. There were hardly any people on the beach and we spent the whole day just lazing around on the beach, building sand castles, soaking ourselves in the cool waters, walking along the entire length of the beach, exploring our surroundings and generally having the time of our lives.
We were pretty tired by evening and after a quick dinner, tumbled into our bed, eager to continue our explorations in the morning. The next day happened to be Feb 14th, Valentine’s Day, and we sure didn’t want to miss out on our first Valentine’s Day after our marriage. After an early breakfast, we hired a bike from the resort and off we went. We explored the countryside with all its wonderfully twisting roads and houses. We came back to the resort by lunchtime and after lunch and a short rest, decided to go and explore the adjacent Chapora Fort.
Built in the mid 17th century by early Portuguese settlers on top of a small, strategically located hillock, the fort once served as a means of reconnaissance. Getting to the top of the fort involves a climb of about 15-20 minutes and when we reached the top and turned around, the view was absolutely magnificent. To the one side, the Arabian Sea stretched into infinity, serene and calm, shimmering in the afternoon sun. On the other side, the Goan countryside was punctuated with trees and a nearby naturally-formed lagoon. Though there isn’t much left of the fort, it was such an exhilarating feeling exploring whatever was left, including its small watchtowers. From the edges of the fort we could see the waves crashing against the hillock on which the fort is built. The Chapora fort is a must see for any visitor to North Goa.
That evening, we had a special dinner bash at the resort to celebrate Valentine’s Day with couples of all ages coming forward to participate and have fun. It had been quite a hectic day and as soon as we hit the bed we were immediately asleep.
The next day dawned and as it was to be our last day at the resort, we resolved to spend all the time we could at the beach and enjoy ourselves to the limit. We toured the small village of Vagator, looking at handicrafts, clothes and the like, though in my opinion they were a bit exorbitantly priced. Towards the evening, we decided to make a visit to Panaji to check out the Goan Carnival and for a cruise on the river Mandovi. One of the musts in Panaji is the river cruise, especially the one towards dusk, when you can see the sun sinking ever so slowly into the Arabian Sea. If you are in luck, the occasional dolphin can be sighted.
We had gone to Goa in mid February, which is the time when the world famous Goan Mardi Gras Carnival is held. You have to see the carnival to believe it. The atmosphere and the excitement is terrific with bands playing lively songs and crowds of people dancing and making merry. We had a wonderful time and it was close to 9pm by the time we had our dinner and returned to our room. We ruefully packed our bags as we had to leave early next morning for Mangalore and just sat quietly for some time, listening to the waves crashing on the shore.
The next day, we bid a tearful farewell to Goa, the place that had captivated our heart. We were saddened at the thought of leaving this place and returning back to the hustle and bustle of our daily life, but vowing to return again.
Vagator is a very small village and as such doesn’t have much to offer by way of shopping except for a handful of shops selling handicrafts and clothes and a few other amenities. The market at Mapusa is more famous and a must visit for any tourist. The flea market at Anjuna is also famous. Items of interest include kashmiri rugs, handicrafts etc. Be sure to bargain for whatever you buy otherwise you may end up paying an exorbitant price.
The best place to stay in Vagator is the Sterling Vagator Beach Resort. It’s set in expansive grounds and nestles right on the beach front. It has comfortable cottages ranging from $50 onwards. It also has a beautiful pool, travel help desk and an adventure club. The other decent places include Dolrina Guest House, Jolly Jolly Lester and Shertor Villa. Cheaper Houses and Cottages with basic amenities are also available for longer stays.
There are a lot of small restaurants in Vagator, mostly on the road leading to the beach. Good ones include the Helinda, Lobo’s, Mahalaxmi and Jolly Jolly Lester. The Sterling resort also has two decent restaurants, one catering to Indian cuisine while the other is Continental.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit Goa is between November to March when the weather is mild and pleasant. February is the peak season with the famous Mardi Gras Carnival being held in the middle of the month.
Vagator, Anjuna , Arambol, Baga, Calangute, Sinquerim and Dona Paula are some of the famous beaches in North Goa. Chapora Fort and Aguada Fort are also a must see. The markets at Mapusa and Anjuna and the towns of Panaji, Margoa, Vasco are also worthwhile visiting. There are a lot of old churches and a number of temples in Goa, some dating back even to the 15th and 16th Century. The more famous of them are the Se Cathedral and the Basilica of Bom Jesus, both in Old Goa. Be sure to check them out also.
For more information on Goa, visit the website.