I often write about offbeat getaways in Goa and have talked about its spice plantations, churches, Latin Quarters etc. Those destinations too have lost their uniqueness. I know enough people who are now exploring the lush green spice plantations and chilling out at one of the many cafés in Latin Quarters. But Goa never ceases to surprise me. This monsoon was all about exploring Goa’s islands and little gems in its hinterlands.
Goa has several inhabited islands. While most of them are now connected by road or bridge to the mainland, there are a few where the only mode of approach is a ferry.
Vashi Island is a small nondescript island near Divar. It is surprising to see how a handful of families living on the island have chosen to stay here and keep their territory safe from private builders and real estate buyers.
The island does not have the grandeur of Divar, but does have a charm of its own. Most of the island is covered with crop fields and a dilapidated church forms its centre. It was on this island that I first saw weaver birds chirping noisily around their hanging nests. There are no restaurants or accommodations for visitors here. A short ferry ride away from Divar, Vashi can be explored in less than an hour.
Getting there: A ferry from Divar Island is the only way to reach Vashi
Divar is probably the most charming island in Goa. Its narrow streets amidst rich green vegetation are dotted with several traditional Portuguese villas painted in hues of mustard and blue. A visit to the Church of Our Lady of Compassion on the hilltop gives a bird’s eye view of Old Goa. As I rode through the island, I could get a sense of prosperity around this island. It has its own bus service. There are simple bars and restaurants in every other corner serving fresh and delectable Goan food. There is a quaint Ayurveda spa resort. A few pretty decent accommodation options and people in general, looking happy and content. Go a little deep into the island and it will reveal its vast expanse of agricultural fields. And there is indeed no time better than monsoons to witness the swaying lush greens.
Where to eat: Café Harmalkar (for all day Goan snacks), Rock Inn Bar & Restaurant (for lunch and dinner)
Where to rest: Devayaa Ayurveda Resort and Spa or Divar Island Guesthouse & Retreat Getting there: Hop onto a ferry from any of these ferry points (Old Goa, Ribander, Narve. Pedestrians and bikes get a free ride, cars pay `8 one-way).
Home to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Chorao Island is a real gem. It could be of a place of great interest to bird watchers or those like me, who are interested in offbeat trails. I landed in this island one late afternoon when the streets were empty and whatever bare shops and eateries it has, shut down for an afternoon siesta. I had remembered reading about Lafayette Restaurant and so knocked at its door. True to her reputation, the lady owner Fatima opened the door sleepily but agreed to cook something despite her ‘off hours’. In her own words, “I do not like visitors to go hungry when they knock at my door.” The picture above is of the meal she cooked.
Where to eat: Lafayette Restaurant
Where to rest: The island does not have too many accommodation options. Few basic home run guesthouses are available. Even Lafayette offers few refurbished rooms to guests.
Getting there: A ferry ride from Ribander will bring you to Chorao Island.
Harvalem Caves and waterfall
This little wonder is located in North Goa. I used to think that I have explored the length and breadth of North Goa. Obviously, I was wrong. Harlem Caves and the waterfall came about as another new discovery this monsoon. Harvalem caves are also known as Pandava Caves and date back to the sixth century. It is widely believed that the Pandavas sought refuge in these caves while some others talked about its Buddhist origins. At a short distance from the caves is the gushing Harvalem waterfall. The mist here is dense enough to make you cover yourself with an umbrella or raincoat. Be very careful when visiting the waterfall in the monsoons, as the short stairway leading upto it can become very slippery.
Karmali Lake (Carambolim)
Yet another bird watchers’ paradise, the Karmali Lake is located at a short distance from Old Goa. A fellow traveller recommended this place when I met her in Goa this monsoon. The placid Karmali Lake could be a nice little hangout during evening or early mornings. Parts of it can become a marshland during summers and it is a great spot for bird watching or simply having a picnic under the shade of trees lining the pathway overlooking the lake.
Richa blogs at http://www.travelsandstories.com