If you are looking at discovering Goa beyond the obvious, I am listing a few very interesting and offbeat things. The monsoons offer a Goa that is very quiet and green and I have been experiencing all the joys of this season for many years now. This year, I made it a point to explore something new. And I was not disappointed at all. In fact, I got new insights into the state. This was Goa from the olden days, not beaten down by tourist traffic but offering the pure essence of the Goan culture and heritage. Here is my list for you to savour.
Spice plantations, Ponda
Ponda is in central Goa and has vast forested lands, quaint villages and small temples. There are several spice plantations privately owned and maintained.
I visited Savoi Plantations and this place covers about 100 acres of land with all sorts of trees and vegetation stretching all the way to a hill. It took us several wrong turns and missed landmarks before we could reach Savoi from Margaon in about 1.5 hours, but that’s not a complaint at all. Lack of signage on the roads was quickly taken care of by the enthusiastic and helpful folks at Savoi who kept calling with directions. And more than anything else, it was the ‘getting-lost’ that gave us an array of wonderful memories. A call before your visit is highly recommended because Savoi offers a home-made and sumptuous Goan lunch which you surely don’t want to miss. Our very young and eager plantation guide informed us that the plantations are over 200 years old and have been maintained by the same family, generation after generation. It was very interesting to see where our cloves, bay leaves, beetle nuts, pepper, cardamom etc come from. These plantations are extremely fertile and well maintained and one can also find pineapple, lemon grass, coconut (of course), jackfruit, papaya, vanilla and so much more, growing here. Overall, this was an excellent day-trip which is a must-visit for nature lovers.
Web address: http://www.savoiplantation.com/
Fee : Rs 500 for one person, including a wonderful and hearty Goan lunch.
You may also opt to buy organic spices, essential oils and a magic lamp from their shop.
Latin Quarters, PanajiThis is a delight for lovers of art, history, architecture, photography and yes, desserts.
Questioning locals about Panaji’s Latin Quarters might fetch blank looks but just ask them about Mala and Fontainhas areas and they will enthusiastically give you directions. This area is quite distinctly marked by narrow lanes, Portuguese villas painted in bright hues and serenity. Thankfully, most of the houses here still retain their old-world charm and this area is best visited on foot or on a bicycle. A number of art galleries are located around here and also have cafes. After our wide-eyed trek through this quaint neighborhood, we settled in Baba’s Wood Cafe. This restaurant has its own garden accessories and furniture gallery along with a small wine cellar. Situated in an old heritage villa with laterite walls, this Italian restaurant offers a small but delectable food and drinks menu. The alfresco cafe has pizzas baked in traditional wood fire ovens and the server will not hesitate to inform you if the fresh mushrooms required on your pizza could not be procured that day in the market and if they can be replaced with zucchini. And then there were the to-die-for freshly baked desserts!
Address: 49, Mala Fontainhas, Panaji
(Near Maruti Temple)
The Mellow charm of Old Goa
We drove our way into Old Goa, off the National Highway17 (NH 17) and about 10 km from Panaji. Full of character, this Goan capital of yore is truly alluring in terms of architecture, civic amenities and yes, people too. We visited about six churches here and the biggest and the most popular of all is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO world heritage site. This holds the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. A cafe owner told us that the saint died on his way to China in 1552 and was buried there. But later, his remains were brought back to Goa. The saint’s body has never been chemically treated or mummified. The body is ‘exposed’ every 10 years for about 45 days and attracts hordes of faithfuls and tourists alike. The man did not shy away from complaining about the tourist guides hanging around the church and apparently giving away wrong information to the visitors. He also looked dejected talking about ‘new-age' tourists who only connect Goa to alcohol and parties. He talked about the origin of tourism in Goa which was primarily all about visiting the churches. Slowly people started discovering beaches and then things changed. We also visited other churches and discovered their history, architecture, beliefs, art and museums.
A full day’s walk through the town and some scooter rides will make your day complete!
Goa Chitra, Benaulim
This place is recommended for lovers of art, nature, history and sustainable living. If you are visiting or staying in South Goa then this place can provide an interesting flashback into our ancestral heritage. This is a privately owned collection of about 4000 pieces of ancient farming tools, kitchen utensils, various vases, doors, windows, musical instruments, chairs and more. A new section introduces carriages and wheels and we happened to see at least 50-60 of them restored and carefully displayed in a hall. The whole guided tour of Goa Chitra takes about one hour and that's not all. There is also a 100 per cent organic farm of about 1,20,000 sq ft. There is a rain water harvesting well which is used not only for fish cultivation but to meet the complete farming needs of the place as well. There is also a bio-gas unit, an organic manure tank and of course compost pits too. The entire structure of Goa Chitra has been made with pillars, railings, doors and windows salvaged from 300 demolished houses. There is also an open kitchen (prior intimation is required for food to be served) and a juice bar. Musical nights are also arranged here.
Museum fee: Rs 400 per person
Richa Gupta blogs at http://www.travelsandstories.com/