I felt parched. The sun shone over Panaji as I woke up in my hotel room after a night of seafood overload and kokum kadi, punctuated with urban legends at O’Coqueiro restaurant. Although there was not an ounce of anything in my blood that could land me in trouble, my head felt light. Maybe I was high on the idea of Goa. My last two trips to the beach state have been anything but clichéd. Goa is slowly but surely brushing stereotypes aside. Beyond beaches, casinos and shack-hopping, there is a Goa tucked away in sleepy hinterland, resurrected forts, lively community festivals and leisurely walks in the Latin quarters. It is a place that Koko (portrayed by Alia Bhatt) in Dear Zindagi loved to hate. My train of thought was promptly derailed with a wake-up call.
A quick breakfast later, I was ready for a heritage walk through Fontainhas. My driver told me how every house in this area is painted afresh every year, reminiscent of the Portuguese way of life. As we begin our walk at the Ourem creek, everything—colourful houses, winding lanes, churches, old bakeries and cafés, wishing well, and Fountain of Phoenix—reminded me of the pop-up books of nursery rhymes I so loved as a child. An hour-and-a-half later, standing near Altinho Hill, all I wanted to think was how well the Goans have preserved the culture for 450 years, but all I could think was food.
I headed to Ritz Classic restaurant in Ozari . Packed on all days, it is famous for fresh catch from the sea.
“The fish… which one?” a server asked me, presenting neatly arranged fish on a plate. I, like most others, ordered a platter that included fried pomfret, king fish curry, prawn fry, seasonal vegetables, rice and kokum kadi. The authentic Goan fare reminded me of the food I had during my last visit at a monsoon festival with a tongue twister for a name, Patolleanchem. Hosted at a local church, the name is derived from patollio, a Goan sweet made of jaggery and rice encased in fresh turmeric leaf.
Goa has a rich spice belt and I decided to pay a visit. Driving past Miramar beach, I had strong withdrawal symptoms, but concentrated on the road instead. As the concrete jungle zipped past, giving way to lush greenery, I could see some hot air balloons hovering overhead. Even as my driver told me about ballooning in south of Goa at Assolda village (Goa Tourism has tied up with Camping Retreat, a subsidiary of Tiger Balloons, I quickly Googled), I promptly put it on my Goa bucket list. I was dropped off at Tropical Spice Plantation at Keri village, 6 km off Ponda. The sight of cashew nuts hanging from branches, fragrant spices, chirping birds had me. Unadulterated nature
at its best. The heady aroma stayed with me long after I have left the moss-covered tracks. And I, a city dweller, wasn’t complaining.
My day began early as I decided to head to the northernmost tip of Goa to Fort Tiracol, that has been recently buffed up by a Delhi-based hospitality group. There are two ways of reaching it—by road or on a wobbling ferry. I, for the sake of the Gauri Shinde film, chose the latter. River cruise has become quite a thing in Goa lately and can be enchanting, if you can overlook the selfie-obsessed tourists.
Fort Tiracol is hidden amid grand old trees, sandwiched between the Tiracol river and the Arabian Sea. It has a 17th century church, a restaurant with a fabulous menu and seven cozy rooms named after days of the week. Sitting on the bed chaise inside ‘Sunday’ with eyes closed, I could hear the sound of waves crashing at the shore. A stay at the fort goes in my bucket list. A delectable lunch later, a stroll across the unspoiled beach gave me the time to think how Goa is so much more than meets the eye. And I, once again, fell head over heels in love with it.