Living like a Local in Goa
POSTED BY Mavy | May 8, 2015
Label: Asia, Travel Tips
With its crumbling Portuguese architecture, over 100km of stunning coastline, and the languid waters of the Arabian Sea, Goa has long been the place to combine a taste of India with the charms of a beach holiday. Nowhere else on the subcontinent can you combine chalk white beaches and spice plantations with flea markets and nightclubs. Although in certain parts development has run amok, most of Goa remains timeless and charming, with a population of friendly locals, a biodiverse environment, and wealth of colonial-era heritage. Here are the Globetrotter tips to living like a local in Goa.
If it’s pristine beaches you’re after, either the far south or the far north are the places to go. Rent a scooter and zip up to Morjim, Ashwem and Arambol. You won’t find ugly developments on any of these, only chilled out beach shacks, swaying coconut palms and the occasional wandering fruit seller, who’ll slice a fresh pineapple for you for a few rupees. Ashvem even has a restaurant called La Plage, widely considered one of the finest restaurants in the state. This French owned beach shack seems to encapsulate the cosmopolitan boho-cool of north Goa like no other place, and their food is sensational.
Although Goa isn’t known for spice plantations in the same way that Tamil Nadu and Kerala are, visiting one is an experience most visitors don’t want to miss since it offers a window onto both the national cuisine, as well as a natural environment rather different to the beach. Sakhara Farms (http://www.sahakarifarms.com) , situated amidst the lush green surroundings of Curti is one of the best. Knowledgeable staff with pick fresh cardamoms, black pepper and vanillas straight from the plant, and the tours finish with a delicious meal and a cup of their own herbal tea.
Visiting the iconic architecture of the state is something most visitors don’t want to miss. Most people go to the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Basilica of Bom Jesus but, beyond this, it’s worth taking a driving tour to see some of the brightly painted mansions in their natural setting. By contacting the local tourist office, many of these will even invite you in by special request. The Mascarenhas mansion in Anjuna is one of these: with its brightly coloured stained glass, fine floral etchings and terracotta root tiles it would be easy to think you were in the countryside outside Lisbon. Most of these old buildings are still lived in by Goan families and exploring them is a wonderful way to experience the real Goa.
Goan food reflects all the history and heritage of the state. That includes Portuguese, of course, and the spicier flavours of the subcontinent, but also some of the best wholefood restaurants this side of San Francisco, a legacy of the many visitors from the flower power movement during the 1960;s who came and never left. The Germany bakery (http://www.german-bakery.in) near Anjuna is one of these: they make their own rye bread, kombucha and cakes. For authentic Goan food, try a delicately spiced veggie vindaloo curry served with rice from Venite in Panjim, or the Plantain Leaf at Calangute Market. South Indian breakfast classics like fermented rice batter pancakes called dosa filled with spicy potatoes don’t come better than this. Was it down with a masala chai: the delicious local tea made from boiled up milk, tea, sugar and spices.
If the chilled out vibe of the coast becomes too much, it’s worth making the two hour drive inland to the mighty ridge of hills known as the Western Ghats. With their higher elevation and a minimal population, this is the place to see south Indian wildlife in all its glory. Over 1,800 species of plants can be found here, as well as 330 species of butterflies, 100 species of frogs and over 10 species of bats. Birders will be particularly delighted: the forests around Chorla Ghats have been declared as an Important Bird Area by Bird Life International
Although Goa is predominantly known for its Christian population and heritage, visiting a Hindu temple is also a fascinating way to explore the majority culture of the subcontinent. The modern Maruti temple in Panjim is one such place to do this. Beautifully illuminated at night, its best visited during February when vast statues of Hanuman, the monkey God, line the streets throughout the surrounding Hindu quarter of Mala and festive street stalls are set up
Outside the obvious spots like the Saturday night flea markets, or the backstreets of Panjim where you can stock up on bottles of feni (liquor distilled from coconut milk) or cashews), shopping spots in Goa are generally in the minority. That said, the gift shop at La Plage restaurant on Ashvem is the place for stylish reasonable priced fashion, while the Other India book store in vibrant Mapusa offers an intelligent selection of English books. Anjuna Flea market on Wednesday nights is worth going for the occasional bargain, as well as to observe the colourful throngs of hippies, Indian tourists and backpackers converging.
The state’s natural tranquillity and proximity to the heartland of Ayurveda has made it a mecca for both spa lovers and practitioners of Yoga. Yoga Magic, owned by English couple Phil and Juliet Dane, combines traditional South Indian architecture of rammed earth floors and thatched roofs with a selection of world class yoga teachers. Their in-house masseuse, Vishnu, is also something of a local legend due to his ancient techniques, kindly disposition and magical hands. Inland, the Ayurvedic Natural Health Centre in Saligao offers superb facilities for cleansing and healing in a traditional setting.
Goa’s nightlife ranges from gourmet food to pulsing nightclubs and psychedelic beach parties. If it’s the latter you’re after, Titos at Calangute is best avoided, especially for unescorted female travellers. Try the Hilltop at Vagator & Chapora instead, especially if a top named DJ is coming to town. For a more restrained evening, catch a movie at the Magic Cinema over at Patnem: there can’t be many places in the world where you can watch a classic movie in a coconut grove, washed down with a cold beer.