…pack a small bag!
For the vacation that came after a pretty long while we did Goa, our bit for revenge tourism so to speak, Goa like we’d never done it before… with an insiders perspective. Kapil is the hero of this story, Kapil has gone and done what many, nay all of us secretly live for. He has moved from the life of bean counters and pen pushers to live the dream life that awaits us all on the beaches of one of the vacation capitals of the world, Goa! Kapil was a mutual friend through a school mate, we even discussed work at some point come to think of it he has always been a maverick. Now, after this interaction with them, Kapil and his absolutely gorgeous college sweet heart Bunty (now wife) are treasured friends for life.
When we started planning this vacation, kids had a school break, we anyway are location agnostic workers, we decided it was time to head to Goa. It’d been ten years since we last visited, the younger one was possibly conceived at Goa (they both scream “TMI” when I bring that up… intentionally) and we had never taken her back. So we figured that to celebrate her 10th birthday it was only fair that we should head to Goa. I pinged Kapil in the middle of the night after going through a few airbnb places asking him for his opinion considering I was looking at properties in the South of Goa. Kapil has properties in the North of Goa which he has put up on airbnb (this specific one, Bollywood Villa // Masti Ki Pathshala is his favourite project but then the others are as exotic). He immediately came back with “stay with us I’ll block the dates”, of course he’s Goan I should have remembered they stay up pretty late there, even grocery stores are open past midnight. So at 2AM we had a place to pitch our tents at. Now just land up and let the good times roll and boy did they roll?!! It was that good.
We landed up at Goa around mid day and headed straight to Infantaria. This is where you go for good food. Pick up anything and you will come away thoroughly satisfied. Upon finding a server I immediately proceeded to show off “four bebinca with ice cream, followed by butter garlic prawns and butter garlic king fish”. As I write this my mouth is again starting to water. The food as always was exotic.
Meal done we set the map for Kapils place. The place we stayed at is within a private property known as Orchard Villas. It’s a three bedroom villa right out of a movie (wait, it actually did feature in an Amazon ad recently). It’s located at Calangute however the actual location is such that you are not disturbed by traffic at all. The way Kapil has worked on the property to bring it up is commendable. There is nothing that you will find missing in the experience, in fact one actually felt more comfortable and safe staying at Orchard Villas than one has at some of the finest hotels earlier. For the kids the sheer amount of space, easy access to the pool (right in front of the main door), netflix on tap and the very caring house keepers was more than they ever need on any vacation, lazy Koalas both of them. Sonali and I could focus on exploring Goa while the kids were happily doing their sort of vacation in the pool or at the villa. The bonus was a huge field behind our villa where the Calangute District Cricket tournament was winding up with the prize distribution ceremony. Enjoyed the fireworks and the mountains in the distance while unpacking and settling down.
Sonali and I woke up early morning to go walk on the beach, managed a very nice 5km from Baga to Calangute. The parking at Baga is really well organized and managed well. It was a very nice clean beach, thanks to it being off season and very early for Goa to have woken up. Then came the icing on the cake, Kapil came over with the family. We had a scrumptious lunch prepared by Salomi and Reshma, the housekeepers. True Goan delicacies using king fish (aka Surmai at other places). The kids struck it off nicely and disappeared to the pool. The conversation led to Cohiba , they have karaoke nights on Mondays and today was Monday. Ria readily agreed to coming with us after all we needed someone who would sing for the free drinks (every song that a guest sings gets that guest a free drink)… jokes apart this was our first experience at a karaoke bar and to be fair I do think I should take the kid to such and similar going forward… she just loved the experience as did all of us and she is a shy kid so yeah it helps get her out there and social.
I feel truly thankful to Kapil and Bunty for having suggested and then joined us at Kohiba. Of course it is a little embarrassing when the host picks up the tab but then Kapil apparently has a running tab at Cohiba!! Perks of being an insider. So yeah this was one new experience added to our Goa story. A karaoke night at Cohiba!
Next morning I woke up early, it was Eid day. I am not an overtly religious person, I find the ostentatious-ness and aggression associated with religion very off putting. My religion is a private affair. However the food boss please that is what we all live for. I headed off for a longish walk and a trip to the Calangute Fish market materialized. Brought back the ingredients we would require to prepare the Eid feast. Kapil had stayed back with family at another villa that is part of his Orchard Villas project so we would have another great lunch together was the plan. I made mutton yakhni pulav, mutton korma and sheer khurma (sewaii). Sonali prepared the raita and helped me decide if the food was looking sufficiently ok. Everything was well received which is what I was aiming for. The food in my book was perfectly sleep inducing. I think I dozed off afterwards. Later we landed up at Candolim beach, the kids made sea castles and we did a short walk. Calangute-Candolim are party beaches you don’t get much of the sound of waves on the beach unless you come very early in the morning. But then there are beaches that are meant for older folks like me. We did find those as well later.
Kids tend to be happier when they have friends around. An evening at the beach turns into sand castle building to wave chasing to a walk on the beach to glow in the dark funky party bands and a nice snack at the local KFC. A gentle wave moving on along calmly without much effort…
Next day again we woke up very early and pushed off to another bucket list item, Chorao islands, Dr. Salim Ali bird sanctuary. Kids were safely tucked in back at the villa nothing to worry about. Kapil, Bunty were right next door besides there was security at the gate. The ferry from Ribandar takes you with your car across the river for a princely sum of 10 bucks, yes INR 10 for a car with people in it to cross over from Panaji to Chorao island.
It’s free for two wheelers and people. At the ticket counter at Dr. Salim Ali bird sanctuary we ran into a distinguished looking elderly lady (I suspect she was somebody famous but I did not ask). She had booked the Goa tourism boat to go out on the mangroves and look at birds. We were inquiring about the boats and she chimed in “you come with me there is place for 12 people on the boat don’t worry about paying me I already paid anyway and am going”. We were like, wow the fun just doesn’t stop, this was turning out to be the funniest vacation so far where we were trying to pay for things but were being turned down “your money’s no good here compadre! sit down and enjoy your drink”. She explained that she had come from Kihim in Alibaug and there she used to live near the house where Dr. Salim Ali used to stay when he was at Kihim (his sisters place apparently…. at one point I thought this is his grand niece because she gave some details about an ongoing sale of the house and all)… So yeah I helped the boat man carry the extra outboard engine and extra fuel to the boat and the three of us plus the boat man got onto the 30 footer meant for 12 guests. Off season I tell you is the time when you need to pack you bags for Goa, the heat isn’t that bad I did not notice it at all with all this shade that all these good people were sending my way. It was a surreal experience traversing the mangroves and spotting birds. I fancy myself as someone who can take near decent pictures (I can do everything “near decent”)… and birds are one of my favourite subjects, the other one being clouds and the way they play with sun light. I tried my best but from a moving boat it’s not very easy to get it right. Still some did come through.
Later back on land we walked through the mangroves and I convinced Sonali to do something that looked dangerous, walk a bamboo bridge that was under construction (as we later found out towards the middle of the mangroves).
Once done with exploring the bird sanctuary I suggested we drive around at Chorao island and maybe locate “Poie” the original precursor of “Pav” which is slowly losing foothold even in Goa. It’s a home made bread that even today is sold not from shops and bakeries but by a seller who comes to your door step with the freshly baked stock ringing the bell on his vehicle in a characteristic manner. Kapil had told us about it last night while explaining that the poie that Cohiba served with the kheema was not the best example. So as we were driving around on the picturesque roads of Chorao I heard the distinct ringing of the bell before I saw the vendor on his scooter. I stopped the car on the shoulder and waited for him to finish selling the poies to someone who had come out of their house. Somehow that guy did not manage to save any poies for us. However we got lucky when on impulse I parked the car outside a small tea shop and we walked in for breakfast. Breakfast was this amazing potato curry like nothing we’ve had before with poie. The curry was like a rich Kerala stew only 100% Goan, richly coconut-ty, mildly spiced and very tasty. I think by the end of the breakfast we had had 3 bowls of veggies and 5 poies to soak it all up. A really satisfying meal done right. They ran out of poies so we couldn’t carry some for the kids from here. A little further I stopped at this makeshift mango stall that an orchard owner had setup outside her home. She was selling Mankurad mangoes which are native to Goa. The mangoes are probably alphonso by another name, really juicy, less fibre and firm. Got a good dozen for around half what it would cost to get alphonsos of a similar size. When she went inside to get the QR code I casually counted the mangoes, 13!! I mentioned it when she came back “you gave me 13 not 12” she smiled and said “yes I gave you 13″… “your money’s no good here miyaan you sit and enjoy your mango”… I swear!
Back at the jetty there was a queue of cars now waiting to get to Panaji where the jobs are. We joined the queue. While we were waiting I stepped out and walked around looking at the shops and what they were selling. Found a poie-samosa place, asked him to give me some poie, he said he will fall short for the samosa-podi, poor fellow he thought I was going to not pay for the poies. I bought six samosas as well to go with the poies. Breakfast for the kids done! By now the wife was desperately calling me because the ferry had positioned itself and traffic was about to move. I reached just in the nick of time and prevented a traffic hold up.
Back at the villa the kids were still asleep, not out of bed in any case. However these kids I know love one thing more than a comfortable bed and that is food! I told them about the samosa-poie and the mangoes and the left over mutton curry/pulav from yesterday and they pretty much apparated.
Next up was Museum of Goa, another one of Buntys’ bang on suggestions. It’s a contemporary art museum that was setup by Dr. Subodh Kerkar in 2015. It has recently taken off in a big manner. The place is cerebral and was sparsely populated when Sonali and I turned up around mid day. The kids were again busy with their new friend and the pool and netflix. Better this way they were happy doing their stuff and we could walk leisurely through the museum. It would’ve probably been a very different experience had we gone with the children.
The visit to the museum was very refreshing and entertaining. However once the exhibits were done was when the real surprise/fun twist came about. So we had skipped the introduction video because a group with children in tow had gone ahead and settled in and we did not wish to pester them with two fuddy-duddies standing around and trying to focus on some boring art documentary and listen to every spoken word… we just wanted to enjoy the air-conditioning in peace in this 40 degree summer. So we went in once all three floors had been thoroughly enjoyed, the tracker said I had finished 7000 steps and then some during this walk at the museum, definitely one of the more enjoyable walks. So we sat through the 14 minute video (or maybe it was 17 minutes) and then the video started auto-playing again and funnily I was keen on sitting through the replay as well, no not for the air conditioning, just to listen to Dr. Kerkar narrate the story of his life and his art was so mesmerizing. We were disturbed just as the video started replaying and the guy who had come in started fiddling with the laptop and stopped the video. We got up and started to leave. He said “Did you enjoy the video” and suddenly it struck me… it was Dr. Subodh Kerkar himself. I managed a very unsure “You are…” and he completed the sentence for me “yes I’m the guy whho was speaking in the video you just saw”. The boy who walked every day on the beach with his father from the age of 6 to 16. The boy who became a highly successful doctor with a booming practice in Goa and then the boy who gave it all up and moved to art. The boy who setup this whole museum. Amazing, speechless and again very thankful to Bunty for having recommended that we visit. We spoke for a very small while and I did not even take the customary selfie because frankly I am not that intrusive by nature most of the time. As the doctor was walking away after we had complimented him on the humongous inspirational undertaking of this museum that he has embarked upon I remembered something and called out to him. I motioned for him to come over to an exhibit, it spelt “Unclaimed bodies” as “Unclaimes bodies”. He understood what I was saying, thankfully, and asked me “do you write? are you a writer?”… I smiled and said “yes but nobody reads what I write, only this one thinks it’s good stuff so I write for just one reader” pointing to Sonali… he laughed and walked off to the office where we followed him because the curio shop was also in that area. He was instructing one of the staff there to fix the “unclaimes” to “unclaimed”… felt nice to have made a small change to such a huge undertaking. Next time we go I’ll mention the other typos that we noticed while walking around.
Museum done, another splash of generosity received, seriously every time I look back at this vacation the same phrase comes back to me “your money is no good here senor pepito… sit down and enjoy your fajitas”. What we got back from this trip to the museum was way more than the price of the ticket. Absolutely loved it and would recommend it to everyone who wants a better Goa experience. The running into Subodh Kerkar part is up to your luck however the joy of witnessing some of the smartest contemporary art of the time is guaranteed.
Heading back home we figured it was time to take the kids out for a short trek, just try our luck at least. So we called ahead and asked them to be ready for a trip to the “Dil Chahta hai Fort”… that did not ring a bell with them, they don’t watch movies… and certainly not movies that the parents love… anyway they were in a generally generous mood so they agreed to come along. Chapora fort is mildly underwhelming however go there for the views of two beaches that you get from there and the rows of local handicraft and clothing stores along the climb up to the fort. It’s nothing but broken boundary walls now. Even the historical significance is not stated clearly or at least not worded in an appealing manner. It probably needs a fair amount of sprucing up to make it more tourist worthy.
The dream catchers on sale around Chapora fort were pretty and we got a good coconut water vendor as well. Talking to the vendor selling dream catchers I asked him “what is a good beach in North Goa”. His first response was “Candolim”. I said “it’s too crowded and noisy, which is a quite, non-party beach, is Morjim or Arambol good”. To which he replied “they are good but you will miss the sunset if you head there now, instead go to Little Vagator it is the best beach here that nobody knows about, or at least very few people go there”. I thanked him for the tip and we headed to the parking. So Little Vagator is where we needed to head to. I am so glad I spoke to the guy selling trinkets to ask advice about which beach to head to.
It was a calming experience watching the sun go down at Little Vagator. The beach is a steep climb down from the top of a hill. That explains why people do not crowd the beach much. It also has very few almost no beach shacks. There is one large shack, Lucky, that sells beer and gives you chairs to sit on. The people who were there were also not very noisy, more into enjoying the sea peacefully without a whole lot of bobbing around in the waves.
From the beach we headed over to a nostalgic old haunt, Souza Lobo. This is where we dined on our first lobster on the last night of our first trip to Goa back in the end of September 2007. This time around we were blown away by the customizations they did for us and the absolutely delightful plates of food that they served. The live music is gone because the singers haven’t yet regrouped after the pandemic. However the food and the view of the beach is still there. The sound of the waves has been replaced by psychedelic trance blaring all over the beach. This is party heaven in Goa, loud, very bright and made specifically for the children.
Oh yes a pretty amusing con happened here. As we were walking over to Souza Lobo this guy approached us and said “Do you want a tattoo?” The kids had been asking to get one for some time. Temporary of course so we said ok. He said come to the shop it’s just 20 bucks. So we went over thinking this keeps the peace going. The tattoos were made and then they took out a much abused scale and started taking measurements. That’s when it dawned upon me what was going to happen. I just shook my head silently and waited for the bill to be brought up. “Sir it’ll be 805 rupees you pay 800 only”. The kids let out a shocked “HAEN!” and the wife also looked up. I said “20 rupees per square inch is what they meant”. I paid the bill and we left, there was absolutely zero value in picking up any sort of argument and ruining the peace. So yeah in case you are reading this before a trip to Goa (or anywhere else) a cheap tattoo, temporary of course, is possibly a con… ask them to be specific. Either ways the kids loved the tattoos and the money was in my opinion well spent.
The next morning was the start of our last day at Goa. Early morning even the kids got up to accompany us for a walk on the beach. We collected shells and walked along the sea listening to people who were in the sea being threatened by the life guards. “Do not swim in the sea the current is too strong, come out or I will come in and then drag you to the police station” and so on… People at the beach go kind of out of control. To us just walking by the sea looking at it was enough maybe it comes from having lived in-front of the sea for the past 7 years now.
So yeah here we were on the beach observing people go completely cray-cray defying the poor life guard.
Later walking further down we met fishing boats coming in from the sea to deposit their catch of the day. It was another one of those offbeat experiences that I think should be on most itineraries (unless you are easily revolted by dead/dying fish or the smell). The makeshift market was so swift that any good specimen would be whisked away by ready buyers almost immediately.
It was quite informative to see how hard the fishermen work to unload the fish and prepare nets for the next day.
Today was movie day so once the beach walk was done we headed back to the villa and quickly got ready for the cinemas… The new Dr. Strange movie was coming out today and the wife just had to watch it today :D… So we headed to the Inox at Porvorim at Mall de Goa and enjoyed a pretty decent movie followed by a nice lunch at Ritz Classic another one of Kapils recommendations. It was another one of those absolutely smashing lunches. The view of the creek from the all glass walls followed by the cracker of a crabmeat soup followed by three seafood thaalis (this is a thaali place that has a line snaking out for at least 500 metres). Luckily we were early so we got a good table with a great view. It was again that same feeling of “Baburao your money aint any good here sit down and enjoy your Kingfish steak”… the only word that keeps coming back to me is generosity! This was a trip that was really really generous.
Before pushing off from Goa we had one last stop to make, La-Confiserie at Candolim. Bunty had recommended them for good Bebinca. We had got a batch for Eid and now we were out. Besides we needed to carry some back for friends and family. If you’re at North Goa make it a point to visit this bakery for not just excellent Bebinca (it’s different from all others including Infantaria Bebinca) but also for many other Goan delicacies. We also picked up vacuum sealed boxes of the stuff from Newtons as advised by Kapil. Seriously I cannot stress enough the value of good advice and insider knowledge. Yes you can experiment and explore and learn and then again you can just focus on the journey and not worry about reinventing the wheel.
Next morning sharp and early we left to head back for home, back at Hyderabad. The gardener at Orchard villas had nicely washed and cleaned the car which is in my book “Customer WOW!” not jut customer care. Thoroughly grateful for all the experiences and the start of a friendship we hope will go a long way. Sometimes all it takes is a ping in the middle of the night asking for advice on which area to book your airbnb at…
In case you would like to stay at one or more of Kapils villas (yes he has four as of now) do get in touch with him through Airbnb: https://www.airbnb.co.in/rooms/35523248. These are 3BHK, fully services villas with the best in class amenities. You can get in touch with Kapil directly on tel:+91 98209 55253 or WhatsApp him here… in our case we intend to do this once every 3 months, maybe shorter durations but now we know where we would be staying. The pricing is variable throughout the year and Kapil is more interested in the people who turn up so he will give you the MMT+ discount you so crave, trust me you will come back feeling you gained way more than you paid for even if you pay full price. In my opinion off season is when you should go, again it depends on whether you enjoy crowds or like solitude… either ways be prepared for generosity like you’ve never experienced before. Goa is much more than just the beaches go explore!