Goa, a tiny state hugging the western coastline of India, is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations for its sandy beaches, delicious cuisine having a lot of Portuguese influence, and its nightclubs. And I have seen this side of Goa many times. Well, not many…just twice. So this time, my friends and I decided to visit the Goa that we rarely get to see. By the way, one of my friends is a native Goan, so that definitely helped!
We tried some obscure, but highly-recommended restaurants during this trip. I think the best food we had was at a tiny place called Peeps Kitchen, which is in Panaji. Although they did not have any options for vegetarians (the reason I mention this is because I am one), they still cooked up a couple of dishes especially for me. My friends loved the non-veg food served here, and they hogged like crazy. The other restaurant that we really enjoyed was the one at Hotel Mandovi, which is a pretty well-known place. The ambience was really nice, and the food was mouth-watering. We also visited a place called Cafe Bhonsle for breakfast. Since it was a Sunday, it was crowded with church-going folks, but the food was pretty good even if it was only vegetarian. The other cool restaurant we visited was Hotel Venite. Although the food was decent enough, we loved the old-world charm this tiny place exuded.
The Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
Not many people visit Goa’s only bird sanctuary largely because not many tourists know what to do after reaching the tiny island of Chorao. To reach the island, you need to get onto a ferry from Ribandar. I should mention that the drive to Ribandar is absolutely breathtaking because the road to the boat jetty is right beside the Mandovi river. Once you are on the ferry, it is a 15-minute ride to the Chorao island. Now, what most tourists don’t know and we were lucky to find out (from an old-edition travel magazine) is that there is a certified, bird-watching guide on this island who can take you through the River Mandovi backwaters and identify many bird species. His name is Uday T. Mandrekar and he can be reached at the following numbers: 0832-2239114 or +91-9822583127. He is an awesome crocodile tracker and we managed to see two crocodiles on this tour. The best time to take the tour is in the morning by around 7:30 AM. You have some local shacks that offer a sumptuous breakfast after which Mr. Uday can take you on the boat ride. A word of caution, though…while you can drive to a certain point that is close enough to the makeshift jetty where Mr. Uday’s motorized canoe is tethered, you have to cross a treacherous stretch of moss-covered rocks and soft, slippery mud to reach the jetty. So, please wear sneakers or appropriate shoes that provide a good grip on such surfaces. The tour was fascinating and made more enjoyable by Mr. Uday’s immense knowledge of the bird species and the local history. We found him to be very friendly and extremely engaging. So, if you plan to visit the bird sanctuary, be sure to contact Mr. Uday.
The Cabo de Rama Fort
Again, this fort in Canacona is not well-known amongst the majority of tourists because it is quite far (from the madding crowds) away – around 60 kms away from Panaji. And the only way to reach this place is by car or bike. But the drive to this fort is one of the most beautiful I have ever taken. Once you cross the busy town of Madgaon, you are in for a visual treat as you drive through quaint townships littered with old Portugese-style houses, verdant forests, and savannah-type grasslands. The roads are narrow at times, but they are well-laid and well-maintained. You may need to stop and ask for directions to the fort, but the locals are well-informed and they do guide you in the right direction. After you reach the fort, you will find that you are probably one of the only tourists around. So, I would highly recommend that you go as a group. Once you enter the fort, you will see the Church of Santo Antonio, which is still used for prayer. However, the rest of the fort does lie in ruins. We had the good fortune to meet one of the government-appointed caretakers, and he guided us to a less well-known section of the fort where the view is breathtaking. The fort is on top of a 50-foot cliff overlooking the ocean providing amazing visuals of surrounding beaches and hills. There is a set of crude, rocky steps from the fort that lead down to a beautiful, rocky beach. Attempt it only if you are fit for the task because it is not easy. There is another turret, which is more popular among the tourists and has some abandoned cannons and other structures that are in ruins. However, we did not get a chance to visit that because it was already closing time. Yes, the fort closes down by 5:30 PM. So, it is better to reach early so that you get time to explore the fort. Now as far as eateries are concerned, there are no proper restaurants in or close to this place. You do have roadside shacks on the way to the fort that offer basic food options like bread and eggs/tea and coffee. So, if you are expecting to have a sumptuous lunch, either pack it or have it before you start on this drive.
Goa is not complete without its colorful nightlife. For those of you who love to shake a leg or get sloshed till your brain gets damaged, Goa is for you. While there are many places where you can do this because this is where Goa makes it money, we would highly recommend Tito’s pub, club, and disco. They are extremely professional and they have the right amount of security to prevent mishaps or brawls. One of the main reasons we went to Tito’s was because they had Bollywood Nights on Sundays and Mondays where you could ‘shake your booty’ to popular Bollywood numbers. And you can keep on doing this till the wee hours of the morning. Another great nightclub that I heard about, but did not visit was LPK (Love Passion Karma). Maybe next time.
Overall, this visit to Goa was special in so many ways because I got to see the Goa less travelled.