We actually visited Goa, India’s smallest state, at two separate times during our Indian adventure. Our first foray to the coast was for a brief five days in the South, divided between Benaulim and Palolem. Stella was about to turn ten on December 18th and we wanted to treat her, and splurge on a fancier beach accommodation with a pool. Lamentably, our reservations did not live up to our expectations, which resulted in a mini birthday disaster. This was not our first time that we had been duped by a booking.com ad, but the disappointment burned more, because of the timing. Multiple online photos only showed the expensive and more luxurious villa rooms, when in actuality we had only paid for the less appealing apartments. At this stage, with no refund possible for our overpriced digs, we had to settle for shabby. The owner tried to smooth over what we perceived to be faulty advertising, and had a birthday cake delivered to the restaurant he had suggested for Stella’s birthday dinner, but not even chocolate could bring a smile to Stella. She held back tears as we were serenaded with Lionel Ritchie tunes by a mullet-haired cover band – need I say more?
Hoping to improve our moods, by finding a livelier part of Goa for Xmas shopping and fun, we headed to Palolem for our last few days before flying to Meghalaya for the holidays. Although Palolem is a far more touristy beach area, we appreciated the amenities and fulfilled our hunger for western food, including Spanish tapas, wood fire-oven pizza, and Italian pasta. We also ran into our Swiss friend, Jan, who we had met in Udaipur, watched the final soccer match between Goa and Chennai (sadly Goa lost), and spent a lovely morning kayaking in the ocean. Before we knew it, the time to leave had come. Our visit to southern Goa was so short, that we vowed to return again before leaving the country.
After our journey to northeast India and a short stint in Mumbai, we returned to the north of this state. We had ten days left and assumed that we would travel a bit, but travel exhaustion and laziness won-over exploration. We checked into the aptly named Wellness Inn and couldn’t drag ourselves any further than the nearby Mandrem beaches. The whole Northern beach region was a puzzle both strange and seductive. I was most “tripped out” by the variety of travelers that Goa attracted, and how dramatically western this part of India was, in comparison to all the other regions we had visited in the country. Some beaches were clearly populated by Russian holiday makers, while others had a French feel, and then there was a whole meditative, spiritual, yoga blanket over it all, both superficial and sincere. Places like Arambol had tribes of hippies hanging on from the old Goa days, and new-age pilgrims seeking enlightenment or escape. Of course, there were Indian tourists as well, perhaps with deeper pockets, drinking their share of Kingfisher and whiskey to keep up with the partying, 20-something Brits and middle-aged, vodka-imbibing Russians in speedos. In contrast to those looking to “get trashed”, were the body-beautiful yoga fanatics. And wow, we have never seen such a concentration of beautiful physiques on one strip of sand. I tried not to flab out by waking EACH morning to take a yoga class taught by a gorgeous Russian Bond woman. I’m surprised I couldn’t convince Dan to join, as his jaw clearly dropped each time she passed by. It turns out she was also a professional belly dancer! Instead, the waves provided Dan’s “come hither”, and he spent his mornings surfing in the ocean, his own form of meditation. Stella and Gabriel became fast friends with all the people who worked there and every child that also stayed at the Inn, including the yoga instructor’s son and an Indian brother and sister. They were most happy to nest at the guesthouse, playing games, watching projected movies, learning Bollywood dance moves, discussing cultural differences, and eating spinach paratha and banana Nutella crepes. We in turn, happily socialized with the parents, visiting night markets, and sharing meals and life stories.
Perhaps, my favorite evening in Goa, which made me feel like ditching all travel plans and living the beach life for good, was an evening spent on Arambol Beach, watching juggling and acrobatic performers, admiring hand-made crafts displayed on sheets in the sand, seeing strings of people holding hands in the water, to meditate before the sunset, and to join a drum circle in ecstatic dance as the sky darkened. My inner hippy felt all the possibility for love, joy, sister and brotherhood, gratitude for life and beauty in the world, welling up inside. Goa had revealed its mysticism and attraction, fulfilling my fantasies for this part of the trip.
Here are some additional photos on our several hour taxi ride to the Goa train station, to catch an overnight train back to Mumbai for our final departure: