There’s a plethora of ways to describe Goa, each more contradictory to the last and yet, each more honest than the last. The description of the place basically comes down to the story of the 5 blind men and the elephant, each of whom touched the elephant in different places and came up with their own descriptions of it. One said the elephant was long and wet, because he was touching the trunk, while the one touching the elephant’s tale said it was short and thin, and so on. You get the gist.
Goa is a little bit like the elephant. How you see it and how you describe it is based on which parts of it you touched upon. The biggest obstacle to understanding the essence of Goa is its sheer magnitude. Most people assume Goa to be as big as a single city; small in size, easy to navigate. That’s the first mistake. Goa is huge in scale, with each part of it being completely different. You have the local fisherman culture in the smaller islands towards the eastern part of Goa (Chorao Island, etc). At the same time, Goa is well-known for the EDM and rave party culture towards the northern, more popular beaches like Baga, Vagator or the recent hotspot, SinQ (Sinquerim), and then you also have the dusty footprints of History and Christianity at Old Goa. The Southern part of Goa is much more rural and quieter than its northern counterpart. In short, before you leave for Goa or even before you book your hotel, make sure you know exactly what you’re going to Goa for and have done your research on where in Goa you’ll find the atmosphere you’re looking for.
The second thing you’ll have to do when you reach Goa is find a way to travel. Don’t be a bakra and take a taxi everywhere. They charge exorbitant rates, and you can easily end up spending around 5-6k in 10 days just on travelling. Find your way around the bus system. The Goan bus network, though not very well known outside, is something I found very convenient. Everything spirals out from the central Bus Terminal in Panjim. Basically, if you’re in Panjim, You can travel to anywhere in Goa for 20 rupees and an hour’s ride, and if you’re anywhere in Goa, you can travel to Panjim for 20 rupees and an hour’s ride. Just ask around, don’t be shy. Althought, If you have a license and can ride, feel free to book a two-wheeler. Just don’t book a car, though – a two-wheeler or a bus can give you a much better Goan Experience than an air-conditioned metal container on wheels.
For me, Goa was a test. I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of being a digital nomad, and it’s something i’ve always wanted to take up. Goa was my first time traveling without adult supervision (technically, though, I was an adult at the time, haha). This was the first time i’d have to make decisions related to travel, spending, modes of travel, eating, etc. I went with some friends and a lot of strangers, and though I didn’t get to know all of them properly, It was in interesting experience being an observer in a group that was so obviously close-knit.
We reached the Goa airport at around 7 in the morning, after which it was an hour’s drive to the hotel. The ride From Vasco to Candolim was wonderfully scenic – the perfect introduction to a place like Goa. Upon reaching the hotel, we still had 3 whole hours to kill before we were allowed to check into the hotel, so we decided to hit the beach.
Now, I’ve been to beaches before. If course I have, I live in Mumbai. But the one thing you don’t get in beaches in Mumbai is the pure isolation of it. Candolim beach in Goa was a transcendental experience. What was most beautiful about it wasn’t even the sand between our toes or the early morning sun or even the sea. What strikes you the most on an Isolated Goa beach that early in the morning is the sheer emptiness of your surrounding. After years and years of your vision being caged in and told where to look by buildings and roads and signs and complex structures of details all around you, the vast expanse of nothingness was a trance in itself. Within minutes I had forgotten who I was or what I was doing there. There was just the moment of now – my steps hitting the sand and the sound the waves made as they broke on the shore.
The plan was to hang out with the people I’d traveled with for the first day, get a feel of the place and find a place where I could rent a cycle, then basically wander off on my own and cycle down the Goa coast on the second day, travelling through Panjim and certain select spots in the city and then making my way through the pointe-de-linares causeway onwards to Old Goa. I’d spent days revising and re-revising my itinerary.
Except, everything went haywire on the first day when I couldn’t find a single place to get a cycle. Apparently, people only rented motorized vehicles. So i revised my travel plan to include figuring out the bus system. Believe it or not, I actually left the hotel that day with absolutely nothing but the destination in mind. I had no idea how I was going to get to Old Goa or even visit all the places in my Itinerary, which was definitely one of the more interesting parts of the journey. Thankfully, I managed to get a ride to Panjim from the restaurant I was having breakfast in. The second interesting part was when I got into a bus full of pehelwaans from Ranchi, one of whose phone I managed to fix (He had a simple memory problem), after which everybody got really impressed with me and took selfies with me and promised to invite me to their wedding. Very interesting people, if I wasn’t so awkward at the time.
In such a manner, after spending two hours at Panjim, eating local (vegetarian) Poi stuffed bread from street vendors for lunch, and travelling in a packed bus of sweaty drunk pehelwaans, I finally reached my destination – Old Goa. In this case, however, I finally learnt what people meant when they say the journey is more important than the destination. I wouldn’t trade all the experiences I had on the road or all the people I had met for a simple hour’s journey in an AC cab.
Old Goa was a beauty. Completely separate from the life of Panjim city, it comprised almost entirely of churches and museums. The Basilica of Bom Jesus was majestic, in both stature as well as history. By this time, I was completely knackered with a head throbbing from travelling around in the sun all day. Most of my time in Panjim had been spent walking.Two hours of walking around the area and about 3 icecreams later , I was ready to board the bus back to Panjim, and eventually, back to Candolim and the hotel.
Well, at least my tired face and throbbing head gave me an excuse to avoid a night of clubbing as the rest of the group went out.That night was a night of room service and TV – a lazy night well-earned.
Oh, another thing I forgot to mention were the two-wheeler taxis at the bus terminal in Panjim. if you’re living north/south of Panjim and you arrive at the bus terminal after taking a bus, these two-wheeler taxis are incredibly cheap and convenient to travel in, as long as you’re alone. They’re right outside the terminal as you start walking. It’s also much easier to take pictures on a bike than it is to take them from a car, if you’re into street photography.
The general atmosphere of the places I visited was for the most extremely casual and lax, made even more lazy by the hot summer sun beating down on everybody. Nobody really cared about anything, and life went on at a slow pace.It was a completely different experience from what being in Mumbai feels like.