You don't expect to find many deserted beaches in Goa, but I stumbled across one a few years ago cycling north up the coast to the village of Arambol. I found myself at the end of a vast sweep of white sand backed by coconut palms. The beach below the high-tide line was hard enough to support the bike, so I pressed on for half an hour as far as a shack cafe, run by Claude. In the couple of hours I spent lounging on his deckchair, watching dolphins arc in the surf, the only passers-by were two fishermen. Mandrem beach is still a relative backwater, although last time I was there I ran into a Dutch couple who'd found it in the Rough Guide, which left me with mixed feelings.
The Panjim Inn in Foutainhas is one of the few hotels to have preserved some old Portuguese charm. The rooms have shutters on the windows, carved wood furniture and tiled floors, and there's a relaxing veranda where you can gently sip Indian Scotch.
Hyped by the tourist office as one of south India's most colourful festivals, Goa's annual Carnival turned out to be a rather lame affair. The float procession was a lively enough spectacle, but the bus loads of drunk men hanging around in "I Love Goa" hats made it feel like a sad stag night.
The local tipple is feni, a rocket-fuel concotion distilled from coconut sap or cashew juice. Mixed with lemonade or soda, it can be delicious, although the cause of monstrous hangovers. A bar-owner I once met in the feni-mad south flavours his with cumin and ginger, and sold me two large bottles for about pounds 1. My other big bargain was acquired at a spice plantation state. For 50p, I returned with enough cardamom, cumin, mace, chilli, fenugreek, coriander, and tumeric for a couple of years' worth of curries.
MOST USEFUL PHRASE
Since the Rough Guide to Goa was published, I've received several suggestions for Konkani phrases to add to the glossary, the majority insults to hurl at beach hawkers. My most useful phrase, though, has to be the Hindi for ''slow down'' (dhiri, dhiri), which helps in traffic. Having said that, I came unstuck once after yelling it at a rickshaw-wallah. "Dhiri?'' he replied, confusedly and left me five minutes later at a dusty patch of wasteland. Unbeknown to me, dhiri in Konkani means bullfighting, and he'd thought I wanted to see the big match.
A cotton kurta (long Indian shirt) that I bought in Panjim's khadi shop. Khadi is the hand-spun cotton Ghandi encouraged Indians to wear during the independence struggle, and the government still runs shops to supply city dwellers. They're old-fashioned places, and the one in Panjim has dusty wooden shelves and a different assistant to fetch, carry, wrap and issue receipts for your goods.
Near the village of Parvath in central Goa lies a hilltop Hindu temple called Shri Chandeshwar. Having bought the requisite flower and incense offering I started to walk around the shrine, but was stopped by a dour- faced, saffron-clad priest waving an oil lamp. I should, he said, be walking in the other direction, "same way as sun and moon''.
Holed up 12 years ago in what was then a remote fishing settlement (and is now a holiday resort) I'd been struck by a dose of the local equivalent of Delhi Belly. After picking my way through the palm grove behind the house, I located the khazi - a hut with a hole opening on to the sand. Suddenly my motions were interrupted by a low grunt. I nearly leapt through the roof when a black hairy face appeared at the hole between my feet. I'd seen gangs of pigs rooting around the yard, but no one had thought to tell me that they doubled as waste disposal units.
David Abram is the author of 'The Rough Guide to Goa' (pounds 8.99). Keep up with the latest developments in travel by subscribing to the free newsletter 'Rough News' which is published three times a year by Rough Guides, 1 Mercer St, London, WC2H 9QJ. A free 'Rough Guide' goes to the first three new subscribers each week.
l Mandrem beach lies some 12 miles north of the resorts of Calangute and Baga, and is reached via the ferry at Siolim. By public transport, head for Arambol and rent a cycle for the four-mile trip down the coast.
l A double room at the Panjim Inn (E-212, 31 Janeiro Rd, Fontainhas, Panjim; tel 0832/226523, fax 228136) costs around pounds 15 per night.
l Goa's carnival takes place in Panjim in late February - early March, while the biggest beach parties, around Anjuna in the north, usually happen on full-moon nights in Dec and Jan.
l Village-distilled feni can be bought in local bars for 10p a glass. Factory-made feni is available in towns. Tours of spice plantations are offered as excursions by most holiday companies.
l Goa's two largest markets are held at Anjuna on Wed, and Mapusa on Fri; the latter is more authentic.Reuse content