A journey of discovery in Goa - Travel - The Independent

A journey of discovery in Goa

Most tourists only venture from their hotel bar to the beautiful beaches, but Amanda Thow sets off to find its other charms

W hen I asked the waiter for a Kingfisher beer, he brought it to me in a teapot. Questioning him further, I discovered that this was not some bizarre local custom but due to the election. Alcohol was banned for four days, starting two days before the results.

There would be much to celebrate, I was told: the odds-on favourite was running on an anti-corruption ticket. Most of the Goans I spoke to hoped that the illegal shacks which line the beaches would get closed down. Selfishly, I felt that this would be a shame, having just enjoyed the five-mile walk from the 17th-century Fort Aguada along the edge of the surf to Baga Beach, stopping along the way for fresh lime sodas and giant banana pancakes (30p each).

Under the thatched canopies of these illegal shacks, I had watched white, hump-backed cattle wandering by or squabbling for the deep shade between the beached outriggers. Young fishermen squatted near by, sorting and mending the froth of pale-green nets. Women dressed in bright saris held up armfuls of lungis, pineapples and embroidered bags. A man approached and offered me an official-looking document sheathed in plastic: a certificate of competence in professional ear cleaning. "Just take a look," he insisted, producing a frightening array of gleaming metal instruments in a black case.

Another day, I extended my walk over the rocky headland to the next beach, Anjuna, a hippy haven of the Sixties, where there is a flea market every Wednesday selling wonderful chocolate brownies (of the non-herbal variety), baked by a local Englishman.

Apart from brief forays for souvenirs in places like these, many visitors to Goa simply shuttle between the white sand of their local beach and the cool of their local bar. While even the most popular beaches are far from crowded (there are 160 miles of coast), it is still worth hiring a motorbike or scooter and taking a trip around the state.

At the top of Bardez province, a ferry crosses the Chapora River from Siolim every 20 minutes to take you north into Pernem province. Harmal beach and the sleepy charm of the villages en route provide a welcome change from the relative clamour of Bardez. The wide, sandy bay is reached by a short walk over a low headland. There is also a stream which flows down from the hills into a large freshwater pool separated from the sea by a narrow hump of sand. The seclusion of this beautiful spot does, however, attract a few devoted nudists, ageing hippies and a colourful array of posing pouches.

Farther north, a second ferry crosses the Tiracol river to reach Tiracol Fort. If the ferry is on the other side of the river, piercing whistles and frantic waving may attract the ferryman's attention. He will then pick you up, although this unscheduled trip increases the fare from 2p to pounds 1. Tiracol Fort was built by the Rajahs of Savantvadi in the 17th century and captured by the Portuguese, who added lookout turrets and a small, whitewashed church which takes up most of the inner courtyard. It is now a hotel and serves good vindalhao (a local speciality of marinated pork which has nothing in common with the palate-burner normally associated with the term). The battlements offer stunning views of the river's mouth, the surrounding beaches and neighbouring state of Maharashtra while you're waiting for your meal.

Heading in the opposite direction, to Canacona, the southernmost province, you find the most beautiful beach in Goa. Palolem has a wide, curving bay about a mile long, with Canacona island at one end. At low tide you can pick your way along the rocky promontory to the island, but otherwise it is easy enough to hire a fishing boat to take you round to its western side, where there is a small sandy beach and delicate monkeys that are just visible swinging through the trees. For an all-in price of pounds 10, the same boat will pick you up at a specified time and take you to see the dolphins in the waters near the island, then bring you back to the beach for some freshly caught pomfret or tuna.

More accessible is the former capital, Old Goa, in Tiswadi province. In the 16th century it was the most important colonial city in Asia and had a population larger than Lisbon. Today about 15 Renaissance and baroque churches and an archaeological museum housed in part of a Franciscan monastery remain, all surrounded by well-watered lawns.

Like most towns in the state, Old Goa is easily reached by bus. And bus travel is an experience in itself: old ladies will talk of the Portuguese occupation, when there was no electricity in the villages and some had a bus service only once a day. A man interjects that it's no better now. He has been waiting three years for a telephone, even though he paid a bribe to go to the top of the waiting list. All this to the sound of the driver's one tape, playing Indian hits such as "You are my chicken fry, you are my fish pie" at top volume. It's enough to make you long for a Kingfisher beer.

Getting there

Unless you are on an extensive tour of India, the only sensible way to approach Goa from the UK is on a charter flight. Plenty of British tour operators organise trips to Goa, from a variety of airports - but predominantly from Gatwick. First Choice (0161-745 7000) has a week's holiday departing Gatwick on 9 March, price pounds 549 including B&B. Inspirations Flights (01293 821821) is selling seat-only tickets on 7 March for pounds 359 and 28 March for pounds 406.

Getting in

You need a visa, obtainable from the Indian High Commission, India House, Aldwych, London WC2B 4NA (0171-836 8484).

Getting information

Government of India Tourist Office, 7 Cork Street, London W1X 2LN (0171- 437 3677).

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Suggested Topics
News
Paper trail: the wedding photograph found in the rubble after 9/11 – it took Elizabeth Keefe 13 years to find the people in it
newsWho are the people in this photo? It took Elizabeth Stringer Keefe 13 years to find out
Arts and Entertainment
Evil eye: Douglas Adams in 'mad genius' pose
booksNew biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Sport
FootballFull debuts don't come much more stylish than those on show here
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Kim Kardashian drawn backlash over her sexy swimsuit selfie, called 'disgusting' and 'nasty'
fashionCritics say magazine only pays attention to fashion trends among rich, white women
Arts and Entertainment
TVShows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Arts and Entertainment
Hit the roof: hot-tub cinema east London
architectureFrom pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
Travel
travel
News
The ecological reconstruction of Ikrandraco avatar is shown in this illustration courtesy of Chuang Zhao. Scientists on September 11, 2014 announced the discovery of fossils in China of a type of flying reptile called a pterosaur that lived 120 millions years ago and so closely resembled those creatures from the 2009 film, Avatar that they named it after them.
SCIENCE
Life and Style
tech
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
Matisse: The Cut-Outs exhibition attracted 562,000 visitors to the Tate Modern from April to September
art
Life and Style
Models walk the runway at the Tom Ford show during London Fashion Week Spring Summer 2015
fashionLondon Fashion Week 2014
News
Kenny G
news
News
peopleThe black actress has claimed police mistook her for a prostitute when she kissed her white husband
Life and Style
techIndian model comes with cricket scores baked in
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    VB.NET and C# developer (VB.NET,C#,ASP.NET)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: VB.NET a...

    Day In a Page

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week