We were on our way back from a three-hour trip to the beaches of Baga and Anjuna and the hilltop Chapora Fort.
The jaunt had had its ups and downs. The view from Chapora had been splendid; the waves at Baga had been cool; the coconut groves had been pretty; and the many miles of bright green rice fields, with threads of gleaming water between them and the sheltering coolness of rain-laden clouds above had been exquisite. On the other hand, the bike we were on--a beat-up vehicle very low on power--had nearly thrown us in a ditch; Anjuna, which we’d visited simply to see the famed flea market, had turned out to be more or less deserted; and by the time we got on to the straight road leading to Calangute, we had sore butts and a craving for something cool and thirst-quenching. We stopped off at a roadside shop to buy ourselves some bottled mango juice, and while we were gulping it down, we noticed something pretty amusing.
The house next door had a flamboyant gate--the gateposts were about five feet high and painted a virulent red, with intricate drawings of dragons picked out in white. What was even more unusual was the fact that both gateposts were topped by two identical statues of large black goats. It was just as I was moving off towards our bike when my husband made an interesting discovery: the goats were alive.But after a while, Goa stops surprising you. You do continue to be amazed by its vivid beauty and by its somewhat not-quite-Indian feel, but soon enough, you start taking all of that in stride. You may just stifle a grin when you see a King of Kings Wholesale Dealer or a Holy Spirit Bar and Restaurant, and you may find something vaguely incongruous about a roadside shrine in which the large white-tiled crucifix has been smothered by garlands of marigolds and has a bunch of incense sticks burning before it. A large roadside statue of a sheep, made out of god along knows what material, but with a strange arrangement of stiff metallic rays giving it a backdrop, may take some while to register as the Lamb of God; but after a few days here, even that won’t surprise you.
In fact, it’s all quite charming.
All of Goa, actually, has a delightfully laid-back and happy air about it. This is a sunny strip of land running down the south-western coast of India, lapped by the waves of the Indian Ocean on one side and flanked by the densely forested hills of the Western Ghats on the other. To the north lies Maharashtra; to the south lies Kerala. And in the middle is Goa. Beaches, Bermudas, bikinis, bars, and bebinca are what Goa is famous for. It’s what thousands of tourists come seeking every winter.
But suntans and seafood aside, Goa has a lot to offer--all you need to do is dig deeper. There are beautiful old cathedrals dating back to the 17th century; typical Portuguese-Konkani houses, with wrought iron or carved wood balconies, terracotta-tiled roofs, and bright blue ornamentation; groves of coconut trees; and pubs, bars, and eateries down every street. It’s all rather crowded during the winter, when both foreigners as well as Indians descend on Goa in sun-seeking hordes, but try coming here in the monsoon.
The monsoon, usually beginning in early July and lasting up to late September, soaks Goa--the state actually receives some 100 inches of rain a year. With its deep red earth, its lush green fields, and its brilliant blue kingfishers (we saw about half a dozen on an average per day), Goa is perfect for a monsoon visit. You may not be able to soak up the sun or go swimming, but this is the best time to get a taste of a state that’s very friendly, incredibly beautiful, and very easy to fall in love with.