Wednesday, May 2, 2012

From a hundred Agonda stars to five

Agonda is just about 12 hours from home (yipeeee..!!!). The trip involves leaving home at 6:30PM, a 10 hour bus ride, and getting into Canacona by 6AM. The best part is we reach at the crack of dawn, without losing any precious beach time. The second option would be to leave home at noon, hop on to the 1 hour flight, land at Dabolim at 3:30PM and reach Agonda around 5:30PM, just in time to catch the sun going down.

No prizes for guessing which option we chose.  

We had spent early April in Thailand, as a result of which the late April period was our only realistic travel window, before Agonda completely shuts down. Coincidentally, we had been to Agonda towards the end of October 2011 when Agonda was starting to come to life, and now we were there towards the end of April to wave 'goodnight' to  Agonda getting ready to go to sleep and get rudely woken up by the battering of the monsoon, after a season's job well done. 

It turned out that Hangout Agonda was probably the only beach hut open towards the end of April. We had reserved in advance, over a month ago. The auto rickshaw driver met us at the pick up point near the Canacona bus stop a shade after 6AM. We were in Agonda in about 15 minutes. Less than 12 hours after leaving home, with the entire day ahead of us. The 2011-2012 season was their first, built on a leased plot of land a few hundred metres south of the creek, about 10 huts built around and stretching behind the dining area towards the lane parallel to the beach. 

Our beach hut answered to the name Arambol. All the huts are named after Goan beaches. 

The beach huts are cooled by a fan that valiantly circulates the air around the room. Between the room and the dining area, it has been conclusively proven that the outdoor area is the cooler of the two during the afternoon period in Summer.  

The dining area was a step away from Arambol hut. The owners have since informed me that they have plans to landscape the property. Four young men pursued a dream, finally making it come true. One or two of the business partners live on site at any given time during the season. 

Early mornings generally resulted in a feeling of 'I don't want to go anywhere, let's just sit here all day'.

The rocks near the beach seemed to be quietly busy trying to catch the high waves breaking on them.

Researching the menu is serious business in Goa. Dunhill Restaurant is a cool spot for a snack and drink towards the southern end of Agonda. 

Walking on the beach was some work. The combination of high waves and high tides forces you to walk away from the water, on the 'softer' sand. No complaints, it's a good way of building up your appetite. 

The restaurant at Hangout Agonda does not have any shut down time. You are welcome to sit in the quiet night for as long as you wish. Though the cafe is called Bollywood Cafe, they do not play Bollywood or any other music. You only get to hear the sound of the crashing waves not too far away. 

The menus are shown in the updated Agonda menus post.

Friendly beach dogs generally adopt you in Agonda, following you around silently, tail wagging, for as long as you wander around in their territory. 

Summer is amazingly peaceful, with barely a soul in sight. A handful of overseas visitors suddenly show up on the beach and then disappear just as quickly after a brisk walk.  Indian visitors seem to hunt in relatively large packs, causing significant commotion along the way. 

Chatai was one of the options available for food, until they gave up on April 30. 

Yumm..!! Lunch and dinner was once again a variety of familiar Goan curries. The food at Hangout Agonda was very good, which was especially welcome, considering the very limited options in Agonda towards the end of April. 

Relax, run across the hot sand to the water, sprint back, relax some more, eat, drink, walk the beach, grab a snack and drink .... that more or less sums up a good day's routine. 

A tired fishing boat, having done its job for the year, gets some well deserved rest. 

Fishermen have neatly coiled up the fishing nets and nets, until they can sense that the sea is safe enough to venture in, probably around September. 

I don't recall hearing a single occasion when the life guards' whistle blew. Quite a contrast from the busy spots on South Goan and North Goan beaches where tourists congregate, keeping the guards fairly busy. This guard seems lost in thought. The beach would be rather desolate after May. How do I stay awake?

Junior gives up on cloud photography for a moment. 

Oops, I spoke too soon. Junior is back to recording the ever changing moods of clouds during sunset. Dark clouds come and go rapidly during the pre-monsoon season.  

It is impossible to catch the 'red ball' going down. The sun vanishes suddenly behind a layer of clouds that did not appear to be there only a few minutes ago. How clouds suddenly appear during sunset, just as the sun prepares for its final descent, one will never understand. Maybe the good Dr. of Cloud and Sky Photography will know the answer to this one. 

Hangout Agonda is pleasantly inviting in the evening. The small blue lights hanging above the tables cast a calm and reflective spell. A week to go before  shutdown time.

Agonda is one of the ideal areas to admire the stars and planets overhead, after sunset. It is also time to dust the old brains, in an attempt to recall the constellations that used to be so clearly visible in the Bangalore skies during the years gone by. Not any more..!! The dining area at Hangout Agonda provided a wonderful view of the cliff and the rapidly blowing clouds. A long exposure captures the ambient light on the sand and the pink glow that seems to be trapped behind the cliff, several hours after sunset.  It's actually dark to the human eye. Hundreds of stars quietly appear and disappear whenever the clouds give them a chance.   

The black board next to the 'tandoor grill' at Dunhill Restaurant tells the end-of-season Agonda story, simply and effectively.  

The next part of our Summer 2012 Goan holiday was meant to be a surprise. At least to one of us. Junior and I planned it that way. All we said was, now that Agonda is shutting down, it's time to head up a short way to South Goa for a couple of days. The owner of Hangout Agonda arranged for a local boy to drop us in his Maruti WagonR car, happy to get some business during the lean season. The route along the back roads was lovely, quiet and winding, except for a couple of busy spots at small towns along the way. 

I tell the driver the name of the general area to head to, and then several 'left', 'right' and 'straight' directions as we near our destination. We reach in about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Winding roads force those susceptible to nausea to seek shelter in the front seat of the car. This also leads to the photo opportunity to capture the 'I don't believe this' look as I casually tell the driver to drive into the property, and realization finally dawns when the guards at the Park Hyatt gate stop us for a check. 

We were handed our usual nameless 'welcome drink'. Non-alcoholic, fortunately for some and not so fortunately for some others. While we waited for our room to get sorted out, Junior explained to his Mom to "Just chill". After all, he was a partner in crime and was trying to play it down.

Well, actually, having been to the Hyatt on numerous occasions for meetings and conference, I thought it's time to share a little of that experience with the family. It would be a good spot to celebrate the victim's birthday. as well. 

Two suggestions from the birthday lady: quick, take a picture before the room gets messed up, and, how about spending more time in the room, since we've paid so much? The first idea was swiftly executed while the second was promptly vetoed 2:1.  

Now, this shower area looks slightly nicer than the cold-water-only temporary-pipe contraption at Agonda, doesn't it? 

The rays of the evening sun glint pleasantly off the plants in the garden, watered regularly every morning. 

I acted as a tour guide, explaining the several facilities around the property. 

It was a strange but happy feeling to stroll around the bar, restaurants, meeting rooms and conference rooms, this time with a different set of people, that is, family. I gingerly opened the doors to the conference rooms, peering into the semi-dark, empty spaces with a few chairs and tables lying untidily around, briefly reliving the memories of suits, boots and presentations. 

The grand tour of the conference rooms evoked a simple response from Junior. "Wow", he exclaimed, "free food!" 

The setting sun hidden behind drifting grey clouds drenches the beach with a gentle light. 

An attempt at non-beach-cloud-sky photography.

Junior does not seem to be too impressed with my efforts behind the camera.

The heavy pre-monsoon clouds that we saw in Agonda seem to have vanished for a while. 

Now, how about this? Just about anything seems to be an appropriate subject for a photograph. The rough waves throw up things from the depths of the sea, and take them away, as well.

The amused family looks on at this attempt to do branch and twig photography, as we stroll from Arossim to Utorda.

Good old beach at South Goa in the evening, never too crowded except at a few spots. 

When the aching muscled complained, a bit of mechanical assistance came in handy. Hup - two - three - four. Hup - two -three - four.

Not to be forgotten, here is the effect of the summer season on the 'Taxi Driver and Card Playing Club' of Arossim, head-quartered by the front gate of the Hyatt. One usually finds about 10 to 15 taxi drivers hanging around, waiting for their prey to step put of the gate, the typical cry being "Taxi, Sir?". It appears like the lean season has driven the vultures home, while a lone representative keeps the flag flying, chatting with a friend on a scooter. Perhaps the scooter hiring business is also in dire straits these days.

And now, the food. Venus Shack north of the Hyatt seemed to running under life support. They used to open at about 1PM and close by 9PM. The boys behind the counter were not too polite, either. Probably the 'low season' effect. 

Zeebop's is the first shack as you reach Utorda from Arossim. Can't take a risk with this kind of a sign board.  

Balton's, the second shack in Utorda, was buzzing with activity. As a result, we found ourselves going there very often. I know the owner brothers very well, too.

Tony and his staff came running out and welcomed us in. This was my family's first meeting with the Balton's gang. How was your Summer? How many days are you here this time? And so on. We asked about the season. It's been good, we learnt. Except for the visitors from the very large "R" country north of India who tend to be rude and demand to use the free sun beds and towels sometimes without even buying a bottle of water. We also learnt that Indian visitors have not behaved themselves lately. The theory going around is that domestic visitors have probably pickup up unpleasant behavioural traits from the visitors from the very large "R" country up north. 

Summer is "Urak" season, the early extract of the cashew fruit. Any season is a good time for tender coconuts and Goan curries. 

Lazy days melted into lazy evenings. 

Watching the sun disappear into the clouds or the sea, sitting by a shack in Agonda or Anjuna or Baga or Utorda, is truly a magical experience. 

This trip was a good time to introduce the family to Balton's Restaurant just outside the Park Hyatt gate along the road. This restaurant has been my traditional refuge from the Hyatt food after the conferences have closed for the day. The impeccable decor has been a distinctive feature for years. The two TVs (recently installed) are good for watching IPL cricket matches and other seasonal games, while soft rock music plays. The family is suitably impressed at my choice. Well, I had passed another test. That's a huge sense of relief..!!

A Rajdoot Yamaha motor cycle and Bullet motor cycle from the '70s or '80s are a part of the decor. 

Whew..!! It has been a busy day. Pool, room, beach, shack, beach, room, pool, beach, shack, room, restaurant.

The property is subtly lit at night. The gardens are lit up just enough for you to be able to find your way down to the beach for a short stroll under the sodium vapour lamps. 

A trip to the pool is a relaxing way of starting the day. 

An 8AM start implies that there are not too many people around, so it is extremely quiet and peaceful by the pool.

Time to play 'slide'. Up and down we went, and round and round the pool area. 

After more of the pool, room, beach, shack, pool and room routine, it's finally time to get on the airport shuttle and hop aboard the 1-hour flight back home. 

So that was our Summer 2012 Goan story, from a hundred stars to five. 

May you have a pleasant monsoon and may the winds of the season blow early and strong. 

Until next time, then! 

Related posts: 

Updated Agonda Menus post:


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