Friday, December 28, 2012

10 reasons to travel to South Goa during X'mas

The alarm ringing at 02:30 AM is generally considered one of the most cruel cuts of them all. However, the mobile phone is not only forgiven but becomes your good friend since the purpose is to hop on to the 05:30 AM flight to Dabolim airport on Xmas morning. We made it to the airport well in time, and were shortly buckled up and on our way, after a quick coffee and sandwich.

While most passengers dozed, Junior was busy with the camera. A compulsive sea, cloud and sun photographer, this was his opportunity to take a peek at the world above the cloud line. The sun's rays appeared gently over the horizon and in a while painted the canvas in a myriad of colours, a sight that has always fascinated me.

Acknowledgement: most pictures courtesy Junior. 

The pre-paid taxi system just outside the Dabolim arrival terminal works quite well. All you need to do is to successfully evade the few desperate cries of "Taxi, Taxi' from the representatives of the private taxis adjoining the conveyor belts. Just pretend you have been there, done that. The fare to Arossim was Rs 400. The temperature was an extremely pleasant 20 Celsius at about 7 AM. There is a large parking lot outside with rows of taxis parked. One of these is going to be our ride.

We waited for our taxi to come along, it turned out to be a 'black-and-yellow' Maruti Wagon-R maintained in impeccable condition.

The friendly staff at Pristine Resort welcomed us with an Xmas cake and assorted chocolates. 

I had discovered Pristine Resort about a year ago. The management and staff remembered me very well, and we were greeted like long lost family members.

Pristine Resort consists of two apartment blocks and one block of standard hotel type rooms with a restaurant, surrounding a pool. On the fourth side is a soothing view of green fields that get lit up early morning and late evenings, the hues being quite different, though.

Our apartment had a large living room, a comfortably sized bedroom, attached bath and a kitchen.

The living room housed a closet, small refrigerator, a TV (which we barely switched on), and a single bed.

The weather in Goa is remarkably different in December compared to  most other months. 

Maximum temperature around 30 Celsius, minimum around 20 Celsius, virtually no chance of rain, generally blue skies and a few wisps of Cirrus clouds that appear to occasionally appear by accident. Breakfast at Pristine turned out to be a rather chilly affair for some. Others seemed to enjoy the cool weather thoroughly. We tried jumping into the pool one afternoon. The water was very cold, but enjoyable for a short swim. 

The sky begins to lighten up at 06:30 AM, signalling that it is time for an early morning stroll. You get the opportunity to say 'Hello' to a bunch of Geese that live in the property next door, which is a veritable zoo, in fact, with geese, roosters, chicken, large pigs, tiny piglets, cats and several assorted brown and black dogs all coexisting within their enclosures, along with many cycles (for hire, which you can ride on the beach, certainly safer than on the streets) and a taxi or two (for hire, with drivers, which is also the safer option).

A brisk stroll, less than 10 minutes, leads to the quiet Arossim Beach. The taxi-drivers and card-players near the Hyatt do not show up so early in the morning. The chairs can be seen waiting for their arrival.

Only a handful of walkers are out at that time of morning. I'm not complaining. It's their loss, and results in a peaceful beach for me.

On some days fisherman returned from sea at that time, accompanied by crows circling overhead and the inevitable prancing and sniffing beach dogs. The catch is transferred into baskets, the nets are laid out along the beach and spread out to dry over the course of the day. Needs some skill and stamina to do so, it appeared to me.

The end result is that of the fishing nets spread evenly on the sand, like a work of art. 

Another view of the quiet beach looking south, this time. Oh so tempting to keep walking that way.

There is some activity towards the east, as well. The sun peeps out from behind the palm trees. As the area slowly stirs to life, I walk for a while more, after which it is time to head back for breakfast by the poolside.

Cannot keep off the Food and Drink for long. 

So, what's it about Goa? A common question. In my opinion, it's got to do with the people, food, beaches and shacks. Tender coconut water and water melon juice are two clear favourites. 

The choice of sea food is vast in Winter, after the monsoons and the subsequent no-fishing season. 

Fish Fingers and Masala Papad are fairly common starters.

Grilled Snapper, Baked potatoes, Vegetables and Pasta was lunch on one occasion.

Dinner by the poolside at Pristine included Goan Fish Curry with Rice and other choices.

Seafood with Balchao Masala makes a yummy combination.

 So does Fish Vindaloo with Rice...

Fish Ambotik with Rice, and Veg Sizzlers make up a balanced diet. 

Some beach shacks stay open till quite late. 

Dinner in the beach shack included Prawn Curry with Rice, Pasta and Noodles.

'Fish and Chips' is a change from the spicy Goan masalas.

A new cocktail was improvised: Locally brewed coconut feni, a few slices of lime, soda and pieces of green chillies (scavenged from the Masala Papad dish). The small pieces of green chillies added significant flavour, but made the broth inconvenient to drink. So next time, it's got to be green chillies slit longitudinally.

The peace of the South is just right for long strolls, frequent dips into the sea, watching the quiet beach life and some 'readin', 'writin' and 'rithmetic.

Hmmm...  looks like we have a Biology exam coming up.

Shack positions change year to year. The most common flag fluttering atop most beach shacks is quite certainly the horizontally striped, white-blue-red flag. 

A casual stroll from Pristine Resort led to the shacks at Utorda beach, south of Arossim and north of Majorda. 

Beach dogs tend to spend most of the day relaxing under the shade of sunbeds.

Above the sunbeds isn't too bad a place to be in, either, under the shade of the coconut tree branches.

Shacks in South Goa abided by the 5-pair sunbed rule this season. 

Happily for the environment, the Jet skis, Banana boats and Para gliding boats do not find many customers, except during the evening hours (and at spots like Colva all day).  

The guards don't seem to have much to do all day. It's as if every moment merges into the next.

Beach sellers have been banned this year.  Occasional sarong sellers appeared out of nowhere, as did tattoo artists with their usual assortment of scorpion and dragon designs, and questionable dyes. 

The sea being calm most of the time, it is hard to resist the temptation to to take a quick dip every now and then.

December is a good time to catch up with friends who travel thousands of miles for their annual fix of Goa air and sunshine. 

Zeebop shack in Utorda, with their remarkable 5-star rest rooms, is a convenient place to meet up.

Sunset walks are a pleasant way to wind the day down to a quiet close. 

Little birds ponder about their plans for the rest of the evening. 

Meanwhile, a fishing boat has landed. The catch of the day is been quickly and deftly removed from the nets, and shared with the omnipresent beach dogs and crows. The rest of it is packed into baskets, ready to be loaded into waiting mini-vans to be transported to intermediaries and markets.

Soon, a group of fishermen get busy rolling up the long nets. The nets are folded up and neatly stacked on the boat, waiting for the next journey out to sea. It's not hard to imagine why fishing is considered among the most dangerous professions in the world.  

The heavy boat has to be pushed up to a safe spot on the beach, at a safe distance from the high tide mark. It takes 15 to 20 people, chanting and singing in unison, to move the boat about 50 feet from the water's edge to the parking slot. Blocks of wood are placed below the boat, then moved one at a time step by step to reduce friction, synchronized with the slow progress. 

The life guard has stirred, and is preparing to yank the flagpole off the beach and head home after a busy day. 

Finally, for us, it is time to settle down at Balton's shack and watch the sun slide down. Oh no, the dreaded Jet Skis have appeared, for the first time that day.

Typical sea, cloud and sun scenes during sunset never fail to delight photographers.  

The famed sunbeds start to get folded and put away for the night. 

I'm certain this little bird will be able to find its way home.

The wisps of clouds catch the rays of the sun that is now out of our sight. The sky and clouds take on a thousand ever-changing shades. 

You know what? The challenge is, which way do you look? Do you look West, towards the clouds desperately trying to catch the last rays of the sun? Or, do you look East, where the moon has suddenly appeared between the palm trees?

Should you fancy a slightly longer walk, South Goa will certainly work for you. 

So, one morning I set off around 7:15 AM,  and said 'Hello' to the Geese who were out for their morning waddle just outside Pristine Resort. Remarkably, the neighbourhood dogs don't seem to bother them much, beyond a little barking. Time to move on, so I headed up to Arossim beach and walked south. A quick pause at Betalbatim about 5 km away, to peer at this boat that is all set to go out to sea. 

On through Colva and Benaulim, to Varca. This year's Evisha shack was the site at which Misha stood last season. Names of Olympic gymnasts or ballet dancers, by any chance? 

The deal with the family was that they would wait for me at Martin's Corner in Betalbatim at noon. No time to lose, then. A quick sandwich and a quicker hot, black tea, by when it is time to head back north. 

Benaulim had gotten slightly crowded by 11 AM, while Colva beach was mayhem at 11:30 AM. And filthy. Sadly, the mess is the handiwork of Tata-Sumo and Tempo-Traveller laden tourists. They show up for a few hours and dump their garbage without a care for the environment or for fellow visitors. All you need to do is to picture this ugly sight.

I had miscalculated my timing by about 30 minutes. Not wanting to be late for my lunch date, I got off the walking path at Colva, hopped into an auto-rickshaw and headed off a couple of kilometres to Betalbatim. I chatted with the rickshaw driver on the way. He was pleased with the season's business. His statement appeared to be well supported by the amount of filth on the beach. Well, the morning walk had turned out to be quite a long and pleasant one. 

The beach was almost empty most of the way. A rough estimate indicated that I saw about 10x more people along the 200 metres Colva stretch than along the rest of the 20 km stretch. Maybe a longer walk next time?

Martin's Corner was a pleasant break, with their typical, efficient service. 

The family said 'Let's walk back', much to my delight. So we strolled back to our hotel after lunch. The first part of our walk to Sunset Beach in Betalbatim was a relaxed and quiet one through winding lanes and green fields. We did not know the roads too well, so just headed West!

We reached Sunset beach soon enough, which was equally relaxed and very quiet, all the way up to Cansaulim, as far as we could see.

Little birds played with even littler waves. While the birds appear relaxed, they are extremely swift. It is a challenge to even approach them within a few feet. I haven't been able to figure out what these 'cheep-cheep' birds are. They remind of the little Sparrow. Years ago we used to wake up to the chirping of Sparrows in Bangalore. Alas, no more, because of the environmental degradation.

Gulls flew around searching for their afternoon meal. One of the gulls stopped for a second to contemplate the progress of the tourist season.

It has been a busy day so far, ending with the post lunch walk, yet the clock pointed to just past 3 PM. How about a swim in the pool, now? 

The River Sal estuary is an amazingly diverse ecological belt. 

A 45-minute taxi ride beamed us up to Jack's Place by the River Sal. The area felt like land's end, looking across the river to the greenery that led to further areas of southern coastal Goa. 

The boat operator's run several types of trips: sunrise, day and sunset. We chose the sunset trip. Having reached early, we waited, and clicked a few photos. No other passengers showed up. So we waited some more, looked at the time, got a little worried and clicked a few more.  A bored jet ski lad flew by, he needed something to do, I guess, to stay busy.

Finally Jack came along and said that we are going to be the only three passengers for the sunset trip. I thought, ok, does this means no trip? Jack said that he would have to run the boat for us like a 'private cruise'. The message was heard and we compensated him in consideration of his expenses. After all, they have businesses and homes to run. We clambered on board the 12-seater boat and off we went down the River Sal, peering at the trees, herons and gulls along the way. 

Life got slightly busier as we approached the Assolna pier and the sea. Tiny cargo boats run along, as well as medium sized fishing boats laden with freshly caught fish. The River Sal broadened quietly as we approached the sea.

The spot along Betul beach where fish is dried had hundreds of gulls circling overhead and settling on the trees. 

The sun was setting, and the world around us was bathed in a warm orange glow. We chugged along into the open sea along the rocky coast where we saw many people perched on the rocks, fishing line in hand.

We dropped anchor about 200 metres off Mobor beach. After some initial rocking, the boat settled down. Subsequently, you could have heard the proverbial pin drop. The sun glided gently down, it seemed like we could have reached out and touched the orange ball. It was pure magic, just the three of us, the boat lad and the gently rocking boat. And virtual silence. We kept an eye out for dolphins, but none came by. Oh well, no complaints at all. 

While the sun was quietly setting, we looked towards Betul and Assolna towards the east, and saw the moon rising among the clouds with lavender and pink hues. The gulls were on their way home. Many settled on the trees near the sea. Many flew high, in waves of V-shaped formations, one after the other. A few gulls flew extremely low, just above the water level, probably looking for a quick bite to take home. 

It was an evening spent well. 

Because Xmas is in the air. Oh, what a feeling! 

Beach shacks, hotels and restaurants are lit up all over Goa.

Several depictions of the Nativity scene at Bethlehem were set up, with crowds filing by all day and late into the night. This crib was set up in Cavelossim. 

 A close up of the manger. 

This colourful crib was set up in a field in Arossim. 

Pristine Resort had set up a huge star high above the pool.

As we prepared to head to the airport, we looked back fondly at another Goa holiday, this one was  particularly special one, though.

The countdown has begun for our next holiday. Thank you for reading our story. I hope you enjoyed reading this as much as I have enjoyed compiling and reliving our Xmas memories. 

Best wishes to all for a happy 2013!

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  1. That was a brilliant report thank you and a happy new year to all

  2. Really enjoyed reading your blog and the photos are great! Lovely! Can't wait to get back to Goa for our February fix x jane and Pete, UK

  3. Excellent blog, got here through Candolim forum on Trip Advisor, thank for sharing, brilliant!

    Pamela UK


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