Travels with Satish (3 Weeks) – Goa; Satara, Ajanta, Ellora & Pune (Maharashtra) – Part 1


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January 28th 2013
Published: January 28th 2013
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GOA

We hadn’t quite included a trip to Goa in our initial planning; in fact we left it out purposely as we felt it would be part of the next big trip to India & be included with a trip to the South. However, we figured we needed a break after 3 weeks being Travel Escorts for Sarah & Louise and we had free access to accommodation (thanks to our friend Phillip De Souza in London, who is from Goa) so what could be better. As we had then planned to go to Satara to meet our friend Satish, he decides to come to meet us in Goa and so does Kaka (his spritely 89 year old father).

We fly from Ahmedabad with Indigo Airlines – 1.5 hours and nothing much to write home about. Landing at Dabolim airport we notice that a new airport is part way through construction & looks impressive (architecturally at least). We find a new booze shop being set up at the exit and stock up on Brandy and Whisky as its ½ the price of what we have been paying elsewhere so far. Besides it will be M’s birthday while we’re here so we buy some Sula wines (red & white – about Rs 510 each – we paid the same amount for a glass of the stuff at the Lake Palace!)

It’s prepaid taxi (Rs 900) and off to Phil’s flat in Calangute where Satish and Kaka have arrived and are waiting for us with some really chilled beers and even more chilled glasses – after Gujarat just what we need. After a slight ding dong with the new owners of the complex we are “home”. It’s what Goa feels like even after 7 years away.

As Satish has driven for 6 hours, we go across the road to Kamat Holiday Homes for more cold beers & dinner (mediocre fish dishes) before nightcaps and catch up chat with Satish.

Calangute & Sinquerim

We hit the beach at Calungute by Rudy’s shack – Satish and his cricketing buddies’ favourite haunt. It’s run by Joe the younger brother since Rudy passed away in an accident some years ago. They now have beach huts on offer as well – self-contained for Rs 1500 per night with breakfast.

Goa is hot - a lovely 34 to 36 degrees while we are here. The sea is clean and generally inviting (the odd days have rolling waves & strong currents). The beach is long and clean, and has new additions since our last trip - Life Guard building and stations all along the beach with “David Hasselhoff” guards in red gear patrolling and a Red Jeep. They seem to spend most of their time blowing whistles at over exuberant Indian tourists who are inclined to swim further out than the Lifeguards are happy with.

There seem more people around but the traders say business is less? There are more shacks (though smaller in size).The visitors are largely from the UK, Russia & Eastern Europe + lots of locals from South India (not so many Mumbai-ites we notice).

The Sinquerim end of the strip seems to have gone downhill. The land has slipped away and the Taj guys are reinforcing the sides. There was not one sun bed in sight. So Romi & John’s favourite spot looks pretty forlorn.

The main road is pretty busy; there are more buildings, new Malls, fancy arcades with designer shops and the main new things in Goa seem to be a plethora of Cosmetic surgery places (“from Head to Toe Transformation” the sign screams out), Dental Clinics, Private Hospitals and loads of Chemists --- so not a bad place to get sick then?

Bike hire is now big business & legit and the speciality is to get a Royal Enfield Bullet (RS 500 per day), which we plan as part of M’s birthday treats but unfortunately he has a bad cough on the planned day so we decide to postpone. The other big thing is the number of tattoo parlours and the folks particularly in Anjuna & the North who have exquisite full body tattoos on them – back, arms, hands etc.

The stay here for Satish & Kaka to some extent is made sweeter by India winning the ODI cricket series against England. We watch parts of a couple of games.

M’s Birthday

So the big day arrives and it’s off to Mapusa market first. Plenty of photo opportunities. It’s really busy and the fish market area is now being redeveloped. We bump into Aarti our acquaintance from 8 years ago. She is now married and has a daughter of 8 months. She looks the same, perhaps slightly grown up and more womanly (dressed beautifully Indian style). Poonam, her sister, now runs a stall in Calangute which we will check out and her brother Sagar has a stall across the way in Mapusa as well.

We try to get M a pair of shorts but to no avail, Indian sizes don’t quite fit him which is surprising given the Indian bellies around and on show on the beach & they have shorts? Perhaps it’s the slim Goan waists that are the issue?

We pop into the Aurora’s Café. It hasn’t changed a bit. Fay’s Mum still runs the show at the counter and till, with help from son and younger daughter. Fay is now married and lives in Dover – UK. We have a plate of egg cutlets, prawn cutlets (new and very tasty), beef patty, pudina sandwich for Kaka & some drinks.

After buying some lovely fresh fruit for breakfast and lunches we head back for a nice afternoon by the sea.

We have arranged a skype with the girls which goes well – Sarah on her new mini ipad & Louise just about to rush to work. Congratulations to her on being offered a permanent position at her company.

It’s a longer chat with Romi & John who look good despite the snow in Brighton while we manage the 35 degrees here. We skype with Phil & Sue the next day and show them the place they haven’t seen for 8 years now – time for a visit we think.

C & S have arranged a dinner at Rudy’s and made special request for BBQed Tiger prawns, Red Snapper and Brinjal & Lauki veg, plus a surprise Lobster. It’s a really windy evening and the log fire & BBQ takes some doing. The meal is washed down with cocktails and Sula red wine (the white got polished off at the flat!). Hefty bill but as it’s only once a year – never mind!!

Arpora Night market + Baga Night market

The Saturday night market at Arpora is still going strong with a new rival at Baga. Some folks do both in an evening. We go for the Arpora one – hire a taxi via Joe which takes us there, hangs around for 2 hours and brings us back. The market looks a bit more tidy and modern than last time. Our friends from long ago – Aarti & Poonam are there with their sister Puja. So is Aarti’s husband and her father (looking younger than before – she says as he does less of the work and the children take on more responsibility. Sound great to M – he awaits the moment when S & L would do the same!!)

The market seems more like Camden market than a local one as the number of foreign stall holders have increased and they are not all stocking local stuff, one woman was selling stuff from Australia!

The food area has expanded to include Hungarian food, Bulgarian delicacies, Greek, Punjabi, Pizzas in addition to the normal range of Goan & Nepali food. We try the pizzas as they look really good and boy they were.

Unfortunately time flies and we have to head back (we should have allowed for at least 3 hours there not 2). The show goes on till 3 to 4 am and apparently till people leave pretty drunk. The locals can’t hold their drink we are informed and are the worst in terms of behaviour. Foreigners cope better.

Palolem & Agonda

As Satish has come in Girish’s car we have more flexibility to travel the extent of Goa and because we have come here unexpectedly, this is a bit of a holiday for everyone as S & K may not have come to Goa at all this year. So we decide to go to Palolem in the south, prompted largely by a blog entry we saw about Agonda which is nearby and the pictures looked particularly good.

The drive takes about three hours – including an extra 30 mins for an accident to be cleared. M & C both do some driving to share the load – and it’s not too bad once you get used to the three rules of the road: 1. There are no rules 2. Make regular use of the horn with gusto 3. Speed bumps always come in pairs and when you least expect them.

Palolem is first stop and very pleasant too. It is very different to the rest of the places we have been to in Goa. It’s a lovely bay with a gentle sea and a palm fringed beach. It reminds us of Kovallam in Kerala.

There are lots of colourful “coco huts” which are like beach side shacks to stay in all along the bay. The place has a very laid back feel to it (and we now know would be the place to come back to if we are ever back in Goa). It’s a lot quieter than up the northern stretch. There are no sunbeds, but they seem to have the sunbed mats to lie on the sand with an umbrella for visitors to lie on. We also discover that there is a smaller bay just over the beach head at one end.

There are plenty of Fishermen and their boats. We end up in Café de Mar near the entry point to the bay, and we stay there for a lunch. The food is really nice and relatively cheaper than up north as well. We go for “Jumbo” prawns – the 3 for the price of 2 offer not to be resisted and an awesome Goan sausage etc. The place also has some really good looking wooden stable type accommodation for rent in a landscaped courtyard.

Later we decide to move onto Agonda beach thanks to the blog. C at the wheel along the coast roads. It’s a lot quieter than Palolem & with fewer facilities. It too has a small bay around which there are beach shack type huts for rent. The pictures in the blog made it look better than it is – good photography mate! It probably is what Palolem was 15 or 20 years ago and will change in in time.

C drives us via country roads and a few stops for directions all the way past Margoa and night falls. At this point driving gets more interesting, people drive with their lights on full beam (blinding you), or not on at all, or with one light not working so you are not sure if the lorry approaching is a 2 wheeler or not. After a wrong turn before Panaji C gives up and M has a go (best way to describe it). After an eventful and accident free drive we get back pretty knackered – it’s taken us 2.5 hours.

We hit the street stall outside the apartment for a snacky dinner - vada pav & pav omelette. By the way for the uninitiated, as we were till lately – Pav is simply a soft bread roll and people in Gujarat and in many places in India have street food stuffed in it to make it a more filling meal.

We decide to pay Phill’s aunt Cleme, uncle Azul and cousin Ramila (22) in Mapusa a visit. We have some funds from Phill to deliver. After some refreshing drinks we set off with their lodger (a priest) to see Phill’s ancestral home in Tivim (not far away). It’s a rambling Old Portuguese bungalow which needs lots of TLC but has amazing character and the family have plans to turn it into an “Old Persons Home” or a “Home for Widows and Orphans”. The priest is helping with the registration and set up of the place. Good luck to them in this venture.





Arambol & Vagator

Still in exploring mode, we decide to go to the northern points of Goa after the trip to Phill’s aunts place. So off to Arambol which is supposed to be quiet and quite lovely. After a nice drive via quieter Goan countryside we arrive to find it less developed than Calangute and Baga but we are not sure about the lovely and quieter description.

It has a charm all of its own. The streets leading to the beach are Calangute in the 60s or 70s (not that we were here then of course! Shame!!). The beach has a lot of colourful boats on it at the end towards the beach head. There are established hostel/hotels painted in bright colours which look picturesque, however, at the other end the beach goes on for miles and the shacks and scenery go downhill after a while. The beach is also crowded with cows chilling out in the mid-day sun. (The cows from the main beaches in Calalngute seem to have disappeared or have been banned by the local cops?!)

Lunch is at Horizon Café and it’s excellent. They also have some beach shack type accommodation to let. All this they have to put up in a week before the season start and after 4 months (at the end of the season take it all down.)

Chatting to friendly waiting staff, we note that many of the folk working in restaurants are from Nepal or Dharamsala. They do the long journey here for 4 months work doing 18 hour daily shifts then head to Leh in Ladhak for the short season there before going back home for the rest of the year– folks back home don’t know how lucky they are.

We move onto Vagator, it was really lovely and quiet when we were here 7 years ago and Ramila tells us that it’s famous for the sunset. So cross country we go and getting slightly lost end up in the middle rather than at the sunset spot.

While S & K have a seat at the cliff top eatery M & C dash off to take pictures. The beach has a lot more shacks; the place seems to have more travellers from Russia/Eastern Europe and the place is quite busy now. The sunset point is crowded with locals and foreign visitors. The beach though still has a certain picturesque quality to it with palms swaying along a craggy coast line which ends in a sandy bay. C used to have this view as the screen saver on our old PC.

Sunset is not quite spectacular – weather dependent after all. It’s back to the ranch and some beers etc. M by now has a bad cough & needs medication – how you get a bad cough and cold on holiday in 35 degrees is a mystery to us all!! Too many Kingfishers (beers) maybe!

Anjuna Market

Anjuna is north of Baga beach and used to be a sort of Hippies paradise. We visit on Wednesday which is market day. The place looks more developed as we walk along the beach from where we are parked. More hotels – some fancy, as well as the usual shacks.

The market has expanded but seems less busy. Again we meet up with Poonam and Aarti, and their sister Puja and mum who have 2 stalls there now. Aarti insists that we have at least a drink which we do however, as M is not well she spends the rest of the time lecturing him on what to eat and drink and what to avoid. According to “Doctor” Aarti (No beer – impossible in this heat, no cold water, eat kichidi - rice and lentil mix boiled and eaten plain, drink hot tea with Ginger. So there you have it! She missed her vocation in life me thinks.). Anyway it shows a lot of care that local folks have for people they regard as friends. It reminds us also of how hard a life they have trying to make a living from their market stalls, working 14 to 18 hour days in this heat and with only a short season, they have it tough. Aarti is determined that her daughter will be educated and get an office job with a salary not have to work like her.

Satish manages to get a couple of gifts for the family back home but as M is feeling pretty rough we don’t hang around too long.

Final two days

M spends more time indoors than out to try and shake off his cough which isn’t doing too well. He gets some more medication which starts to help & gets rid of his fever.

The penultimate night is spent a Joe’s (Rudys), where we have the Red Snapper BBQ (awesomely cooked) with a few local dishes washed down by the last of our wine. By now we have discovered the joys of Cashew Fenni (thanks to the Golden Eye restaurant) and have a few.

So to the final day. M & S go to Mapusa market to buy some stuff for S to take back to London for us, family & friends. We say by to Aarti who’s not feeling well and her daughter is poorly so we don’t get to meet her.

The final dinner is at The Golden Eye – they serve the best Goan food we had in our time here – first time with was Cafreal, Achari Fish Kebabs (to die for), and Caldeen; this time it’s Amotik (just divine), Fish curry & the Kebab again – all fish dishes. Their Cashew Fenni is the best as well – from a special brewery in Maharashtra we discover wow – but we can’t buy any in the local shop.

Onwards to Maharashtra…………….

After 10 days of relaxing and sunshine, we all feel refreshed (apart from M who’s still coughing a lot – perhaps it’s seeing a doctor time?) so it’s time to pack up the car (amazing how much you can get in a small Suzuki Maruti car) and make the long trip (8 hours of shared driving) north to Satara in Maharashtra, to S & K’s house where we shall spend the next four days.

Travellers Tips

If flying in go to the Pre-paid taxi stand

Hire a scooter or Enfield Bullet if you fancy it – the longer the time you take it for the cheaper the day rate. It’s the only way to do Goa and hop around all the beaches and markets. Scooters Rs 200-300 per day, Enfield Rs 400 -500 per day

Recommendations:

South Goa – Palolem, Ahonda, Mobor & Market – Margoa

North Goa – Baga, Anjuna, Vagator or Arambol, Market – Mapusa, Ajuna – Wednesday, Night market Arpora (Saturdays)

Night market taxis – return & agree waiting time in advance Rs 400 – 500

Beers Rs 55 – 60 in the alcohol store, in Shacks/restaurants - Rs 80 – 100 for 650ml Kingfishers

Eateries – Most Shacks (it’s hit & miss on portions), Golden Eye Calungute at the end of Holiday Road – best Goan food. Maggies Food and places to stay are good,

Arambol – Horizon shack – good location food & service

Palolem – Café de mare – good location, food and service

Most of all Enjoy!


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29th January 2013

Tattoo Goa
Tattoo Chandigarh I have been reading out some of your posts and i can claim pretty good stuff. I will definitely bookmark your site.
25th February 2013

Enjoyable read
Hi C & M, Thoroughly enjoyed reading this blog post. I "especially" loved your factual account writing style. Kudos!! I will be travelling with hubby and kiddo to goa next week - and though i have seen north goa many times, your blog brought out the essence of those beaches. Wish you both a great stay while in India and lots of fun and adventure in India and elsewhere.
11th December 2013

Neha Dube
Hi, Its nice to hear about your experience in Goa. I born & raised in Goa so i know Goa very well, i just love the beaches and sand. Nightlife is just awesome here. Come again , Good Bye.

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