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Where the sea meets the sky
... in south Goa
That was the sign that greeted us on our arrival at the Madgaon railway station, Goa -- four hours late. It cheered us up a little bit. Well, the fact that wet-behind-the ears Konkan Railway, with all its problems of inordinate delays due to various reasons, was actually thinking up a novel way of cheering weary travellers, venturing to traverse this beautiful virgin route was itself refreshing!
We had set off the previous night from Bombay to spend a much-awaited long weekend far from the madding crowds at the beautiful empty beaches of 'off season' south Goa. That we had decided on the trip in a hurry never helped, since we found that three of our friends would have to be left behind. Or enjoy a sleepless night standing (sitting) in the train corridor for want of confirmed reservations.
All of a sudden, it seemed as if the whole of Bombay decided to select Goa as their destination this weekend. The virtues of a corruption ridden society came into play when we had our tickets confirmed in a supposedly packed train within the first one hour. With all our problems taken care of, we settled down to undertake the journey, which would take us through some great landscapes and innumerable long tunnels. Not to talk of the promise of empty and beautiful beaches of Palolem and adjoining areas -- our final destination in deserted, tourist free south Goa.
With the break of dawn, we were all hanging out of the train, ignoring all safety hazards and drinking in the fresh air. For us grimy-lung-ed Bombaywallahs this was an intoxicating experience. As one among us said, "Hey guys take a deep breath. You don't chance to get such fresh air in Bombay. "
The visual treat that unravelled before your eyes was such a welcome change for one living in the crowded city. It was heartening to observe such lush green, peaceful surroundings. You nearly felt like getting off the train, and spending some time near one of the numerous brooks and rivers that we saw on the way.
The numerous long tunnels, ranging from two to five kilometers in length, provided the mysterious element -- their dark mouths descending on the train and sucking it inside, before throwing us out into daylight once again. We reached Madgaon around noon, three hours behind schedule, and it was another hour's journey before we reached our final destination, Palolem.
We landed at Palolem beach at around 4.30 in the evening and checked in at the Palolem Beach Resort. The first thing that one noticed was the fact that the sea seemed so clean and blue. And oh, so inviting! The beach stretched to quite a distance. One end was kind of a creek, where it was possible to wade through waist length water, which during the tide would rise up further. Beyond it, was an uninhabited island.
The other end was a cliff, which if you could cross over, would lead you to the adjoining (Rajbag) beach. At the resort we had very few fellow holidayers. Two Hungarians playing chess and trying to emulate Judith Polgar. Two women accompanied by a man, all from England. The resort owners and attendants. And finally the lean, wiry person tapping fresh toddy from the numerous coconut trees making an art out of the whole exercise. Once we were fresh, we caught hold of the "toddy man" and had a glass each of the fine drink, so refreshing after a long journey.
Palolem Beach Resort served some fried pomfrets cooked in typical Goan style. We then set out for a stroll on the beach and also ventured into the village. It is said that all discoveries are partly accidental. That was exactly how we met Dhananjay Desai, the proprietor of a modest restaurant at Palolem -- Nature Bar & Restaurant.
The place turned out to be much more than that. We were searching for a few essential items and were passing by 'Nature' when one of us noticed the displays at the counter. We discovered that Desai could stock or provide anything that you needed. He even had a mini zoo -- real mini -- with a small alligator, a tortoise, a crane and few birds in another cage, not to talk of the 'default numbers', the cat and the dog.
Once one of us took a look at his kitchen and saw a wide variety of freshly caught fish and sampled some of his preparations, Desai's was our unanimous choice for dining out from then on. And when we dined, we were glad to find that 'patraon' (in local lingo, something similar to bhai saab) had dished out stuff which more than lived up to our expectations.
We tasted the local Goan drink, uracca or the product after the very first distillation, on way to the making of feni. And had some excellently cooked Goan fish or sheeth kodi. Needless to say it was delicious and we just about licked our plates clean.
Early next morning, at sunrise, we went for a swim. The water was so clear and the sea so calm that we forgot about time. Some of us were busy collecting shells and other gifts that the sea brings to the shore, while the rest of us just let ourselves float, in an attempt to make maximum use of these fleeting moments of bliss and solitude. Finally tired and hungry, we returned to the resort where a sumptuous breakfast awaited us. The "local tea" that they served is worth special mention.
The next on our agenda was a tour on bikes along the coastlines of south Goa. To our great disappointment we found that there were none available. Back to the one-stop-shop in Palolem, Desai's. Magical doors open again on his blessings. We were in possession of four new bikes in good condition. Well almost. One had a slight problem with the gears and also the brakes, as I discovered later when I had to use both my legs to stop the bike on a steep slope! Riding through empty Goa is a thrilling experience for anyone who has driven through the crowded traffic in Bombay, and proved to his satisfaction that his second hand Fiat fares equally well as a sleek Merc.
Near empty roads (Wow!), barring the natural speed breakers that you find throughout India (Read: cows). Roads that are straight and in good condition while on plain grounds and equally good but twisting and turning while going up the hills. You have the choice to cruise around at 30-40 km per hour or if you wish so, to let it go. The sights on both sides are exhilarating, ranging from green fields, thick woods to sometimes breathtaking views of the clear sea from a good height. Of course not to talk about the feel of the clear air and cool winds as you cruise on the bike.
We were on the hunt for a lonely beach, not listed in the usual catalogues. After a long ride, when we had almost decided to turn back and head back to Rajpath or good old Palolem, we chanced upon Darwe beach. A local directed us to the rickety road to the beach. The road ended in a private property with a wooden log barring entry. We parked our bikes just inside the entrance and walked down, rather climbed down, to the beach.
The effort turned out to be totally rewarding when we came across an absolutely empty beach with golden sands. The beach was very rocky which added to the thrill and fun. We ventured into the sea slightly apprehensive. But soon to our delight discovered that once you are careful of bumping against the rocks there were no other safety hazards. The sea was indeed quite calm. Most of the big waves we had glimpsed from high up in the cliffs would be broken by the rocks before reaching the shore.
When we got back to the shore more surprises awaited us. One of us followed the trail of a stream trickling down to the sea, and to his delight found a small waterfall. We lost no time in climbing onto the rocky ledge and freshening up under the cool fresh water. Goa does indeed offer a lot more than fresh air and clear beaches. One just has to go a little out of the way and explore.
Exhausted but contented we climbed back to where we had left our bikes and started on our way back. We passed Mobor beach, which was our original destination when we had started in the morning. We just stopped by and admired the view sitting on our bikes. We were too hungry and exhausted for another venture into the sea. So, back to our home away from home, the Palolem Resort.
5.00 pm in the evening is siesta time in Goa. We had had nothing to eat since we had breakfast. The thought had never entered our minds with all the other offerings that Goa had for us during the day. We could not find a single restaurant open on the way.
Our only chance to grab something filling was our friend Dhananjay Desai, who did not disappoint us. Within a short while, once we had settled down on our chairs, he had cooked and served a sumptuous meal for us. It had to be delicious. And it was. More so after all our adventures during the day. We went back to the resort and chilled out for a while. Late night we had another rendezvous with Desai for a light dinner. This time the special was exquisitely cooked mori or shark. With both our heart and stomach full we retired to our rooms.
The next day morning we were again up at dawn. Since this would be our last day in Palolem most of us had decided to laze around the beach just drinking in the view and reading. A couple of us went for a jog early in the morning followed by a dip. Later a few among us ventured out to explore the lonely island at one end of the beach. The island offered quite a bit for one eager to explore. The still water near the island was also an abode for small fishes, crabs, and shells. The island mostly rocky, had a small strip of beach on its other side. The only inhabitants were a few fishermen, and very few at that. We had to cut short our explorations since it was about time to leave. A job left unfinished.
By evening we were ready to start on our trip back to Bombay. It was really a difficult task convincing ourselves that we had to head back to the crowds and hectic life of Bombay. Do all good things have to have an end? As we started our trip back one thing we were quite sure of. It would not be long before we would visit exotic Goa and its amicable 'patraons' once again.
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