A man, with matted hair sits in the lotus position with his face raised to the sun. A few metres down the beach, a 30 something woman, sporting a bright pink sun dress, cavorts through the waves playing a three note tune on a tiny flute. Welcome to Patnem beach in the south of Goa – a place which fulfils every tired cliché about the state’s famous hippie culture.
For me, Goa was just way too hot to get transcendental. It was the hottest winter they’ve had in a few years, which meant that the attitude of ‘sosgado’ (laidbackness) was taken up a notch. The “no stress, no rush” attitude of Goa is a brilliant feeling to soak up when you’re on holiday but frustrating (I was told) when you’re a resident trying to get building work up and running and workers disappear off site for hours at a time.
Goa’s ‘fun in the sun’ reputation has come under scrutiny lately and there were no shortage of safety warnings from family and friends. M. and I being on the wrong side of thirty had no interest in sampling the night life of neighbouring Palolem beach and so we stayed well clear of any dodgy situations. We preferred the candle lit dinners on Patnem beach, with the sand under our bare feet and sound of the waves lapping up on the shore.
If you’re looking for the real Goa, though, you won’t get it staying on a beach hut on Patnem beach. In terms of food, most (if not all) of the restaurants along the beach front cater to the tourist crowd. The phrase, “Authentic Goan Cuisine”, is open to debate and you will find a ready supply of bland unexotic food to suit the unadventurous palette.
If you want to really taste Goa, I suggest you go to Viva Panjim.
I chatted with the owner Linda de Souza (who the Lonely Planet describes as the restaurant’s “founder and doughty matriarch”!) who lamented about the lost of art of Goan cooking. She’s on a mission to put Goan cuisine on the international map. If she keeps turning out food of the kind we were served, I think she’s well on her way to achieving her goal!
If you want to really experience Goa buy a few bread rolls, head down to the local market and ask the lady who makes chourisso sausages to make you a “Chouris Pau”.
You will then know why every Goan salivates at the mere mention of the phrase. (As a side note M. and I tried cashew and coconut fenny for the first time. My apologies if I offend any Goans reading this but we found your port wine more pleasurable to ingest!)
Relics of Goa’s Portuguese past can be found everywhere and you can spend your whole holiday visiting different religious sites and stately homes. Goa also has a lot to offer the nature lover, though with the crippling heat it was difficult to get the energy to go and see it all.
I was, however, particularly disappointed with my visit to the Branganza House in Chandor and I don’t believe it merits the specific text box dedicated to it in the Lonely Planet.
Although this stately home is impressive, I did take issue with the brusque manner in which a “donation” was demanded from all visitors. (“A minimum of RS100 per person, madam. Anything higher than that will be greatly appreciated.”) Visitors are given a hurried tour of a few rooms in the house. There’s little attempt to explain the history and background of the house, though you do get a lot of information about specific vases, and silverware scattered around the house. You’re hustled out quickly to make room for other tourists and photographs are not allowed.
But at the end of the week, was I sorry to leave Goa? Yes, I was. The place grows on you quickly and I know why people keep coming back for more. The upside is that I know where to go now if I ever need a healthy dose of “sosgado”!