Mention the word “Goa” and scenes of lazily swaying palms, golden sands, dread-locked-beer-swilling-hippies, dance parties and yoga retreats probably come to mind. But it is not entirely true. There are so many attractions in Goa which a “regular” Goa traveler do not think of visiting. I am sure the permanent residents of Goa have not visited such places in their lifetime. We have formed a group of friends from Eden Garden society who have been visiting Goa in January consecutively for the last three year. This group is an all male group, no families are included. This time of the year is what we call as “me time” like the Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara (a Hindi movie based on 3 friends) group. Every year one or more member quit the group or new members join the group . There are 3-4 members who are founding pillars. This year was an exception as we took detour from the everyday beach routine. One of our friends who had visited Goa several times before helped us plan it that way.
One of the most important things that you do when you visit Goa is make your staying arrangement well in advance. We did that six months in advance. We booked a Joint Villa in an area named Reis Magos. This place is in Verem and is walking distance from Ries Magos Fort. We had confirmation from seven people so this Villa with 3 bed rooms was enough for seven of us. We collect Rupees 3000 in non-refundable advance for confirming a seat form each member of the group.
Among our group, we have one designated “accountant” who manages the finances. We pay him the advance deposits and he keep tracks of all the expenses and deposits. We call him treasurer “Sitaram Kesari” of the group, the erstwhile treasurer of Congress Party! He has a mobile app which he uses to keep book of accounts for all such trips. He also manages the payments to the villa manager. A week before the actual travel we conducted a meeting in our Society club house to discuss what places we are planning to visit this time (off-course this is tentative plan), the snacks to carry, kind of bags to carry etc. The places we visit may vary in actual depending on the time availability and mood of the group on any given day. One thing we wanted to do for sure was visit the Dudh Sagar waterfall. The main reason for this is we missed it last time as we reached their late on the morning of 26th January, which happens to be the one of the most crowded days of January month. This year we decided to start from Pune at 5:00 am instead of our usual time of 6:00 am. One of the friends was travelling from Mumbai and we had to pick him from Kudal station as the particular train that he was travelling don’t halt at Sawantwadi station, which was on our way, had we traveled by Amboli-Sawantwadi route.
We gathered at 5:00 am in the morning. One of our friends was going to drive his Innova. We take turns and drive one by one till we reach the destination. We packed the hard bags on the top carriage. By the time we could start it was already 5:15 am. The first major stop was at Abhiruchi restaurant. This restaurant is about 3 km after you descend Khambatki ghat. I am familiar with this restaurant as most of the time I visit stop by this place with my family when we visit our native place Karwar. The breakfast was ready, but with some limited options available. I had a conversation with the restaurant owner and he told me his story. He told me he is a graduate and his wife is a lawyer. But they decided to join family businesses of restaurant and agriculture. They mainly grow cane sugar and millet in his farm. He told me he had to convince his wife to leave her lawyer professions and join the family business. It was bit cold there as his restaurant was adjacent to the farm . He has provided a temporary fire place for the customers to beat the cold. He shared his card like a true businessman and told us to revisit.
We exited the Pune-Banglore Highway and entered Kolhapur city as we had to take the Gaganbavda route to reach Kudal. The traffic in the city was just starting to rise. We halted at “Friendship” restaurant off the road which takes us to Gaganbawda. The owner agreed to serve us black tea even though it was not included in the menu. I asked him the reason behind naming the place “Friendship”. He told me that a group of friends started different businesses and all decided to name their respective businesses as “Friendship” to honor their friendship. I found it amusing. Our treasurer added a review on google. The road to Gaganbawda is narrow and still it is busy with trucks, and both private and state transport buses. I traveled this road by Kadamba bus whenever I traveled to Madgao , but that was during night time when you are in deep sleep and hardly notice much. During summer, Gaganbawda ghat is not as treacherous during as it feels during monsoon. The fog and heavy rains makes it a comparatively hell of a difficult journey. There is a Ashram of Yogi Gagan Giri on the top of the hill. We did not visit the Ashram. We had to reach Kudal railway station on time. This road finally meets Mumbai – Goa highway. Much of the Mumbai – Goa road stretch is under construction and the has numerous diversion and rough patches. Once completed it will become one of the better highways in Maharashtra. The Kudal station is like any other station on Konkan railway station, clean and neatly built. The life is Konkan region is very laid back life. You will get a glimpse of that even at this railway station. There are big wooden chairs on the platform and people from nearby places relax there reading newspaper. There is a photo of Mr. Madhu Dandvate, the original architect of Konkan Railway. Thanks to him, Konkan railway is a reality and even a small place like my native village Asnoti is on the Konkan Railway map. We picked up our 7th member from Kudal and headed towards Goa. We had a nice lunch at one of the small restaurant named Sanman. The restaurant serves authentic Malvani food. The sea food dishes were like what we prepare in Karwar, my native place. We had Bangda (Mackerel ) curry and fried Surmai (King Fish). I had a sumptuous meal. The prices are very reasonable here. We wanted to visit Fort Tiracol on the way to Goa. Before you reach Banda near Savanwadi, you take an exit and take a right turn and go under the bridge. On the way we visited Ganapati temple of Redi. This is a small beach town in Maharashtra. This Ganesh Idol was found there in one of the mines in nineteen seventies. The temple is being reconstructed and is a concrete structure now. I am not sure how it looked before. One of the friends posted the temple photos on our Goa Whatsapp group and there were instant reaction from others who had not joined the trip. These comments were stereotypical comments ridiculing us for starting the Goa trip by visiting a temple. People have this mindset that vacation in Goa means 3 Bs :- Beaches, Booze and Bikinis. We had Ganesh darshan and headed for Tiracol fort.
The fort Tiracol is located on a hill on the northern tip of Goa at the mouth of the Tiracol River. This fort was originally built by King of Savantwadi. The Portuguese fought a war against the king and Fort Tiracol was surrendered on 23 November 1746 to the Portuguese. The fort is converted to a Hotel now. For visitors, only some part of the fort is accessible. If these old walls could talk they would surely be able to tell us many stories of battles fought, of victory and defeat, of pain and sacrifice, strategy and cunning, bravado and daring. The view of the Arabian Sea is magnificent from here. We were not aware of the history of this fort. But by visiting this offbeat place we got to know about it. We had black tea at the Garden Cafe. A pot of tea costs Rs. 60 which is reasonable. There was group of Russians already at the cafe. These so called tourists are aware of nooks and corners of Goa which we Indians are not aware of. In the background you can see magnificent Querim beach. After spending about an hour at the fort, we headed to Querim beach.
We were making these program schedules on the fly. I had read somewhere “A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving” and we were following it verbatim. Querim beach is not frequented by many tourists. You see mostly foreigners on this beach. The local shack owner told us that here is a cave at the far end of the beach and we walked down in search of the cave. There was a film shooting going on at the beach using a drone camera. We did not bother to ask. We did not find the cave.
We had no plans of bathing in the water. We wandered on the beach for sometime. The “migratory” Russians were seen enjoying the sun bath and beer. We started our journey to our final destination. The owner of the Innova warned us that the fuel level is “Alarming” but everyone was making fun of the situation. The fuel capacity of the vehicle is 55 liters and has a reserve of about 10 Liters. The owner has never tested this condition before and was worried. We decided to fill the vehicle on the way to our place of stay. The distance between Querim and Reis Magos is about 35 kilometers and it takes about an hour. We had to rely on Google map. Google map gives you the shortest distance considering the roads with less traffic.
We took a quick halt at the Arambol Beach. The black rocks on the silvery beach make for some pretty dramatic scenery at sunset. Its main draws are the paragliding and relative quietude. A short walk north off the main beach is a smaller beach (Kalacha Beach) with a “fresh water lake” close to the sea. The water here is a mixture of fresh water and sea water. The way to the lake goes thru a tons of shops selling t-shirts, drums, drinks, Indian handicrafts etc. This is the third time we visited this place. It was getting dark and we could see a collage of colorful lights on the side of the beach. Arambol beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Goa, among many other popular locations including Vagator, Anjuna and Palolem.
We did not find any gas stations on the way till the time we reached the Villa. We decided to freshen-up first and then go searching for gas station. We were in touch with the manager of the Villa and were informing about our whereabouts and our probable time of arrival at the villa so that someone is there to handover the keys to us.
We reached Ries Mongos late in the evening. The Villa was nice and close to the sea. I and one of my friend occupied the top bedroom. One of us had to use the additional bed. The villa was well furnished, clean and was well maintained. They charge Rs. 9000 per night and it becomes affordable for a group like ours. We occupied the left hand side part of the villa. This property is owned by a Punjabi. The manager shared that it is worth about Rs. 3 crores. He also told us that if we are planning to visit Dudh Sagar the next day, we should leave early as the next being a weekend the place would be crowded. We all decided to leave around 7 am in the morning after breakfast. We had to first find a gas station to top-off our vehicle fuel tank. We googled the nearest petrol pump and while driving for dinner. Fortunately for us the there was one close by, unfortunately for us it has run out of diesel. The next diesel pump was some 5 kilometers away and everyone was hungry for dinner.
We wanted to visit a place where there is live music. Goa is full of such restaurants. Cafe Jazz is one such place in Candolim area. We had tried this place last time around but it was full that night, mostly occupied by foreigners. This time we had to wait for 20 minutes to occupy a seat. The place is named Cafe Jazz but it has nothing to do with Jazz music. They play western pop music, Bollywood songs. People dance to the popular beats. The foreigners are mainly retirees from Russia. The waiters are biased against Indians and justifiably so. The white people must be offering them good tips compared to locals. They don’t even make eye contacts while taking the dinner order. There was one member in our group, who ordered beer and insisted to have beer mug instead of regular glass. The waiter gave some lame excuse for not having the beer mug. At the same time, they gave me a beer mug as they could not deliver what I ordered. I had ordered draft beer instead I had to be content on a can of beer. So the service is pretty bad especially if you are an Indian. One of our friend had hard drinker and he wanted to get drunk no matter what. He went on ordering pegs after peg. Finally some of us decided to get up and shop for next days breakfast. This guy followed us later with a half filled glass of whisky all the way to the shopping mall. Some people forget that there is a difference between enjoying a peg or two of whisky and getting drunk! I have seen people getting drunk during long distance air travels, off-course the drinks are free at 35,000 feet above the ground.
There is Delfino’s Super Market opposite the Jazz Cafe. We shopped for breakfast essentials like bread, eggs, butter, cheese slices, cornflakes, milk and juice. It was already late and we had to getup early for the next day’s adventure at Doodh Sagar. The first day was very eventful and we thoroughly enjoyed it. It was time to hit the bed.
We got ready by 6:00 am and started preparing the breakfast. Some started preparing for toast bread. I wanted to have cereals with cold milk. So it was easy. Our friend from Malad had brought lot of snacks like Khakra, Kachoris, Bakarvadi etc. So there were lot of things available for breakfast. There was a choice of green tea, black coffee and ready to use powdered milk spice tea. When you travel with a Gujrathi friends, one thing thing you can take for granted is that you will not be left to starve! One friend claimed that he is good at preparing egg omelettes. Cooking your own breakfast saves money and time. On top of it you hardly find any restaurants open at early morning in Goa. We left around 7:00 am from the villa. We topped off the diesel tank. We lost some time finding our way as Google guided us to a road less traveled so we had to stop and ask for directions. That delayed us a bit. Finally we reached Kulem. We parked our car and took picture of the parked car as a safety measure. There is no locker facility available so you keep all your belonging inside the car. Kulem is the place where you book the tickets for Jeep Safaris. These jeep safaris are organised by the Goa Forest Department. They take you very close to the waterfalls through the Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary. As usual there were lot of visitors waiting in the Que. We found out that they have started online booking recently and that is the reason there was a separate line for people with online booking to pay the money. We still waited for about 30 minutes in the Que which was not moving at a great speed. The jeeps were leaving at regular interval but the serpentine Que was not moving at a slow pace. We decided to try and book the trip online (https://www.ticketpapa.com/dudhsagar-jeeps/ ) as plan B. The mobile connectivity is not so good in Kulem as it is mostly a jungle area. With some efforts we could make the nominal payment and obtained the reservation number. So within 20 minutes we were on our way to Dudh Sagar fall. Each jeep has a capacity for 7 people. Fortunately for us we were seven of us, so we could travel together in one Jeep.
The total ticket cost of jungle safari is:
- Cost of the jeep safari – Rs.2800 per jeep, seats 7
- Rent for the life jacket (compulsory) – Rs. 30
- Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary entry fee – Rs. 50
- Additional charges for the camera, mobile camera is free.
The road to destination is a dirt road. They have purposely kept it so for the wildlife. The ride to the destination is slow and takes around 45 minutes. The forest department checks the number of plastic bottles we carry and mark them with a marker. On the return journey they make sure that same number if not more are presented on the return journey. This route to visit the Dudhsagar waterfalls opens only in October, after the monsoon ends. We were visiting in December so, the water levels had receded considerably. Entire route passes thru dense jungle. The driver of the jeep was a local and very talkative. He blamed the local BJP government for lack of jobs in Goa. He claimed that this government build only bridges and fly-overs! He said the previous Congress government took bribes but at least provided few jobs!! He wants Modi as the PM for another term though. The locals provide the jeep service to the forest department and it has created jobs for them. They make one trip in a day.
The pool of the Dudhsagar waterfalls
We made our way through the rocks, found a safe (and dry) place to keep our shoes and clothes, and stepped into the water. The freshness of the cold water at the base of the Dudhsagar waterfalls hit us like a bolt. The water is also clear enough to see several mid sized fish swimming in. The pond is deep and I tried reaching the fall by holding hands of an expert swimmer. I did it 3-4 times as it was very tempting. It was worth an experience to stand below the fall. I was surprised the force of water in the month of January. I can imagine the scene during peak monsoon, it must be spectacular. I am told that there is a river which flows from Karnataka, from the top of the mountain and that is the reason the water flow continuously throughout the year. The driver had given us a time limit of one hour and every additional 15 minutes was chargeable. So we changed clothes and headed towards the parking lot. We had oranges and bananas and started our return safari.
Next we headed to Sahakari spice farm. We called up their office and confirmed that they serve both vegetarian and non-vegetarian food at the farm. The farm is near Fonda and is on the Fonda – Madgaon highway. They charge 400 rupees per head for food and the guided tour. We decided to have lunch first. The lunch was very ordinary considering the price we pay. The cheapest fish in the market, fried mackerel and chicken curry were available as part of the non-veg dish. We had lunch and headed for the guided tour of the spice garden. The guide was knowledgeable but was bit bookish. The picture on this page is the the vanilla orchids grown in the garden. The Vanilla planifolia, or Flat-Leaved Vanilla , is the only orchid used for industrial food production. We did not see the Vanilla pods on the orchid. The Spice garden has varieties of spice like cardamom, black pepper, cloves, Cinnamon, Nutmeg etc. The guide explained the use of these spices in treating or preventing various deceases. She also told us that the Sahakari is the last name of the owner who leaves in the farm in their ancestral family home. During the tour, the guests are given a demonstration on how to climb the tall Bettle-nut palms and then the art of swinging from one palm tree to the next palm is shown. I tried my luck climbing but could do only a single step upwards!! At the end of the guided tour I tried the fresh Fenny shot and found it awesome. From here we had to head towards Madgaon to meet one of the relatives of our friend. We were actually tired by now and wanted to have a good rest instead of driving few more miles to the south of Goa. But the friend being the owner of the car was on the drivers seat and we had little choice. We headed towards Madgaon. We met the person in a restaurant near the Madgaon bus station, spent about 30 minutes and started our return journey towards Panjim. We crossed the Mandvi river by mistake. We ended up in the Panjim city and while returning back, did some cashew nut shopping. Our “heavy on drinks” friend bought a bottle of Wisky and he was excited by the difference in liquor prices between Goa and Pune. No price for guessing what we did, after reaching the villa – we had drinks. There was one day match between Pakistan – South Africa which was being shown live on TV. One of the friend told us about the betting app (off course an unofficial one) that gives you the details of the match and the probabilities of winning and losing by different teams at different stage of the game. And the surprising things was, that this gentleman put his money on Pakistan losing the match and to his surprise they won the match. Most probably the match was fixed, as is case with most the cricket matches Pakistan plays. This betting goes on for all sundry matches that are happening in different parts of the planet. This was news to me. I thought people do betting during IPL season only. After the drinks, we walked down to “Thal – Bohra Cuisine”. There were hardly any customers at the restaurant. I noticed that they offer a free beer for liking their FB page and giving reviews. I asked him if can I give the review before the dinner and still win a beer. He inquired with his manager and agreed to offer a beer for free! The food was awful and they almost took an eternity to serve the food. It was a forgetful dinner. I would not recommend this restaurant even to my bête noire no matter I made a mistake of liking their FB page for a free bottle of beer!!
The next the plan was to visit the Fort Ries Mogos. This fort was very close to our Villa so there was no hurry of waking up early in the morning the next day. Four of us got up in the morning and walked about 2.5 milometers on the road parallel to the beach. This road is full of beautiful bungalows on one side. Some of the big properties constructed on the sea side are abandoned because of some legal disputes. We wanted to have some light breakfast. We entered a small restaurant. We asked if we can get bread with butter, the waiter refused. He was not ready to offer anything custom made which is not in the menu. We got up and entered the next door restaurant. I had Goanese pav-bhaji and enjoyed it. In all we had a good walk of 5 kilometers.
We prepared the breakfast like the day before. We made sure whatever we had brought for breakfast is finished. We left for Fort Reis Mogos. This fort is a great proof of what Government can do if they use the money and talent at their disposal in restoring a fort in ruins. The Goa government deserves accolades for doing a great job in restoring this fort. They have the pictures of the fort before and after they restored the fort. It is unbelievable work and I wish the CM of Maharashtra visits this fort to see what can be done to restore the many forts of great Maratha warrior Shivaji. I think by size this is one of the large forts that Portuguese built during their tyrannic rule in India. The picture on the left hand side is the entrance for the fort. They charge a nominal entry fee of Rs. 50 per visitor. The cleanliness is top class. At the entrance door on the ceiling a “Death Hole” to throw hot oil or to shoot the enemy who breached the gates. There are pictures with information about how Indian Navy liberated the state from Portuguese occupation in the year 1961. It was interesting how Portuguese defiantly continued to occupy land in a sovereign Country. I was going thru the photos of the various personalities those protested against Portuguese atrocities. I came across one person from my Native place Asnoti – Gurunath Asnottikar. I was intrigued to find out more about this personality, where he lived in our village, if he has any relatives in the village etc. But unfortunately did not make much headway.
The restoration work is done by Helen Hamlyn. The Helen Hamlyn Trust is an independent grant-making Trust from UK. The Trust’s grant-making is in the fields of medicine, arts and culture, education and welfare, healthy ageing, international humanitarian affairs and heritage and conservation in India. They along with Govt. of Goa did the restoration work. There is so much to see at the fort. You need at least half a day for seeing this fort and reading the pictorial depictions. There are paintings of various structures and the current photos of the same structure/place. There is a souvenirs shop at the reception where you can buy hand made ornaments, books, totem bags and other gift items. I bought a book on “Birds in Goa”. I want to cover some of these bird sanctuaries next time we visit Goa. I saw one guy who works in IT company in Bangalore, he was not sure about paying for camera fee. I told him, do not even think twice, the place is picturesque enough to spend a few bucks on camera fee.
After spending about 2 hours at the fort, we headed for Ozran beach. One of our God fearing friends wanted to visit Hanuman temple as it was a Saturday. Again we searched Google for Hanuman temple on the way and found one. We took a break and offered prayer to Lord Hanuman. The temple was big considering it is a temple dedicated to a single deity. Ozran Beach is located just after Anjuna Beach, close to the Vagator Beach. The Ozran Beach is a small but very picturesque beach. It is situated behind the hillocks on which the fort of Chapora is located. To reach the Ozran Beach travellers have to climb a small hill. Wonderful surroundings make the beach one of the main attractions of Goa. Ozran is a rocky beach more so on it’s left and right extremes. The beach appears less crowded compared to Vagator Beach. The beach has a number of beach shacks wherein tourists have a wonderful time. Viewing the sunset on this beach is a great experience. Four of us wanted to have bath so we entered the water. Rest were enjoying their beer. The water is clean and crystal clear. There are lot of see weeds inside the water. I enjoyed swimming in the shallow water. I requested our director (designated photographer with a Samsung S9 phone) to take pictures. This friend is the same “accountant” I mentioned before. He takes hundreds of pictures and then uploads on google. The other day I viewed his profile and he has so far uploaded some 25 thousands photographs and still going strong. He is a star contributor to Google.
The foreigners were having bath, going back and taking sun bath and I suppose they spend the whole day repeating the same things over and over again. We Indians are afraid of getting tanned while these people show off their tanned body. We had already agreed with the shack owner that we will have take fresh water shower after the swim in the sea . When I started having shower she started complaining, so I had to wind-up my shower half way. They have to get water from a distance and it becomes viable if the customer at least have lunch at their place!
After resting for sometime at the shack, we headed for Zafrann restaurant. This restaurant offers North Indian cuisines. This is bit expensive restaurant but offers very good food. Both the vegetarian and non-veg food are prepared fresh and are taste is authentic. The ambiance and service are top quality. Why very few people frequent this place is a mystery, probably tourist like to enjoy Goan food served in the shacks, cooked by Nepali cooks!! After the having good food we had rest at Tantra, on Anjuna beach. Tantra beach shack and huts is created based on comfort, tantric decor, art, statues, colorful fabrics and above all combining the nature. In the evening they offer prayer at the beach, which seems very mystique for a beach environment. We went to Curlies. A pocket-friendly must visit highly talked about beach shack is Curlies. Curlies Beach Shack at South Anjuna beach is the major landmarks in Goa. Offering food and drink in a pleasant ambiance, its the perfect place to relax and unwind. We had green tea at this place. We watched sunset from the top deck of this restaurant. You get to enjoy the activities going on at the beach from the gallery. Some people were dancing to the Bollywood beats, a small group playing football with a Labrador dog, two boys were playing aerial tennis with plastic ball and hard rackets, a family setting up their omelette outlet etc. The shack is pretty busy as many guests frequent this place. We left Anjuna beach and headed towards our Villa. It was time to have a nice shower. The water force on the first floor was to weak to enjoy a good hot water shower. We rested for a while. Some of the friends had another round of drinks.
For dinner we went to “Earthen Oven” place, a north Indian restaurant. There was a live show of Rajasthani folk music and dance. One of the friend doubted that the girl who was performing the dance is not a girl and was a boy instead. Our treasurer friend wanted to verify that, so during the break he went and tried to have a conversation with the team. He could not “verify” as the “Girl” hardly answered any questions. The food was not note worthy.
The next day we all got up early and started our return journey. You can never have enough of Goa. Goa is a vibrant place in India. There is no other place like Goa. But all good things must come to an end and our Goa trip did too. This time we explored less explored places in Goa.
We took turns to drive. I drove from Savantwadi till Ajara. We took breakfast at Savantwadi and took a halt at Ajra to buy the famous Ghansal rice. You get both unpolished and polished variety of Ghansal rice. Our Google master found out that the particular shop was marked as permanently closed. He re-opened the shop (on Google) and uploaded our photograph with happy faces along with the shop owner.
We wanted to try Akha Masoor dhaba for lunch. The food was awesome. The roti were BIG size but made of maida. The best part was the buttermilk. We reached home by 7:30 pm. Now I will be spending a week or two doing the detox routine, like having warm water with lemon after getting up from bed, have vegetarian food for a while.