The thing about Goa is that it can be anything you want it to be. Like a good friend, Goa is accommodating. It adjusts its character according to the seasons. It brings out the best in the temperament of the climate, giving you its best at the shift of every solstice. It lets you have your space in summer, gets close and personal with you in monsoons, and joins you in having a blast in winter.
As summer rolls by from distant shores, the serene languid stretches of sand can almost lull you into hypnotic submission. Humid air tingled with salt spray is gently whisked away in cool teases of the sea breeze.
You can laze, and laze—and then laze some more as you discover your idyllic strip of sand, sun and shade on the many beaches that dot Goa. Look up at the palm fringes encircling the powder puff blue sky, and take in the faint, lingering aroma of the succulent spices of fresh pomfret being readied to fry. Bliss.
You’ll give in to musings on life, watching the clouds trace wispy patterns in the sky as the sun journeys lazily across the horizon. Filled with Goan rice and fish curry cooked fresh in the shacks on the beach, your eyelids succumb to a deep slumber. And you have already reached heaven.
Goa in summer is all about crisp whites, soft blues, gentle breezes, laid back musings, much meandering, and endless siestas.
For, life is to be lived without a goal in Goa. Especially in the summers.
The time, if something like that exists in this leisurely land, is taken up by strolls, swims, sleep, serendipity and the sanguine spray of the sea that clings to your hair and seeps into your system.
The long, winding road segues to a lazy rhythm as coconut palms, quaint houses, beaming people and wide open spaces rush past and a feeling of ecstatic freedom settles. Being India’s smallest state and the fourth smallest in terms of population, Goa is really about giving you your space [literally and figuratively as well]. You carry your being lightly in this land that is home to world heritage architecture, Portuguese influences, coconuts and cashew nuts, and miles of beaches.
Reclusive, refreshing rains
At the beginning of June, the sun suddenly hides behind the grey clouds that come in from over the sea. And Goa gets transformed into a misty romantic vision. Sometimes, the skies open up and bless the land with continuous days of downpour. The greens become deeper, more lush, the sea churns up its most gigantic waves and the smell of wet earth lingers in the air. Goa in the rains is like a shy new beautiful bride, with veils of rain cascading and hiding her behind the thin veneer of mist. It’s a season of togetherness. It’s a time when the original beauty of the place, shorn of high season tourist revelry, is revealed in all its magic. These are moments when the land reigns, letting out its old-world beauty with a flourish, cocooning the visitors with bursts of rains.
To experience the ageless charm of Goa, head to the South, which is soaked in the genteel ways, with prime luxury hotels treating you to the unhurried elegant Goan ethos. Here, on their sprawling properties, the monsoons in Goa present their most spectacular performances. That too at an off season discount!
Actually, much of manmade Goa crouches out of reach as the rains hurtle across the skies. Shacks close. The beaches empty out of the typical tourist population. Restaurants operate sparingly. The fishermen venture out only occasionally. And this is when Goa really opens up in all its glory and vivacity. It blooms, it dances, it rejoices in its existence. And you will feel like being one with the land.
As you let go of umbrellas and raincoats and enjoy an impromptu rain dance on the beach, with each step your toes slide deeper into the wet sand. It feels so right. Enjoy the walks around deserted water sports enclaves and catch the crabs crawling out to test the land. See the flowers take on richer hues; the rain drops delicately settling in on their soft petals as the mist covers the path before you in a sudden swift rush.
Goa in the rains is deeply invigorating. Even as you sip your coffee at the hotel’s breakfast bar, and watch the rains, you are infused with a surge of energy. You feel rejuvenated and coaxed out of the summer slumber, refreshed and ready to go.
You also feel connected in profound ways, with nature. You witness how things work in sublime ways when you let nature take its course. Your senses feel heightened, your mind refreshed and your heart does a strange flip flop every time the rain comes calling. Goa allows you to stand back—and participate in nature’s revelry—all at the same time.
Of course, rains in Goa are absolutely romantic. Even the hard core rationalist will be hard pressed to resist the allure and the misty environs. It is an ideal backdrop to patch up with someone whom you’ve had a tiff with. All will be forgiven in the endearing climate that the monsoons spin around the Mandovi river, the broken forts and the timeless churches.
Wow, it’s winter
The churches stand poised in resplendence as the winter draws near somewhere in November in preparation for Christmas that is the joi de vivre of Goa. Flocks of tourists, many from international shores, make Goa the meeting and melting pot of cultures, cuisines and camaraderie in December. It’s the season of bonhomie. Of reckless abandon and frothy cheer. This is Goa in festivity, in celebration and a non-stop partying mode. The lights are all over the place, on the beaches as well, as bonfires and barbecues highlight the late evenings.
The natives get out of their laidback gear and lifestyle [sosegaad to the locals] of vests and shorts and look like completely different people in their suits and bow ties. The ladies fuss over their sorpotels and bebincas and their pork vindaloos and the fragrances of spices and meat and laughter pervade the bylanes of Goa as Christmas trees go up in the porches. You feel welcome, wanted—as if you’ve lived in Goa all along.
The music throbs on the cold breeze that wafts from the seashore, and strangers become friends in the spirit of the moment. You feel the magic in the air as the gracious, warm and enchanting essence of Christmas completely takes over, changing the character of Goa yet again.
The weather is pitched to be able to make the most of the outdoors all day long [and all night long if you wish] and the vibe is infectious. During Christmas, Goa has an unmistakable buzz about it, a zest for celebrating life itself. It feels like a massive carnival has taken over the streets, beaches and churches. This is no longer the place to amble along, but to let your hair down. No more the quiet space but a throbbing, heady, energy-driven zone.
The months from November to February are decidedly edgy, and gloriously merry. The restaurants whip up their most delectable dishes, made-to-order as you want them—traditional and roasted delicacies and desserts laden with coconut and dollops of Goan cheer. Goa, as a tourist guide told me with a wink, has the most tipple joints per square kilometre.
For you, the year around
Irrespective of the season, Goa brings out aspects of yourself that you have lost touch with—helping you get in touch with yourself at fundamental levels. While in Goa, an energetic freedom permeates every pore of your being. It, unequivocally, brings out the best in you. Because, Goa, simply is all about finding—and losing yourself—in all the seasons.
By air: Goa is connected by air through all the major airline carriers. The airport at Panjim is small but bustling with activity.
By rail: Lots of trains from all major cities reach Goa. If you’re taking the Konkan route, catch a morning train for a breathtaking view.
By road: There are several buses to Goa from all major cities, both luxury and standard. From Mumbai, it takes about 16 hours to reach Panjim.
Temperatures: Goa enjoys a moderate climate, fluctuating little in terms of temperatures in summer and winter, save for the humidity levels. In summer, the humidity is high. So wear a sunscreen lotion with a high SPF.
Summer temperatures can reach a high of 34 degrees Celsius and in the winters, the mercury dips to around 21 degrees Celsius.
Shopping: Bebinca [coconut cake that is the speciality of Goa], dried fish, kokum juice, cashew nuts, available in different flavours, including chocolate! You also get straw, cane and leather goods at good prices.
Waterfalls: So much is said about the beaches in Goa that many don’t even know of the other natural splendours in Goa. One of them are the Dudhsagar Falls, a place you must visit if you’re there in the monsoons. The falls are located on the Goa-Karnataka border, about 60km from Panjim. At a height of 310m and width of 30m, the falls are India’s fifth tallest. They rank 227th in the world.
Wildlife: No, we aren’t talking about the wild night life of Goa, but actual wildlife sanctuaries with birds and wild beasts. Bhagwan Mahavir is the largest Goa wildlife reserve covering a 240sq km of land. It also includes the Molem National Park. Other havens for wildlife lovers are Bondla wildlife, Catigao Sanctuary and the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary.
For the tourist, Goa can pack a lot of things to do and see in the standard ‘3-days 4-nights’ packages. Sightseeing tours to North and South Goa are a staple at every hotel and cover the usual sites: a couple of beaches, like Anjuna and Baga, the city of Panjim, the church of St Francis, and a cruise down the Mandovi river [not in the monsoons] where you are treated to native Goan song and dance as the sun sets over the river.
Plan a trip to Goa in February and you will be in the midst of the grand Goa Carnival that follows close on the heels of Christmas celebrations.
The celebrations continue in the monsoons as well with the unique feasts of Sao Joao and Bonderam at the peak of monsoons in August. Colour, pageantry, song and dance mark these festivities.
North Goa is the Goa of today, living in the fast lane with lots of restaurants, nightlife and happening beaches. The hub of activity is the Calagunte beach with a number of expatriates settled in the area, followed by Baga beach. South Goa, by contrast, is sparsely populated, and is home to quiet beaches and premium five star properties.
This was first published in the November 2011 issue of Complete Wellbeing.
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