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Offbeat Goa: 12 Mind-Blowing Experiences.

On a rainy Goan afternoon, wrapped up in my blue poncho, I drive my bike past verdant rice paddies, abandoned railway tracks and sleepy hamlets, to cross over to little-known islands in the interiors of Goa. On the empty ferry, the surprised driver asks me why I’m going there. Why? Because these islands are covered in mangroves and mist-laden meadows, adorned with old Portuguese homes, and home to large populations of colourful migratory birds and tiny populations of people who, far from the beaches and revellers of Goa, exemplify the susagade (content) way of life.

I’ve spent two blissful monsoons rediscovering Goa. Take my list and go, and soak in experiences you never could have imagined:

1) Discover the sleepy Chorao Island.

In the heart of North Goa, this quaint little island is serenaded by gentle backwaters, loved by migratory birds, and home to the friendliest locals. On a weekday afternoon, when a friend and I ferried our bike to its shores, the locals were all tucked in for their afternoon siesta in their old Portuguese homes. We chanced upon La Fayette, a little neighborhood eatery, and knocked on its doors, fully expecting to be turned away. The lady of the house, awoken from her siesta, welcomed us in, fed us heartily and fascinated us with stories of island-living. Legend has it that a stolen statue of Christ the King mysteriously appeared overnight on a hilltop in Chorao; a worthwhile hike for aerial views of Goa’s skyline.

Chorao island, Chorao Goa, Shivya Nath

Introspective in Chorao.

Take a ferry from Pomburpa’s ferry point to reach Chorao.

2) Kayak in the rains

On a dreamy July afternoon, I found myself rowing into the untouched backwaters of northern Goa, maneuvering my way through mangroves, fighting the current of the river, hearing peacock cries and spotting eagles on barren trees – all while getting drenched in the rain. It’s an experience I’m always going to remember.

Goa kayaking, Goa backwaters

Kayaking in the rains.

Lady M charters organize kayaking trips (for up to 2 people at a time) in these backwaters.

 3) Try poi at a traditional bakery.

Waiting for the bread-man to deliver the local Goan bread poi to your home is one thing. But visiting a traditional village bakery, letting the aromas of freshly baked breads rumble your tummy, and watching the baker take out hot breads – poi (wheat bread), pao (white bread), kakon (bangle bread), katro (butterfly bread) – from the life size earthen oven, is quite another. Of his 78 years, Jose Carlos D’Silva has been a baker for 50, and his is the only traditional bakery that remains in the region.

Goan breads, Goan bakery, Poi

Jose takes out fresh breads from the earthen oven.

Language is a barrier, so visit the bakery with a local; I visited it with my homestay family in Aldona.

4) Drive the river route from Pomburpa to Panjim

Goa is full of beautiful drives, but this one is my all-time favorite. Every time I drove the route from Panjim to Pomburpa, along rolling green meadows, rice paddies, cattle grazing in the pastures, eagles flying low, men fishing by the side of the road in the backwaters, the cool breeze in my face, I hopelessly fell in love with Goa.

Goa drives, Goa bikes

Driving along the lush meadows.

Ditch the highway, and ask anyone about the inner route towards Mapusa, which leads on to Pomburpa. 

5) Stay with a Goan family in an ancestral Goan-Portuguese house.

I have to confess that if there’s one place where my itchy feet feel grounded, it is the Amarals’ Goan-Portuguese home in Aldona. This ancestral home, dating back atleast 500 years, has been lovingly restored by the Amaral family, and opened up as a homestay to travellers who want more from Goa. The fascinating stories of the house, the aroma of Raquel’s cooking, the silence of the window sill and the timeless beauty of Aldona – sometimes that is just what my soul needs. And Roberto and Raquel – the world doesn’t make people like them anymore.

Goan Portuguese homestay, Cancio's house, Amarals homestay Goa

The Amarals’ Goan-Portuguese home.

Plan your trip to Aldona with India Untravelled

6) Celebrate the traditional Sao Joao festival by jumping in a well!

In the villages of Goa, the Sao Joao festival is celebrated with much gusto. According to an old tradition, all newly married men in the village must jump into a not-so-deep irrigation well and try to recover gifts thrown in by the village folk. I happened to visit post the festival (it happens in late June), but my host family in Aldona invited their friends and celebrated another time; running through the fields and plunging yourself into the well is just something you have to do once.

Sao Joao festival, Sao Joao goa

Me, jumping in the well!

7) Pay homage to the indomitable spirit of an intrepid female traveller

Legend has it that at a time when women weren’t even allowed to leave the house, Ursula e Lancastre, a Portuguese lady, wore men’s clothes and travelled the globe solo! Unfortunately, at Corjuem Fort in Goa, she was recognized and captured. The ancient, overgrown stone walls of the fort offer views over the Western Ghats, and solitude – you won’t find a signboard or another person here. And maybe if you listen close enough, you might just hear the walls echo with stories of Ursula’s brave journey.

Corjuem fort, Aldona fort

Corjuem Fort in the rains.

Corjuem Fort is located in the village of Corjuem in North Goa; you’ll see its walls from the street.

8) Speedboat along the backwaters.

Like most people, I had no idea that Goa had backwaters. When my host family invited me on a speedboat ride along North Goa’s riverine backwaters, I had no idea I was going to whizz along such breathtaking scenery – untouched, devoid of houseboats, home to mangroves, and a hangout for kingfishers, eagles and peacocks. We even spotted an Indian mugger crocodile!

Goa wildlife, Goa backwaters

What a chiller!

Get in touch with Lady M charters to go on a speedboat ride along the untouched backwaters of Goa.

9) Go island hopping

Far from the cries of civilization, some islands in Goa with tiny populations can only be reached via multiple ferry rides. When my bike and I braved the rains to get to them, I was rewarded with colorful misty meadows, delicious bakery food and endless chats with locals on one island. On another, I was surprised to be driving on narrow strips, with shallow waters sprouting mangroves on either side, and old Portuguese-style houses dotting the landscape.

Goa islands, island hopping Goa

The island of mangroves.

Seek and thou shalt find. 

10) Gamble the night away on a casino cruise

I often saw the casino ships floating in the sea from Panjim, but never quite made it to them until last monsoon. On a drizzly night, we took a speedboat out, and spent the night playing roulette, drinking beer on the house and listening to live music. I lost a lot, won it all back, then lost some (greedy me). The best part is, win or lose, once you finally leave the casino, you realize you’re still in Goa!

Deltin Royale Goa, casino cruise Goa

Ready to gamble on Deltin Royale!

I went on the new Deltin Royale casino cruise and loved it. Entry is INR 2,500 per person, including INR 1,500 of chips and all-you-can-have drinks and food.

11) Eat at neighbourhood Goan restaurants

It took me a while to realize that “Goan cuisine” served at popular beach shacks is a farce. Last monsoon, I sampled Goan curries, local breads and hearty conversations at neighborhood restos, quietly tucked away in the interiors of Goa – read about my 7 most delightful finds. This year, the list has grown to include Nostalgia by Chef Fernando in Raia, started by a Goan chef who travelled the world and came back to Goa with a dream of keeping authentic Goan cuisine alive; the food is worth the long drive from North Goa that I made twice. On our way to Dudhsagar, for lack of an alternative, we stopped at a run-down family-run eatery called Royal Fantacy (!), and cooked by the father was the best mushroom xacuti I’ve had in Goa. I’ll pen my follow-up list of authentic Goan eateries soon.

Goan restaurants, Goan cuisine, Venite panjim

The quirky decor at Venite in Panjim.

12) Paddle-boat on Mayem Lake

I’m not one for boating in tourist-infested lakes, but Mayem Lake is quite exceptional. In the village of Mayem in North Goa, this is a pristine expanse of freshwater surrounded by dense forests, and as you paddle your way towards the far shore of the lake, you can feel the silence engulf you.

Mayem Lake Goa, offbeat Goa

Tranquility at Mayem Lake.

Last I heard, they’ve made a fancy boardwalk leading up to the lake in the hope of attracting more people. Go before it’s too late.

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What secrets have you discovered in Goa?

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Join me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram for more offbeat travel stories.

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ALSO READ:

Offbeat Rajasthan: 11 Awe-Inspiring Experiences
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Tasting Romania: A Vegetarian’s Guide to Romanian Food.

In meat-loving Eastern Europe, Romania was an unexpected treat for my vegetarian taste buds. Partly because the country’s orthodox population goes on a vegan fast twice a week or six weeks a year, and partly because the countryside produces some of the finest vegetables and fruits in the region.

This is my little guide to vegetarian food in Romania, and the best places to sample Romanian food in Bucharest, Brasov, Sibiu and Sighet:

WHAT TO EAT

Though Romanian cuisine is largely meat-based, atleast a few vegetarian and de post (for fasting, so vegan) options feature on menus in most parts of the country. These were my favorite veggie indulgences:

FASULE BATUTA (mashed beans)
A sumptuous dish of mashed kidney beans, topped with onions, and eaten with bread.

Romanian dishes, fasole batuta

A hearty bowl of Fasule Batuta. Yum!

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ZACUSCA (vegetable dips)
A popular dish comprising dips of mushroom, tomato, aubergine and chickpeas, served with a salad and bread.

Romania vegetarian dishes, Zacusca romania

Zacusca at Torega, Bucharest.

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CIUPERCI (mushrooms)
Mushrooms in all forms – in a creamy stew, lightly sauteed, cooked semi-dry with other veggies, stuffed with cheese.

Vegetarian food Romania, Romania vegetarians

Ciuperci de pardura (mushrooms cooked with onions and peppers).

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MARCARE DE POST (fasting food)
Orthodox christians in Romania have a tradition of fasting twice a week, or for 6 weeks in the year, during which time they only eat vegan food. Many local restaurants offer a Menu de Post, featuring vegan dishes like stuffed cabbage rolls, zacusca, rice cooked with corn, sauteed cabbage, mushrooms and more.

marcare de post romania, Romanian food, Romanian culture food

Romanian fasting food at a homestay in Magura.

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OTHER DISHES

Kremzli: Thinly-cut potatoes shallow fried with egg, somewhat similar to a Swiss rosti.

Placenta de ciuperci cu verza: Bread stuffed with cabbage and mushroom, sold in small street-side bakeries.

Coronite cu nuca: Sweet bread coated with nuts.

Mamaliguta: Corn polenta with layers of cheese and cream; extremely heavy!

Cascaval Pane: Breaded cheese, deep fried.

Salads, soups and pizzas are easily available.

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DRINKS
I loved Ciuc Radler, for its lemony, beery taste. Ciuc is a popular local beer, together with Ursus and Silva Black. If you dare, try the local plum brandy – Palinka; it contains 40-50% alcohol and is drunk neat! I thought I could pass out after a single sip.

Romania beer, Ciuc Radler Romania

Ciuc Radler with a view of Sibiu from Cafe Wien.

WHERE TO EAT

BISRTO DEL ARTE in Brasov
On a quiet cobbled street in the old town of Brasov, Bistro Del Arte is a quintessential European cafe by day and a wine cellar by night, complete with live violin performances reminiscent of the Soviet era. They do an awesome veggie bruschetta, topped with fasule batuta and red peppers.

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CAPA in Sibiu
A fifteen minute walk from the bustling old town of Sibiu, Capa is a popular neighborhood joint that serves up delicious mushroom dishes.

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CASA IURCA & DAVID’S PUB in Sighet
Though a little touristy with live traditional music and dancing every night, Casa Iurca has the best local food we found in all of Romania, with plenty of veggie options. I loved their kremzli, fasule batuta and ciuperci paprika stew.

David’s Pub came a second close, especially for their extensive breakfast menu; try the egg and cheese burgers.

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TOREGA in Bucharest
Tucked away in a local neighborhood on Eminescu Street, Torega is a typical local resto and marked the beginning of my love affair with vegetarian Romanian food. Their gustare vegetariana (vegetarian snacks) are a must try!

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ANA PAN BAKERY in Otopeni
On our way out of the country, we ditched Bucharest to stay in the much quieter Otopeni (near the airport), and had an indulgent last meal of pizzas and de post goodies from the bakery at Ana Pan Bakery.

Bistro del arte brasov, Romania best cafes

A night at the wine cellar with a live violin performance, at Bistro Del Arte.

THINGS TO KNOW

  • Familiarize yourself with the Romanian names of some vegetables to make it easier to order your food: Mushroom is ciuperci (pronounced chiu-per-chi), peppers are paprika, cheese is cascaval, tomato is rosii, cabbage is verza, red beans are fasule, green beans are fasule verde.
  • In popular towns like Brasov and Sibiu, most people can communicate in enough English to understand you are vegetarian. In offbeat villages, ask for food that is de post (for fasting, so no meat, seafood, eggs or dairy).
  • Portion sizes in Romania are HUGE by Indian standards, so you might want to share a dish or two among two people!
  • A 10% tip is expected when no tipping / service charge is levied.
Romania restaurants, Brasov photos, Brasov Romania

Bistro Del Arte by day.

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What food are you most looking forward to try in Romania?

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Any contributions to my travel fund (in kind or otherwise) will be highly appreciated!

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ALSO READ:

Turkish Food: A Vegetarian’s Delight
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Snapshots from Romania!

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Romania, You Can Fool The World With Your Smiles, But Not With Your Heart.

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Snapshots from Romania!

It all began one night, when a friend and I sat staring at the world map. I had landed a fat assignment and finally reached my savings goal for a long overdue trip out of India. After turning down many drab international 3-4 day FAM trips that offered nothing immersive or even remotely exciting, I craved a mix of the east and the west, interesting food and the chance to experience a culture I knew little about. Romania seemed to tick all the boxes. Flights were booked, visa hurdles painfully crossed, and off we went. Into a world that continues to delight and surprise me.

Read more

Travel Contest: Win an Epic Trip Through Kashmir and Ladakh!

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Heartwarming & Heartbreaking: Living With The Nuns of Ladakh.

On a sunny afternoon, I sit on the steps outside my room, gazing at the bare, brown mountains and their snow-clad peaks. I’m lost in thought when four kids, wearing maroon sweaters and warm stockings, their heads shaved off, come and sit next to me. Word has gotten around that I speak Hindi, and the curious ones have come to check for themselves. On first glance they look like young boys from the village, so I ask Aap sab bhai hain? (Are you brothers?). They solemnly nod no, point towards the nunnery, and tell me they are nuns. Read more

The Joy of Slow Travel.

I’m sitting on a window sill as I write this, feeling the cool breeze on my face and watching the incessant rains spring new life into the wilderness that surrounds my (temporary) home in Goa. The joy of driving, walking and just being in the monsoons is not mine alone. The village folk are out in their carpet-like rice paddies, tilling the land in their colorful ponchos, humming along cheerful tunes at the late monsoon arrival. It took me a few days of being here to slip into the susagade mode of Goa, feeling content with life, appreciating the little things like hot tea and freshly-baked Goan poi on rainy evenings, happy to gaze out at the wild beauty that surrounds me. Read more

The World From the Lens of Ladakhi Nuns.

When I went to live at a nunnery in the high Himalayas of Ladakh, I didn’t imagine that I would be interacting with nuns as young as six years! Living with these Ladakhi nuns for a fortnight was beautiful, insightful, heartbreaking and introspective, in that order. But that’s a story for another post. Today, I want to show you the world from their lens, in photos taken by them with my Sony Cybershot camera. Read more

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Travel Contest: Win a Trip for Two to Singapore!

Three years after I moved out of Singapore, there is something about this little island state  that still lingers in my mind. Most of us travel to find solitude in nature or to relive parts of ancient history. But Singapore, with its manmade beaches, solar-powered gardens and city lights glittering almost more magically than stars, is a glimpse of what travel might become in the future. When the world has culturally assimilated and technology surpasses even the wonders of nature, won’t we travel to witness progress? Read more

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