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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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Offbeat Rajasthan: 11 Awe-Inspiring Experiences
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Wake Me Up When September Ends

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

I tearfully parted ways with Ladakh over a month ago, but I feel like I’ve never really left. A part of me still wanders around the cold mountain desert, gazing at the stark scenery and merrily greeting jullay to the village folk. I might not be going back anytime soon, but I hope TWO of you, my readers, win a once-in-a-lifetime expedition by Ceat Tyres and Mahindra Adventure, and get to experience the immense beauty of the snow-capped Himalayas of Kashmir and Ladakh! Read more

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

Jullay from Leh!

I groggily board the flight to Leh at an unearthly hour. Waking up irritably to the flight attendant’s announcement, the view outside my window quickly changes my mood. We are flying precariously close to the snow-covered Himalayas, and would soon land in the cold mountain desert of Ladakh. Three years after my first solo trip to Spiti, I am back in the trans-Himalayas, still dreamy and wide-eyed, a little nervous, and hoping to find solitude in the mountains. It feels like life has come a full circle. Read more

Kinnaur: Of Mountain Legends, Unknown Trails and Wild Beauty.

For centuries, the valley remained cut off from the rest of India. Legend has it that when a road was finally built and the first car drove up, the locals weren’t sure what to feed it. The driver playfully declared that the car likes chicken and whisky. The locals innocently obliged, and the driver had a feast. They also say that when an elderly woman boarded a bus for the first time, she left her shoes on the road as a sign of respect to the bus. Getting off at her destination, she was shocked that her shoes were gone, no longer outside the bus where she had taken them off. Read more

6 Offbeat Experiences Near Hampi.

After my soulful sojourns in the North-eastern and Garhwal Himalayas, I descended to Mumbai for some personal work. Three weeks of sweltering heat has left me craving the rains, and made me nostalgic of my monsoon adventures last year, when I chased the rains from Rajasthan to Hampi.

Over two trips to Hampi, I’ve discovered experiences that go beyond the majestic ruins of the ancient Vijaynagara kingdom. Take my list, stay with the locals, meet the dwindling gypsy community, cycle amid dramatic landscapes, and indulge a little: Read more

Sikkim: The Lost Kingdom.

On a late evening, we sat on a steep cliff, drinking the local Sikkimese Beer. Sparse villages and farms lay scattered in the valley below. The River Teesta roared along intensely. The mountains echoed with hypnotic chants from a nearby monastery. We were lost in our thoughts, when the mist slowly rose, and revealed to us in all its snow-capped glory, the mighty Mount Kanchendzonga. Read more

In Photos: The Garhwal Himalayas a Year After The Uttarakhand Floods.

I’ve never travelled in my own backyard. Born and brought up in the valley of Dehradun, I’ve always wondered what lay beyond the mountains I could see from my terrace. And last month, I finally decided to find out. I made my way up to the villages beyond Uttarkashi, and down via Mussoorie, transfixed by the majesty of the Garhwal Himalayas, as much as by the conviction of the locals to move on after the devastating Uttarakhand floods of 2013. I’ll let these pictures tell you their stories. Read more

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