Go now, Goa, India, Offbeat
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Offbeat Goa: 12 Mind-Blowing Experiences.

Goa monsoon, Goa rains

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.

Also read: My Alternative Travel Guide to Goa

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
5 Quirky Ways to Discover Madrid
Wake Me Up When September Ends

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37 Comments

  1. Hi Shivya ! I was so thrilled to see a mention of Venite here. We were on a trip to Goa in May and Venite was one of our favourites. That was a trip when we too eschewed the beaches for a glimpse of the other Goa. We went right upto the Terekhol Fort which was the most wonderful drive.Next time do visit the Rhys Margo fort and the Braganza home both of which are fascinating. We are going with our children again this month when we hope to introduce them to the true soul of Goa.

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  2. This is awesome, Shivya!! I’m (very ashamed to say that) I’m one of the only people in the WORLD who’s never been to Goa so you can imagine how long it’s been on my bucket list. I’m waiting for your Goan eateries list to come up, and then off I go!! 😉

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  3. Pingback: Offbeat Goa: 12 Mind-Blowing Experiences. | The Talking Sloth - Asia

  4. Offbeat Goa sounds incredible! I couldn’t have rowed a boat in the rain, but yes, gorging on the freshly baked bread would be my kind of thing!

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  5. Sarika says

    What an amazing list Shivya! Although I’ve been to Goa many times haven’t done most of these yet!

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  6. beautiful…Inspite that i live in Eastern India, Goa is like my annual pilgrimage…however, with this post…the next trip shall definitely be different…

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  7. I do envy your life right now. Until I do these for myself, I’m happy just reading about your experiences. Waiting for your next 🙂

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  8. UttamImphal says

    Loved reading about your cool experiences in off-the-track Goa and thank you for sharing them. For a few moments I was really trasported there by your crisp description and pics. Now I know I’ll think twice before dipping my hand into those waters with smug crocodiles waiting for a snack.

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  9. Goa! There is always something more to discover no matter how many times you go there, no matter how many times you write about it. We just came back from a trip and made this short video. Thought it might interest you 🙂

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  10. Madhav says

    I contacted Roberto for kayaking unaware that he was the same person owning the ancestral house you mentioned. While my friends were rowing I shared my trip plans which included a visit to an ancestral house nearby, I almost made a fool out of me to discover that I was talking about his own home.

    Thanks for sharing this, it was pleasant trip indeed.

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  11. It’s also a great time to go white-water rafting. Try Off The Grid, on the Mahadayi headwaters near Castle Rock. It’s run by a charming couple, John and Sylvia Pollard. Very professionally run, with all safety measures in place.

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  12. Janvi Gandhi says

    How about watch a football match? I’m curious how that would turn out. Have had a Goan friend in the past who has spoken about football and life in Goa endlessly. Also it occurred to me that your experience of culture would be limited if you do not focus on sports and how the locals relate to it in their everyday life. Just my two cents.

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  13. Albert Regan says

    Incredible indeed, I have been to Goa almost 10 times in the past 4 years spend atleast 30Nights in Goa but never thought that Goa could be sooo tasty, My next visit to Goa is with a purpose and I would all of it.

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  14. Loved your post. And have been an active follower of your blog for some time now. Luckily, the solo travel bug has also bit me. And I am planning to begin my solo escapes here at Aldona only with the Amarals’ if all goes as planned. Thanks a lot for inspiring 🙂

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  15. ajay says

    It is really interesting to hear you through all events , described fantastically !!

    especially I love your introspection snap ! That snap gives me inspiration and energy !! would you please send me copy to facebook !
    i would like to keep it on my time line !!

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  16. Brilliantly written article. As someone who has lived in Goa for a year and shunned the commercialised goa, you got the list spot on. Especially the Poi. I’m going back this weekend for a break. I’m looking forward to Lady M charter.

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  17. Pingback: Chorao island | Maheshgandikota's Blog

  18. Pingback: #72HoursInGoa for a Life Makeover | Life In Technicolour

  19. Bipasha says

    Last time I was in Goa was about 7 years ago…I am looking forward to my trip next month. Great tips here, thanks for sharing!

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  20. When you think Goa, you think beaches, parties, hippy-culture…and churches. Tourists flock to Goa like it’s the one place in India that everyone must make sure to have visited. And it draws all kinds of crowds without exception – college kids looking for a few days of mad partying, families posing for the perfect beach holiday.

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  21. Maureen Britto says

    Nice to know that you visited my villages Aldona (my husband is from there), Corjuem (my Dad’s place) and Chorao (my mums maika) and saw the real Goa – The next time you go you must visit the Chapel on the Hill in Assonora (my husband’s ancestral village) – It is simply heavenly – There is a road from Corjuem after the fort where you cross a bridge that can open up for the barges (albeit unused and unserviced) If you want to sample what a cashew orchard looks like in full bloom you must go to the hills of Corjuem which is opposite to the road you took to go to the Fort or for that matter anywhere in Goa in the months of March, April and May – you may get Jackfruits and Mangoes and Karvandas too specially in Chorao on the way to Christ the King.
    You can also go to Chorao from Aldona via the Calvim Bridge which is not too far from the Cancio’s place…Keep Enjoying all your travels – How I wish I could be in your shoes……

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  22. Pingback: How to leave the tourist in you behind and become a traveller instead  | Coffee Mustachee

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