Ideas for Embracing the Rain
Romance invades every aspect of every little thing in Goa. It’s greener, it’s prettier, remedy it’s cooler, ailment it’s the monsoon. Even the banal mirchi bhajji and pao seem infected with the poetry of the monsoon. A steaming hot cup of chai will only enhance the ambiance. Wherever you wake up in our tiny state, a tiny shop somewhere is ladling out tomato bhajji with bits of potato and puris or pao in the vicinity.
If you’re in Ponje, no better place to start the morning than at Café Aram, that vintage breakfast nook on 18th June road. Watch Panjim wake up, slowly, to the smells of coffee and sweet-spicy buns. If it’s bacon and eggs you’re after, Hotel Venite is that spectacularly atmospheric hidey-hole, chockfull of trinkets and romance. Take the alley to the left just before Panjim Residency near the high court, and Hotel Venite with blow you away with their balcony seats offering a glimpse of the river Mandovi and a front-row view of the rain. With great breakfasts to boot.
Café de Goa in Saligao is legendary for lazy, picturesque brunches. Tucked away in the middle of pretty much nothing, surrounded by undulating fields and mango trees, CDG whips up exotic fare like French onion soup, Veg dumplings with mushroom ragout, à la minute buttermilk, slow roasted pumpkin-carrot-lentils, fish in beurre blanc, mango salsa, etc.
Emily, the German chef and proprietor here can whip up the best cappuccino you’ll find in Goa, except of course if she’s pitted against the French. Patiserrie Delicieux in Santa Inez Panjim may not offer the same views, but it does do you a croissant and coffee at the delectable price of 100 rupees. Their pastries are gastronomic masterpieces. Word has it that Delicieux will be changing locations soon, so watch out for that. (During the season, they also have an outlet in Morjim).
Bodega in Altinho offers a range of wholesome breakfasts as well as quirky lunch bites, and is arguable the best location for a date with the monsoon. Chef Vandana Naique made a name for herself as a top chef in New York City, and we’re quite fortunate to have her back here in her native Goa. She’s just back from a foodie tour of Spain and thereabouts, and the menu, which changes daily, is inspired.
If you’re looking for something simpler, Barista opposite Azad Maidan will give you just that, with a great view of the gardens and curtains of rain; if the heavens cooperate.
Mapusa market may not be anyone’s idea of a romantic destination, but on a Friday morning, this is the place to start your day. Grab a chai and bhajji pao-mirchi at any of the hundreds of little pit-stops just outside the market, and then head on to a kaleidoscope of colours and smells, with every imaginable Goan produce displayed at the market with frenzied bargaining and heated arguments adding flavour.
Now you have your breakfast sorted, take a stroll to the beach, and turn back. Bikinis are out, and not because the Minister of Pubs, Women & Dressing says so. The sea is too choppy for swimming, and the shacks are, by and large, shut. Fear not. Goa has so much more to offer, and especially when it’s raining.
White Water Rafting
Grab a copy of GTDC’s (Goa Tourism Development Corportation) monthly publication of what-to-do in Goa, available at their office and little bookstores everywhere. It’s a consummate guide to the more beaten monsoon path, as well as some hints on some extraordinary things you can get up to in Goa. Also check out the what-to-do listings right here on this Goa Streets web site!
If you’re feeling like a hike, take one. Doodhsagar treks are organized on demand, for groups as well as couples. If Doodhsagar, way down South on Goa’s border is too much work, a little village just after Marcel, on the way to Sankhli, hides an absolute beauty called Haravlem. With plenty of spots to picnic all the way down and a calmer stretch of river at the foot, a superbly serene temple and the best bhajji you’ll ever eat (tiny shop just near the temple), Haravlem is a treat for any rain-lover.
Take the ferry to Chorao or Divar, for resplendent rural landscapes and birds like you’ll never see in the city. Chorao’s bird sanctuary is among the most revered in India. Tiny chapels and temples dot the landscape, and the entire island, either one, is a photographer’s dream -come-true. Especially, of course, in the monsoon.
Or simply go fishing. River Sal, behind Cavelossim beach in Mobor has uber-cool fishing trips where you board authentic fishing boats with real Goan fishermen. The trip includes a sumptuous island meal of the catch of the day, and if you draw naught, they’ll feed you anyway.
Speaking of water, the latest monsoon craze in Goa is white water rafting. And these days you can catch some very fine Category 4 rapids, easily some of the best in India. A good place to start is with the GTDC, which is organizing trips along with several private outfits.
Dinner during the monsoons is a no-brainer. Along the hidden by-lanes of Nerul, are restaurants that will knock your gumboots off with their seafood and cheap beer. Feeling local? Gulp down some Feni with Sprite.
Or drive to Coco beach, where the cove will offer some respite from the lashing, and the shacks will fry you that perfect fresh fish.
To up the romance quotient, South Goa’s Alila Diwa turns out the lights on the last Thursday of every month. Spice Studio, the Indian specialty restaurant, has a “Dining in the Dark” themed evening of mystique and romance with a 100-mile radius Indian “thali” to make your date come alive on every sensory front, from 08:00 PM onwards all for 900++. Only patrons above 12 years of age are allowed, so no wailing babies are likely to ruin the elaborate set-up. (Not to worry, the rest of the resort is extremely kid friendly!)
For a break from the rain, duck into Calculo mall in Panjim to experience “7-D” entertainment. Inox in the capital city, and Osia in Margao are great options to catch a flick or two while the rain rages. For a more local experience, try the smaller theatres. If you don’t mind rats. Or the occasional paan spitter.
Like to shop? Margao’s market is a maze of jutting streets and alleys, with every imaginable thing you can eat, wear, carry or spray vying for your attention. With prices much lower than in the North, the South is always a better place to pick up your trinkets.
Unless you’re looking to splurge, in which case Wendel Rodricks has a design studio in Campal, local designer Syne has showrooms behind Café Avanti in Patto and near the Fab India store in Fatorda.
In the quaint village of Assagao, which, for some reason has captured the imagination and domicile of the well-heeled from all over the North of India, the Indian Story houses ethnic-wear designed by the Swaika mother-daughter team. FabIndia has an outlet in Campal too, and has progressed beyond the starched ethnic kurta of the yesteryears. Perfumes, soaps, shampoos, everything that’s organic, and even jewelry can be found here now.
Celebrating Nag Panchami
If you think shopping is mindless, well, hey we have quizzes first Sunday each month that will strain your brain. The imaginatively coined SEQC: Sunday Evening Quiz Club, attracts the genie and other hopefuls of Goa to quizzes so tough I rarely can answer a question without cheating. Carve your way up the leader board at the International Centre Goa in Dona Paula, 5 PM first Sunday of the month.
For a softer blow to the IQ and ego, head to Maracas on Thursdays. With expertly prepared Greek and other Mediterranean food as the backdrop, there’s some eat-and-drink quizzing, and a lively atmosphere with charades and guess-the-music-title. During the games, each table is a team.
For a spot of culture, head to Maquinez Placa in Panjim, Carpe Diem in Benaulim, Art Chamber in Calangute, and even the International Centre in Dona Paula, which between them host dance, art, music and other cultural fiestas regularly. Kala Academy in Panjim and Ravindra Bhavan in Margao host a more local, vernacular flavour with flamboyant tiatrs and performances by local musicians and dancers.
If you’re looking to sway yourself, sign up for a short dance class. Goa is famous for its street dancing and for the sheer elegance couples bring to their floors. Learn to do the cha-cha-cha, waltz, foxtrot and other ballroom moves that will keep you in step with the average Goan at the church festivals.
Scene at the Alila Diwa Goa
The monsoon brings with it also a flurry of religious festivals that will take any connoisseur’s breath away. Starting with Naag Panchami which intriguingly fosters the worship of snakes, and culminating with chavat or Ganesh Chaturthi, Goa is ablaze with sweetmeats and firecrackers throughout the season.
To wind down, every evening, the Grand Hyatt in Bambolim envelopes Bambolim beach with lamps and lights. Among its gardens sits Capiz Bar, a dimly lit foyer that also chairs up on the patio. A smooth cognac will calm frayed nerves and soothe rain-drenched worries.
Spice Studio exterior
Goa beckons, and so do the monsoons.