Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Goa ... and relax.

 Following the hectic preparations for our trip, and a busy few days in Mumbai, it was with some excitement that we boarded the sleeper train to Goa, looking forward to some relaxation.  Mumbai’s main train station is a sight in of itself; hundreds of people stood/sat/lay all over the huge waiting area with all manner of packages and produce to be loaded onto trains heading all over the country.  The train wasn’t ideal (uncomfortable beds about 5’8” long i.e. not long enough for either of us to lie straight) but it did have A/C so the journey wasn’t bad, although I would certainly have got more sleep if it wasn’t for the persistent offers of chai every 5 minutes.  With the journey scheduled for around 12 hours, we arrived in Margao 15 hours after setting off; luckily we had been warned of the delay by a helpful passenger, as there was no sort of announcement otherwise.  From speaking to fellow travelers since, both the delay and the lack of notification appears to be fairly normal.

From what we had read, the liveliest parts of Goa are at the North of the state, and the further south you move, the quieter and more relaxing it gets.  We toyed with the idea of a couple of nights in northern Goa before moving further south, but settled on heading straight to Palolem, a tiny town in Southern Goa for some R&R.  The local bus from Margoa to Palolem took around an hour, and we hit upon a nice guest-house just off the main road in Palolem straight away.

The phrase “main road” should really be elaborated on, as it is extremely relative.  Palolem consists of two roads; the “main road” which runs parallel to the sea, and a very short secondary road which runs from the “main road” to the beach.  Both roads are lined with restaurants, small shops selling beach-wear, sarongs etc, and a few grocery stores (my personal favourite of which was entitled “General Store” but appeared to sell only pineapples and watermelons).  Apart from the handful of rickshaws, the main traffic on those two roads is created by cows.  In short we had found our relaxation spot.

The Palolem beach itself is very pleasant; not the white sands we have experienced in Thailand before, and fairly narrow but a very nice beach by anyone’s standards, lined with more restaurants, bars and touristy shops and cluttered by fishing boats and dogs and occasionally cows (and thousands of tiny crabs in the evening and early morning).   

What really makes Palolem beach special, however, is the geographical setting; it sits in a natural crescent between two rocky outcrops and in front of a thick line of palm trees, the effect of which is to make it feel really secluded even though there is the “main road” behind those palm trees, and other small towns on the other side of those outcrops.

Panorama from the rocky North end of Palolem beach

As you might expect from the above description there isn’t really much to say about our activities in Palolem; they pretty much exclusively involve lying on the beach, swimming in the and eating.  The heat (40 degrees C at a guess) limited the former apart from early and late in the day.  The sea was really quite choppy, and therefore not particularly clear, but nice and warm, and the irregular wave patterns made for fun in anticipating and trying to withstand the big waves (although nothing to keep the life-guards busy)

On a couple of evenings we walked out to the northern rock outcrop which made for a great place to sit on the rocks and watch the sunset.  The only downside was that the ankle-deep water we had to paddle through to get there became thigh-deep by the time the sun had set which has probably taken a fair few tourists by surprise.

We also spent a day at Patrem beach, a short rickshaw ride further south, partly to see whether we wanted to move there for a few days.  However, our stay in Goa was right at the end of the high season because by May it is simply too hot for anyone (including Indian people) to go to the beach.  Consequently the tiny town (village?) of Patrem was completely dead; we were two of around 10 people on the beach, and many of the restaurants and shops had already closed for the season. Patrem beach is wider and less cluttered that Palolem, however we soon learned (at the cost of Monique’s sunglasses) that without the protection of the crescent rock outcrops the Arabian Sea is really quite rough, and bordering on dangerous to swim in.

We decided not to move further South, as Palolem was quiet enough for our purposes and clearly the high season was due to end in the next couple of weeks.  By way of an example, we had heard that Palolem hosts a full-moon party and, not wanting to miss out, had gone looking for it on the appropriate night.  Having failed to locate the party we returned to our guesthouse, and the following morning we were informed that the “party” consisted of about 20 to 30 people who gathered at the same bar.  We also tried to attend a mid-morning yoga class only to find that, despite it being advertised throughout Palolem, it was no longer being run due to the lack of attendees at this time of year.

About the closest Palolem came to exciting was when I was nearly run over.  Standing in the middle of the street and chatting to a fellow Dhoom 3 extra (did I mention that we were Bollywood extras???) I was suddenly shoved out of the way by a rickshaw driver just in time to prevent me from being skewered by the horn of a cow who had decided that she was going to walk straight through me.  Having survived the Mumbai traffic it would have been somewhat embarrassing if I had then been run over by a cow on what could barely class as a road!

It is safe to say that Goa served its purpose of providing the relaxation that we were both seeking; a sort of holiday at the start of our travels.  Palolem wasn’t quite the tropical paradise we had hoped for from Goa, but it is certainly a lovely little place to chill out for a few days.

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