The Beach Week: Goa, Part 1

Of the approximately 50 beaches in Goa, Karin and I are happy to stay on three very different and beautiful strands, each with its unique landscape and personality, each catering to its specific crowd of people. As a former Portuguese territory, Goa’s food, architecture, and culture have been steeped not only in its colonial heritage, but also influenced by hundreds of years of invasions, occupations, and religious wars. I was surprised to learn that Goa was still under Lisbon’s dominance until the 1950s, and that even after India reclaimed the “island” of Goa, as it is sometimes called, it didn’t become an Indian state until 1987. Perhaps this is why Goa feels both youthful and ancient at the same time. While old temples and estates crumble, yoga studios and retreat centers pop up between shacks and fishing boats. The old and the new live side by side, and walking the streets here, one can sense the tug of cultures. 

In my previous post, I shared how we landed at de Soul Sante in Morjim, a pretty little boutique hotel just across the street from the beach–a long white stretch of sand with a thick waistband of bars and restaurants hemming it to the street. We like our room, and the staff is sweet, so we’ve decided to camp out here for another night and enjoy watching the sunbathers in such an array of beach attire and varying degrees of sunburn. If you had just dropped me here out of the sky, I could hardly believe we were in India at all. The only natives on the beach serve cocktails and smoothies to the tourists, and a few souvenir sellers carry their wares and plop down to share their anklets, shawls, or beads. Make eye contact, and you are done for, and if you buy from one, the next and the next will visit too. Karin and I end up with a lot more trinkets than we need even after one day.

A swath of lounge chairs line up under flimsy bamboo and thatch coverings which stretch out in deep rows on the way to the water’s edge, and upon all these sun beds in the shade are droves of tourists moving slowly after emerging from the haze of last night’s party. We already know we want to migrate up the coast to Mandrem Beach where things are a bit quieter and more of a yoga vibe, so we take a taxi from de Soul up to our next place to check it out. On the way, we learn about the night market in Anjuna, and after securing our room for the next three nights, our driver agrees to take us to the market for an extra fee. He talks the whole way about how much Goa has changed in his lifetime, and we listen and learn a lot on our journey. At the gate of the market, he pulls in and tells us not to let the return taxi charge us more than 500 rupees.

We are quickly swept into the colorful mix of locals and tourists, shopping for everything from spices to rugs to malas to beaded gowns. We stop at the first spice stall and each buy a variety of delicious churnas: coconut curry, biriyani masala, and Pav Bajhi, which smells amazing! I can’t wait to cook with them when I get home. 

After my nose is saturated with deliciousness, we let our eyes carry us from stall to stall, each brimming with so much stuff, you can hardly get in to look around. Silk dresses and beaded dupattas hang like drapes in every shade of color, and women cram in to watch each other change and offer approval. I think many are buying outfits for weddings. I don’t know where to start, and before long the overwhelm sets in. We are literally roaming with no real focus–just in awe of the color and lights and noise.

Not far from the display of silks and in the main square an Irish band plays on fiddle and guitar with an Indian guy on a frame drum. I must be dreaming, I think… but yes, it is a strong Irish accent I hear, and the fiddler is ripping it up while the crowd dances and cheers. I take a video to convince myself what I’m seeing is real.

Around the bend is a table covered in beads, and prayer malas dangle from a line in the spotlights. As we start to finger through the beads, Karin gets to one and says, “this looks like the one I got here three years ago that broke!” She’d packed the broken mala, hoping to get it fixed while here, and sure enough, Shiva remembers her. They have a sweet chat while I pick amazonite beads and a bronze Ganesh pendant to make a mala. He agrees to make Karin a new mala to replace the one that broke, and for us to come back in a half hour.

The crowd ebbs and flows, and we follow the turns through the market. I try on some dresses, we pick through journals and handbags, silk shorts, and jewelry for at least an hour, and stop to marvel at a little makeshift spa pool where hundreds of tiny fish dine on the soles of several willing customers.

When we get back to Shiva, he isn’t finished just yet, so we hang out until he ties the last bead, and make a plan for him to meet us on the beach tomorrow so he can fix Karin’s other mala and deliver my Ganesh, which he hasn’t started yet. Bags in hand, we head for the exit and ask for a cab. The guy wants 700, but I tell him 500 and am firm. He says 600 and we start to walk away, but they call us back, agreeing to 500 rupees. Off we go into the night!

It’s after midnight when the taxi drops us off, and the Russian party is in full swing. Walking to our hotel, we see the last of sobriety sink into the disarray that will litter the beach in the morning. By the time we get back to our room, Karin realizes she has left her bag full of spices, new pants, and new mala in the back seat of the taxi! But by now the car is gone. We fall asleep to the thud of beat music pumping into the air, and I realize that even this close to the beach, I can’t hear the waves in this town.

After two nights in the party zone, we wake in the morning, enjoy a leisurely breakfast of masala omletes, fruit, and coffee, pack our bags, and go to meet Shiva on the beach. He hands me my new Ganesh mala and ties Karin’s broken one, adding the lost bead.

It is already steaming by noon, so we are game to get to Mandrem Beach where the streets are quieter and the clientele is a mix of bohemian, yoga students, and locals who run a handful of jewelry shops and pashmina stalls. Our room at Nalanda Retreat is again across the street from the beach, set back from the road, so it’s quiet and peaceful. As soon as we are settled, we find a sweet couch overlooking the beach, and have a cup of tea before yoga class. It’s a gorgeous spot with flower petals strewn over the tables and a sign that reads: “Today is a good day.” Yes it is.

Until the next post, love and blessings!


3 thoughts on “The Beach Week: Goa, Part 1”

  1. Amazing to read about your adventures! Enjoy!! Missing you & so glad you are soaking up this wonderful life!!

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