Goa's got more...

Goa's got more...

It is probably easy to steer away from the beaten track if you have the steering in your hands or someone at the steering wheel. So, this is the case on a family holiday when we land at Dabolim airport and opt for a self-drive option. The car is handed over to the traveller at the airport, with an identification retained and 'conditions applied'.

It does seem important to mention that a 10-minute drive from the Dabolim airport brings one to a grand hotel in Vasco, where the lobby restaurant offers excellent fare to tickle all palates, including our vegetarian ones. Whilst Goa is a non-vegetarian's paradise, other areas where I enjoy interesting vegetarian food are the Farmhouse Bar and Bistro (located in Benaulim), with its old-world decor, vintage music and stuffed mushrooms to die for.

Nostalgia in Margao is exciting, because its heritage artefacts contribute to a superb ambience, and more importantly, because it serves the most authentic Goan- Portuguese food, again with some tasty vegetarian options. I also get to sample a spicy lip-smacking digestive drink made of kokum and coconut milk. When leaving, I ring the bell outside because it says, 'Ring, if you have liked the food'.

From the soil

Besides the sun, sea and sand that tourists throng to, there is much else that the state has to offer. The drive through the rainforest regions of the Western Ghats brings us to the charming Netravali village in Sanguern Taluk, where we are booked to stay at a spice farm. Running it, along with wife Gauri, is Chinmay Tanshikar, who has decided to continue in the family tradition of traditional organic farming and reaped encomiums for his efforts. The mud cottages have a rustic look with basic amenities and it is nice to see that everything is ecological, including the recycling of grey water. Our rooms look out on a courtyard, equipped with swings, giving us a sense of connection that is not always the case with hotels. Our package includes all meals and the food is tasty with a home-cooked feel. Walking from my cottage to the dining area gives the sense of walking through a forest.

Chinmay turns out to be a storehouse of knowledge, as he takes us for a guided walk through the spice farm, which is a not-to-be-missed part of the package. A kitchen gardener by interest, I come out much the wiser - about the maintaining of sustainable practices as well as the growing of vanilla, pepper, turmeric and cocoa. Chinmay also takes us to see a bubbling lake located in front of a Krishna temple, used by the villagers. The icing on the cake is a visit to the 250-year-old house, which the Tanshikar family still inhabits. I excitedly buy up the spices, which I realise, later, are available across Goa, with the Tanshikar branding.

Our next stop is a resort that's located in picture-perfect surroundings, 700 metres above sea level in the Chorla Ghats. On a clear day, the log verandah of my cottage affords a ringside view of the Vazra Sakla, the majestic 143-metre waterfall, with two smaller ones opening up after a bout of rain. Besides the tasty food and the sylvan surroundings, it is the infinity pool that adds value to this place. One can revel in the breathtaking view of the waterfalls, enjoy the music of the wind in the trees and birdsong, even whilst floating on the clear, cold waters of the pool.

On the ride back to the airport, factoring in a visit to the Goa Chitra Museum is worth every rupee of the entrance ticket. Victor Hugo Gomes is the restorer and brain behind turning his private collection of 200 items into 4,000 objects that are now on display. With a well-informed guide, the place is an ethnographer's delight, as the history of Goa from ancient times unfolds in front of our eyes, with precise labels provided for each piece on show.

Dating the past

Life before the advent of electricity, ancient agricultural, cooking and storing implements are just some of the wondrous items displayed. The non-mechanised modes of transportation, like carts, carriages and palanquins, besides being quaint, also reveal the prevalence of class differences, even from ancient times.

A piece on Goa would be incomplete without the mention of Emma Dumadag and Roberta D'Costa, two nature lovers and intrepid trekkers who have teamed up to show travellers the lesser-known sights of Goa, some of which are not in the guidebooks.

To them, I owe thanks for the visit to the Rachol Seminary, located in a village by the same name, which is a part of the Salcette Taluka in South Goa. This seminary is among the best examples of Indo-Portuguese monastic Christian architecture in Goa. With its 400-year-old history, among the unusual things that grab my attention are the paintings on the wall that reveal the Nativity, Ascension and other scenes from the life of Christ, all painted in Indian garb. Sadly, the paint is chipping away, and the colours fading.

To Angelo Fonseca goes the credit of promoting this Indianised art form, which led to him being honoured with the position of the 'Dean of Indian Christian Art'. Tragically, he later faced ignominy for painting the Virgin Mary in a kunbi (Goan sari) and was forced to leave Goa.

It is interesting to learn that the seminary has preserved sets of stories from the Mahabharata and the Ramayana, said to be the first works of prose in Konkani. Another fascinating discovery that I make here is that Jesuits Diego Ribeiro, Antonio de Saldanha and Miguel de Almeida contributed to compiling a list of Portuguese-Konkani words in the 16th and 17th centuries, which eventually led to the creation of a dictionary. These vocabularies also acted as a record for the use of Konkani in that era.

Time stands still with the notion of susegad ('just chill') permeating everywhere. So when it comes to Goa, best to do as the Goans do!

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