Friday, 11 April 2014

The charm of South Goa

Once again it was destination Goa and it was a good time to go as the kids’ exams were over and all 3 families had similar aged kids to keep each other company.  The good thing about visiting Goa is that you can reach there without having and plan or agenda. Actually we did have an agenda and it was pretty simple : swim, drink, eat and have fun.



The Thugs of South Goa.

The Roads of Goa are incredibly good. They are narrow but it’s a pleasure driving on them if the ‘thugs of Goa’ permit you to do so. The phrase ‘thugs of Goa’ fits the taxi drivers of South Goa who in the garb of having ‘Taxi Unions’ fleece the unsuspecting tourists. The taxi union outside the Club Mahindra at Varca beach operate like mafia. Letters come in advance to the prospective residents of Club Mahindra from the management advising them not to hire any cars from outside. I have heard that vehicles have been damaged by these rogue taxi drivers who say that they are doing it for their employment. So, if I stay in Club Mahindra in South Goa and wish to spend a few hours in North Goa I would have to shell out Rs 5000 for a Taxi while it would only cost me Rs 1500 including fuel if I were to hire a vehicle on self driven basis !
When you come out to the taxi stand to hire a vehicle, first no one takes any interest in you. Then a big boss appears and quotes a price which sounds exorbitant. It is only when you threaten to walk down to Varca church and hire a vehicle from there, some negotiations happen. So, if you do intend to stay in South Goa then please build up the cost of taxis in your budget. It will be more than your food budget!

In North Goa you are spoilt fully as there is tremendous variety of restaurants in Baga, Calangute and Candolim. On the other hand south Goa has huge five star properties and most of residents like the luxury of relaxing in the hotels and eating the food there. There are a few good restaurants and shacks but they are a few and too much distance apart. But as you would read in this blog, there are some great places to visit in South Goa and some great restaurants. South Goa can be charming and fun if you are willing to give it a chance.

We had landed at the new terminal at Dabolim Airport. The finishing touches were still being given to this new terminal. By the time we checked into our resort and  freshened up it was time to go for our first dinner at Goa for this holiday. 

Day 1 : Starting out with Fisherman’s Wharf


The first dinner started with The Fisherman’s wharf at Mobor- Cavelossim. This restaurant is located around 11 km’s from Club Mahindra and it’s a little before Leela Hotel.  The restaurant is located on the Sal  river and with fishing jetty just nearby, a whiff of fishy smell greeted us  as we reached our destination. The ladies stopped on their tracks as this pungent fishy smell did not suit their appetite at all. Things improved as we entered the restaurant and soon everyone forgot about the smell. Fisherman’s wharf is quite an elegant restaurant with a lot of tables right on the water’s edge. We sat inside as we required a large table. There is a nice big bar in the centre near the dance floor and an open kitchen is a little outside. The music was lively and the band was popular with the guests as it alternatively played the retro music and Goan songs. Our group was on the dance floor in no time and really did enjoy whatever the band had to offer. It so turned out that this was the best band that we came across in the next few days. The Goan songs were peppy and made us feel welcome in Goa. The service at Fisherman's wharf was efficient and food was good.  We had some prawns but avoided lobsters, crabs and jumbo prawns. It was our first evening so we were just about warming up.

Fresh catch at the Fisherman's wharf. 

Day 2: The Varca beach and the famous Martin’s Corner.

Club Mahindra is a time share resort. It is a very nice resort with lovely apartments and all the possible facilities. The beach is next door to the resort. Varca beach is nice and long beach with soft sand but it is strange seeing an empty beach during the morning and afternoon. The general profile of the resident of Club Mahindra is such that  they prefer to stick to the resort and the pool rather than the beach.  The people converge from all over India and buy packages which include all meals in the resort. They are least worried about Taxi Mafia or outside restaurants. We find it difficult to relate to the crowds in the resort but as we are in our own group- it does not matter to us. 
The only other hotel nearby is Zuri White Sands and it seems that not many people were staying there. Our regular shack here used to be ‘Glorio’ and we were sad to see that it had shut down. Last few years we had spent many a mornings and afternoons being served by their waiter called ‘Johnny Whisky’ at Glorio shack. He used to get us some brilliant prawns in butter garlic and my favourite used to be King Fish Masala. The Indianised Chinese food also used to be tasty. In the absence of Glorio shack we tried some other shacks nearby but they were utterly useless with awful food. What is a good beach without good food and good crowd ? We decided to explore some other beaches next day onwards.

Chilli Crab
   

Crab in Butter Garlic

Everyone was looking forward to Martin’s Corner at Betalbatim which we had planned as our dinner destination on the 2nd evening in Goa. This was also around 10 km’s from our resort  and is set in a small village. Martin’s corner is a very busy restaurant and we were lucky to find a decent table. It has a good décor with interesting lamps and a lot of Mario’s work at the entrance. Sachin Tendulkar’s comments once that Chilli Crab at Martin’s Corner was the best he had ever eaten had catapulted this restaurant to top of the charts in Goa. My kids had eaten a crab many times but there were 4 other kids who were very excited as it was going to be first time for them. We ordered the famous crab in 2 sauces – Crab Chilli Masala and Crab in lemon butter. It was exciting to see the kids’ expression when they had to choose a live crab and soon after it was served to them well cooked ! I was the mentor of kids in this exercise of crab selection and crab eating so it was extremely satisfying to see them devour the crab pieces they got with nut crackers and suck out each and every gram of flesh. Now that they have tasted this delicacy, they will look forward to it each time they visit Goa.

One does not have to be only a sea food lover to visit Martin’s corner. Our vegetarian friends also enjoyed the food there as most restaurants are catering to North Indian vegetarians. My suggestion to those  vegetarians who visit Goa  is that there are a lot of Goan gravies which can be added to vegetables as well to get a feel of Goa. Try Xacuti or Cafreal gravies with vegetables and you will enjoy the taste.
Ashley at Martin’s Corner was belting out some good English songs but could not draw the crowds to the dance floor. The moment he stopped singing and became a DJ with hindi and punjabi songs ,the  dance floor became over crowded. This shows that North Indians are now dominant tourists of Goa. 

Day 3 : Palolem Beach, the jewel tucked away in extreme south

The tranquil Palolem Beach

Once you are at Club Mahindra, you get used to haggling with the cabbies. We did not want to miss out the opportunity of visiting Palolem beach just because taxis were charging more than they should. Palolem is not as large as other beaches of Goa but it has made a name for itself. Not many knew about this beach around a decade back There were lot more shacks this time than when I had visited here around 6-7 years back. The popularity of Palolem beach comes from the Beach huts attached to most of the shacks. This is quite unique as it is not in very many places that such beach huts exist. They are literally on the beach and the charges are according to the facilities they offer. Many of them are air conditioned and have attached toilets. But mostly they catered to budget tourists with basic facilities and common toilets.


Beach Huts at Palolem
It took us around 45 minutes from Club Mahindra to get here. You cross many villages and  drive on the highway which goes further to Karnataka and the terrain is hilly but lush green. You are driving on the West coast of India though you can’t actually see the coast line. Several times you do pass under the Konkan railway tracks. Konkan railway has changed this region totally as accessibility of Goa and Karnataka from West India has improved tremendously cutting travel times by more than half. Palolem is part of Canacona district and there is just one big hotel nearby called the ‘Lalit.’ Lalit has a 9 hole golf course as well. While we were here at the Palolem just for the day, those who live here find it an exhilarating experience. We were asked to come to a rave party later that evening at a place called ‘Leopard Valley’ nearby.



Another interesting concept adopted by environment friendly  people of Palolem is the ‘silent noise’ party at the club at Neptune Point. Wireless headphones are given to you and you can dance all night long to the music of the famous DJ’s present without disturbing anyone else in vicinity. I am told that this is a concept which is becoming very popular. It is not necessary that you have to listen to what DJ is playing but you could switch channels. So, you have a situation where as a spectator you could see different people dancing to different music and you would find it strange as all you would hear would be 'sound of silence !'

We did not do anything as exciting as attend the rave party or the silent noise party. We swam a lot in the sea, had our cocktails and beer , had our lunch, and pushed off back to our resort for our siesta at around 4 PM.

Day 3  evening : An evening at Joecon’s

We have been regulars at Joecon’s whenever we stay in South Goa. It used to be a nice sea food restaurant  at Benaulium just outside Taj Exotica but now it has turned into Joecon’s Beach resort. A big hotel has come up and Joecon’s certainly looked busy as it has enough place for restaurant as well a couple of party lawns and they were all full of people. On the evening we were there they had an African troupe doing all sorts of acrobatics and dances and it livened up the atmosphere. The fish and prawns were nice and Prawn Balchao was very well made.  They had quite a variety in their menu so in our group all kinds of food was eaten : continental, chinese, north Indian and Goan.
Once the African show finished, the DJ took over and it was blaring music with revelers in full action. It was time to go back to the resort as loud music was getting on our nerves.

Day 4 : The morning and afternoon at ZeeBop



You have a nice view from Zeebop
Zeebop is located at Utorda beach near Kenilworth Hotel. Park Hyatt is nearby as well. It describes itself as the best party place in Goa. As the restaurant is at a height you get a panoramic view of the beach and sea so they have called themselves as ‘Zeebop by the sea.’ The last time I had visited for dinner so did not get this view. Just like all other good restaurants in Goa, Zeebop also takes pride in serving fresh catch from the sea. My choice was grilled Jumbo prawns which is served with salad and chips. They were nice. Tandoori Pomfret or Red Snapper could wait till next time. As the day progressed many people started coming in and by lunchtime it had good occupancy. Most people come from the hotels nearby. Advantage of such restaurants is that you could go for a swim in the sea and then come into the shade and enjoy your cocktails. These kind of restaurants are popular for the drinks at the sunset time . Some of the kids wanted to try out the steak while once again it was a wide variety of food which was served on our table. This is an advantage that big groups have. If you are looking at having a party at Goa, this is a good place as they specialize in such parties. It has a good party place with a nice view of the sea. We of course know by now that food and atmosphere is good at Zeebop.

 Spending time at Club Mahindra

Though it appears we were always out  of our resort and wining and dining at different beaches and restaurants, we did manage to spend considerable time at our own resort. A walk to beach in the mornings and late nights was always refreshing. It is so lovely watching the waves break at night. The kids would be in the pool much of the times but we soon discovered why the lobby was their favorite place in the entire resort. These gadget driven kids preferred the lobby as WiFi was freely available there ! These gadgets and phones were proving to be such a nuisance during our dinners that we had to confiscate them to make these children more social. 
The breakfast was normally at the resort and it so turned out that the the dinner on the 4th evening was eaten by us in the resort itself after a few drinks in one of the rooms. Much as we were tempted to go to Mickey's at Colva on the 4th day evening, a few in our group put their foot down as they were getting exhausted going out twice a day. So we took advantage of buffet in our own resort and it turned out to be great for me as it was a special evening where they had a live counter of sea food !  

It has been more than 10 days since coming back from Goa but I am still carrying the balmy smell of Goa, a taste of Goan cuisine and the visuals of waves breaking on the beach. 
The seniors of our group

The gadget gurus.

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