Editor Sav D’Souza reflects on a visit back to his roots and the Indian paradise of Goa.
India for many western eyes is a place of extremes. Some find it difficult to take in scenes of children begging and the poverty of some areas. Admittedly as an adopted Londoner I personally found the place very laid-back and it was refreshing to see people living a simpler life.
It is too easy to think that people without large screen televisions, pretty surburban houses and all the other trappings of modern life are unfortunate and deprived. But life in Goa appears to operate almost in slow motion, where days pass in a subtle tranquillity a million miles away from life in the big city.
My trip to Goa takes me back to my roots, where I still have family, which I last visited over 30 years ago as a still very green six-year-old.
Images: Shahnawaz Sid
Visiting family for me, and there was a lot to visit, takes on epic proportions in Goa. You are obliged to personally visit every single relative or risk offense, and an invitation to dinner – everything seems to revolve around food – is one that you can’t refuse.
Arriving at dinner – typically a mini banquet – you are spoilt for choice. Food in Goa is a big thing and every host goes to town. And boy is it good.
My personal favourites of home Goan cooking are dishes like sorpotel and prawn curry. The former is a spicy curry dish made from pork that’s a favourite among the locals. It’s easily recognisable by its diced pieces of boneless pork in a rich, thick gravy.
Every household will claim that their sorpotel is the best and it takes pride of place on the table at every festive occasion accompanied with sannas, a steamed rice cake. With fish so plentiful, these curries are a staple diet, and you have to try the famed Kingfish.
As my trip was made in September and officially out of season most of the place was near free of the hordes of tourists that descend on Goa around Christmas time. It’s a good time to visit as you get a real feel for the area and get to see Goa from a more local perspective.
From my base just outside the capital Panjim, I made frequent trips to Anjuna beach in the north. At the furthest point on the beach is Curlies’ Shack. With little in the way of crowds, the beach and the shack are a little slice of paradise. The freshly squeezed juices, mango, papaya, melon, are the best I have tasted anywhere.
Shooting some pool on the rickety old table with the ocean as a backdrop and the calming breeze and mellow tunes on the radio providing a delightful soundtrack it was easy to see how some would walk away from everything for a hippy existence.
Image Curlies shack. Unlisted Sightings via Flickr.
Image Curlies shack. monika monika via Flickr
A trip to Mapusa market brings to life a world of colourful sights and sounds. The fresh produce and spices really stand out – as does the cacophony from every direction. It’s hard to absorb everything as you feel like a kid at a fairground.
I stopped to look at the spices and was immediately told in detail what they were by the friendly stall owners, as well as invited to smell them and given tips on how to best use tthem. I bought a whole load which were very well rapped up for the flight home. These make superb presents for friends back home when you put them in some nice simple jars for presentation.
Goa is also great for bargains. Panjim’s Blooming Dales sells everything from handicrafts to carpets to jewellery and also boasts a very friendly owner. As I was buying a ring for my girlfriend’s birthday, the owner sat us down and brought us some sublimely refreshing Kashmiri tea in fine china cups which we drank while he showed us what he had on offer.
After our purchase we walked away feeling that we had been treated as royalty.
The Spice Farm also warrants a visit. The Ponda plantation is about 30 minutes by taxi from Panjim and is home to a plethora of 100% authentic spices and natural produce.
After being greeted with lei garlands and a drink you are given a tour of the plantation by the knowledgeable and entertaining guide who tells you everything about the spices’ cooking and medicinal uses. You will get to see the resident elephants. At the end of the tour you are allowed to sample the buffet which incorporates the best of the plantation’s organic produce.
Overall it is easy to see why people keep coming back to Goa. I for one will definitely not be leaving it another 30 years before I return again.