I landed in Goa unsure of whether I would find it as gratifying as my time in Rajasthan. You see, Goa is a beach place and I am not a beach person – I don’t like sunbathing and I can’t sit still for too long – so I had reservations, however, so many friends has extolled its beauty that I had to check it out for myself.
I had chosen to stay in Vagator, north Goa, based on information indicating that it would be slightly more lively at the time – towards the latter end of the season – that I was visiting.
The first thing that struck me as we drove north along the coast was the number of derelict hulks moored in the shallows, seemingly harking back to a time when Goa was more of a maritime trading hub.
On arrival in Vagator the reminders of Portuguese colonial times continued. In fact, my hotel could have been teleported from the Algarve.
I hired a scooter from the owner of the hotel and subjected myself, the next morning , to some beach time. On my way I was pulled over by the Goan police for not wearing a helmet. I have to admit I didn’t realise it was compulsory and said as much to the officer. I also pointed out that no one was wearing helmets and, as if to help my case, at that very moment four scooter riders passed in different directions, all lid-less. The policeman, lacking the energy to argue with this tiresome tourist ordered me to put on my helmet and dismissed me with a contemptuous wave. Phew!
When I finally arrived at the beach I found the majority of bipeds were relaxing in beach shacks some way from the sea. Only quadrupeds were braving the heat of the beach. And even they sought some form of shade.
The rest of the day was spent on sun, sand and supper. I awoke the next day with the idea of upgrading my scooter to an Enfield Bullet – a hugely popular bike in India and one that I’d often wanted to try.
The process was alarmingly quick and, 20 mins later I was astride the handsome machine and heading south (in a helmet, in case you’re wondering). I hadn’t made much of a plan but, as I approached the town of Panjim, I saw an ever-greater number of billboards advertising various floating casinos. I’m partial to a bit of blackjack or a hand or two of poker so I made up my mind to visit.
Gambling is illegal in India, however, Goa realised that ships floating off the shore were not technically “in India” and seems to have got away with the interpretation.
I arrived at the pontoon of one of the larger casinos only to be told that I my t-shirt was not allowed: “Collared shirts only”. Right, thought I; if they want a shirt, a shirt they shall get. 10 minutes later I returned….
In the boat-sino everything was glitzy yet nothing was glamorous. I sat down to play blackjack next to some young Indians whom, it became abundantly clear, had no idea about game strategy. After watching half of their chip stacks disappear in a heartbeat, I asked whether they’d be interested in learning “best practice”. They declared they would be. Half an hour later we had all doubled our money and the lesson had been a success. Even the croupier seemed to be having fun!
The rest of my time in Goa was spent much like the first day – some sun, some great food and quite a lot of not a lot.
I must recommend a trip to Thalassa, a wonderful Greek restaurant on top of the cliffs in Small Vagator, overlooking the beach. A DJ played great tunes while the chef cooked delicious souvlaki and the wonderfully amiable proprietor, whose name I have shamefully forgotten, greeted everyone as friends. We spent a long time chatting and I left feeling warm and fuzzy about the whole experience.
Whilst Goa probably isn’t my most memorable part of the trip, I enjoyed taking things at a slower pace for once and even bottled some of the sunshine for my return to the UK.