Thursday, December 31, 2015

Goa - here we come! - Our annual vacation of 2015

Goa is one of those places which we should have visited quite early but for some reasons, something or the other happened that evaded us from doing this trip, but not this time. We settled on Goa to be the destination for our annual vacation by the middle of September. We started our bookings by end of September and to our horror found that the Railway bookings were already coming to a close!.  Finally settled with Onward flight reservations to Vasco (with Indigo) and return by Train. 

As expected, the hotels were charging a premium above the luxury limits considering that it would be the peak season during around Christmas and New Year and all the prices looked unbearable for our pockets. Souji recommended that we try the YMCA @ Panaji and that worked for us. Confirmed our stay at YMCA at Campal area, close to Miramar beach.

The following paragraphs gives a detailed account of the times we spent here and for those who would like to jump to straight to the pictures can do so here. 

Pictures from Our Trip to Goa!

(If you are reading this, then it looks like you are interested reading the details and I am happy for you!)

Day 1: Dec 24, 2015 - Thursday:
Our Indigo flight from Bangalore landed us to Vasco Da Gama's Dabolim International Airport on-time at 7:40 AM. We hired a pre-paid taxi from the airport and reached Panaji in 40 minutes. It took a little search to locate the YMCA building as it was not directly on the main road, and not many tourists know that they can use their service for hotel accommodations. 

We checked into our decent room, and quickly had the Breakfast at the dining room. (YMCA provided Breakfast and Dinner Complimentary). We refreshed ourselves and then took a bus from the Main road (Bal Bhavan - Campal) to Panaji Bus Stand. From there we took the Kadamba Govt. Bus Service to Old Goa.

Campal town is an old Panaji area which has Mandovi river brushing against its sides finally and joining the Arabian Sea in about a kilometer ahead towards the Miramar Beach. Wide roads, even wider footpaths, Maidans that separate the river from the footpaths, and on the other side of the road, dotted with huge white Government buildings bungalows built with Colonial Portuguese architecture. Overall, the place makes one feel you are already on Vacation!

We noticed that everybody in Goa took to Private travel accommodations, leaving the public transport all to ourselves! However, the public transport does in Panaji is not all that great in terms of quality of service or the frequency.

We landed right in front of the St. Xavier's Bom Jesus Church, and walked straight towards it. We hired a Guide who gave us 
 a good history of the St. Xavier and his lifetime. Pooja and Souji were quite fascinated about the fact that the body of St. Francis Xavier in such immaculate condition even after 500 years!

We crossed the road and visited the huge Cathedral right opposite Bom Jesus Church. The high roofs, no beam, Portuguese architecture looked beautiful in pristine white.

It was noon by the time we came out and the sun was burning bright. Ruchir was under the weather and was on Antibiotics since the previous night. The heat got very uncomfortable for him and was getting crankier by the minute. We took the next bus back to Panaji and then took a Rick back to YMCA. On the way back, we bought the tickets for the evening Cruise at one of the stores at Panaji.

After a couple of hours of rest back at YMCA, we refreshed ourselves and took the bus to the edge of the Mandovi Bridge where all the Boat Cruises begin. We started early and we got into the first 100 or so. As time progressed, we could see the whole of Goa was behind us and made us feel we did the right thing coming in early!

After an hour of waiting in the queue, we boarded one of the huge steamers which was parked alongside River Mandovi. The lower deck had a lot of stalls with refreshments and booze, while the upper deck (open to the air) was where chairs were arranged for seating. A grand Diaz with blazing lights, boom boxes and DJs adjusting their instruments were at the northern tip of the deck. Each steamer accommodates about 600 people! 

The evening sun was winding down and our little ship started on its journey as well. The Host and DJ welcomed the guests with a traditional Goan Dance and then switching into Bollywood numbers! The setting was quite serene with a Setting Sun, Slowly drifting Ship on a beautiful river with light up lights from buildings on both sides, Music, Dance, Booze, and People who wanted to have fun!

We were quite amazed to see Ruchir climbed the Diaz on his own and joined the revelers for a dance to a Bollywood Item song and danced merrily to the tunes!. Loved the way he did not need an invitation to dance, but the beats pulled him to the dance floor!. 

We were back to the shore in about an hour and then we took a taxi back to YMCA. We gave a short visit to check out the Campal mall. The Dinner was ready at YMCA and just what we needed at that time. A tiring day came to an end.

Day 2: Dec 25, 2015 - "Christmas" Friday!:
Christmas in Goa is huge! And it was a great time for us to be there at Goa!. Every house had a Crib - Big or Small. The colourful Star could be seen decorated on the portico of every house we saw. Carols could be heard emanating from all the churches and other gatherings. Also this time around, it was the first 'Full Moon' Christmas which was quite unique. Apparently the next time it would happen would be about 30 years from now!. 

We had a solid breakfast of Poori & Bhaji, Bread Butter and Jam with Coffee and Tea. We booked the conducted North-Goa tour @ Rs. 300 a person, and by 9:30 a Cab came to pick us close to YMCA. Our tour guide was well versed with the stuff and gave is the necessary instructions, itenary and specific directions. 

 First stop was the Senquirium Jetty. We took tickets to the Boat ride @ Rs. 300 per person. The ride took us around the hill sides where we could see the Fort Aguada, the Light house, the Portuguese jail with Underwater prison cells. We also saw a huge hill-side, sea-facing, multi tiered white coloured palace and our guide informed us that it belonged to 'Jimmy Baardez' - A 'great' diamond smuggler who now lives in the Jail since the 1990s!

Our Jet boat then moved 3 kilometers inwards, into the Arabian sea started going in circles. We were there to see the Sea Dolphins. We spotted atleast 3 or 4 Dolphins going up and down. Apparently these varieties of Sea Dolphins are found only here in Goa, other than in Singapore (which we saw when we visited Singapore same time last year :-) )

After an hour of boat ride, we were back on the shore and got onto our bus and moved towards Vagator Beach. The beach was beautiful with golden white sands, not too many people, but not too less either. A lot of Sea Sports activities could be seen, but we had very little time on our hands to take part in that. We moved on.

Our next stop was at the Anjuna Beach. I had visited this beach about 20 years back along with our Baseball National Team and remember walking the entire beach quite a number of times. The beach was laden with rocky surfaces everywhere with little sand. This time however, there was no beach in sight as there was a huge construction work going on lay the steps from the road to the beach and as well as putting in concrete wave breakers. We hardly spent any time here and moved on.

We broke out for lunch for 40 minutes and then got to our next stop - The 'Calungute Beach'. It was already 4 PM and the road to this beach was filled with more Buses and Vehicles than people. Bangalore Traffic for once seemed quite bearable in front of the humongous traffic we witnessed at Calungute. 

We walked half a kilometer from the Bus stand to the beach and there was no Sea at all !!!. It was utter disbelief, that you come to a beach and you can't sight the sea!. Can you imagine such a situation??? Our jaws dropped! 

This is what happens when all of the 'vacationeers' across the 2nd most populated country in the world choose Goa as their destination and come down to Calungute on a Christmas day Holiday outing along with the locals!!! It made me realize that we humans were 2nd largest occupants of earth in terms of animal population, 2nd only to insects!

Pooja by now was getting desperate that having been in Goa for 2 days, she didn't spend enough time playing at the beach. So she allowed herself into the water! Ruchir was not to be left alone and he had some good time playing as well. Both of them had to be pulled out of the water literally as we had a 1 hour stop before our Bus would return back. With a half filled heart, we returned back to the Bus that got us back to Panaji and dropped us back at YMCA by 7 PM.

We took rest for a while, refreshed ourselves and went out for a walk before dinner. We tried the street side Chats and have to recommend, the Paani Puri was just out of the earth!. Have never eaten a Pani poori this good ever!

Dinner was served and we could hardly wait for it and ended our day right after that.

Day 3: Dec 26, 2015 -  Saturday:
We hired a Honda Dio, 2 wheeler for a couple of days as we wanted to spend the remaining days visiting places we liked. At this time of the year, even hiring the 2 wheeler was as costly as hiring a Car during non peak season!.

We had a sumptuous breakfast of Poha, Bread, Jam and Butter and packed enough water for our day's outing. For once we found we were liberated, enjoying the smell of the land and the Goan seas. We drove straight to the Calungute Beach and were there by about 11 AM. The crowd was one-tenth of what we saw the previous evening. 

Calungute beach is the largest beach (heard Colva beach is even bigger in size) in Goa in terms of popularity. It was beautiful and water was exotic! It was a visual treat for the eyes. Souji's greatest desire was to do the Parasailing and Water Scooter and so we got our tickets with one of the Adventure Sporting camps Sea-King who got us started. 

Soujanya and Pooja got onto a smaller boat that took them way into the sea where they hopped onto another boat that would do the Parasailing activity for them. Ruchir and I stayed at the beach front enjoying ourselves to all the Thandas and Coolers on the menu of the Shacks at the beach. 

Souji and Pooja came back happily enjoying the out-of-the world experience of Para Sailing and Water Scooting. Pooja and Ruchir then played to their's hearts content at the beach till they got tired. Calungute got back all our respects for giving us what we expected out of our trip. 

We then rode towards Fort Aguada about 15 KMs away from Calungute beach. The traffic was getting heavy, but most of them towards Calungute. The Sun was getting harder as well. We reached Aguada by about 2 PM.

Fort Aguada is a strategic Vantage point for the Portuguese and was built to protect their establishments. From the fort one can see the Panaji City, Senquerium Beach from over the top. It also houses the Lighthouse. It took us a good 2 hours to go around the fort and explore the many facades of this architectural wonder. Photos got clicked in hundreds considering the beautiful sights that this fort has to offer. One among the list of best forts that we have seen in India.

We then climbed down the hill, headed towards Panaji and were back in town by 5 PM. We had a quick evening snack at the Kamat, right opposite the River Mandovi and headed back to YMCA. We refreshed for an hour or so and then again started with our evening trip. 

We rode to the Dona Paula Jetty which was less than 20 minutes from YMCA. We went through the quaint city which was decorated and well lit. By the time we reached Dona Paula, it was already dark and we couldn't spend as much time we wanted to spend there but just enough to to take some pictures of this beautiful place. We returned back and then drove towards Panaji city around the Mandovi. The beatiful riverside roads looked heavenly with all the lights coming from the ferries, casinos and the well decorated shops along the streets. We spent the next one hour walking the streets, and spending some good time checking out the city. 

We returned back to YMCA by 9 PM, had our dinner and ended the day there.

Day 4: Dec 27, 2015 - Sunday:
We got up early and then hit the Miramar Beach that was just a kilometer away from YMCA. It was heavenly beautiful with absolutely nobody around. Never seen absence of people at a Goan Beach!. All of us spent a good 2 hours playing the water. The early morning breeze was cold for a change and didn't want to take chances as Ruchir was still getting over his fever. So we got out of the beach and returned back to YMCA and then had our breakfast.

We then left again lazily to check out the Panaji City, which was almost closed as it was a Sunday. We checked out a few colonies inside Panaji city which had retained exquisite Portuguese styled houses and it was beautiful to see the colours and vibrancy of their colorfully painted houses.

Most of the shops were closed except for a few. We did our customary shopping at a couple of shops and it was noon already. So I dropped, Souji and kids back at YMCA and returned back to Panaji city just for exploring some unexplored corners of the town.

I checked out the Mandovi -> Miramar Estuary, Senior Citizens Park, The Panaji City Market, the areas around it. I also did shop for Cashew nuts dipped in Chocolate, Salty and Peppered ones.

I returned back to YMCA by 3 PM and took an hour's rest before getting ready again. We all got to Dona Paula Jetty by 5 and checked out the high-points of this beautiful place. The Sun Set was just fabulous and the Jetty was gorgeous. We spent a good 2 hours there. With that we covered everything that we wanted to cover during our Goa trip. 

We returned back to YMCA and went to have the same Paani Puri we had the other day. It was outstanding again. One of the best Paani Puris we have ever had. We booked the taxi to take us to the Railway Station for the next day morning. We had our dinner and hit the bed early.

Day 5: Dec 28, 2015 - Monday:
We said goodbye to YMCA at 7 AM and left to Vasco Da Gama railway station. Our train departed Vasco by 9. We asked the TT on the train to let us know when to expect the Dudh Sagar falls and give directions accordingly. About 1.5 hours into our journey after the town of 'Kolem' I stood near the door of our bogie and waited for the waterfalls to come up in our view. Finally - The DudhSagar falls appeared from behind the mountains. It was just a few seconds before it got folded again. Not much of water considering that this is not the season, but the view was grand. Glad to not miss this falls that has been talked about so much. It also become very famous after SRK and Deepika Padukone's Chennai Express movie.

The rest of the journey was peaceful and we were in Bangalore by 11:30 PM. We hired a taxi and reached home by 12:30 AM.

That ended a much needed and a Very beautiful vacation to Goa. Here are some memories that has been captured by our camera along with some videos.

Pictures from Our Trip to Goa!