We made it to India!
Despite a few snags on the way, including some delays for Jamie and a hectic sprint through Mumbai airport for me, we successfully met up in the middle of the night at our guesthouse on Bogmalo beach.
First impressions for both of us – ‘my God it’s hot, and why are there so many cows!’
Bogmalo beach itself was nothing particularly special, but the village is lovely and a convenient place to stop off just down the road from the airport.
With lots to catch up on, we spent our first morning sipping chai tea and eating masala omelette on the beach before heading down to Palolem, our first stop in South Goa. Since we’ve already done a fair few beaches over the last few months, we want to make sure we don’t end up spending our entire trip lounging in the sun and so have decided not to bother with the bigger resort towns in North Goa and head straight down south.
We splurged on a private taxi to save the hassle of three bus connections and settled in to enjoy the ride, keen for our first glimpse of India.
Jungle lined roads, more cows hanging out in the middle of them, ladies with the most beautiful coloured saris and lots and lots of litter. Also a surprising number of Catholic Churches and Christmas decorations – we hadn’t realised that Goa is 25% Catholic. Although there are also a lot of statues and signs of Hindu gods everywhere and we drove through the hectic spill out after Friday prayers in one village mosque.
A smooth and pleasantly short journey, which for some reason was split between three different drivers and two different taxis. Indian logistics…
Palolem beach is stunning and, despite a prolific number of sun loungers on the beach (my pet hate) it still manages to maintain a lazy, chilled out vibe. There’s an eclectic mix of every kind of tourist here – sunburnt package tourists, real hippies hanging out at the yoga joints, fake hippies who are just here for the drugs and party scene and backpackers like us, finding themselves in India dahling.
There are also, of course, lots of cows!
Turns out cows are particularly fond of watermelon and having their necks scratched.
It’s been a very chilled couple of days. Jamie is still battling jet lag and we’re just taking it slow, spending our time strolling the beaches, walking over to the elusive monkey island (private property but it looks so inviting!), trying to figure out all the different curries and enjoying one of Goa’s particular highlights – Kingfisher beer.
The food here is, as expected, absolutely incredible. Sorry in advance for all the food pictures that are going to be a theme of this blog for the next two months..
Highlights so far:
- Kingfish Masala – a local speciality
- Palak Paneer – spinach and paneer cheese combo
- Masala Papad – spicy poppadoms!
- Chicken Xacuti – another Goan speciality, chicken cooked in a red coconut sauce
- Freshly baked garlic naan – just incredible
- Paneer paratha – a stuffed roti-esque bread
- Masoor Tonak – coconut based brown lentil dal
- Veg Goan curry – it’s veg so it’s healthy right?
- Roast Tandoori Chicken – a nice alternative to curry!
Lots of coconut and, luckily, Goans are big fish and meat eaters so we haven’t had to go fully veggie just yet, although the veg curries are so good that it won’t be a problem. We also had a tasty chicken biryani but it’s been kicked off the list for giving us our first Delhi Belly scare yesterday afternoon and sending us rushing back to the hostel.
Luckily it was a false alarm and, after lying down under the cool fan all afternoon, we recovered in time for sunset beers at our favourite beach restaurant.
At night, the beach shacks all set out candlelit tables right next to the water which gives the whole place a magical feel, particularly during the frequent power cuts.
On our first night we were pulled into one of these by an enthusiastic Indian called Kali (which he says means black in Hindi). He was ecstatic when he came to clean our plates and found them totally licked clean. Turns out the more you eat out here, the more people like you – I think we’re going to be very popular!
Since then we’ve been past a few times and every time he greets us both with what is now apparently our collective name, ‘Kellen’, and gives us the best table in the house and free beers. Last night when we asked for our bill he brought it over with the caveat, ‘But first, a firework!’, and then proceeded to light us our own personal firework ten feet in front of us.
Over the last couple of days the New Years vibe has been steadily picking up, with a banger or handheld firework going off every few minutes. There have also been some very persistent salespeople peddling paper lanterns which nine times out of ten crash straight into the sea. They look beautiful when they work but I hate to think how many there are floating around this morning.
After dinner we headed back to the hostel for beers on the balcony, before setting out with a group to a party on the beach. Lots of fun and more close range fireworks, but because there was a fare to get in it had a bit of a weird vibe. The bar was mostly full of white people, with a group of around fifty Indians crowding around the barriers and taking pictures of us all night.
We stayed there for the countdown and then decided to head out into the mayhem on the beach to finish the night. Slightly sore heads this morning (along with the rest of the world) but definitely in agreement that Goa is the place to be for New Years.
People keep telling us that Goa’s not ‘real India’ and it will be interesting to see how it compares to the rest of the country. For us, it’s been the perfect place for a gentle introduction to India. I can easily see how people get sucked into staying here longer than expected.
Funnily enough, we’re finding it pretty hard to leave ourselves! Not just because of the great food, beautiful beaches and chilled out vibe, but also because everywhere (in our budget) is still so booked up.
We’ve finally found ourselves a spot on the beach next door, Patnem, for the next couple of nights, before heading up to Agonda, another nearby beach and then inland to Hampi at the end of the week.