I took a Goa trip with a friend in November 2019 to attend a former colleague’s wedding. Since we already knew someone who lived there with her family, we decided to stay with them instead of checking into a hotel. Ours was a short trip, but we wanted to cram in as much of Goa as possible, and our hosts were kind enough to offer to be our guides.
Getting To Goa
As we live in Mangalore in Karnataka, travel to Goa is just six hours by train (making me wonder why I don’t make these trips more often). My friend and I caught an early morning train to Madgaon in South Goa, where we reached in the afternoon. From there, we took a cab to our friend’s home in Santa Cruz in North Goa (North and South Goa fall above and below the Mandovi River respectively). While cabs are one of the most convenient ways to travel in the state, we learned that the Government of Goa has launched an app called GoaMiles (download here) where you can hire a taxi at reasonable and fixed rates. You can also travel by renting a motorcycle, car, by using the Pilot service (motorcycle rickshaws), local auto-rickshaws and buses, and the ferry (available only from Betim to Panaji, Old Goa to Divar Island, Querim to Tiracol and Cavelossim to Assolna). We, however, explored Santa Cruz and some of its nearby areas in our friend’s car or the bus whenever they were more convenient.
The Ruins Of The Church Of St Augustine
My friend and I were so excited about our Goa trip, that as soon as we reached our friend’s home, we freshened up and headed out immediately headed out for a small drive to Old Goa, the state’s former capital. We first went to one of the most popular tourist sites— the ruins of the Church of St. Augustine. Unbeknownst to many who visit here, these ruins are a UNESCO World Heritage site. This is also where the remains of Queen Ketevan were found. In the 17th century CE, Ketevan was the queen of the Kakheti kingdom in Eastern Germany. She is considered to be a martyr, as she was tortured to death for refusing to convert to Islam and join her captor’s harem. Two Augustinian friars who witnessed her struggle, smuggled her remains and sent them to her son. A bone from the Queen’s right hand and palm was taken by Portugese friars to Old Goa. The St. Augustine Tower and Church complex are located atop the Monte Santo (Holy Hill), built by the Augustinian friars who arrived in Goa in 1587. It is said that abandonment and neglect led to the collapse of all the buildings at the site. While we had seen these beautiful ruins on many previous trips, it still captured our fancy. We were, however, unable to explore the ruins as maintenance work was underway and entry was barred.
Nunnery Of Santa Monica
Located right next to the ruins is the Nunnery of Santa Monica, named after St. Monica, the mother of St Augustine. At some point, the Nunnery housed not only nuns, but also widows willing to devote themselves to the service of God, and noblewomen whose husbands had left for far off lands on military conquests or expeditions. Now, the Nunnery of Santa Monica is a museum of Christian art that is open from 9.30 am to 5 pm every day. This three-storeyed building also houses the Miraculous or Weeping Cross in one of its chapels. It is said that a nun by the name of Sr. Maria de Jesus died here at the age of 78, with stigmata (bodily wounds, scars and pain in locations corresponding to the crucifixion wounds of Jesus Christ) present on her hands and feet. Apparently, this was verified by the physicians of that time, and the story has also been recorded in the Secretariat of the Government of Goa.
Atal Setu Bridge
We then took a small drive across the river to Panaji (or Panjim). To cross the Mandovi River, we drove over the colossal Atal Setu bridge (named after former Prime Minister Late Atal Bihari Vajpayee). The third-longest cable-stayed bridge in India, this is a four-lane bridge that weighs about 2.5 lakh tons, measures 5.1 km in length and has a height of 70 metres at its highest point, and was built at a cost of INR 600 crores.
This happens to be the second Atal Setu bridge in the country, the first of which is a 592-meter cable-stayed bridge in Basholi, Jammu and Kashmir. Coincidentally, both these bridges were inaugurated by former Goa Chief Minister and Union Defense Minister Late Manohar Parrikar.
The Atal Setu bridge in Goa is built between two existing bridges that are a great deal shorter than it. While all vehicles are allowed to ply on these two bridges, two-wheelers are not allowed, as strong gusts of wind make it dangerous for the riders. Driving over the Mandovi River on this magnificent bridge just might be the highlight of my Goa trip.
During our short drive in Panaji, we came across Caculo Mall, Goa’s first high-end mall. According to friends who live in Goa, it is referred to as “SMall” because it is smaller than most malls. It houses brands such as Levi’s, Van Heusen, Arrow etc., a few restaurants, and even an arcade named Timezone. You can take a virtual tour of the mall here.
Visiting Famous Ravi’s Ras Omelette Gaado
We soon made our way to the area near the Panjim Immaculate Church, home to Ravi’s Ras Omelette Gaado. Apparently, no Goa trip is complete without a visit to this famous street food stall that is featured on every foodie’s list. We got the chance to savour their Ras Omelette, an omelette served with chicken gravy, chopped onions, coriander leaves and a Goan Pao (bun). This was a different experience for me, as I have never eaten an omelette with anything other than generously buttered bread. While I was not sure what to expect, I was pleasantly surprised by the array of flavours. Ravi’s Ras Omelette Gaado is one of the oldest food stalls in the area, and was started over two decades ago by the current owner’s father. The stall is open only from evening till late night (between 6 pm and 11 pm).
Gorging On Chicken And Beef Cutlet Paos
Later that night, we were treated to chicken and beef cutlets paos from a local vendor. These were bought by our friend’s husband on his way back from office. The cutlet pao is pretty self-explanatory— a pao (a whole wheat bun to be had with both Indian and continental gravies found only in Goa) with a chicken or beef cutlet wedged in between. These kinds of yummy street foods are supposedly one of the main reasons why it took KFC a very long time to penetrate the market in the state. According to our friends, the locals never really took to KFC, as they already had a perfectly good substitute.
Krishnadas Shama State Central Library
On our second (and last day) of our stay in Goa, we took a bus ride from Santa Cruz to the Panaji bus stand, and then went walking to the Krishnadas Shama State Central Library. Since this was the first time either of us were visiting the library, it took us a while to find the correct route. This was one situation where we realised how important it is to interact with the locals, as modern-day technology can only take you three-fourths of the way.
Dubbed “India’s best library”, the Krishnadas Shama State Central Library is located in Panaji, Goa’s capital city. Although the library is housed in a state-of-the-art building, it is the oldest library in the country, and is named after the founder of Konkani Prose, Krishnadas Shama, also known as the Father of Konkani literature. This library is said to house around 2.5 lakh books in various languages including English, Hindi, Marathi, Konkani, and even Portuguese.
As we entered the library, we were greeted by beautiful modern art installations inspired by the late Mario Miranda (the Indian cartoonist and illustrator known for portraying everyday Goan life). There are many interesting sculptures too, scattered throughout.
The building has several floors dedicated to various purposes. As we had a baby in our company, we made our way to the kids’ section where there were plenty of age-appropriate books, toys, and computers for kids, and a nice seating area for the children and their parents.
The public library has many conference and lecture halls equipped with modern amenities. In one of these halls, we sat in on an improv acting workshop.
In the evening, we headed to Altinho, considered to be an elite location in Panaji. It is home to the official residences of the Chief Minister of Goa and the Archbishop. Here, you will also find Café Al Fresco by Cantina Bodega or Café Bodega, a lesser-known, yet widely popular eatery. The cafe, located within the Sunaparanta Art Gallery’s premises, offers a variety of food from freshly baked bread to sandwiches, and cakes. We ordered a chicken burger, a cubano sandwich (with roast pork, ham, pickle and gouda cheese), and a sourdough chicken sandwich. Most of the components of the food are made in-house, which makes it even more delicious.
At the end of the day, my friend and I attended the Goan wedding we had come for, at the Our Lady of Penha de Franca Church. Before I had even arrived in Goa, my friend had warned me that dinner isn’t served until very late at night at traditional Goan weddings. I was mentally but not physically prepared. I was, however, not expecting to have as much fun as I did. The scenes that unfolded in front of us were unlike anything I’ve seen before. I have spent most of my life in Mangalore and have witnessed the wedding ceremonies of people from different religions. I had always assumed that since the history of Goans and many of the Mangalorean Catholics are interlinked (much of the Mangalore Catholic community has origins in Goa), however, this wedding showed me how different our cultures truly are. In Mangalorean Catholic weddings, the invitees are seated for most of the reception, except for chow-time, the bridal march (a procession of couples led by the bridal couple to the dance floor), and baila session (Portuguese for dance). In Goan Catholic weddings, the invitees (right from the young to the old) are on the dance floor for most of the reception and only take their seats when they need to take a break from all the dancing or to eat. I had never felt more energetic by just watching something happen before me. We met a few people, danced, ate and drank. During the wedding reception, we were served various appetisers like canapés, cutlets and fried chicken. The buffet-style main course featured bread rolls, noodles, pulao, sorpotel (a traditional and spicy pork curry made in Goa and Mangalore), two kinds of salad, and beef stew.
I Did Not Go To A Single Beach, Can You Believe It?!
If you ask any tourist on a Goa trip why they were visiting, beaches will definitely feature. Calangute, Palolem, Baga, and Anjuna are some of the best beaches in Goa; however, we did not go to any of them. Not because we are averse to beaches, but because we’ve visited them many times before, and instead decided to explore the interiors much more. We also did not visit any of the popular Goa churches for the same reason.
Come As A Tourist, Leave As a Resident
Everyone who goes on a Goa trip for the first time will undoubtedly look at the state from the point of view of a tourist. However, if you decide to explore the place like a resident, or even like someone who is planning to move to the state permanently, it will be a richer experience. The state will become a part of you, as will the people, the food and the culture. Over my lifetime, I have travelled as part of a tour group only twice, and I have come to learn that when you find your own way in a new city, speak to the locals and explore on your own, you will learn something more than just facts.
Would I Have Done Anything Differently?
In the months that have passed since my Goa trip, I learned of the Divar Island. This mostly abandoned island, located just 10 kms from Panaji, is one of the most serene places in the state. I hope to visit Goa soon, and when I do, I will definitely visit this island as well as possibly the other islands, as there are so many amazing places to visit in Goa.
Do What I Did If You Are In It For The Experience, Not Just The Sights
If, as a traveller, you are more interested in experiencing a place rather than just going about looking at monuments and sights and taking pictures, try to do what I did, and stay with a local. If you are planning a Goa vacation, there are plenty of homestays in Goa and you can always engage with your hosts and learn from them. Learn about the history of the place, the folklore, the residents’ favourite place to eat, the most popular dish etc. Granted that all of this will take more time and may require more visits, the experience is totally worth it.