Day 1 - Rains, Fish, Rains, Fish
Overnight: Mascarenhas Bungalow, Calangute

There was a nip in the air when Lubna and I stepped on the tarmac of Dabolim airport in Goa at 6.30 am on a Friday morning. The air was damp and heavy from yesterday night's showers and gray clouds hung menacing low in the skies. Our plan was to spend the long weekend in Goa sipping fruity cocktails sitting under palm trees on white sandy beaches. Well, that was the plan before we met the clouds.

We walked out of the airport and found a Toyota Innova that agreed to drop us in Panjim for Rs. 150. A prepaid taxi when hired from inside the airport costs Rs. 480. Swindle, I say! We intended to hire a bike in Panjim for the next three days. But just when we were about to get a bike, rain came splashing down on us in great volumes.

Cocktails, sunny beaches and bike rides seemed distant dreams now. By 9 am, we had given up any hope of staying dry for the day. We decided to take a bus to Calungute where we had booked our room. After watching the monsoon-soaked Goan country pass by our window for the next forty five minutes, we tumbled out of the bus near a small white church in Calangute; more rain coming down on us. Mud-red rivulets flowed everywhere on the roads. When Venita Mascarenhas saw two loyal guests walk the final hundred meters to her bungalow wading through shin deep water, she must have been the proudest host in entire Goa; no entire galaxy.

Venita's bungalow was about two hundred yards from the beach. In the distance, we could see a boisterous sea kick up the storm. We had called up Venita to book a room in her home for two nights (Rs. 1000 per night). The room actually turned out to be a one bedroom, one hall apartment with a potpourri of mismatching antique Goan teak furniture and a small red refrigerator. The room itself was pretty nice and comfortable and all. But to be fair, Mascarenhas Bungalow was not quite the Portugese villa we had come to expect.

"I am sorry it turned out to be such bad weather," Venita said. "October first week is the shoulder season and usually pretty dry."

Seizing the opportunity, we asked if we could get a discount on the rack rate.

"Pay whatever you feel like. Money is not important, your comfort is," said the kind lady reminding me of my third stardard English teacher Mrs. Mary Joseph. "Come, I will give you umbrellas and a torch.''

We were glad to get out of the wet clothes (which by now weighed more than me) and dutifully hit the bed to fill our weekend hours with sleep. That 4.30 am check-in earlier in the day only helped. We woke up in the afternoon and plodded through puddles of water to look for a restaurant serving lunch. The rains coupled with Gandhi Jayanti had brought the town to a complete shutdown. We did manage to find one place open which served us a crisp brown rawa-fried pomfret and the best fish-curry-rice I'd eaten till date.

Now here were the cards dealt to us: our Goa trip, unless a miracle happened, was a wash out. The best we could salvage out of it were a few excellent Goan meals. Once we made our peace with that, our lives were immensely better, shoulders much lighter and every minute after that more enjoyable. We once again retired to the room for more sleep but returned to Calangute market later that night for tandoori baby kingfish, prawns xacuti and rice.

Day 2 - Beaches, Forts and English Steak
Overnight: Jewel Inn, Calangute

Things looked up a little on Saturday. We packed up from our beach side guesthouse and decided to move to a hotel closer to the town center. Luckily, we found Jewel, a boutique hotel that was offering us a 50% discount on rack rate (Rs. 2500) because of the nasty weather. I would say Jewel was a cute little hotel. Bright spacious room with a nice comfortable bed and snow white sheets. The AC, hot water, television all helped.

After breakfast, we hired a bike and headed north. Now hiring a Honda Activa meant that I spent lesser time on the handle and more time on the pillion seat. Lubna just wouldn't let me ride. We drove through Baga town to the beach. The sea was still rough and lots of visitors played ball games on the beach, but barely anyone ventured into the sea. Our next stop was Vagator cliff. The drizzle had almost stopped and Lubna was definitely enjoying riding through the country. We drove through Anjuna and made a stop at Chapora Fort.

Now I seriously think Goa Tourism should pay a royalty to Farhan Akhtar. The air was literally buzzing with the words 'dil chahta hai'. Almost everyone around hummed or uttered or shouted 'dil chahta hai' atleast once. The view from Chapora fort was pretty good. We climbed the laterite walls on north side of the fort to look at the delta formed by Chapora river and Arabian sea. Birds glided close to the river surface and it was a magnificent sight from the height we stood at. That afternoon, we stopped at a roadside eatery to dig into more fish-curry-rice and pomfret. On our way back to Calangute, we stopped at Mango Tree - a very cool pub near Vagator. The place was packed full in the afternoon, mostly with foreigners. Leathery faces and tattooed arms downed pitchers after pitchers of beer and blew up blue clouds of smoke. Clearly, they were regulars to the Goa life.

In the evening, we headed south of Calangute to Fort Aguada. Behind Aguada is the delta of Mandovi river - another gorgeous view. It's amazing how Goa has so many rivers in it's small expanse. For dinner that night, Lubna and I wanted something continental. But "season" hadn't arrived yet and several popular restaurants were about two weeks away from resuming service. We drove through the side streets of Candolim and found a single open restaurant - English Rose - with just two people inside it. The host welcomed us and gave us a menu.

"It's a continental menu," he was apologetic. "We just have eight items on it."

We were looking for something continental, I told him. John was sort of delighted to hear that. It looked like not many people came looking for steaks at this time of the year.

I went for the steak, which was even the chef's top recommendation, while Lubna ordered the momos. About thirty minutes later, John turned up with a large white plate in one hand and an oval tray in another. The momos were great; and I am tempted to rate the steak as the best I have eaten in India! And one more thing: no tip will make the host and chef as happy as a genuine personal compliment about the food they cooked.

We had planned to find a party spot in Baga, but after the hearty dinner, we meekly headed to the hotel for a good night's sleep.

Day 3 - Country roads, Churches and Ruins
Overnight: Bus

Sunday turned out to a fine morning. We rode to Baga and ate a large breakfast of eggs, frech toasts and beef puffs at Infantaria. Although the service was slow, Infantaria was a lovely breakfast place; and there was a decent crowd for an hour so early in the morning. We sat on the first floor balcony and soaked up the little sun that shone through the gray clouds. We then rode into Baga along the creek where little establishments were pulling up socks for the upcoming season. Around 11 am, we returned the bike in Calangute, ate lunch at the Friday place (the king prawns were good, but there was something amiss in the fish-curry today) and checked out of the hotel.

A wobbly bus from Calangute hopped several villages and and took us to Panjim. We hired a bike near the post office for five hours and drove off towards Old Goa. This thing you got to love about Goa - you can always get a bike without a fuss. Just show your driving license, deposit an ID, pay the rent and pick up the keys.

The churches of Old Goa can never fail to amaze. We made brief stops at St Cajetan, Se Catheral, and St Francis before taking a tour of Bom Jesus. The Sunday mass was still on at Se Catheral. Then we drove up towards St Monica and Augustinian Convent on the holy hill (Monte Santo). It started to pour once again and we ran to take cover under the arches of St Monica, which unfortunately, was barely any cover. After the skies cleared, we went inside the Augustinian Convent. The convent was a magnificent ruin. Lubna and I were the only visitors in the complex that evening.

"Bahut kai hai ... sambhal kar chaliye ga," the guard warned us in his thick UP accent about the moss.

When it was built in 1602, the church of St Augustine was the largest in Goa and competed for glory with other two Augustinian churches in Iberai - the Basilica of the Escorial in Spain and St Vincente de Fora in Lisbon. The competition was short lived. The convent and church were abandoned in 1830s after the Portugese government banned the religious order of St Augustine from Goa. The vault came tumbling down in 1842. The colossal bell was transferred to church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception in Panjim in 1871. The church facade partly collapsed in 1931. The final blow came in 1938 when more of it came crashing down. Today only a part of the 46 m high bell-tower stands alone amidst scattered ruins.

The security guard's prophecy came true and I did slip on the stones. I sat down on the steps and looked at the shoe soles. My loyal Woodlands had pretty much gone bald, which meant that the next time I tried Caterpillar shoes in a store, I need not have pangs of guilt over me.

We headed back to Panjim and it was dusk by the time we got there. We rode around Fountainhas in twilight, stopped at the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception (and now that we noticed it, the bell was indeed huge and out-sized), ate dinner at a local biryani place and took the night bus to Bombay.

The next morning, we arrived in a Bombay soaked in showers. The monsoons were moving north.

PLAN YOUR TRIP: Weather - BBC Weather / Flights - / Bus - / Stay - Mascarenhas Bungalow (+91 98229 89825), Jewel Inn and Spa

Tags: India

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