A trip to Goa accomplished a lingering task on the bucket list. The aim was to ditch the usual tourist circuit and venture out to discover the woodland, waterfalls and ancient temples in Goa. It is a fact that beaches personify Goa, but get off the frequently visited trail, and you are in for a lot of surprises. The eastern part of the state consists of the Western Ghat belt, which is recognized as one of the biodiversity hotspots of the world.
Kalasa was the top choice as the first pit stop. Spending a day in the dreamy, laid-back small-town brought back a great many memories. The ride from Bangalore to Kalasa is usually smooth, but the impulsive decision of going via Sakleshpur proved to be mortifying. To enjoy the 40kms of winding, blissful roads from Sakleshpur to Mudigere, it is a misery to go through the treacherous 40km of Hassan-Saklespur road. The road is a tad bad due to rain and road widening project from Mudigere. Tackling the twists and turns towards the destination, rain welcomed us as we neared the town of Kalasa.
Tourists have started arriving in this town, which acts as a base to cover many destinations around – Sringeri, Horanadu, Kudremukha National Park. Ride from Kalasa to Mangalore takes you through the serene and rustic Kudremukha National Park. The meandering roads are not in the best condition until the SK border – this is where the road deviates towards Sringeri. Here on, the road is wide, butter-smooth with alluring twists. The route we took had good tarmac with many petrol stations. Kalasa-Bajagoly-Karkala-Nitte-Padubidri-Mangalore.
Port city of Mangalore was the second and a brief stop. The cordial host at the Airbnb place made sure of a pleasant stay. Despite being in a central location, the home is in a calm residential layout, making it a perfect place to relax and rejuvenate for the next quest.
The tantalizing coastal highway from Mangalore to Goa is part of NH66 (old NH17) is a treat for the eyes with umpteen bridges, rivers in full glory and views of the sea like a teaser for what’s ahead! The good tarmac and winding roads are a delight for the ride and rider alike. The majority of the road is four-lane, while some stretches are still work-in-progress. It is a route that traverses through a multitude of popular destinations like Udupi, Murudeshwara, Gokarana, along with some recently discovered staycation places like Kundapura, Kumta. Karwar is the last town on the Karnataka border, which is also a port town with a heavy navy presence.
South Goa is as calm as North Goa can get cacophonous.
The serene beaches in and around Agonda offered undoubtedly the best beach experience of the trip. Tucked away from the mainland and hidden behind the forest is the Butterfly beach. It requires half an hour walk through wooded hills. The hike is such that, you wouldn’t fancy seeing a beach at the end of the trail. Alternately you could take a local fishing boat from Palolem or Agonda beach to reach here. Unfortunately, the litter around this serene beach ruins the tranquillity of the place. Hope someday people will be more sensitive and carry their own litter back with them.
Renting bodyboards from Samudra Surf School at Agonda beach, mornings were spent riding the waves. The consistent waves and a long shallow shoreline is a perfect combination for a beginner to bodyboard. Less crowd is a blessing in times like these. Don’t get stuck at the beach, hike the hills around to be bowled over by the vista. Trudging along a few ridges, a secluded place was a perfect vantage point to watch the locals angling and fishermen waiting patiently on their boats to acquire the day’s catch.
Our place of residence in Agonda was through Airbnb. Run by a family, this is an ideal place for an extended stay. Experiment with your cooking skills at the shared kitchen provided for guests. Beach is a 5 min walk away, a few restaurants at the shacks dish up the usual fancy, expensive continental fare in addition to some local seafood options. Many restaurants haven’t opened up yet, owing to the pandemic, the cooks and workers haven’t returned. Hunting for a budget, local taste we ended up at Annapoorna restaurant, 2 km away from Palolem beach. During our stay, we met a writer-director, who makes off-beat movies, launching them on OTT (over the top media) platforms and Youtube. It was a pleasure chit-chatting about diverse topics under the sun. He had done a recce of magnificent hidden places around the beach and was kind enough to show us these locations.
Cabo de Rama is a dilapidated fort, which is not well preserved. The ride to this place on undulating roads through greenery is rewarding. A quick stroll around the fort and we continued on the welcoming course towards Colva beach. Seeing the sun go down the horizon at Betul, it was time to turn back towards Agonda. The next day, an early start took us to Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary via Canacona town. A blissful sanctuary with zero tourists, riding through the jungle to our heart’s content was a good way to bid adieu to South Goa.
Abandoning the work in progress NH66, glide inland on the well laid out roads to Dona Paula, crossing Goa University. This place was made a famed tourist spot by local guides, who invented fictitious love stories to attract visitors. A busy jetty, it offers views of the ocean, with some stalls selling clothes ranging from hats to bikini. Strolling around the Cabo Raj Bhavan we rode towards Miramar beach and finally connecting to the NH66 at the bridge to cross the wide Mandovi River. Three bridges across this river, with one of them – Atal Setu, opened recently – not allowing two-wheelers atop it, will disorient even someone with a good sense of direction.
Spend a day at Velha Goa (Old Goa) musing on the years gone by and the effect of them on the Goan culture and history. The standard places covered by the tourists in old Goa are a group of heritage preservation, mostly churches built by the Portuguese. The Se Cathedral, Basilica of Bom Jesus (under renovation), Archeological Museum of Goa (accept payment for tickets only through mobile payment apps), the dilapidated chapel of St. Catherine, Church of St. Francis of Assisi. A little away from this bustle sits the remains of a church tower, St. Augustine Tower, a quiet and tranquil place to spend time in silence. Down the road Convent of Santa Monica houses a museum by the name Museum of Christian Art, temporarily closed for renovation. In the same institution is the Chapel of the Weeping Cross, whose legend says blood oozed out from carving of the Christ on the cross and the Portuguese Viceroy registered a miracle with Rome. A short walk from here will take you to the Church of Our lady of the Rosary, with very few visitors, it still has the air of serenity and placidness. One can see the Divar Island and watch the boats ferrying people and vehicles across. The road to the jetty holds another renowned monument – Viceroy’s Arch.
The most popular and commercial tourist place in Goa has to be Calangute. Bustling with tourists the beach was a disappointment with trash all over the place. The Airbnb guest house was a boon, being in a quiet neighborhood. Beach was a short 15 min stroll and the main road lined with restaurants a quick 5 min walk. Expect authentic Goan hospitality, with nutritious breakfast and friendly chit-chat. Every alternate shop will have a board announcing rental scooters and cars. Scooters are possibly the easiest way to get around to the dozens of beaches and some picturesque forts. If in the mood for a longer ride follow the NH748 until Mollem from where two roads lead to Tambdi Surla and Doodhsagar Waterfalls, both inside Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife Sanctuary. The commercial set-up at Doodhsagar was dispiriting.
Turning towards the other option, we lunched at a nondescript restaurant serving authentic Goan Fish Curry meals. Mahadev Temple at Tambdi Surla is a Kadamba style temple built using weather-resistant grey-black basalt around the 12th Century. It is the only of its kind in Goa, which is well preserved. Thanks to its location, deep in the forest, it was saved from invasions. Surrounded by forests and a stream, this small but picturesque temple is not on the touristy circuit, but expect many Hindu devotees. There is a 4km trail from the temple to Tamdi Surla Waterfall, keep at least 3 hrs for the round trip for this exciting footslog amidst the lush green forest. The trek to waterfalls starts just before the bridge towards the left, hire a guide if you don’t want to get lost in the jungle.
The next destination was Arvalem waterfalls and caves, located in a tiny village, Sanquelim. A short distance from Bicholim, along the road from Mayem Lake, you will reach this beautiful waterfall cascading through the surrounding trees into an inviting lake. A stop at Mayem Lake on the way is a good option. Dr, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary at Chorao is a tranquil park, visit in the early morning to spot the feathered friends.
The Northernmost beach of Goa, Arambol (Harmal) is a mix of rocky and sandy stretches. A wide array of shops in the vicinity offer clothes to handicrafts, jewellery, souvenirs and so on. Moving southward you are invited to visit the Ashvem and Morjim beaches.
Chapora Fort has a long history but made famous by the Bollywood flick –Dil Chahta Hai. Though in a dilapidated state, the views of beaches and the creek formed by Chapora river are mesmerizing. Walk along the fort wall to enjoy the seascape from all directions, best visited after 4 pm. Following the roads snaking along the beaches, we visited Vagator beach and Anjuna beach. The rock formations at Anjuna beach near the Flea Market area were an interesting sight with the seawater gushing through the laterite stone crevices while you are enjoying the sunset. Returning via Honnavar – Jog Falls – Sagara through the magical twisty roads of Western Ghats is an excellent option if you have the luxury of time. This route continues to Shimoga – Tarikere – Hosadurga – Hiriyur and joins PB road (NH48).