Holiday in India – without a tour operator (Pt 3 – Goa)
So part 2 finished up with us on our internal flight with Air India from Mumbai to Goa, a state of India that we are very familiar with.
Having worked a couple of seasons each in Goa itself, we have spent a lot of time exploring and getting to know what we like. Since leaving the work behind back in 2006, we have travelled back for a few holidays – the first couple as a package holiday with TUI, but the last ones being as independent tourists.
Travelling to Goa without the use of a tour operator is nothing to be afraid of and with the collapse of Goas biggest operator (Thomas Cook), the state has seen a massive decline in visitors from the UK. Thankfully more and more are starting to see how easy it is to book cheaper seats on a schedule flight and book the accommodation yourself.
On arrival at Goa airport we pass straight through immigration as we on a domestic flight and within minutes we are waiting to collect our bags.
(Memories of massive queues to get through immigration came flooding back, these occur with the chartered flights as every single person on board needs to pass through the immigration checks – however if you fly scheduled, the queues tend to be much smaller)
Although transfers are usually included on a package, when travelling independently you need to sort your own transport, but again this is easy. Go to the government taxi prepay stand and a taxi to Baga will cost around 1300 INR (£13.50) and takes around an hour. The prices are fixed from the airport so no hassle with bartering etc.
They are currently building a new freeway, which is planned to cut the travel time dramatically, this will make the journey even easier within the next couple of years.
For accomodation we used AirBnB and we found a small studio apartment, right in the heart of Baga, just steps from the bars and restaurants as well as a mere 5 min walk to the sandy beaches. Despite being on the doorstep of all this hustle and bustle, the accommodation was set within a small complex down a short driveway, which transported you away from all the noise, to a peaceful oasis of calm.
Usually at this stage, I would suggest buying a local sim card on your first day – the sim itself will cost you £1-3 and then topping it up with around £3 can get you a months calls and texts and 1.5GB of 4G data a day, which will keep you connected during your stay. On this occasion I didn’t need to as the apartment came with WiFi in the form of a plug in portable device from Jio. As this can be unplugged and carried around with you, we had a permanent wifi hotspot with us.
As its around 9pm when we arrived, we decided to unpack and head straight outside for some food. Although we already had a small list of favourite restaurants in area, we opted to head to one of the restaurants that sat right outside the apartments where we were staying. To be honest, its difficult to get a ‘bad’ meal when you’re eating curry in India and this one was no exception.
On this trip we had made no plans to travel and explore, however previously we have taken trips to Hampi, Elephant and Tiger Rehabilitation Sanctuaries and waterfalls as well as venturing further afield, but having spent a few days in Mumbai already, the next two weeks was all about rest and relaxation.
Morning came and we were straight up and out to a beach shack. North Goa is completely inundated with shacks on the beach, all competing for your business, this means free sunbeds, wifi and good value food and drink. Waiters will serve you these at your sun-bed, while women will usually offer pedicures, threading, massages and even be selling the odd gift or two, a polite no thank you is all it takes if you’re not interested though.
We would usually start each day on the beach with a fresh lime soda. A simple drink made with squeezed lime and soda water, with added sugar or salt depending on your preference. We request ‘mixed’ with contains both sugar and some salt, purley as this acts as a great way to ward of dehydration – think of it like a rehydration salts drink, but that tastes great too.
As well as the beach and its shacks, north goa also has an abundance of bars and restaurants, with lots in the area of Baga and the infamous Tito’s Lane.
Tito’s Lane is named after the person (Tito Henry D’Sousa) that opened the first club in the area back in 1971. Since then the name has become a brand in itself, with a host of bars, clubs, restaurants and even their own branded spirits. (They’ve even opened a restaurant of the same name right here in Manchester – keep your eyes peeled for a review of that soon!)
I mentioned that we have a few ‘favourites’ when it comes to restaurants away from Titos Lane. We visit the first of these on our first proper night out. Named Relish, this restaurant is found a short walk from Tito’s down ‘Baga Deck Road’.
The owner once worked in a restaurant that we frequented in the village of Arpora, however has since opened a few venues his own, this one being in our top 5 of goan restaurants. With a huge list of curries, the menu describes each one in detail as well as having a chilli ‘key’ so you know exactly what you are going to get.
This latest visit was no different from any other and we left full and satisfied, but still time for a nightcap on Tito’s Lane.
The lane caters for all, from bollywood nightclub nights, to more sophisticated drinks in one of our favorites, Cape Town bar, which has changed dramatically over the years to what it is now, definitely the place to be seen.
Nights out on ‘The Lane’ very rarely finish early, and a few of our ‘quick drinks’ end up being a 2am venture of people watching, especially when old friends are around.
Another of our favourite restaurants in Goa is called Jamies. This has relocated since our last visit and can be found opposite baga bridge (a 15 min walk from our apartment).
This was a firm favourite in our time living in Goa, as it was somewhere to go for something other than curry. Although they still do great curries, the menu also has real tasty alternatives, such as Clay Roasted Chicken, Superb Fish and Chips and stunning starters such as Chicken and Cheese stuffed Naan or the most succulent fresh prawns and with a meal including drinks costing £10-£15 a head, it’s a treat that’s also great value.
As previously stated, this really was just a beach holiday along with catching up with a few old friends, but we varied our shacks day by day. For some the beaches of Baga and Calangute can get a little busy, so if you’re looking for something a little quieter, well why not grab a taxi to one of the more northern beaches of Morjim or Mandrem.
We booked a taxi for the day (Around £15) to take us to Morjim Shack previously called S2, but now rebranded as Club Blu.
Set on the quieter beach of Morjim, this shack is also blessed with shaded dining areas plus a swimming pool. We stayed here during the day only, but a night it is said to transform into a beachfront nightclub.
With a few more days sunbathing we also indulged in some partying on the Lane in the likes of Cape Town, Pit Stop Bar and Kamaki’s.
On a couple of occasions we came across some tour groups who had been touring India and whos tours had finished in Goa, where they experienced the ‘party side’ of India.
Having previously done a group tour of Delhi, Agra and Jaipur ourselves, Goa is definitely a good place to chill after the hustle and bustle of the cities.
Taxis are more expensive in Goa than other places in India, but still good value for getting around. If you want to get away from the hustle and bustle of the north completely, then you can head down to south goa where you have options of 5 star hotel resorts to backpacker retreats.
The City of Panjim is also a good place to visit, you can wander around the shops or head to the Old Goa, visiting the Church of Bom Jesus, the resting place of the Saint Francis Xavier.
You can also mix up a trip by getting a taxi driver to take you to a few places in one day, for example you can add Panjim Old Town with a spice plantation and Dudsager Waterfalls to see the scenery and the mischievous monkeys (Watch your bag).
Really the choice is limitless and with it being 10 years since we first visited, we’ve been fortunate enough to visit many of them.
One trip that we made was to one of the newer Saturday Night markets, which has a new larger location in Arpora, a village just 5 mins from Baga and a place we know well having lived in the village previously. A quick wander around the many stalls and we then head to a restaurant close by that we used to frequent many years ago and is now run by same owner as Relish in Baga.
It safe to say that we definitely were not disappointed by the gorgeous food at Mango. After getting our bellies full, we headed back to Baga and a final farewell to friends.
Even though this was a rest and relaxation visit, the two weeks in Goa flew by and wasn’t long until we were heading back to the airport for our journey home. Just over an hour flight and we were back in Mumbai.
For this return leg, we stopped off at the Hilton Mumbai, which is literally a 3 min taxi ride from the airport and so convenient if you don’t have too long before your next flight (We had less than 12 hours before we had to check back in).
The flight home was a lot more pleasant, with just a one and a half hour stopover in Dubai (Just time for some shopping)
And two more curries within hours of each other onboard.
Now for planning the next trip in Feb (Morocco) and of course to try out Tito’s in Manchester.