Taking the pandemic-inflicted travel changes in her stride, our writer travels to Goa in the rains for a holiday that involves physical distancing with others and intimacy with nature. By Radhika Tandon
While working out the details of a post-lockdown getaway to Goa, I found myself dwelling on the changes in travel that are here to stay. As tourism comes back to life in a precarious dance with the pandemic, luxury is being redefined. Now, it’s all about private bubbles and customised experiences. I found myself looking for bespoke experiences, and unwittingly fell in love with Goa soaked in rains.
My first destination is Moira, a pristine village located deep in the North Goan countryside. Moira’s history goes back to the Mauryan period, from which it derives its name. Today, it is defined by its Portuguese heritage, evident in the unique architectural features of the houses scattered among banana plantations. In some places, ancient red walls plastered thinly in lime and mortar, and water channels built over 300 years ago, are still visible. A raised porch and a well in the compound are standard features, and on many rooftops, I spot a rooster or a soldier, symbols of luck and tradition leftover from Portuguese times. Most distinctive, however, are the windows lined with oyster shells instead of glass. This ancient technique lets in a translucent light, and though the craft is nearly extinct elsewhere, it can still be spotted in many homes of Moira.
My accommodation, The Postcard Moira, is a 214-year-old Portuguese villa that exhibits a mixture of traditional architecture and ultra-modern touches. The lobby retains its original laterite walls and is juxtaposed with steps that cling to one side like floating wooden piano keys. With no reception or check-in desk in sight, I am greeted with a cocktail and a smile. The Dandini, a concoction involving feni and green chillies, will become my staple tipple in the days ahead.
On a walking tour with a local guide and football hero Reis Magos, I spend a delightful morning crisscrossing the village, stopping to greet every Moirakar we pass, since Magos seems to know everyone. Built around a hill, Moira is surrounded by a tangle of mango, chikoo, and coconut trees, interspersed with wild pepper and cinnamon. Magos gives me an insider’s glimpse into life in this beautiful hamlet—from the football club (Goa’s oldest) in the village centre that forms the hub of social life, even hosting dances and concerts, to hidden lanes along the backwaters. We visit a 350-year-old church, Our Lady of Immaculate Conception, and peer into 7 Short 1 Long, a popular fusion restaurant in the neighbourhood that is set to reopen the week after I leave. Just 30 minutes from the coast, Moira seems a world away from Goa’s familiar tourist trails. It is a rare glimpse into an older, more gracious side to Goa, which I had been only dimly aware of before this.
I find myself mesmerised by this sleepy village, where the silence is broken only by rain and the mating calls of peacocks. I begin to understand why people get hooked on Goa in the monsoon. There is something otherworldly and romantic about lying on my four-poster bed, the rain drumming on the slate tiles overhead drowning out every other sound while a distinctive light, tinged green by the lush outdoors, pours in through the windows.
Tearing myself away from Moira is surprisingly hard, but my next destination—Cuelim in South Goa—quickly takes the sting away. The rain has eased up, and the air is filled with the sound of birds and crickets. Mostly, I take walks in the rain, stroll along the beach, or curl up on my wooden balcony, transfixed by the view, the breeze, and the silence. My accommodation is a 350-year-old mansion that was once the home of TB Cunha, also known as the father of Goan nationalism. Set amid acres of paddy fields with a historic chapel on the premises, The Postcard Cuelim offers six bedrooms with a colonial touch.
I bestir myself from this idyll for an electric-bicycle tour around Cuelim. If you’ve never tried an e-bike, I highly recommend it. You don’t need to be particularly fit; the bikes need effortless paddling—only to charge the motor. We breeze past elegant villas and zoom uphill to the Three Kings Chapel, said to be the most haunted spot in Goa. My guide Savio, who says this is his first gig in four months, is excited to show me around. The village tour is truncated due to the pandemic, but that means Savio skips the busier sights and takes me to some of his favourite places. We visit an iconic bakery near Velsao beach, known only as The Bakery, whose wood-fired ovens have supplied the entire village for as long as anyone can remember. We drive down narrow back roads to the ‘secret tunnel’, a pretty creek used in British times to transport cotton. He fills me in on the area’s history and good-naturedly agrees to ride through rain showers instead of stopping for shelter. We get soaked to the bone, but I don’t want to stop, exhilarated by the freedom, fresh air, and my new-found love for e-bikes.
I was initially sceptical about a monsoon visit to Goa—the sunshine state without the beach, the shacks, and the sunshine didn’t sound appealing. But the trip surprised me. Instead of the usual fare, I discovered a quietly elegant side of this gorgeous destination.
Goa is well connected to most major cities of India. If you’re in Mumbai, it makes for a delightful road trip (around 600 km).
Postcard Hotel offers properties in Moira, Cuelim, and Velha. Rooms from INR 18,000 at the first two; postcardresorts.com