As travellers/tourists, we generally avoid places that have a reputation as a ‘party place’—we’re simply way past that point in our lives. That, together with a general ‘over-hyped’ feeling that we had about the state of Goa as well as the incredible time that we just had in Gokarna, we were a bit wary about what we would find once we got here. But at the same time, we couldn’t help but be a little bit curious as to what all the fuss was about.
We first set our sights on the southern beaches, where we read that it was more laid back and quieter than its northern counterparts. So we decided to stop for a few days in Palolem. The beach was so picturesque, with a large sweeping bay, clean water and sand, fringed with coconut palms swaying in the gentle sea breezes. As the water was mostly calm, it was the first time since we’d been in India that the kids, Yasmine in particular, had felt comfortable enough to be in the sea. It was post-card perfect.
What made it even better was that it was not yet high season, which runs from November to March. And a strange and unique thing happens in Palolem: during the season, ‘coco huts’ (bungalows set amongst the coconut palms), restaurants, and stalls line the beach, virtually wall-to-wall. But at the end of the season, they have to be all dismantled and removed due to their permit conditions as we’re told that although they stand on private property, the council/government still requires a building permit for the restaurants and accommodation. However we aren’t quite sure if the fact that the permit lasts only for the duration of high season (7 months) is due to the government’s initiative or because it’s cheaper to rebuild than to pay for a permit for the rest of the year, which is monsoon season. In any case, come October (now), they start the process of rebuilding once again. The structures themselves reflect the temporary nature of it all—most of them are very flimsy and haphazard. Roofs are made from thin woven mats of palm leaves. Walls are made from plywood. There’s one where we’ve watched them put together the pre-assembled walls like a child’s playhouse—lots of nails being hammered! On another property which is yet to begin its transformation for the season, ‘ensuite’s with lonely toilet bowls sit on tiled sections which are sitting on floor beams. Although the bowls are still connected to the main sewer pipe, there is no cistern, other plumbing, or walls or floors outside of the original bathroom area. It’s a strange sight indeed. On other properties, stilts which serve as either floor supports or ceiling supports (depending on their height), stand eerily in rows leading back from the beach. In any case, it was an interesting time for us to be here as we had the benefit of both worlds: of the natural and beautiful coconut palm-lined beach and a peak at the transformation that occurs here in the name of mass commercialism and tourism.
|See the lonely toilet bowls?|
|Workers busy setting up for the up coming season.|
Another thing we were dreading about coming to Goa is that we had read that it had one of the higher accommodation rates in India. There is a real mix of accommodation offerings here. In ‘the season’, these ad-hoc cabins start at $25.00 USD/Rs1000 and go upwards to $100 USD/Rs4000, but often the many smaller home-stays offer longer term rates. It seems everyone here in the village has at least 1 room to rent, if not more. Thanks once again to our tuk tuk driver, we stayed in a nice little cottage about 70m from the quieter end of beach and set in the village itself on the southern end, away from the main tourist area. We had 2 separate rooms (a first for us on this trip) with 2 double beds, 2 ceiling fans, its own toilet and shower, and our own outside covered porch. Due it still being low season, we got our cottage for a bargain price of $8.75 USD/Rs350. Add to this a little shop selling the basic essentials, an internet cafe and a terrific local/tourist restaurant, the Moonlight Hotel, which made the best butter chicken that we’ve ever had, all less than 50metres away and we were very comfortable and content here indeed!
|The south-end of Palolem Beach|
On the southern end of the beach where we stayed, village life was still very evident. There were virtually no cars, except for the odd tuk tuk and a few slow moving motorbikes. There were dogs, cows and pigs running around freely everywhere. And it seems that it’s the season for baby pigs to be born—the sight of mothers leading their brood of piglets freely around is so heart-warming. Many families live near each other—the owner of our cottage is surrounded by her cousins in neighbouring properties. And a religious undertone, this time Roman Catholicism, runs through it all. Since we’ve been here, there has been a contingent of worshippers gathering at different house each night with the statue of the ‘Blessed Virgin Mary’. It starts around 5:30pm marked by the setting of firecrackers, then followed by the recital of the Holy Rosary, then by the singing of some hymns, ending with refreshments and more firecrackers an hour later. Life here on the southern end, at the tail end of monsoon season was very laid back yet purposeful.
The feeling here in Palolem is so easy and relaxed—what Goans are actually known. All the local people, who are dressed in western-style clothing and have Christian names like Philomena, Vince and Simon, are very friendly and warm. And the tourists seem to come because of that. Women feel free to walk around on and off the beach in bikinis and the men bare-chested, as they would in the likes of the beaches of Thailand, Mexico, Australia, etc. We’ve noticed a relatively high proportion of foreign women who are travelling alone too, along with many young couples walking hand in hand. Indian women mostly from the states of Karnataka and Gujurat ply the beach with their goods (and stories) to sell to the many tourists. Sarongs, ‘hand-made’ jewellery (yeah, right), souvenir trinkets and henna-art are some of the usual offerings that they try to temp you with as you walk by or as you sit trying to relax. (Apparently during the season, some of the sellers who can afford it station themselves at their own stalls lining the beach which at the moment are not re-built yet.)
|Sellers 'at work' on the beach|
|One of the many Karnataka women vendors 'at work'.|
Each of our 3.5 days/4 nights here just slipped comfortably by. When we left Kudle Beach in Gokarna, we really couldn’t imagine that it could get any better. But for us here in Palolem Beach, it surprisingly did. It’s really one of those places where you can get ‘stuck’ for a while. Quite probably this would not be the case had it been in high season, but once again, our timing was perfect. We had heard that it had only stopped raining about 2 weeks ago, and while we were here, we had blue skies and a very comfortable climate—the days were warm and the nights were cool enough to be able to sleep without air conditioning. The beach was fairly quiet and so relaxed--we really felt like we were on holiday at a tropical beach anywhere else but in India! So far, if Palolem is representative of the beach scene here in Goa, we are very, very impressed.
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