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In seventh heaven along the arabian coast!

In seventh heaven along the arabian coast!
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Gently woken up by the first rays of the morning sun, the view from up above the world was simply green!! Simply glistening!! And simply gorgeous!! Soon an announcement came from the captain in the cockpit, ‘fasten your seat belts, the flight is preparing to land in Dabolim Airport. Welcome to Goa!!’

Stretching myself after my early morning flight, I decided to stay at Hotel Dona Florina in Candolim. On arrival, I was warmly greeted by Ms. Dona Florina to one of her sea facing rooms, which had a spectacular view.

Soon after a siesta, I decided to stroll along Candolim Coast, offering a host of options for water sports and some spectacular sights.

Candolim has everything to offer – from little strings of restaurants serving bhelpuri, bajipav up to the finest ones serving outrageously expensive Scottish smoked salmon and grilled lobsters. Yumm!!
On my return, Ms. Dona generously  handed me the key to one of her scooters to explore the silken beach and crystal sea.

My day one started off with an early morning ride to the northernmost tip of Goa. On reaching Querim, I boarded the ferry to cross the grand Tiracol River and reached my first destination, Fort Terekhol. Strategically located on a hillock, it gives a commanding view of the Arabian Sea. In its small courtyard, is the century old church, which is open to the public only during the annual feast in the month of May. The remains of the fort have now been converted into a luxury hotel, the ‘Terekhol Fort Heritage’.   

After exploring the tiny fort, I headed southwards to laze around the beaches. A few minutes drive on the beach road and around the cliffs and I reached the travel hippies paradise, Arambol. Arambol offers non-stop shopping opportunities till the edge of the pretty coastline. Further on, after passing by endless firang bodies from all across the world relaxing on the crowded beaches, all busy worshipping the sun, I reached the lovely, hidden Mandrem coast filled with an array of Cocohuts, all offering a number of yoga and ayurvedic treatments. Lazing around for a while before taking the scooter for a spin across Ashvem and Morjim beaches, I reached the 17th century Portuguese built Chapora Fort, located high above the Chapora River.

The fort provides a pretty view of its neighbouring coast, Vagator. Hanging around for a while, I was handed flyers for secret, rave night parties.  Heading further south, with a heavy smell of Charas in the air, I reached the infamous Anjuna Beach. I was lucky enough to be there on a Wednesday to witness the Flea Market, filled with backpackers and hippie fashions and walked further toward the coast for a resplendent lunch at the German Bakery. The rocky beaches and the cliffside slopes of Anjuna have a lot to offer for sunbathers. Seasonally, few villages nearby the coast offer residential courses on Yoga, Reiki and Ayurvedic treatments.

After crashing here for a while, I headed towards Baga and then reached Calangute, which is just the right place to have fun-and-feni-in-the-sun. The beaches here are more relaxed, refined and is the hotspot for clubbing, drinking and dancing, even till 4 AM.

It was 3 PM now and I decided to explore the forts. Driving further southwards crossing the Candolim and Sinquerim beach, I reached the hugely popular Fort Aguada.

Built by the Portuguese over the Mandovi River, it grandstands with an array of cannons overlooking the Arabian Sea. The fort has a moat, underground water storage chamber, bastions, lighthouses, gun powder storage room, a few secret passages and the lower part served as a safe berth for ships, which added up to the most prized and crucial fort of the Portuguese. Braving the crowds and hawkers up at the hill top, I reached its beautiful four-storey Portuguese Lighthouse. The cells of its storehouses have now been converted into the Fort Aguada Jail.

After exploring the massive fort, I headed towards the northern bank of Mandovi River and reached Reis Magos Fort. The fort overlooks the capital city of Panaji, which once accommodated all the viceroys and dignitaries from Portugal. This fort has sturdy walls and is defended by 33 guns, with accommodation for a small garrison.

Descending a beautiful flight of stairs, I reached Reis Mogos Church and then headed towards the narrow and clean coastline of Candolim, to capture the stunning sunset.

Dusk had arrived and I rounded off the day with fresh seafood, a delicious salad and some chilled beer around a blazing campfire, swapping stories with many fellow travellers.

Early morning the next day, I headed towards Panjim via Betim to board the ferry to cross the River Mandovi.

Taking a leisurely ride through the Portuguese-era districts, I first stopped over at the colonial era Secretariat Building followed by Menezes Braganza Institute and then reached the most picturesque Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. I clambered up the church steps and thanked the gods for a safe journey, then continued on my ride towards to a 19th Century capital of ‘Old Goa’, and travelling further southeast, I finally reached Ponda. Ponda offers two big draws; Hindu Temples and Spice Plantations.

I first reached the Shantadurga Temple, the shrine dedicated to Goddess Shantdurga (Goddess of Peace).  Riding a further 5 km north-west of Ponda, I reached the 18th century Mangueshi Temple, dedicated to Lord Manguesh, a god known only to the Goans. With the blessings of the Goan Lord, I headed towards the Tropical Spice Farm plantation.

On arrival, I was warmly welcomed with organic treats followed by a tour of the plantation by a well-informed guide. The tour ended with an elephant ride, and both of us having a river bath, and a buffet served on banana leaves. There is also a similar 200 yr-old Savoi Plantation, which is less frequented by tourists and elephant free but worth a visit.

After my sumptuous organic meal, I headed to the outskirts of Ponda Town and reached the historic Indo-Islamic style mosque, Safa Masjid. The mosque vividly recapitulates Goa’s past glory. There is a huge tank with ‘Mehrab’ Style Hammams and steps replicating the Hindu ‘Ghat’ Style.

I travelled back to the 19th Century when I reached Old Goa. I decided to park my scooter and explore the area on foot. I first reached Se De Santa Catarina, also known as Se Cathedral, the largest church in Asia.

The church has a few notable features. The Golden Bell, which is the largest in Asia; the Chapel of the Cross of Miracles, which is believed to have grown in size after its creation and Raredos of St. Catherine, to whom the cathedral is dedicated. Then I walked towards the beautifully fading Church of St. Francis of Assisi, which has a lovely interior with gilded and carved wood work, murals depicting the life of St-Francis and tombs of Franciscan Friars.  

After a while, I reached the imposing red-stone Basilica of Bom Jesus. This is famous throughout the Roman Catholic world and was the last resting place of Goa’s patron saint, St. Francis Xavier.
Then I headed towards the vast and evocative ruins of the once impressive Monastery of St. Augustine. The façade came tumbling down seven decades ago; all that is left is the towering skeletal belfry.  This place can rightly be called the ‘Rome of the East’ due to its crumbling architectural remains.

Dusk was arriving and I decided to head back towards Panaji Jetty to sink my remaining budget at any one the four floating casinos on River Mandovi.
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