OFF BEAT GOA
The Chorao islands, covered in mangroves and home to a large population of colourful migratory birds far from the beaches and revellers of Goa, can only be reached via multiple ferry rides.
A week or two spent revelling in the languid luxury of Goa's sunny sosegado, or susegad, a Portuguese colonial-era term roughly translated as 'laid-backness,' is one not to be missed on any hectic visit to mammoth, fascinating, often impossibly frenetic India. Instead of packing in every beach and tourist attraction, stand back, take a chill pill and explore the Goa off the beaten track. Goa is lots more than resorts and beach parties, this serene state has many mysteries waiting to be discovered.
Netravalli's Bubbling lake
Budbud or Budbudyachi Tali or simply bubbling lake, is a sacred pond located in the compound of old Gopinath temple situated in the tranquillity of a Goan village known as Netravali in Sanguem district. The name Budbud is derived from the constant bubbles coming out from the surface of the lake, and upon clapping, the bubbles grow in size and live springs suddenly gush out in an amazing spectacle.
The bubbles keep increasing with the intensity of your clapping. At the centre of the tank you see a square laterite stone slab, and the gurgling bubbles emerging on their own from the depths of the tank seem quite spooky. According to folklore, the lake's resident deities had magical powers that rendered the pool of water with healing bubbles, while scientists believe that the actual reason for this bubbling is due to the presence of carbon or sulphur dioxide, limestone and methane.
The Goan village of Netravali is also adjacent to the Netravali Wildlife sanctuary. A new nature reserve created by the Goan government to protect the Western Ghats, it connects to the Madei Wildlife Sanctuary.
Cumbarjua canal, also called Crocodile Dundee, is an island with no more than 1000 inhabitants. What's more, the locals worship these ferocious reptiles during the new moon in January. This entire adventure will eat up no more than half your day, as a river cruise by boat takes you around its mangrove creeks to scout out the huge, deadly-looking crocodiles with dagger-teeth.
After a short ride through the Cumbarjua canal, Goa's croc haven will get your adrenaline pumping as you navigate through the croc-infested waters in style. These rides can cost you 1200 rupees, but the boat owners will take you round in comfort. This place is the only one in Goa where these giant reptiles can be spotted in their natural setting, sunbathing on the muddy banks of the canal and watching visitors pass by in their canoes, or putting on a show by suddenly diving for prey.
Managed and run by the Shetye family, the Savoi plantations cover an area of over 100 acres and it is around 200 years old, boasting an organic and natural environment. Bird watching and organic farming are things guests can simultaneously enjoy as they explore this spice paradise, as the pond situated within attracts various species of birds.
Traditional Goan methods of organic farming are conducted here and crops such as coconuts, betel nuts, pineapples, cashews, along with tons of spices, are harvested. A tour with a local guide through the fields followed by a typical Goan Hindu Saraswat meal served in mud pits and on banana leaves is highly recommended. Due to the scenic landscape and the tranquil atmosphere, these plantations are an ideal place for those who want to forget their busy world. While trekking through the natural paths, chances are you might stumble upon ancient groves with a deity or two.
Drive from Panjim to Pomburpa
Goa is full of beautiful drives, but the best one is on the river route from Panjim to Pomburpa, along rolling green meadows, paddy fields, cattle grazing in lush green pastures, eagles flying low, men fishing by the side of the road in the backwaters, and the cool breeze in your face. Ditch the highway, and ask anyone about the inner route towards Mapusa, which leads on to Pomburpa. Then stay in an ancestral Goan village home and enjoy the Sao Joao festival (in late June) where village men jump into a shallow well and try to recover gifts thrown in by the village folk. Running through the fields and plunging into the well is just exhilarating.
Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary
The Western Ghats create one of the eighteen biodiversity hotspots in the world and Goa is nestled in these ranges, with the Bhagwan Mahaveer Wildlife sanctuary being the largest wildlife reserve in Goa. Formerly known as Mollem game sanctuary, jungle safari is a major attraction here. While vehicles are allowed inside, the park is also popular for its trekking trails. The majestic Bengal tiger, along with leopards, panthers, elephants, deer, Indian bison, king cobra, hump-nosed pit viper, along with a wide array of bird species, can be spotted in their natural setting here, primarily from November to March, when it is more convenient to view animals from the Devil's canyon viewpoint. The famous 12th-century temple of Tambdisurla is also situated in the park and it contains several important temples dating to the Kadamba Dynasty. It is crisscrossed by many rivers and is home to the famous Dudhsagar Falls and a community of nomadic buffalo herders known as the Dhangar.
Located on the north-eastern side of the Goa-Karnataka-Maharashtra border, Chorla is a stunning, misty tropical forest. A growing eco-tourism spot, Chorla is full of mystical waterfalls and rainforests and Chorla Ghats has been declared an important bird area by Bird Life International. The Wildernest Resort has brought Chorla onto the tourist's map. Set in the rainforest, it offers its guests, trekking, bird-watching and adventure activities, ethnic cuisine and a stay overlooking thick vegetation. Chorla Ghats is the Lonavala of Goa, with a cool climate.
Arvalem Falls and caves
Set in an enchanting landscape, the Arvalem waterfalls produce a breathtaking spectacle, with water tumbling headlong from a whopping 50 meters. Even though not on par with the more celebrated Dudhsagar falls, the Arvalem waterfalls are definitely worth a visit, especially during the monsoon season. As the plains are lashed by incessant rains, the Arvalem falls run amok with thunderous energy, contrary to the otherwise lean flow in the winters. After descending down the rocky cliff, the Arvalem falls settle in a huge lake at the bottom. It is a quiet place for spending quality time with loved ones. Located nine kilometers south of the town of Bicholim, these rock-cut caves are remnants of the prehistoric life in Goa. Dating from the time of the Mahabharata, these caves were known to be a shelter for the Pandavas during their exile. But the caves may also be of Buddhist origin due to their architecture and the presence of a huge statue of Buddha near the place. The presence of the famous Rudreshwar temple and a waterfall in its vicinity makes this place a must visit in Goa.
Far from the cries of civilisation, these islands in Goa with tiny populations can only be reached via multiple ferry rides. You will be rewarded with colorful misty meadows, delicious bakery food and endless chats with locals, while driving on narrow strips, with shallow waters sprouting mangroves on either side, and old Portuguese-style houses dotting the landscape.
The islands are covered in mangroves and home to a large population of colourful migratory birds, far from the beaches and revellers of Goa. In the heart of north Goa, the quaint little Chorao island is serenaded by gentle backwaters, loved by migratory birds, and home to the friendliest locals. The locals are usually tucked in for their afternoon siesta in their old Portuguese villas, but if you chance upon La Fayette, a little neighbourhood eatery, and knock on its doors, the lady of the house will welcome you in and feed you heartily with Goan food and stories of island-living. Legend has it that a stolen statue of Christ the King mysteriously appeared overnight on a hilltop in Chorao; the hilltop is a worthwhile hike for aerial views of Goa's skyline. From here you can also row into the untouched backwaters of northern Goa in a kayak, manoeuvring through mangroves, fighting the current of the river, hearing peacock cries and spotting eagles on barren trees – all the while getting drenched in the rain. In the village of Mayem in North Goa, you can take a paddle boat into a pristine expanse of freshwater surrounded by dense forests, and you can feel the silence engulf you.