Goa is breathtaking. But, is there more to it than sand and sea, beach shacks and swimming pools? Most would not think so; neither did I, till I met the other side of Goa. I hired a scooty and set off, with no idea where I was heading. I did have a map, but only to help navigate my way back in case I got lost.
On the first day, I headed south, taking the Aguada-Siolim road. It curved and curled, around towns and markets at first, then around small villages – always staying somewhat parallel to the coastline. Travelling without a plan led to dead ends at times, but it did have its advantages – discovering sleepy little hamlets and virgin beaches; following a serpentine road through fields to be surprised by a small chapel hidden behind a hillock.
Goa may not be counted among the hotbeds of Indian history, but it carefully protects and preserves all it has. One good example of this was the tiny, but strategically significant, Reis Margos fort – my first proper stop for the day. The fort is the pride of Goa in more ways than one. Historically, it was one of the few forts that Shivaji could not breach. But the clear view of the open sea, Aguada Fort and the capital from its ramparts was sufficient to show why Reis Margos is still of immense importance. The fort also bears testimony to the other pride of Goa – artist and illustrator Mario de Miranda. Two hallways in the small fort have been dedicated to his life and paintings, most being caricatures of his friends, family and life in Goa.
Next, I headed straight for the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, further south. The drive seemed to open up a whole new world. The backwaters ran deeper into the mainland here, forming wide and full rivers. Around it were thick forests, rendered fresh and green by the rains. There was not a soul in sight and for a moment, it felt like I was in a different world. Needless to say, when it was time to return, I was loath to do so.
The drive next day, to Old Goa, wasn't as picturesque as the previous day's. However, what lay ahead completely compensated for it. The first stop for the day was the capital, Panjim. Once again, I was surprised to find that it was no bustling, commercial city, but a quiet capital where Portuguese influences still hung heavy. The architecture of the government buildings, bakeries, shops and market places, even the small residential complexes and back alleys, were all reminiscent of old European towns. Only the people reminded me that I was still in India.
The closer I inched towards the oldest part of Old Goa, the more marked the European influence became. Soon enough, I was surrounded by history as I drove from one Gothic-style monument to another. Among these, my favourite is the St. Augustine's Tower, a 64-metre tower that used to be a belfry and formed a part of a monastery built for Augustinian friars. The tower and the monastery are both in ruins, but they still give away the architectural magnificence and charm that the buildings once possessed.
I slowly followed the road to the Heritage City, where lay the famous Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Cathedral of St. Francis of Assisi, among others. All buildings stood tall with their high turrets, stern façades and lavish interiors – features typical to Portuguese architecture. For those so inclined, a museum of architecture stands just opposite the basilica and takes you on a walk through history beginning in the ancient times.
If travelling is an addiction, then the discoveries made in Goa have served to further fuel my desire to go beyond travelogues, look for the hidden facets of a city and travel the road less taken. And in that sense, I know that this trip has helped me grow as a traveller.