Category Archives: Goa

Unseen Goa: Sahakari Spice Farm & Mangeshi Temple

India is a land of diversity; yet each region is associated with a particular community, terrain and flavour. It is easy to forget that even the states and union territories are microcosms of the country’s cultural potpourri. That is why, it came as a surprise that 66% of Goans are Hindu and as per legend, Lord Shiva was the first real ‘tourist’ to visit India’s smallest state. These facts became apparent during my bus ride from Ibis Styles Goa Calangute to Sahakari Spice Farm in Ponda. There, we were to have an authentic Saraswat lunch and get acquainted with a plethora of herbs and spices. “The houses become smaller and more Hinduised as they move away from the coast,” our guide Jerome informed us, holding on to both sides of the bus to keep from falling. Typically, the Christians have a cross in front of their homes and the Hindu homes have a tulsi plant in their courtyards.

Spice plantations in Goa

Maharashtrian woman at Sahakari Spice Farm, Goa
She was part of our welcoming committee and readied our lunch too

Goa’s climatic conditions favour the growth of spice farms and there are a few of them strewn across the rural areas of the state. They are known for their natural beauty and organic plantations and Sahakari Spice Farm at Curti, Ponda was no different. Our visit to this green enclave where coconut trees lined the sky and silence carpeted the fragrant woods began with a traditional Hindu welcome of aarti and tikka. We moved on to the restaurant area to sip on a welcome drink of warm ginger water. And then the half hour long tour of the spice farm began, courtesy our enthusiastic guide.

Sahakari Spice Farm, Goa

We glimpsed what seemed to be turmeric but turned out to be cardamom (elaichi). Each bush yields only 30-40 grams of cardamom, making it the third most expensive spice in the world (saffron is the most expensive). “Being sweet, cardamom is known as the queen of spices while black pepper is the king of spices for it’s spicy like a king!” our guide joked. Then we moved on to cacao beans in green pods (each pod contains 35-40 beans), nutmeg (jaiphal) fruits which also yield mace and turmeric (haldi) roots. According to our guide, applying a paste of nutmeg powder, lemon juice and ginger can relieve joint pain due to excess uric acid.

A turmeric root at Sahakari Spice Farm, Goa
A turmeric root

I’ll let you in on a secret – adding turmeric to cardamom can give you the colour and fragrance of saffron! Next, we stumbled upon intoxicating betel nut palms (which could get us dancing faster than 30ml of whiskey according to our guide!) and pepper creepers. Red, white and black peppers are all a product of the same plant; only the process differs. But if it’s constipation you want to cure, black pepper is your best friend! We also saw aromatic orchids of vanilla, the second most expensive spice in the world, harvested in February. 30,000 vanilla pods yield only one litre of the delicious spice, costing around 11,500 dollars! Interestingly, the biggest consumers of vanilla are pharmaceutical companies, French perfumers and wonder of wonders, Coca Cola and Pepsi. These drinks apparently taste vile without vanilla to mask them. And yet we continue chugging them down! For genuine vanilla flavour, ditch the synthetic variants in the market and steep vanilla pods in a jar of sugar instead. In a few weeks, this sugar will be pure vanilla goodness without the exorbitant costs.

An elephant at Sahakari Spice Farm, Goa
We ended the tour, interspersed with jokes and practical remedies, by watching an adorable old elephant take a dip in the lake and chew on some coconut leaf branches.

We even encountered hybrid berries that possess the taste and fragrance of five different spices – clove, coriander, nutmeg, pepper and cinnamon – a real shortcut to making garam masala (a staple in many Indian curries and gravies)! We also got a live demonstration from a nimble coconut tree climber.

Sahakari Spice Farm, Goa
Our guide performed a strange procedure before she let us go – she poured some cold fragrant water of sandalwood and saffron down our backs to cool us after the sunny walk! It was definitely a pleasant though surprising chill.

Exhausted from the walking and peering, we were gratified to see the locally sourced and prepared Saraswat spread laid out for us in the eating area. Lunch consisted of rice preparations, salad, curries, pav, prawns, papad, dal and orange coloured sweet rice for dessert. I supplemented the meal with some bananas from a bunch hanging under a tree, free for plucking. We cast a brief glance at the oils and spices being sold at the adjoining shop but decided to reserve our wallets for the market outside Mangeshi Temple. The organic products here range from Rs 100-600.

Sahakari Spice Farm, Goa
Happy after a good walk and meal

Temples of Goa

There are twice as many notable churches in Goa as there are temples but that’s still more than I would have estimated. At first glance, these temples seem different from traditional Hindu temples. To understand these variations in architecture, one has to delve into Goa’s history. After tucking into the Saraswat delicacies at Sahakari Spice Farm, we decided to go to the nearby Mangeshi Temple. It is located in Mangeshi Village, which is the hometown of celebrated songstress Lata Mangeshkar’s late father.

Deep Stambha at Mangeshi Temple, Goa
As we entered, we were struck by the height and beauty of the towering Deep Stambha (Lamp Tower), a feature typical of Goan temples and born of Maratha influence.

The six-storeyed tower is pristine white with gold-rimmed windows and has spaces for lamps on either end of each storey. I could visualise its stunning splendour when all the lamps are lit at night during a festival. The 450 year old temple is dedicated to Bhagawan Manguesh, an incarnation of Lord Shiva and the kuldevta (family deity) of many Goud Saraswat Brahmins, a prominent Marathi community.

Mangeshi Temple, Goa
The main temple is painted in a cheerful combination of light and dark blue with dashes of white and yellow as opposed to the reds and whites generally preferred by Hindu temples.

Under the Portuguese reign, Goa lost many of its best temples but a few new ones were built after much opposition in the 19th century. Apart from modern Portuguese influences, Goan temples also sport Mughal-style domes instead of the customary shikaras (source: Goa Tourism). Old Goa was established as a trading capital by the Adil Shahs of Bijapur.

Water tank at Mangeshi Temple, Goa
After paying homage to the deities, we went to explore the temple water tank in a rich shade of olive, with a plant at the centre.

Don’t forget to examine the temple chariot on a visit to Goa’s oldest Hindu Temple.

Markets in Goa

Flea markets are one of the biggest attractions of North Goa. Both affordable and alluring, you can get everything from bikinis to summer dresses, shorts, flip flops, chunky jewellery, bags and sunglasses. But did you know that flea markets in Goa were first started by hippies who didn’t have money to go home? Tired of India after the sheen of the Hippie Movement wore off, these vagabonds began selling second-hand foreign goods to the locals. We encountered beautiful lamps, mugs, tea cups and leaf-shaped Ganesha figurines in the row of shops outside Mangeshi Temple.

Ganesha figurines at Goa's market

The wares were refreshingly different from the other more popular flea markets.

Next on my Goa wishlist is boating in the backwaters and visiting Dudhwa Waterfall post monsoon. What about you?

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Vero Cibo: Novotel Goa Resort & Spa’s new bistro & bar

It’s not just mountains and temples that are awash with ‘good vibes’. It’s also places like the idyllic, gorgeous and uber luxurious Novotel Goa Resort & Spa at Candolim. An infinity pool against the backdrop of lush coconut trees and grassy green lawns, a state-of-art play area at the reception and the newly opened bistro & bar called Vero Cibo define this five-star property in North Goa.

Swimming pool adjoining Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
An infinity pool in the lap of nature

During a recent weekend trip to India’s happiest city-state, I checked out of Ibis Styles Goa Calangute for an unforgettable launch brunch party at Vero Cibo, the new Mediterranean bistro and bar. Overlooking the verdant fields of Candolim, the restaurant promises to serve modern versions of Italian, French and Greek dishes.

Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
The wooden interiors of Vero Cibo

We walked through an open air food pavilion  to reach the restaurant, where drinks and desserts would be served. The air was alive with the echoes of cheery Latin American tunes, courtesy a live band and a gentle breeze wafted through the balmy afternoon.

Outdoor pavilion at Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
The outdoor food pavilion

The restaurant was refreshingly cool and a high Balinese-style ceiling with wooden beams retained the feeling of being close to nature. We found a table adjoining the fields and enjoyed the serene panorama.

Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
A table adjoining the fields

Presently, waiters appeared at our table and began plying us with exotic cocktails and starters. We enjoyed the vodka-based Purple Passion, the sweet signature cocktail of Vero Cibo, the citrusy Beer Limebun cocktail and the overturned beer bottles in glassfuls of ice. Some bruschetta and open burgers offered less heady distraction.

Purple passion, the signature cocktail at Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
Purple passion, the signature cocktail at Vero Cibo
Beer limebun cocktail at Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
Beer limebun cocktail

After some ‘spirited’ drinks and conversation, we decided to check out the outdoor brunch spread. Grabbing a plate, I served myself some salad from the array of fresh, colourful salads, a spinach and egg tart, a juicy plum and a fried broccoli preparation. The dishes at Vero Cibo are by and large fresh, light and easy to eat.

Healthy vegetarian lunch at Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
My healthy, vegetarian lunch

There was an enticing dessert display in a cabinet within the restaurant and I was quite glad when I finished my lunch. I was awed by the delectable pastries, mousses, lollipops and ice-creams all topped with liberal helpings of exotic fruits and compote. But in the end, the berry lemon cheesecake and the espresso creme brulee stole my heart.

Desserts at Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
The dessert spread
Berry lemon cheesecake and espresso creme brulee at Vero Cibo, Novotel Goa Resort & Spa
Berry lemon cheesecake and espresso creme brulee

Once we’d eaten, we found a glass of wine and wandered over to the source of the wonderful music we’d been hearing. A four member band with stunning acoustics regaled us with peppy beach-side music.

We had a few hours left in Goa and decided to take the hotel shuttle to Candolim Beach. Smiling beach bums and shacks made for a familiar Goan sight at this sweeping beach. We stayed until the sun scattered a fistful of gold petals across the raging sea and eventually descended beyond the horizon.

Sunset at Candolim Beach, Goa
That’s me at Candolim Beach!

Address: Novotel Goa Resort & Spa, Pinto Waddo, Off Candolim Road, Bardez, Candolim, Goa 403515
Phone: 0832 249 4848

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Ibis Styles Goa Calangute: Affordable, inimitable chic

In a seaside state-town that is dotted with shacks, villas, homestays and five-star hotels, Ibis Styles Goa Calangute comes as a breath of fresh air. It is a stylish yet affordable three-star resort in the heart of North Goa, mere minutes away from Tivai Beach and a short ride away from the famed Calangute and Baga Beaches. Designed in becoming hues of turquoise and purple, the hotel exudes exclusivity and all the salty, breezy pleasures of party-loving Goa. While the rooms are cosy but smallish, the swimming pools are lavish in size and design; and there are two of them. Over a beautiful October weekend, I discovered the culinary pleasures of Spice It, their multi-cuisine restaurant and the prowess of the bartender at The Hub, their in-house bar. I even found myself in the midst of an electrifying OctoberFest concert, courtesy my kind hosts. Let me walk you through my little love affair with North Goa’s newest and chicest resort.

Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
The reception

Wall hangings and paintings of fishes, canoes and a bright colour scheme inspired by the Goan coastline greeted me when I walked into Ibis Styles Goa Calangute on Friday morning. The smiling staff dropped a sunhat on my head, draped a garland of shells around my neck and put a deep orange welcome drink in my hand. I felt like royalty. And then it was time to check in, a process that happened in a jiffy.

Deluxe room at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
My deluxe room (courtesy Ibis Styles Goa Calangute)

My room was compact and cleverly designed, incorporating a wardrobe, balcony and TV set with minimal loss of space. I also looked forward to utilising the tea coffee maker and relaxing in the soft double bed. In the balcony, I was gratified to see that I had the most splendid view of the garden, swimming pool and neighbouring resort buildings.

View from the deluxe room at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
The view from my room

By now, my stomach was rumbling and I was prepared to eat everything on the menu at Spice It, the resort’s multi-cuisine restaurant. On the way to the restaurant, I glimpsed a massage chair that promised to soothe my feet into submission. I used it at the end of an exhausting day and was amazed at the automated massage and vibration controls.

Massage chairs at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
These massage chairs are complimentary

The restaurant was spacious with some tables overlooking the swimming pool and a separate sitting area beyond the buffer counters providing some quiet and privacy. I feasted on watermelon and feta cheese salad, aloo jeera, paneer tikka, paneer makhani, rice, roti and dal. The salad and the tikka were mouth-watering.

Spice It restaurant at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
Spice It, the restaurant (Courtesy Ibis Styles Goa Calangute)
Watermelon and Feta cheese salad at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
Watermelon and Feta cheese salad
Paneer tikka at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
Paneer tikka

After lunch, it was obviously time for a siesta. I might have slept until dinner if not for the show around of the property by the manager Nikheel Shirodhar. He showed us their store selling locally made artifacts such as shell-shaped ash trays, gym, banquet and children’s play area and swimming pool. Ibis Styles Goa Calangute is designed in such a way that every room has a view of the pool.

Gym at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
The gym
Children's play area at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
Children’s play area
Children's pool at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
If you have kids along, stay in this wing close to the children’s pool and play area

Once we’d familiarised ourselves with the entire property, I was on my own. It was a choice between jumping into the swimming pool or dipping my toes in the sea at Tivai Beach. I got myself a King’s Beer from a local shop and navigated a twisting little lane to reach Tivai Beach just before sundown. It took me all of ten minutes to get there and I lost myself in the hypnotising rhythm of the lively waves.

Tivai Beach, Goa
A young mother photographs her giggling daughter

I returned to my room tired but happy. A warm shower and a cup of coffee readied me for the feni tasting session at The Hub, the little bar housed within the restaurant. Feni is the local alcohol of Goa, made either with cashews or toddy palm. Not everyone develops a taste for it but when blended with lime juice and Malibu syrup, you can’t help but enjoy it.

Feni cocktail at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
My feni cocktail

I awoke early the next morning in order to have the pool for myself. The air was cool and misty although winter hadn’t yet set in. The water in the pool was temperature-controlled and thus not too cold. There were balls and frisbees that my friend and I played with and the length of the pool allowed for extensive swimming.

Swimming pool at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute
The swimming pool

I worked up a healthy appetite after a swim and stroll and enjoyed a hearty breakfast at Spice It. The buffet was a wonderful melange of Indian and continental cuisine. But what I liked the most was the detox shots counter featuring bitter gourd and tomato to make up for last night’s excesses! I had peanut butter and Nutella on toast, excellent masala dosa, mini vada, strawberry yoghurt and coffee among other delights.

Post breakfast, we discovered an all new side to Goa but I’ll tell you all about that in another post. In the evening, we decked up for a night of partying and clubbing. Our evening began at Oktoberfest 2016 on the grounds of Nazri Resort in Candolim, where we danced to Morgan and Margot’s beats while sipping on German Kaltenberg, in keeping with the spirit of Oktoberfest.

Oktoberfest 2016 party, Goa
Oktoberfest 2016

The concert ended at 10pm and our plan was to enjoy the after party at SinQ, the Beach Club. But before that, we made a pit stop at Club Tito’s on Tito’s Lane, a street that comes alive with adrenalin and wide-eyed revelers in the night. There, we dined on the very Goan Veg Xacuti and some not-so-Goan pizza, veg platter and Ferrero Rocher ice-cream.

Dinner at Club Tito's, Calangute, Goa
Dinner at Club Tito’s

Nicely fortified, we danced the night away at SinQ and made our way back to Ibis Styles Calangute Goa, which was increasingly starting to feel like home. Alas, we were to depart the next day but an exciting brunch at Novotel Goa Resort & Spa’s new bistro and bar awaited us. Read all about that in my next post.

Want to stay at Ibis Styles Goa Calangute?

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Villas in Goa: Giving the hotels a run for their money!

Everyone (or at least everyone in Mumbai) wants to own a holiday home in Goa. Conde Nast Traveller even did an article on how to pack your bags and shift to Goa for good. This beach town with an insatiable appetite for the good stuff (read food, drinks and parties) has obviously been on my travel radar as well. And I’ve tried them all – budget hotels with nothing in the room except a bed and a bathroom, beach shacks with not even that, luxury resorts that are like an island within themselves and the trustworthy GTDC which seems to teeter somewhere between them all. But the one thing I really want to try is a villa.

Villas in Goa

The word ‘villa’ inspires the same awe that a ‘condo’ or ‘holiday home’ does. It spells relaxation, luxury and space – lots of it. Imagine having an entire bungalow to yourself, freshly whitewashed and surrounded by a plush garden full of fragrant blooms and your very own jogging track. Imagine that there is a huge swimming pool in this villa with luxurious deck chairs where you can lie down and sunbathe or read your favourite novel over a mojito. Imagine that this bungalow is right on the beach and you wake up to the sound of crashing waves and the intoxicating scent of the sea. It takes your perspective of a Goan vacation several notches higher, doesn’t it?

Villas in Goa

Winter is approaching and it’s the best weather to hit the beaches. All the glittering beach shacks with hypnotising music have reopened and the cool sea breeze should save you from the sun during lazy afternoons. Now if you’re going to Goa for some serious trekking and exploring, a villa may not be the best bet. But if you’re going just to unwind and do nothing but stare at the azure sky and the endless ocean, you should consider booking a villa. I love my privacy and say what you will, but the isolation a villa provides can certainly not be compared to a resort milling with other tourists. And if you’re travelling in a large group, a villa will not only be cheaper than booking several rooms, you’ll also have more leeway for partying late into the night with near deafening music and raucous chatter.

Beaches in Goa

The only problem with finding a good villa is that a Google search throws up so many of them! How are you to know whether the ‘beach palace’ in Candolim is a better bet than the ‘serene cottage’ in Colva? Allow an aggregator to do the job for you. For instance, thegoavilla.com has 416 verified private villas in its database and you can search for the perfect one according to your requirements and budget. You can also send across a direct query and the team will get in touch with you. Can it get simpler than that?

Top five beaches in Goa to rent a villa in

Villas in Goa

  1. Palolem: The queen of beaches in South Goa, Palolem offers stunning views of the sea and surrounding cliffs and foliage. Couples can stay at the cosy 1 bedroom Rose Cottage and larger groups can try the luxurious Alexandra Palace.
  2. Calangute: If you’re looking for the best party in Goa, look no further than Calangute. One of the best known beaches in North Goa, this one is where the action is. Villa Yasmine offers 5 star service while Vivienne Serene is family-friendly.
  3. Anjuna: Not only is this one of the best beaches for nightclubs, it’s also where you will find fantastic souvenirs at throwaway prices on Wednesdays at the flea market. Stay in a terrace room at the Grand Hill Villa or rent a cottage at The Fountain Court.
  4. Cavelossim: This one offers a quiet and serene stretch of the Goan sea and is strewn with luxury resorts and boutiques. Enjoy a honeymoon holiday at Vanessa or sample the modern architecture at The Pinnacle Montana.
  5. Baga: It is perhaps the oldest and best known beach in Goa and for good reason. Great food, nightclubs and shopping – you’ll find it all here. Johanna Garden and Bela Villa are good options for bringing in a friend’s birthday or bachelorette.

I’ve already been to Goa twice this year. And these villas might just convince me to do it a third time before we bid goodbye to 2015!

This post has been commissioned by www.thegoavilla.com. To commission a post for your travel brand, email Ankita@trailstainedfingers.com

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A Goan summer at Ramada Caravela

Goa in the summer months is hot, sweltering and unrelentingly blazing; but not if you are staying under the cool hospices of Ramada Caravela Beach Resort. I even had a few early monsoon clouds to help negotiate the Goan summer in May this year. It was my second visit to South Goa; the shores of Varca too. I’d earlier stayed in Club Mahindra’s Varca beach resort but that’s a different story.

Ramada Caravela Beach Resort
The view of the grounds and swimming pool

Goa, the blue-eyed boy of weekend revellers from Mumbai and beyond, is strewn with charming resorts, all vying with each other for a larger slice of the tourist pie. It isn’t easy to stand out in a place like that but I have three good reasons to recommend Ramada Caravela Beach Resort over the rest:

  1. The breakfast buffet
  2. The sprawling lawns
  3. The fact that the private beach stays accessible in the night
Ramada Caravela Beach Resort
A work of art at the reception area

Goa is a darling whether you stay in a 500 rupees per night shack or a 5000 rupees per night upscale hotel room. But when you stay in a five star property, you can wake up to a steaming hot cup of coffee (to recover from all that beer) and stunning views of a green garden and the sea beyond. That’s as good a reason as any to splurge on a garden or ocean view room at Ramada.

Ramada Caravela Beach Resort
The way to Varca Beach

My stay here was inclusive of all meals and after tasting the gourmet wonders of the buffet breakfast, I decided I didn’t want to miss lunch either. So our days went something like this. Wed wake up leisurely, have breakfast, go for a walk around the property, take a dip in the pool and have a drink or two at the poolside Island Bar. Then, we’d get dressed for an early lunch. After a generous meal, we’d get on the bike and explore Goa’s beaches, churches and streetside markets. We’d return after sundown, lie on the hammock beside the vast golf course and treat ourselves to a sumptuous dinner. Post dinner, we’d get our drinks and relax by the beach, listening to the sound of the waves. You see why a stay here might be a great way to spend your birthday or anniversary weekend?

Ramada Caravela Beach Resort
A view of Cafe Cascada, the lavish dining area

All our meals were served at the lavish Cafe Cascada with plush seating areas and stunning architecture. At breakfast, there were at least three different Indian options and an array of American and continental vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes, apart from a delicious selection of baked goodies, fresh fruits and juices. Heard of that adage – ‘Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper’? At Ramada Caravela Beach Resort, you’ll have all three meals like the scion of a royal family!

Ramada Caravela Beach Resort
Our comfortable room

After a heavy meal, it was but natural that we should return to the room for a brief siesta. It didn’t hurt that our room came with one of the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on, a private balcony and a tea/coffee maker. When you start feeling guilty about all those calories, you can expend some energy at the gym or go for a rejuvenating massage at the spa and Ayurvedic centre.

Ramada Caravela Beach Resort
Varca Beach at dusk

On our last morning here, we walked down to that serene stretch of Varca Beach and dipped our toes into the sandy water one last time. The attendant at the entrance to the beach was kind enough to retain our bags and room keys. That just about sums up what we want from a luxury hotel, doesn’t it? All we really want is for the staff to walk that extra mile to put us at ease and take our stay a notch higher – from good to simply fabulous!

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