“We phoned a month ago and they built our place especially for us” she said with the proud air of a millionairess ordering a custom-made penthouse in Cap D’Antibes. “Our children thought we were quite potty booking a holiday in accommodation that hadn’t even been started - especially in India. Would you like the royal tour?” she continued with a strong British accent and a regal sweep of the hand

.I moved onto the porch past a couple of chairs and under the washing line bearing a bikini, towel and various drying “smalls.” I peered inside the little shack. (The correct terminology for structures made of roughly assembled bamboo panels, that front many of Goa’s 100 kilometers of pristine beaches). All the bare essentials. A decent-sized bed under a pink mosquito net; a fan; a naked lightbulb; just enough room to swing a kitten if not a cat.  Then, I spied a tiny archway that led to the en-suite.

“I told Geoffrey that, as we were coming for 2 months this time, I simply had to have my own bathroom” she added deliberately, noting my jealous gaze. It costs a bit more but you only live once and……at our age! A rather patronising inclusion, probably based on a common hair colour – grey! At 500 rupees per night, my indulgent friends were shelling out the Canadian equivalent of $17 for the privilege of a waterfront spot among the coconut palms of Palolem beach – arguably Goa’s finest. The bar and rolling surf were a handful of steps away thus ensuring minimum stress on Geoffrey’s new hips!

Goa reached fame and notoriety in the 60’s when dreamy-eyed flower children pitched up in droves to divest themselves of a few brain cells. What better place to have an out of body experience than on a pristine beach with lax laws and an endless supply of cheap drugs. For the ultimate high, combine this with a visit to the “Ashram of the month” –  and I mean how cool does it get? Drugs are still available, but more than a handful of  young dabblers are incarcerated in the ultimate waterfront residence of Fort Aguada jail. Testament to a changing attitude.

So what can a person do who is bored with the daily grind of waking up to blue skies and the roar of the ocean: Beer at 50 cents for a very passable bottle of King: Fresh fish caught daily by muscular skippers of small outrigger canoes: Dangerous heart palpitations kick-started by a plethora of young tourists who consider a bikini to be a mere piece of string. What to do when the novelty of paradise wears off?  - Go rent a scooter for a measly four bucks a day or a serious motorbike for twelve. The good news is that Goa is more than just a beach!

In 1510, The Portugese colonised this idyllic state with a present population of less than 1,500,000 souls. Attracted by natural harbours and inland waterways they saw a strategic location and an ideal climate to corner the world’s spice trade. Twenty ferries are slowly being replaced by bridges to connect orderly rural villages where man and buffalo still struggle to plow tiny paddy fields. Pretty whitewashed churches; mansions with tiled rooves and covered porches. Sentinels to a colonial past.

The city of Old Goa was once said to rival Lisbon in its magnificence. All that remains of its glory days are a half dozen very impressive churches and cathedrals. The Basilica of Bom Jesus houses what is left of Francis Xavier, Goa’s patron saint who died in 1552. His remains will be displayed in Nov 2004 - So if you happen to be in town…….?

Panaji, the present capital, is a pretty mediterranean city with lots of narrow lanes, treed squares and typical shuttered windows. The mellow population of under 100,000 have taken kindly to the tradition of siestas bestowed by its colonisers. Skirts far outnumber saris reflecting a unique laid-back Western approach to life.

Beach shacks are a phenomenon peculiar to Goa. Permanent structures are not permitted within 500 feet of the sea so wily operators have created “shack resorts” complete with bars, restaurants, and even internet cafes, right on the beach. These have drawn retailers, motorcycle rental shops and disco operators. The government sees this as a win-win situation that employs local people and provides tax revenue. The ‘temporary’ shacks are supposed to be removed prior to the annual monsoon which will probably flatten them anyway.

My swimsuit was the last item to be packed. The sun was rising. I caught Geoffrey’s snores muted by the roaring surf. I thought jealously of their plans for the next six weeks in paradise.  I passed through the little village where the Feni distiller creates a cashew-based hooch in a witches cauldron. The toddy-tapper would soon be doing his rounds, shinning up coconut palms to milk them of their precious liquid. Half a dozen giggling young ladies were already at the well, taking their time over a daily ritual. The bus was filling up. I would soon be on the train to Mumbai where a plane would whisk me back to a Canadian winter.



October to March. Prices tend to rise over Christmas.

VISAS: Canadians visiting India need a visa. A six month tourist visa costs C$62 and is available at The Consulate General of India office at #201-325 Howe Street Vancouver 604-662-8811

GETTING THERE: I booked on Cathay Pacific through Bains Travel 6364 Fraser 604-324-2277 once again proving that using a Travel Agent of similar ethnicity to my destination can save megabucks.

ARRIVING IN INDIA: Chances are you will land in Mumbai. Go at once to the prepaid taxi counter inside the airport. The driver cannot be paid until he has delivered you to the agreed destination. (Taxis in Mumbai cost 13 times the meter reading!) I always pre-book a comfortable hotel for a few days to acclimatise to India. The Hotel Suba Palace near India Gate is a good choice at around C$70 a night. Book ahead it’s popular and well located subapalace@hotmail.com  tel 2020636 fax 2020812 Mumbai is a fascinating city and well worth a visit.

MUMBAI TO GOA: Panaji, the capital of Goa is approximately 500 Km’s South of Mumbai. There is an excellent express train service. Air India flies direct. Of course there is always the bus! If time is an issue, organise your onward transportation in advance.

HEALTH HAZARDS: It’s the water that does it! A glass of boiling tea may have been rinsed but not dried. Wipe the rim – and the same with utensils. Bottled water is readily available. Speak to your doctor about malaria pills etc.

THINGS TO TAKE: A fits-all plug – There must be a plug-eating bug in India’s hotels. A good flashlight for blackouts. Good books are usually available at railway stations. A chain and padlock for attaching your luggage to overnight buses and trains as the locals do. Mosquito repellant. Sun screen. A roll of TP as insurance.

USEFUL WEBSITE/GUIDE BOOKS: www.goa-travel-tourism.com  Lonely Planet “South India” (Many others).

GENERAL NOTES: India has been in the travel business for years and Goa is the most popular destination. In 2001 over 200,000 Europeans arrived by direct charter. To North Americans the concept of India is often exotic and scary. Getting there and back involves a distance equal to circumnavigating the globe with a price to match. However, once you arrive it’s a great place to stretch that piggy-bank or pension. If the thought of a shack doesn’t turn you on, there are lots of options from 5 star hotels to renting a house. Indians are a pragmatic lot and are happy to negotiate rates. Scared of motorbikes? Try a car and driver for around C$20 a day.


Copyright © 2004 Andrew G.P. Renton All rights reserved.