Feb 5, 2007


(Grazing the Western Ghats)

Goa doesn’t belong to India; it belongs to hedonism. The ragged Oxford on my desk defines hedonism as ‘Devotion to or pursuit of pleasure’. Goa defines it better: Piyo, khao aur aish karo (Drink, eat and be merry), without busting your shoestrings.

My penchant for heights have brought me to seashores only twice in my 37 years of existence — once to the Bay of Bengal and once the Bosporus. I therefore found it necessary to consult the Net and friends who had been to Goa recently. Vidya, a walking manual on cost-effective trips, and Shalini, a shoe-shopper given to cleanliness & comfort, passed strong recommendations for Arambol beach in Goa. Few revellers, relatively speaking, opt for Arambol, an extreme-north Goan beach, which helps in keeping the place unspoilt and spacious — also within the reach of budget travellers. I hate five-star resorts because I can’t afford them, so Arambol was a natural choice.

God’s Gift for shelter

It takes about a thousand bucks to reach Arambol from the airport in a taxi (with Nidhi complaining about the sun and infant Manila lugged on my back, I decided not to try the local bus). In hindsight, the taxi fare remained the biggest one-time expense in our whole trip. As Arambol, local name Harmal, surfaced, I spent no time in taking an eyeful of the area. Once a fishermen village, Arambol now is a long, pristine beach, with a row of budget hotels running parallel to the shore. The waters and the hotels are separated by an uneven line of straw shacks (with elaborate menus and beach couches).

I was lucky to have found advanced bookings for a room attached with kitchen, bath and sea-facing balcony, at a paltry 500/- per night in God’s Gift, suggested online by Dr Funkenstein (called Jim off-line). The d’Souza family who runs God’s Gift treats their guests as blood brothers, Jim had vouched.

Jim, Shalini, Vidya all proved true to their last letters. The beach looked slow and divine; surroundings serene; music distant and it never strained the wallet…

Fireball and firewater

Since we had landed in Arambol early evening after about four hours of journey, Nidhi got busied in fixing up her kitchenware in the hotel room to prepare milk. I decided to take a recee of the area, after removing a soiled diaper from Manila’s baby bums. I kept walking and discovered, down further north, a shock of coral reefs and a fresh water lake bang opposite the sea. For the adventurist, 20-minute para-gliding trips were on offer, for Rs 1,400 (ouch!). The triplet of Western Ghats, lake and sea made a perfect sand-bed. I promised to come back the next day.

The only thing I couldn’t postpone was the beer on beach. Light on the head, I walked and watch the scenic beaches, flushed with a colourful combo: copper-plated bods, amber sky, blue tides, rusty fishermen and dusty feet. It would be a waste of key-pushing to describe the travel brochure stuff! Our dinner was a pleasant choice of fish, prawns and vegetables, smoothened by large doses of rum (I was yet to discover the king of beers in Goa)

King’s rules the beer stable in Arambol. A brand exclusive to Goa, this 300 ml barley brew, served in small barrel-shape bottles, beats all its premium cousins in smoothness and effect, easily making it the first choice of the frequent visitor; the novice makes do with Kingfisher. The price list of hard liquors was another big relief — Rs 15/- for a 60ml Old Monk rum!! (Defence Mess & Press Club, wake up!!). Before you think alcohol can’t get cheaper than that, try the coconut or cashew fenis.

As promised, I returned to the lake the other day with family. Having jogged on the beach early morning, I chose to play the lethargic whale and flopped on a couch. Periodically, I would gulp a beer, splash into the sea, dry myself and the leftover of the beer, then make a few laps in the lake.

Manila was the only pimple (adjusting the switch between Delhi cold and Goan warmth) but in one long day, her mountain blood acclimatised to coastal climate. That made a happy family and happier (hic!!) father. Each time, I lifted my 11-kg devil and walked the loose sands, I could feel the hint of paunch making things more difficult. I toiled while Manila enjoyed the ride.

Chomp Chomp...

If Arambol gets ten out of ten in booze and beauty, it gets 11 on the platter front. Even the smallest of shack here lays out a thorough-fare, comparable to five-star speciality restaurants. And that is no mean competition. From Continental & Near East to Western, the menus in Goa are a battery of laminated flips. And before the doubt gets the better of you, run your finger with eyes shut on the card and order. Of my weekly stay in Arambol, I barely had to repeat my orders or eat at the same place twice (save for God’s Gift restaurant).

The breakfast came from museli-milk, tuna sandwiches, a choice of toasted breads, poached eggs, bacon slices... (am already watering in mouth) and the lunch-dinner from a line-up of steaks (in pastes as varied as basil, bean sauce, mushroom sauce & cheese), sizzlers, pastas, spaghetti, prawn curry, Goan fish curry, grilled pomfret, red snapper, kingfish fillet, shark, lobsters, crabs and — huff, huff... — what else. Nidhi (my teetotaller, vegetable-loving wife) feasted all this while on a pick of vegetarian delights, sandwiched between fresh fruit juices to good effects.

No wonder the brief trip changed us in colour, shape and spirits. The skin acquired a darker hue, the body gained a few extra kilos, the soul lifted a trifle.

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