Photo courtesy: Atul Krishnan Photography
Monsoon in Goa is sheer delight — palm fronds swaying in the wind, endless stretches of beaches quietly soaking up the rain showers, the pink-yellow-blue- purple houses shining as new and Goans leisurely sprawled on easy chairs, watching the pitter patter from their favourite perch in the veranda and taking in the romance of it all.
The scenic beauty
It has been a long scorching summer in Goa and both the land and the people are thirsting for rain. The sight of flaming red Gulmohar trees in full summer bloom, enjoyable evenings at the beach, golden-yellow mangoes, cool juicy watermelons, and glasses galore of xarope de brindao (kokum squash) and limbu soda (fresh lime soda) have, till now, been compensation enough for the hot weather. June brings with it a break from the heat. The eager anticipation heightens with the first signs of an impending shower… flashes of lightning, followed by the low, distant rumble of thunder.
I’m visiting friends in Saligao in Bardez, North Goa and as I hear the crackling sounds of thunder, I decide it’s best to head back to my base in the capital, Panaji. It’s nearing twilight now and negotiating traffic during the first rains, with the threat of skids and spills, is not a good idea. I am safely indoors when the first drops fall, but I cannot resist stepping outside into the drizzle. Arms outstretched, I revel in the feel of the cool tiny droplets as they daintily drop onto my open palms. Then the drizzle gets heavier, so I step back onto the porch, cosily sheltered, but from where I can still view the fat drops pound the earth.
The shower continues for an hour before tapering off and the resultant coolness seems to have revived and refreshed my senses. I inhale deeply — the parched earth has greedily soaked up the water and the smell of the rain-drenched soil is downright intoxicating. My favourite season has finally arrived and I am thrilled.
A different face of Goa tourism
During the rains, Goa is completely different from the sunny seaside resort made so familiar by the tourist ads. The sea is rough with strong undercurrents that make it unsafe for a swim and the beaches are desolate. The beach shacks are closed and gone too are the hordes of merry-making tourists. It is as if nature has ordained a time-out to allow Goa a period of catharsis and cleansing. A chance to relax, recover and rejuvenate before the next hectic season arrives and yet another horde of eager tourists descends.
Sometimes a hapless visitor is caught unawares by the monsoon, bewildered by this other side of Goa, by the rains that seem to come down in unending sheets. Sunny cityscapes are now dotted with open umbrellas and silhouettes of all shapes and sizes enshrouded in raincoats. Yet, for the nature lover, whether native or visitor, this is Goa’s best side yet — long stretches of beach to walk upon, with nary a soul in sight; lush vegetation in various refreshing shades of green that are soothing to the sight and to the soul. Monsoon treks that take you past gushing waterfalls and through thick vegetation, far into the mysterious hinterland. And all along, the rhythm of the falling rain beats in tandem with the rhythm of your heart.
Things to Do
The monsoon is in full earnest a few days later, as I find myself driving down to the village of Benaulim in South Goa. The rainy season in Goa lasts from June to September and, as I’ve discovered, there’s so much one can do in Goa during the rains. Curl up with all the reading you’ve wanted to get down to, but never seemed to have the time for. This prospect is even more appealing when there’s hot chickpea bhajiyas and a steaming cup of tea at hand, while it pours outside. Or book a stay at a spice farm like the Pascoal Spice Village at Usgao. It is located just seven kilometres from Ponda on NH 4A towards Belgaum, 45 km from Panaji, and 25 km from Margao.
Enjoy a delectable traditional Goan meal, then relax in your cottage to the sound of birdcalls and the gurgling Khandepar river nearby, as you watch monkeys frolic in the trees overhead. Visit the farm’s nursery, delight in the huge variety of exotic plants there and take a look at the emu, turkey, guinea fowl and the fat geese and ducks as they waddle along. There are festivals you can attend in the rains, like the quaint Sao Joao festival where newly married men sporting colourful coronets of flowers on their heads, leap into brimming wells in commemoration of an ancient religious belief. Or you can take part in the annual Saptah festival held in the city of Vasco da Gama, with a fair that bustles even in the heaviest of downpours.
Come to think of it, the rains are really half the fun of the festival. And when the monsoon rains take a breather, as they sometimes do, savour the experience of just sitting on a deserted beach, while a cool, crisp breeze ruffles your hair. Enjoy the peaceful solitude as you take in the sight of white-crested waves breaking on the shoreline. There are numerous places to visit in Goa. If you can’t figure out where to start, let us help you with a planned itinerary which will help you experience the best of Goa! Don’t forget to go through out tips for travellers section.
But as for me, I am off to visit the Goa Chitra Museum at Benaulim. A small tea-shop at the Agassaim market is my first stop where I order a cup of tea and a plate of hot kappam, a yummy local snack of potato slices, lightly seasoned and deep-fried in a deliciously crisp batter. Happily refuelled, I cross the Zuari bridge, the landscape a whole different sight now than a month earlier. Serene blue skies have given way to dark clouds heavy with rain, while the blue waters of the Zuari are now slate grey with a brownish tinge. (To know more about other museums and art galleries in Goa, click here)
I am not in any hurry, so rather than travel on the main Panaji-Margao highway and then head to Benaulim, I opt to turn off at Cortalim to take a less congested route. The roads here are narrow and winding, but far more scenic, as I drive leisurely past the villages of Velsao, Cansaulim, Majorda and Betalbatim. Different hues of yellow, red, pink and blue — has the rain washed off the summer dust or has the dampness made the colours of the houses sharper and more vivid?
I come to a long stretch of road, fringed on either side with rain-slicked coconut trees. I pause for a while on the side of the road, mesmerised by the scene around — fields on either side of the road, criss-crossed with long mud bunds. In the distance, a farmer ploughs the earth in the traditional way, guiding along his oxen and plow. Closer at hand, in a nearby field, rows of women, ankle-deep in water, are sowing paddy. Small bundles of rice seedlings held in one hand, I marvel as they quickly and deftly plant them with the other. A picture-perfect sight, marred only by the sight of discarded plastics bags carelessly blowing in the wind. A sign of what can happen even in paradise, if not stemmed in the offing.
I’m off again, headed straight for Benaulim. As I walk around the museum, I am wowed. Created by the passion of just one man, Victor Hugo Gomes, the museum has thousands of artefacts on display, representing traditional trades and other aspects of ancient Goa. Old farming implements, wooden doors, pillars and railings take me to a different era, whilst also reminding me of the fields and houses I have just passed by.
Time to eat!
I leave the museum and journey back to Panaji with a sense of wonder and awe that stays with me even when hunger pangs strike. As it happens, I am nearing the village of Siridao where I’ve heard of a roadside restaurant called Mi Casa that dishes out interesting fare. I decide that there’s no time like now to test this out. As I enter, I spy a little bar at the side. Designed to look very much like a traditional Goan taverna, it’s like a shining beacon to the thirsty traveller. The restaurant is crowded to capacity, but the manager kindly organises an extra table. A plate of hot xit-coddi (rice with coconut curry), accompanied by Chicken cafreal, a spicy butter bean xacuti and fried chonak fish that is absolutely to-die-for, and those hunger pangs are not just amply quelled, but banished with a vengeance.
The stores in Panaji have opened after the evening siesta and the delicious lunch I’ve had reminds me that I need to pick up something. I am undecided between the Prawn balchao, the Fish molho and the Fish parra, all delicious pickled preserves that Goan housewives prepare especially during summer, to be eaten during the monsoon season when fish and other delicacies might be not be easily available. So, which do I finally pick? All three! The skies have opened up again. The downpour goes on for a couple of hours, slows down to a faint pitter-patter and then halts completely. I snuggle down, enjoying the balmy night. Then the silence is broken by a loud croaking. Monsoon season in Goa, and it’s froggie’s night out!
Pickle & Spice
When fish is scarce, there are other mouth-watering treats that compensate. Like a slice of Chepnim Thor (raw mango preserved in brine), whole raw mangoes pickled with a stuffing of spices or a steaming dish ofolmi xacuti (seasonal local mushrooms cooked in a spicy gravy). Fish preserves like fish molho, fish parra, prawn balchao and the odoriferous but much coveted masala bombil (spiced and dried Bombay duck) go very well with a plate of hot rice and curry. A common delicacy enjoyed during July- August is steaming, hot pattoleos — fragrant little parcels of jaggery and coconut enclosed in a rice paste and steamed in turmeric leaves.
For more details on where and what to eat when in Goa, visit our pages on Seafood, Vegetarian and Continental restaurants as well as the local popular cafes. You can also check out our listing pages on Restaurants in Goa.
Posted by Debangana Sen