Rain, rain, Goa way
The sand is gooey in a grainy kind of way, sloshing and squishing under your sole. The forlorn fishing boats under conical thatches look heartrending like beached whales. The famous shacks – the micro capitals of bonhomie, debauchery for some – are shut or totally missing. A-butting folk grunt their protests – you are not supposed to here this time of the year – and waddle off farther towards the waves.
What’s a beach without the sun? Right? Wrong.
The coast hugs a translucent ribbon of sprightly spray, touched by brief glimpses of sun, a supernatural juggler of a million prisms. Inky clouds billow together to a shifty jigsaw. A thunder sends a lightning crashing somewhere in the horizon. The sea swells up in appreciative applause. A smattering of tourists – mostly domestic – look skywards, enthralled. Rain is not just expected – it sheets down most part of the day. Even then the first drops that fall on your cheeks angled upwards tingle like vodka. Soon the plunge begins, creating grey slanting slabs like virtual walls connecting the sea to the sky, the cloud to the earth.
This connecting takes on subliminal dimensions in Goa; like a renewal of vows between the elements that make us. There is new life all around, new trees, plants and flowers. The soil is recharged and an emerald green invades the surface. One ancient traveller in Purchas wrote about the Goan monsoon ‘There is no passing in the streets but with horses, the waters bee so high.’ Modern town planning has reduced the need to wade through the streets today, at least not on horses. Still there’s water everywhere. Even in your feni, the local brew. Everything is made light of and seen in a new light. A general lightness permeates the air. Suddenly there is more laughter everywhere. Ask a true Goan about his favourite time of the year and he will most certainly go “monsoon.” And it’s not just for being that time of the year when boisterous backpackers would have left town, when the party capital of India seems to be taking a breather. It’s not because for the respite from the frequent carnivals and weekly markets – there are quite a few raucous monsoon festivities as well. It’s almost like the gaiety gene yearns to take a much-needed break from all the fun and frolic probably charging up for the season round the corner. Monsoon is not the ‘season’ – has never been. But of late things are changing. The state has successfully positioned itself as a monsoon destination – almost along the lines of next door neighbour Kerala, even with the Ayurveda sessions intact.
“Once monsoon sets in, the foreign crowd packs up and leaves,” laments Dilip Parulekar, the state’s tourism minister. But not without reason – once the rains start, the seas get seriously rough and tourists are advised to stay away from the beaches. “The state government is actively trying to change the belief that Goa is only about beaches,” he says. With the two-piece-and-tan crowd giving Goa a miss from July till September, the government has set its sights on the domestic crowd. What vies for your attention are not just the virtually deserted beaches and hotel lobbies, uncrowded feni shacks and discounted room rents but enchanting waterfalls, majestically verdant hillsides and some of the warmest people – all to yourself.
The waterfalls: Gushing down from a height of about 2000 feet, the Dudhsagar waterfalls is among the top five waterfalls in the country. This is 60 km from Margao along the Karnataka border. Ensconced along the picturesque Western Ghats, the Dudhsagar froths lilies before careening off to numerous naturally serene swimming pools at the base along the Mandovi River. The Arvalem Falls in Sanquelim village and the Kuskem Falls in Canacona in South Goa are lesser known in tourist literature but finds increasing interest every year. If you are looking for a spot of adventure trekking, it’s Kuskem for you – it’s situated 12 km from Hathipal which is the entry point to the Cotigao wildlife sanctuary. The trek is quite an arduous one – through thick, unfriendly vegetation which is bound to be mucky this time of the year. You pass by Kuskem village and if you ask nicely they might offer you some feni. Fully charged, proceed towards the waterfalls. But do wait for a clear head before taking the plunge into the inviting pool below.
Most regulars to Goa during season (October through March), seldom venture too far from the beaches; the heavy heads are just one reason. Irrespective of rain or shine, popular nightspots like Mambo’s and Tito’s belt out revelry throughout the year. Even then hardcore partying takes a backseat during the monsoon as if Goa checks itself into a contemplative corner. The monsoon is your best chance to explore the Goa you never knew: a Goa far from the shanties, shacks and sarongs, techno beat and beach volleyball.
Forests and wildlife: You can club your trip to the Dudhsagar waterfalls with a visit to the Mollem National Park; the tallest waterfall is along the park fringes. Leopard, barking deer and the Bengal tiger are the major attractions here. The Cotigao wildlife sanctuary near the Kuskem falls offers attractive stay options in an eco-tourism complex at the entrance if you choose to spend more than a day. This might be a good idea for an early start will come in handy if you are serious about spotting wildlife; to better your chances, climb up the watch tower. The smallest of the game parks in Goa is the Bondla which is also a rehab sanctuary of sorts. The Bondla houses dancing bears and cobras along with their trainers whose livelihoods were affected following the banning of performances by animals. Also finding refuge in Bondla are leopards which were shot at or otherwise injured when they strayed too close to human habitation.
Rafting and trekking: If it’s not pouring, then you might want to head for a spot of white water rafting on the rivers Mhadei or Mandovi. Another activity option is trekking on the Amboli Ghats – the tracks are quite scenic crisscrossed by cataracts and larger streams.
Two handy numbers are Wildtrek: +91 98221 23458 and Eco Treks: +91 94224 45444
Festivals: You might find Goa to be overbooked – as usual – for the New Year. Or this article has convinced you of the delights of a Goan monsoon. For a slice of a century-and-a-half-old tradition, head this way as monsoon begins, June 24 to be exact. The Sao Joao Festival is the feast of St John the Baptist and is celebrated by young, able-bodied men by jumping into wells to retrieve gifts thrown in by villagers. Boat races and other competitions are organised on this day and people turn out in colourful attires. The centre of most of the action is the village of Siolim in North Goa.
Local tip: Feni makes you go like Phelps.
Goa is well connected by air, railways and road from rest of the country. Homestays are recommended for that authentic Goan feel or if you prefer something more budget, call up the Goan side of Youth Hostel Association of India on +91 98221 25868
Photograph courtesies: Funinventors.com (Dudhsagar falls) and Goablog.org (beach shack)