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Re-discovering Goa: Beyond the Usual Booze & Babes...

sunny 26 °C

Platform no 5 of the station was fully crowded as we slowly elbowed our way forward pulling along our suitcase. The time was 8.30 pm. It was humid and hoards of people were scampering across the platform, anxiously waiting for the next train, while a few hungry souls simply munching along hot snacks at an all-side open snack bar. Space being a a luxury commodity in Mumbai is perhaps best amplified here. Everywhere there were people of all shades and hues. Being the eve of the festive Maharashtrain Ganpati festival, everyone seems to be heading home bag & baggage.

Stopping by at a vendor selling snacks, literally squeezing my head between two persons munching snacks, I asked, "Is the Dadar Ten Express coming in this platform?". "You want to go to Dadar, take the fast train from Platform 4," pat came the reply. "No dear, I'm asking about Dadar Ten Express, will it come in this platform, as there has been no announcement or display of any sort?" I reiterated my question again patiently as I got a push from behind. "What express?" he inquired as if he has heard the name of the train for the first time in his life, amidst his continuous chores, this time serving a plateful of pakodas to a girl alongside. The person next to him in the counter added to my relief, "Yes, Dadar Ten Express, the weekly super-fast train, it would come in this platform, you can check the coach position in that board," pointing towards the rear of platform.

Thanking him, we moved towards the board, wherein a number of reservation lists could be seen dangling along, some torn, some illegible. But the challenge was to get near the board, which was as if a crowded hive. Some - as disciplined Indians (I mean undisciplined), that we all are - have taken off the the loose reservation sheets in their hand pulling it away from the board itself, trying hard to see their names. And, once unable to see through their names they simply let go of the sheet and the next person trying to grab the same and repeating the process all over again.

The result, in a few minutes - most of the sheets were in tattered state scattered across the floor below. Luckily, I could see one sheet still hanging along strong, yes, the coach position sheet of the various trains due to arrive in this platform. Barely managing to squeeze through I spotted our AC 2 tire position as the 11th coach from the engine in the list. Being successful, the next task was where will coach no 11 position itself in the platform. Finally, to our relief, the electronic panel hanging all across the platform unexpectedly lighted up and showed our train number and coach position A-1.

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Soon, our train arrived around 9.10 pm. Quickly, we boarded, the stoppage being just 2 minutes and we chugged away with anticipation of a good unwinding trip to Goa. Making ourselves comfortable we munched our home made ham-sandwiches topped with boiled potatoes & tomatoes. Wasting no more time, tired that we both were, after attending office the full week, and, of course not to forget the 'railway station jostling', we crashed into our comfortable sleeper beds.

Laid-back World

Woke up early morning after a good night sleep; thankfully this train did not have any vendors selling their wares. Around 6.45 am, it halted into a quaint station and quickly I boarded down and got ourselves 2 refreshing cup of tea. By 7.30 am we reached Thivim Station, the penultimate station before Madgoan, Goa, the station till which we had our reservations.

The day before as I was browsing through information of Goa, I noticed that as we had booked our stay in Villa Goesa, situated in North Goa, it would be nearer if we boarded down at Thivim rather than Madgaon. As such, as the train screeched to a halt in Thivim, we boarded down. It was a small station set within its own slow pace - a clear feeling of a laid-back village as we hired an a cab and moved along. One thing we have notice each time we are out of fast-paced Mumbai, time as if comes to a halt and trots at a far slower pace.

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We drove past many a sleepy villages of Goa, perhaps still in slumber after that long night party. We could clearly taste the balmy salty air brush across our faces. We directly headed to North Goa and checked into this exclusive property Villa Goesa, situated along the hot and happening Calangute-Baga beach stretch. One aspect we always try in our travels is to avoid staying in the typical 'hotel-hotel' types and Villa Goesa fitted our requirement perfectly.

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It was a well spread out sea-front beach resort will cute tasteful done cottages amidst a lush green canopy and a paved path through a green patch leads one to its own private beach - Cobra Vaddo. The suite where we were placed was a colonial Portuguese architecture - a stand-alone bungalow having its its own private sitting area nearer to the beach.

Driving the Thar All the Way

After relaxing a while sipping a hot beverage in the exclusive settings of the resort, we decide to go exploring. This time we consciously decided not to hire the usual cab to be driven around by a driver like tourists. Instead, we decided to drive ourselves and get the 'being local' feel. Our first choice was an open Gypsy but as the tourist season had not set in full swing yet, the Goa administration do not allow open Gypsy to be plied. As such, we settled ourselves to hire a 4x4 Mahindra Thar which the resort manager arranged for us to drive around for the next couple of days.

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It was swanky new vehicle and tanking up we made our way towards Aguada Fort. En-route, we stopped by at Fisherman's Cove for breakfast. A few tables across we could see a familiar face sitting with a lady sipping a mug of coffee. "Hey have seen this guys somewhere, looks like Chetan Bhagat," I asked Mitali. "Yes, it is him only," she replied. Well, well perhaps Chetan Bhagat's next novel would be set in the backdrop of Goa...

Had read some very good review of Fisherman's Cove and the well-spread out English breakfast with ham, beacon, baked beans, eggs, and the crispy toasts did live up to the expectation. The aromatic coffee to wash down the king-sized breakfast was awesome.

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Charged up, ignited the engine and set cruising along. Had not driven the Thar earlier and have to say it was an awesome experience - real smooth unlike its rough & rustic look. Soon, we passed by the the estuary of the river Mandovi, with many a fishing boats swaying along. We halted and soaked a while in the quiet environment.

Re-visiting History all over Again

Thereafter, we drove up-hill on the the traffic-less smooth road and stopped at the St Lawerence church, which I had read offered great views. Despite us visiting this area near the Aguada Fort many a times earlier, we never did ventured into this bye-gone era church soaked in history.

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In the year 1630, Count of Linhares, Viceroy Dom Miguel de Noronha decided to build the Church of St. Lawrence as soon as the Fort Aguada was completed. The importance of Panjim as the future capital was clearly foreseen by him as he built a causeway from Panjim to Ribander. The church was built at a near distance from the citadel of the fort in order to prevent any enemy getting too close. The founding and completion of the church is recorded in contemporary inscriptions above the arch of the porch. It was completed in 1643 and attained parish status in 1688.

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The huge campus of St Lawrence church, encloses a group of buildings with an extended courtyard. Internally, the tiny church inside has the only altar dedicated to St. Lawrence. The church was to honour St Lawrence. St Lawrence is shown holding a ship in one hand and is rightfully known as the Patron Saint of Sailors. His statue is encased in a glass case.

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The tiny church behind has limited seating arrangements, hence wide concrete benches can be seen in the porch which makes a convenient and pleasant place for worship. The pillars are decorated with inscriptions from the life incidents of St. Lawrence and his martyrdom.

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Having said our prayer to the holy spirit, in this ancient church, which stood as a testimony to many a rise and fall of the mighty Portuguese rule, we soaked in the views outside. The Aguada Fort could be seen at a distance and wide sea beyond. After a thorough rendezvous we drove ahead and seeing lots of tourist thronging along the Aguada Fort, we skipped it having explored it twice earlier, and, instead, drove to the next door Lighthouse of Fort Aguada.

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Fort Aguada was constructed in 1613 to guard against the Dutch and the Marathas. It was a reference point for the vessels coming from Europe at that time. This old Portuguese fort stands on the beach south of Candolim, at the shore of the Mandovi River. Fort Aguada was the most prized and crucial fort of Portuguese.

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A freshwater spring within the fort provided water supply to the ships that used to stop by. "Aguada" means water and this is how the fort got its name christened. Crews of passing ships would often visit to fill in their fresh water stores. On the fort stood the Portuguese lighthouse, erected in 1864 and the oldest of its kind in Asia.

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This fort is divided in two segments: the upper part acted as fort and watering station, while the lower part served as a safe berth for Portuguese ships. Whereas the upper part has a moat, underground water storage chamber, gunpowder room, light house and bastions, it also has a secret escape passage to use during time of war and emergency. The lighthouse at initial stage is used to emit light once in 7 minutes. In 1834 it was changed to emit light creating an eclipse every 30 seconds, however it was abandoned in 1976.

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We climbed up the lone lighthouse from within it flight of stairs and the last bit of the ascent was a bit tricky. We had to climb up a huge open virtical iron staircase but the climb was worth the effort since the moment we reached the top, the views was mind-boggling. On one side we could see the Fort in the backdrop of the sea beyond and on the other side was the the full stretch of the North Goa beaches all on a line.

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As there were none exploring the lighthouse, as they were all busy exploring the fort, we had it all to ourselves. After sitting for a long time on this ancient lighthouse tower, which might has guided countless ships in many a dark nights, we reluctantly boarded the stairs down carefully.

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Thereafter, we drove to the nearby scenic Sinquerim beach. The palm fringes of the Sinquerim beach was frolicking in the afternoon breeze as the waves were splashing by in anticipation of the rising tide. The blue waters of the clean Sinquerim beach in the backdrop of the post-monsoon greenery all around was soothing to the eye as a few lone boats were rocking along the waves.

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As the noon heat was inching higher, the lemonade vendor, having its stall strategically by the beach, was making brisk business. We too quenched our thirst after exploring the remnants of the Sinquerim fort situated amidst the left edge of the beach.

The Night Never Sleeps

Moving ahead Mitali did some bit of shopping and after that we made our way back to the resort and rested. Late afternoon, picking up the camera we made our way to the Cobra Vaddo beach behind our resort to simply laze around. It was an isolated beach in contrast to the crowded Baga and Calungute to its each side. It was a soulful experience to simply watch the waves crashing by on the beach and the sun gradually transforming from a golden hue to orange, and finally pinkish-purple as it majestically set beneath the sea.

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Dusk soon set giving birth to an infinite star-studded sky above. With a thought that nature truly has it own unique way of transforming as we human too witness our lives constantly evolving, I trotted back to the resort contemplating.

They say the night never sleeps in Goa, and, true to its spirit, after washing away the grains of sands with a warm bath, we drove out late evening towards the Baga stretch and made ourselves comfortable for a relaxed dinner at The Cavala. The atmosphere inside the restaurant was abuzz with one rocking number after the other being played. The DJ as if knew our taste, from the Doors to the Beatles, from Bob Marleys to the Jeff Becks, from the Carpenters to the BonyMs, from Police to the Lobos, they played it all. The golden tiger prawns in white garlic sauce, and the tasty roasted pork with boiled veggies was delicious and filling. Late into the night after a round of capuccino, we made it back to Villa Goesa and crashed.

Offbeat Locations Waited for Us

Woke up late next morning. After lazily freshening up, we had a late breakfast at the nearby Cafe Infantaria. The fresh fluffy crossest, the tasty cheese cakes, the crispy tarts all made a great combination. Cafe Infantaria is a good value-for-money joint with gourmet pretensions, while being really down-to-earth. Each time we are in Goa we never miss hitting this place. Filled up, we moved out for the day. The Thar jeep has been giving us excellent company and giving it a full throttle we surged south-bound on the highway.

With did not have any destination as such but wanted to cover a few offbeat locations. Had read about St Jantico Island - off the coast near the Dambolim airport - and the serene white-sand beach of Bogmalo. Had never visited earlier and as such following the highway we drove across and diverted at the Panaji-Vasco highway.

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Driving a little further we took a small bridge connecting it to St Jantico Island - located in the Mormugao bay. It had a own old-world charm as we parked our vehicle and explored around. The old Portuguese-styled mansions set around the small island was not in the best of state. Though dilapidated, we could understand, they stood still perhaps telling many a tales of a rich bye-gone past. The St Jantico Church was the most profound structure in the island overlooking the wide open bay. Rusty old abandoned ships that must have travelled around the world in its hey days stood anchored in the bay groaning and cranking.

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The adventurers in us wished to trek up the narrow lone path going through the old houses to the higher reaches of the island where I had read had an excellent viewpoint and also a natural spring. But a local advised us that the road beyond is closed and it is full of overgrown shrubs and vegetation, requesting us not to venture in. Turned down, we sat by the bay and witnessed a mother and child setting up a few crab traps as we soaked in solitude. Nature's bounty just across their home is all we thought and moved ahead.

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Asking for direction we headed moved past the airport road and took a diversion moving up towards Bogmalo. Passing by some sleepy countryside adorned with many a cute cottages & villa, we reached the beautiful Bagmalo beach. It was a small beach with low rock faces on the one side and the open white sands spread all across. It was a deserted beach and we had the whole beach to ourselves.

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Two shacks situated adjacent was all but empty and on enquiry they informed that only beer is available, no food. 'Wow' is all we thought - catering to only the thirsty souls not the hungry souls! After spending sometime in serene Bogmalo, we moved out towards Vasco. The roads were smooth and we reached Vasco late afternoon. We visited the a church in Vasco and we were hungry by then. Being a Sunday afternoon, most of the shops of Vasco was closed and we really had to hunt for a food joint. Just as we were giving up, saw a roadside snack joint loudly written "Chinese Available".

Venturing through the half-open shutter we discovered that the three souls inside, not Chinese for sure, were gearing up the noodles, fried rice, etc for a 'supposedly' busy Sunday evening. "Yes, can I help you," a voice from behind the small kitchen counter asked. "Yes, we are very hungry which item can you serve quickly," I pleaded at once. "Well, we are yet to fully open, but since you are saying that you are hungry, I can quickly toss some chicken noodles, would you all be fine?" popping his head out of the serving counter. "Absolutely fine, we are starved," was my reply as we saw him quickly working out the dish and within minutes he served us the most delicious noodles that I recall having. Maybe, the hunger made it so tasty and we had it to our belly's content. Thanking him started our drive back to North Goa.

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The late noon sun reflecting in the blue waters was creating a dazzling effect as we passed by the Panaji bridge and got back to our resort. Mitali was tired by then and decided to rest while I straightaway headed back to the beach behind our resort to watch the calm waves in the backdrop of an awesome golden sunset. I sat on the beach alone till the sky was filled up with starts all around. That night we decided not to venture out anywhere and ordered from the resort restaurant itself some juicy tiger prawn biriyani which we relished in the comforts of our room.

Exploring the Far North

Woke up early next morning and took a long walk on the serene beach as a cool refreshing breeze constantly kept brushing across my face. The sound of each crashing waves creating a momentary whitish foam on the sands on each stroke, reminded me how momentary our lives are too, yet, we keep loathing all about "I, me, and myself" forgetting that like the disappearing foams, we too would one day disappear into oblivion.

With this thought I walked back. After freshening up, a strong cup of coffee geared us up and drove out with the intention of exploring the extreme north of Goa till it touches the borders of Maharashtra. Having mostly explored the South Goa in our earlier trips till Cannacona, this time around we wanted to visit the elusive Arambol beach and further ahead Fort Tiracol.

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As we winded up and drove across the single lane road away from the Goa's commercialization, we could actually feel the laid-back environment that Goa was once known for. Portuguese architectural influence could be clearly seen in the structures as we passed by many a serene villages.

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We stopped in between in a non-discrete village square and relished some local freshly baked egg patties and some not so good tea. It was a vintage shack, with a mom-son duo joining hands serving one and all.

Arambol - the new hippie haven

Driving ahead through the curvy road passing by some lush green paddy fields, we entered Arambol. Once a sleepy fishing village called Harmal, Arambol beach has become the newest hippie sign-post. They say that Baga, Calangute, Anjuna are passe now, and, Arambol is the 'The Haven'. We could see many Russians cafes as we drove the last patch approaching the beach. The lane being narrow, I decided to park the jeep before it would become a problem for me to reverse later.

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As we walked by the lane we could see lines of stalls on both sides selling the usual items ranging from shells, to scarfs, from caps to sun glasses. The ones that stood out were the Tattoo parlors and the usual money-exchangers. A few steps ahead out popped the awesome clean beach.

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Many foreigners were seen idling by the two beach shacks enjoying the views. We realized soon we were perhaps the only Indian that morning in the Arambol beach since for the usual tourist-tourist types it would be - what Arambol, where in Goa - a sure miss. We decided not to venture into the waters and simply sit by one of the shack and enjoy a late breakfast in this awesome setting.

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We ordered some pork chilly and bread. Wow, the baked pork chilly was delicious and the bread were fresh & filling. I washed it down with a Tuborg pint, Mitali did so with a fresh orange drink. After chilling out in the beach for a couple hours we decided to move ahead.

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Northern Tip of Goa - historic Fort Tiracol

Making a few inquiring on the directions to Fort Tiracol, we soon hit the roads full throttle. The Mahindra Thar has been an awesome driving experience all this while.

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The drive was smooth as we passed by some lush forest patch snaking up the serpentine uphill road. Finally, we reached the highest point of the hill and we could see the signboard 'Welcome to Fort Tiracol'.

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Located on the northern tip of Goa at the mouth of the Tiracol River, Fort Tiracol can be reached by a ferry from Querim, 42 km North of Panaji. The name probably originated from the Marathi language 'tir-khol' meaning "steep river-bank".

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The fort was originally built by Maharaja Khem Sawant Bhonsle, the Raja of Sawantwadi, in the 17th century. The site chosen was a hillock on the Northern (right) bank of the river, which gave a commanding view of the Arabian sea. The Bhonsles of Sawantwadi kept a sizeable fleet of native vessels which sheltered in the Tiracol River. The fort initially consisted of 12 guns, a barrack and a chapel.

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In 1746, the Portuguese under the 44th Viceroy of Goa, Pedro Miguel de Almeida Portugal e Vasconcelos, conde de Assumar, marquis de Alorna, waged war against the Raja of Sawantwadi. On 16th November, 1746, de Almeida brought the Portuguese fleet up to the River Kaisuva, waged a fierce maritime engagement against the naval forces of the Raja of Sawantwadi and the Portuguese defeated the Sawantwadi forces decisively. Several skirmishes on land followed and Fort Tiracol was finally surrendered on 23 November 1746 to the Portuguese.

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The fort became an important part of Portuguese maritime defense and was extensively revamped up in 1764. It remained in Portuguese control till December 1961 when the last of Portuguese territorial positions in the subcontinent were forcibly annexed by India.

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A Church for the Holy Trinity was constructed in the fort courtyard by de Almeida after he captured it. This later became the century old Church of St. Anthony.

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Fort Tiracol has been converted into a hotel, the Fort Tiracol Heritage, but during the time we visited, the lease of the hotel had ended and it was on a closed state though it campus was open for public viewing.

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The view of the Arabian Sea from the fort was mesmerizing and one can clearly witness the confluence of the Tiracol river with the Arabian sea. After thoroughly exploring this ancient fort totally soaked in history for a couple of hours we moved out.

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The Last Eventful Hours

We took a alternate route while coming back and en-route we drove through some beautiful beach stretches that meandered along the road. Moving a few kilometers ahead we came across a beautiful lotus filled pond adjacent to the highway and we observed a flock of wild ducks for some time. We also saw a huge flock of fish eagles.

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After that wild encounter we passed by the beautiful Ashwem beach and stopped by at the sands of Mandrem beach. It was a deserted beach stretch except two life guards lazing around. The nearby beach resort was yet to be operational. We soaked in quite a while in the serene Mandrem beach sipping some coconut water.

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Thereafter, we continued ahead and decided to visit Panaji and further ahead Miramar and Dona Paula in central Goa. The late noon sun was at its best yet the cool sea breeze kept us comfortable as we drove along the highway again. Stopped by at the Panaji market and bought some local cashew nuts that Goa is famous for at a good bargain.

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Further, we moved ahead and explored Dona Paula. Recalled our last visit here and similar to last time, this time too it was crowded with the usual tourists.

This place is christened after Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior, a historical figure in Portuguese India. She was the daughter of the Portuguese Viceroy of Jaffnapatnam, in Sri Lanka. She and her family arrived in Goa in 1644 and she married a Fidalgo from Spain in 1656. Her husband was Dom Antonio Souto Maior. The Santo Maiors were an extremely affluent family and had huge entire properties all around Dona Paula. She died on December 16, 1682.

Dona Paula was a woman of charity and is known to have helped the villagers and worked a lot for their betterment. As such after her death, the villagers decided to re-name the village as Dona Paula. Earlier, the village was known as Oddavell.

There is a local myth that Dona Paula entombed in the Cabo Chapel, the residence of the Governor of Goa and is supposed to be seen emerging from the moonlit waves wearing only a pearl necklace.

After a brief stopover, we moved along and made our way back to Baga beach in North Goa to witnessed yet another heavenly sunset.

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After Mitali did some bit of shopping in Baga we drove back to our resort. The long-drive through the whole day was awesome but by now we were feeling a bit tired. A warm bubble bath was rejuvenating for us both.

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For dinner we we decided to hit the fabulous Brittos, in Baga as a last night dinner. The pork vindaloo was excellent as always. Packing up quickly we hit the bed since we have to catch an early morning flight the next day.

The cab guy picked us up at early morning at 5 am from Villa Goesa and dropped us at the Dambolim airport by 6 am. As our flight took-off we recalled the last three eventful days as we went about re-discovering Goa in an all new perspective - beyond the usual booze and babes that Goa is more known for...

Posted by sabyasachi 08:30 Archived in India Tagged goa villa_goesa_resort st_jantico_island arambol_beach mendrem_beach fort_tiracol dona_paula_beach baga_beach brittos cavala infantaria_cafe_goa fisherman's_cove_goa

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