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Beyond Beaches of Goa

 
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    Beyond the Beaches - The Offbeat Side of Goa 

    There are many who have been to Goa innumerable times and swear to be the best guide you can ever find. Even if you are one of such people, you would be surprised at all that is on offer, beyond the beaches of Goa. The Goan coast has been a magnet for tourists not only from India but internationally as well. It is one of the few places in India that see tourist traffic year-round. While the Indian tourists flock the beaches during summer and monsoon months, the European tourists try to catch the sun in the winter months. But there is another side to the place, an offbeat Goa if you will, that remains unexplored despite the kind of  crowd that gathers here annually.

    For those with a philanthropic bend of mind, there is no reason why you cannot mix your passion with the adventure in Goa. The NGOs in Goa, like El Shaddai, provide opportunities for visitors to do their bit in helping to heal the world. You can volunteer for as little as a week’s time, or as much as a month’s, and work with underprivileged children. These children need all the love and support that we can give, and some more. You can help the NGO sustain its activities by investing your time and lending financial support in the form of fundraisers etc.

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    Whenever most people think of tents, they associate it with hikes or treks, rugged mountainous terrain and living in the lap of nature. You can experience the same feel of adventure in Goa but with a slight twist. Living aboard a floating tent is an experience that you will not forget very easily. Imagine sitting in the verandah of your room, taking out your fishing pole and waiting for the fish to catch the bait! The tents give the sense of privacy even during peak tourist season, and may be just the thing you need to de-stress. You can avail these floating tent facilities at the Champions Yacht Club, Mayem Lake and enjoy offbeat Goa.

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    If you are one of those who can dance the night away, but are stuck with a partner who cannot, then there is something that the two of you could enjoy beyond the beaches of Goa. There are scores of dance forms that one can learn in Goa. These include the typical couple dance styles of Latin dance, bachata, jive and merengue, along with the traditional ballroom dancing and waltz. Those interested in shaking a leg can also join Hip-hop or tango classes. Dance studios like Xtremers Dance Academy also offer Dance Aerobics for the fitness freaks. Dance for Life is another studio that has earned a good reputation for itself.

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    Goa is known for the cultural events that are indigenous to it. The offbeat Goa boasts of Tiatr, which is a combination of music and dramatics performed in the Konkani language. The popularity of this form of theater among the Konkani speakers is such that no matter which part of the world a community is formed, they entertain themselves with Tiatr. Interestingly, the word tiatr is another example of the Portuguese influence in Goa. The theme for most of these tiatr is socially relevant. If you are interested in catching a live performance, you can contact the Tiatr Academy of Goa for the schedule and venue.

    [Goa, the party capital of India also has an abundance of ethnicities that can be explored and admired.]

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    Someone once said that life can truly be explored only when riding a motorcycle, and not framed by the window of the car. You can experience this firsthand by discovering Goa on a Royal Enfield. The journey starts early morning from Mumbai and covers the distance to Goa by late evening. The next day ride starts from Palolem Beach via Betul Beach and Cape Rama Fort. The third day is for the pilgrim’s trip to the Holy Spirit Church, Mangeshi and Shanta Durga temple before lunch at a spice plantation. The fourth day is dedicated to exploring North and South Goa. The fifth day you are on your own before departing from Goa the day after.

    [For, Goa is also a cultural paradise and has retained century old architecture marvels.]

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    For those who adore the eccentric, you have to include scuba diving to explore a ship wreck underwater. There are many sunken ships that bear testimony to the Portuguese era. You can explore the wrecks near Mormugao harbor. Located near the Bat Island and Grande Island, the area is a saltwater lagoon, home to colorful fish and precious corals. There are many agencies offering scuba diving lessons along with the outfits to attempt this brave mission. It might seem like an offbeat Goa that you would be discovering, but it is worth the effort.

    [Check out popular activties in South Goa]

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    Though underrated, Goa is a home to a large variety of birds including the rare collared kingfisher. You can book a trip with Trip Buffet tour operators for a three hour boat trip that takes you down the River Zuari. On the trip the expert guide will help you spot some rare variety of birds such as  the Peregrine Falcon, White-bellied Sea Eagle, Terek Sandpiper, Waders, Lesser Adjutant, Gull billed Terns, Greater crested Terns and Eurasian Curlews among others. But the highlight of the trip is spotting of the five different kinds of kingfisher including the rare Goan collared kingfisher.

    [With as many as 423 bird species, enjoy bird watching in this region that is a nature lover’s paradise.]

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    If you are looking for an adventure in Goa, canyoning at Sauri will satisfy the craving. The trip starts from the Netravali village. The journey through the canyons of Sauri will include climbing, abseiling, jumping and scrambling, apart from walking. All required equipment will be provided while expert guides will help you get your footing right through the jungles of Netravali. Along the way you can expect to be amazed by the six waterfalls that emphasize the scenic beauty. After two abseils, a river crossing and six jumps that test your stamina you can end the tour with a walk back through the jungles and drive to Palolem. The trip is safe for those who can cope with the strenuous activities and follow instructions given by the guides.

     

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    For most people planning a trip to Goa is equivalent to a relaxing, de-stressing experience. This feeling can be enhanced by visiting wellness centers that promote yoga to balance the mind and the body. Majority of these yoga retreats are located in the posh North Goa and operate during the peak tourist season of October to May. You can enroll at Yoga Magic Eco Retreat for a minimum of three days to enjoy a detoxing experience with daily yoga classes and organic meals. Yoga Gypsys have communal sharing options for those who like to socialize along with keeping fit. The Swan yoga Retreat has instructors trained from the Bihar School of Yoga. One can participate in singing kirtans, puja, sacred tantric rituals as well as daily yoga here.

    [Learn the art of wildlife photography and hone your skills as you step into the magical wilderness of Goa.]

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    While compiling the list of things that one can do that goes beyond the beaches of Goa, it would be incomplete if crocodile spotting was not included. If you are excited by seeing nature and its creations up close and personal, then it cannot get any better than this. There are several tour operators who can arrange boat trips to the Cumbharjua canals, home of the crocodiles. You can also plan an impromptu trip by catching a boat early morning from the Cortalim jetty. While it is pretty safe to spot crocodiles from the boat, it is important that you remember that these are not domesticated. Do not stand too close to the edge of the boat for sudden appearances may surprise you. Children must always be under adult supervision.

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    Once you have taken a full day guided tour aboard the Legacy Royale, you can safely say that you have seen most of Goa. The 8 hour tour starts at 9 am from Panjim and takes you to the old churches in Goa. These include the Se Cathedral, Basilica of Bom Jesus and Augustine Tower. Your local guide will also take you to the Archaeological Museum. A tour of the Tropical Spice Plantation is next on the agenda where you can see the different tropical trees and spices grow. After finishing your sumptuous Goan lunch, a visit to the Shanta Durga temple completes the road trip. Cross the ferry to enter the Dr Salim Ali bird sanctuary in a guided canoe. The tour ends over high tea at Miramar Beach. Moreover, one can check out many more places to visit in Goa with family and friends.

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    The eight day Goa cycling expedition covers an average distance of 45 kms per day which translates to 6 hours of riding on uneven terrains or even slopes. Starting from the camp base in Campal, Panaji the first two days are free for exploring Panaji. The third day will cover the 40 km distance from Mormugao harbor to Assolna Camp. The fourth day stop is at Netravali Camp, while the fifth day is the longest covering 58 kms to Dudhsagar camp via Sanguem Taluka. The night halt at Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary is where you can spot rare birds. On the way back to the base camp you can visit UNESCO World Heritage Site. The trip is fairly safe provided you are practiced at geared biking and do not consume any behavior-altering substances (alcohol etc).

    [When one steps into the Butterfly conservatory what one witness are the fluttering butterflies, the frenzy aspects of nature.] 

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    There are many who are thrilled by speed racing but do not wish to endanger their lives to satisfy their curiosity now have another means to do so – Go Karting. You can experience this adventure in Goa by visiting the Go-A-Karting Race track in Nuvem, Margao. The asphalt race track is over 400 meters long and really wide to incorporate amateur driving. If you are feeling a little rakish you can also show off your skills on the driving course by navigating around stacked tires. The race track is of exceptionally professional standard which is why the Force India finals were also held here.

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    For those who are interested in the culinary science, cooking classes can be another form of adventure in Goa. Goan cooking is an amalgamation of Portuguese and coastal cuisine with a generous usage of seafood, rice and coconut milk. With the intense flavor of spices permeating their food, no Goan meal is complete without fish. Similar to Malvani cuisine, the Konkani version of cooking is a unique blend of the cultures that have influenced its history. At the Siolim Cooking Class, you can learn the secret behind these culinary explosions through their hands-on workshops. You may also choose to take up a package at the Siolim house which can be tailor-made to suit your preferences.

    [Savour an enriching cooking class session in tranquil Benaulim, Goa.] 

    There is one activity that is ranked among the top five as something to do on a lazy day – go on a picnic! Goan tour operators can help you enjoy an island picnic that will take you beyond the beaches of Goa. This seven hour trip starts at 8 in the morning from the Nerul Bridge, Candolim. Enroute to the island, you can wade in the waters or snorkel. If you do not want to wet your feet, you can also enjoy fishing from your boat. The boat is equipped with fishing gear, but you will have to carry your swim wear and towel. The river cruise ends at the island where you can enjoy a grilled barbecue lunch along with sumptuous local fares before heading back.

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    You may be one of those who respect the security forces of your nation, but do not think that you would have fared well in such harsh situations. Well, you can now test whether you are made of sterner stuff or not by looking at the side that takes you beyond the beaches of Goa. Started off as a workshop that teaches team building for corporate employees and family members, MILSIM is a venture that simulates the battlefield and works on leadership and team building skills. If you are planning to take a trip to MILSIM, there are some tips you need to keep in mind. In order to avoid injuries, it is advisable to keep the protective gear on at all times, and not participate if under the influence of any behavior-altering substance (alcohol etc).

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    Goa is one of the select few places in India where gambling is legal. After a perfect day spent at the beach, you can enjoy the night trying your luck at the many casinos here. A few of the popular casinos here are the Deltin Royale, Casino Pride, Casino Paradise, La Calypso’s Casino Palms and Mariott’s Casino Carnival. The Deltin Royale caters to the crème of the crowd with all forms of international gambling such as Blackjack, Baccarat and Roulette. It is also the only one in the country having a room dedicated to Poker called the Royale Poker Room. Those interested in the Indian version of Flush can visit the Taash Room as well. Most of the casinos offer their guests with top-class accommodation and dining experience.

    Image Credit: wikimedia 

    A less known fact is that many species of snakes are nocturnal. Ranked in the list of offbeat Goa activities, an overnight snake excursion can prove to be quite an exciting adventure for many. The trip starts at 4PM in the afternoon towards the unexplored hill station of Amboli, located in the Sahyadri range. The excursion actually starts at 7 in the evening as teams head out with expert guides to spot snakes. In the monsoon season one can easily spot the cat snakes, vine snakes and Malabar pit vipers. It is safe to go on these nightly outings since the guides ensure that you do not get closer than 2 feet of the snakes. Visitors must remember that these snakes are not to be held in any manner.

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    There is nothing that spells adventure quite like river kayaking. You can enjoy this adventure in Goa by booking a three hour river and backwater kayaking trip. This 4.5 km trip starts in the backwaters of Goa and you can kayak your way down the mangrove filled surroundings. The experienced guides will help you spot over 40 varieties of birds while the trip leaders will ensure that you have a safe kayaking experience. Even those who have not done this before can stay assured that the guides are well trained to handle any case of contingencies.  It is advisable to wear light clothes, sturdy footwear and strong sun block cream. You can also carry head gear and sun glasses to stay cool.

    [Cruise silently along the placid backwaters of Goa and soak in the winsome views of the countryside.] 

    Goa, famous for its beaches, liquor and food is also known for its spices. Spice farming is an old practice for the native Goans. Most of the plantations are situated in the Ponda Region, and are Organic farms run by experts. They are popular tourist spots as one would be able spot numerous varieties of spices along with various fruit trees. These trips also offer first hand insights to the age-old medicinal uses of spices. The experience in its entirety is very wholesome and traditional. The plantations provide authentic Goan food to tempt your taste buds. Post lunch you can spend time bird watching, shopping or learning more about medicinal oils.

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    There are many who swear by the thrills of trekking through forests and uneven terrains. If you are one of them then trekking through the Western Ghats and surrounding forests is a good option. On this trek you can anticipate some flora and fauna typical to the lands of Goa. The trek through the tunnels towards Dudhsagar Falls is very popular during the monsoon season. But the months of October – December are the best seasons to attempt trekking. It is advisable to travel light on these expeditions, but one must carry basic provisions such as food, water and binoculars or cameras etc. Wearing loose clothing in earthy colors is advisable. One must apply sun block as well as a mosquito repellant.

    Goa has a very rich history thanks to the 450 years era of Portuguese colonialism. The Heritage walk from Panjim takes you to the Latin Quarters of Sao Tome and Fontainhas, you will witness the influence of the Portuguese culture here. The House of Coins is the official venue for the Casa da Moeda Festival while the brightly painted Head Post Office was once a depot for tobacco trading. The Sao Tome Chapel is over 400 hundred years old and dedicated to Saint Thomas. You can also visit the Fonte Phoenix, Panjim Inn Chapel of St. Sebastian and Shree Mahalxmi Temple as well. It is advisable to wear comfortable footwear and light clothes, as well as apply good sun-block cream. If you tend to freckly be sure to wear your cap/hat.

    [Relish in a sojourn to Mopa, a beautiful and serene village situated in Pernem in the northern part of Goa.]

    You can enjoy an adventure in Goa by doing it the Woods style! An Adventure Camp Site based at Rivem Village, about 57kms from Goa’s capital Panjim. These 20 acres of magnificently etched landscape offers an exciting range of exploratory activities like Tarzan swing, Commando bridge, Burma bridge, river crossing, parasailing, rappelling, shooting and a few other  fun options to explore. It is a perfect place for a day picnic or an overnight trek for guests. Your safety will never be compromised as the camp instructors are trained mountaineering experts with years of practice. A doctor is available on-call and there are numerous hospitals nearby.

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    Famous for its sand and surf, Goa is a place which is primarily covered with flora and fauna. Currently there are six major wildlife sanctuaries namely: The Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary, Bondla Wildlife sanctuary, Mollem national park Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary and the Bhagvan Mahavir Wildlife Sanctuary are open daily from 9 AM to about 5PM. You can explore these sanctuaries in between December-January, by enrolling for various treks, safaris or guided tours. Goa is a paradise for bird watchers and animal lovers. Don’t forget to carry comfortable clothes and shoes while taking up any of these activities.

    Apart from the lazing around the sun-kissed beaches or strolling through the colorful flea markets you can enjoy an adrenaline rush with White Water Rafting. Goa boasts of two audacious rafting trips.  The first trip is available during the monsoons starting from July to September covering the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in Western Ghats. This trip is perfect for first-timers, this course offers class 2 to 3 rapids with an imposing jungle in the background. The second trip, most complex rapid apart from Himalayas, is for the daredevils with high fitness levels. Held between October to December on the Tilari River the course runs on the periphery between Goa and Maharashtra.

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    Even if you are a veteran visitor to Goa, there is much that you can do to fully explore the land. There are many options of things to do for people of varied interests. Now you can safely plan a longer trip to Goa and not just have the sun and beach to look forward to. There is much to do and see that extends beyond the beaches of Goa.