1. Rent an Activa and buy a (waterproof!) raincoat. Get out there in the rain, stopping for shelter wherever you happen to be when the rain starts. You will discover places and atmospheres that no guidebook or magazine article can tell you about.
2. Do not come to Goa in the monsoon if you like to plan ahead and hate spontaneity. Don’t come if your ideal holiday is a full busy schedule of exciting diversions (or if you don’t really enjoy the company of your fellow travellers). Ditto if you are looking for a party or a rave, and just love an overcrowded beach. The red flags are up everywhere so no swimming in the ocean is allowed, and 99% of the beach shacks are dismantled till next season. Oh, and those fab international restaurants and cafés you have heard so much about? Most are closed. If you hate mud and the smell of musty rooms, if you won’t let your kids splosh in some puddles and get a little muddy, this won’t work. If you insist they wear their nice new shoes, they will be ruined within an hour.
3. Wherever you are staying, it will be easy to go on a nature walk. There are gardens, jungle and fields everywhere, and many villages have huge rain pools in old quarries where you can swim. Find out what the edible mushrooms look like and try to find some. Feel how soft the moss is on the trees. Find a flower full of nectar and sip it. Almost every neighbourhood of every village has a bakery. Rubber shoes, umbrellas and raincoats are at Mapusa Market.
4. A walk on the beach while it’s raining can be exhilarating, but respect her mood, and don’t try to swim. Almost everything on the beachside is locked up and deserted so it all has a melancholy, mildly seedy feel. But do come for walks; bring your own refreshments, or decide you are going to find an open shack if it’s the last thing you do! (Hint: try Baga beach.)
5. Hire a taxi and drive inland. It doesn’t really matter where you go — Mayem Lake, Chorla Ghat, Ponda, Aldona, Divar — just enjoy the ride, the bird song, the colours. If you want to, load up on snacks from one of the snack places (see ‘Where & What to Eat’) and have a picnic out on a bridge or under a tree. Or be brave and look for somewhere on the way. Ask your driver to cross on a ferry, never mind from where to where. You will probably see men fishing in the spontaneous monsoon lakes. Ask them how the fish got there.
Other insider tips
Call Rahul Alvarez (9881961071), snake catcher, birder, naturalist and fitness expert, who will take you out for a morning adventure that will include breakfast and hopefully spotting a few snakes.
Book a whitewater river rafting trip with John, for the most exciting adventure available this monsoon in Goa (till Oct 15; bookings only online at goa-tourism.com).
Call Dina (9890701600), the nicest, most reliable taxi driver this side of the Mandovi. Airport pick-up and drop-off, of course, but also for getting out and exploring with no real destination in mind.
I’m standing under a tin roof in a space the size of a coat closet, practising my patient loving kindness with 478 fellow refugees. How adorable we are, standing huddled together, our elbows in each other’s guts, noses in each other’s underarms, muddy chappals atop my own once-perfectly-pink Crocs. We are hiding from the deluge under the roof of Sanjay’s shop, a small but dignified establishment selling bidis, one-rupee toffees and, on lucky days, red masala peanuts in little plastic bags. Auspiciously, the one leak in Sanjay’s corrugated tin roof is right above my own head. Try as I might to share this honour with someone else there is not enough space to manoeuvre.
It isn’t that we don’t have raincoats to guard us from the downpour. Au contraire! We look like clones in our identical, best-quality-Mapusa-market dark blue raincoats with a zipper up the front and a nice silver stripe across our back. Never mind that the manufacturer forgot to make sure that the zipper was rainproof. A soaking wet crotch is just the thing to complete the pleasurable monsoon mindset. Anyway, the manufacturers really had no chance against the sophisticated kamikaze-type raindrops known to attack one in these parts; they effortlessly breach your every line of defence, heading right for your eyes. So, although I am late for a Very Important Date, there is no choice but to surrender. I park my Activa by the roadside, beside 478 other ones, and with a scowl and mutter, join the crowd under Sanjay’s roof. Everyone including Sanjay is looking out across the road, transfixed.
“But I have a Very Important Date!” I complain to the man in the blue raincoat on my left. He looks at me a moment, checks out my wet tangled hair and fashionable attire (raincoat, blue with silver stripe) then turns back to gaze across the road. “Don’t you just hate this?” I kvetch to the man in the blue raincoat to my right. The man is too absorbed to look my way. I have a look myself. Where once upon a time — ten days previously — there was a parched, fallow track of red earth, a lake has been born, complete with waves, tides and tiny rapids. Tangles of elephant ears and other massive leaves grow round it, and wildflowers, and many kinds of grass; and although it is raining, pouring even, rays of light somehow find their way through and illuminate a lone leaf, a lily, a mushroom, a rainbow in a raindrop. As we watch, through peepholes in our crowded human mass, three white storks land on the water, swimming among the reeds as if this had been their home since prehistory. I try to stay annoyed at the God of Monsoon but the world is too darned beautiful and I find myself staring at it entranced, like everyone else. “Soon the lake will be full of fish, that’s why the storks have come,” one man tells the child who is holding his hand, both in identical blue raincoats. “We will also come and fish, after they get big and fat.”
“But how do the fish get inside? We are far from the ocean or any rivers,” asks the child. I have been wondering about this very thing for years but the question remains unanswered. An SMS arrives, a cancellation message from my Very Important Date: “Hope you are somewhere dry. Let’s meet up some other time. It’s Monsoon Magic time. Better to surrender.” By now the rain has stopped and my endorphin levels are high. It must be all that green, man.
Monsoon in Goa is a love story, a passion play of earth and water, nature and herself. Goa is a beautiful state all year long, but in the monsoon she is breathtaking; a dramatic canvas of psychedelic green fields and mossy jungle, raw foamy waves, opaque grey sky. After the crazy months of tourist season, nothing feels better than to change into our pajamas and hang out, engulfed in rain but dry inside, counting the mushrooms growing in the corners and between our toes. The fishermen have stowed their boats. Entire families are out in their fields planting rice, sitting down together for a snack and chai from a thermos every now and again. Overworked taxi drivers and beach shack owners, now blissfully unemployed, hang out in their undershirts watching the days go by. Life is transformed into a series of vignettes, disconnected, dreamy yet somehow hyper-real. There might be days and nights of endless rain, with no excuse needed to do nothing but be — play, eat, read, nap and cuddle (notice the abundance of birthday parties nine months after the monsoon). It rains so much you wonder if it is time to build an ark, and then, all at once, the rain will stop, and a diaphanous shawl of shimmering diamonds will drape itself over the fields and trees. The tourists were bound to find out about our little pajama party, of course, it was only a matter of time.
Anyone still here?
Traditionally, the monsoon has been the ‘off’ season, a time of no tourists, a chance for everyone to chill, clean up, let peace reign again. If you wish to come, gently, if you want to join our quiet, to turn your face up to the rain with your tongue out to taste the clean sweet water, for you, we issue an invitation. Come for a week or a weekend with an attitude of a true adventurer. You might be indoors the entire time, or it might not rain once. In any event you will be rewarded with luscious landscape, relatively cool weather, relaxed locals, few tourists and just enough places to eat and things to do to keep you happy without the stress of having to choose from too many darned options. You will probably not meet other travellers to hook up with, so come with friends, children, family and/or lovers and spend the time indoors getting to know each other again.
We have just finished our abundant breakfast at Capella, a wonderful homestay in a gorgeous house up on the Arpora hill, bordering the jungle. We are staying here for the week, and have rarely felt more at home while away from home. Every corner is a treat to the eyes, the cosy living spaces warm with wood and books. The main room opens onto a lush inner courtyard, pretty gardens and a stunning view of the world below. Life is just too hard, we sigh, too content to read our magazines, too lazy for a walk.
But there is a break in the rain so we decide to jump into Capella’s wonderful infinity pool. The water feels exquisitely smooth, and we realise we are immersed in almost pure rainwater. As we float around like lotus flowers, body in water, face in sky, it begins to drizzle; and thus, water above, water below, water within, we feel ourselves approaching enlightenment. A lightning bolt over the valley below and then a clap of thunder pull us back to earth and we run into our room for a hot shower and a game of ‘Name that Green’. (Actually we go back to bed but that’s none of your business.) Will have to attain moksha some other day.
Out for a walk with our umbrellas in the jungle behind Capella. It is obviously going to rain soon but for now there is only a light mist. The birds have a lot to say this morning. They are so obviously showing off for us as we walk along, interpreting and reinterpreting old sonatas in chirps and trills. We are wearing our rubber shoes, so we splash around in the little streams that now flow everywhere. There is a log to sit on, under a glistening cashew tree and we study the large puddle at our feet. Beetles float by on twigs, tiny leaves swirl in a miniature vortex, jasmine flowers have fallen in and, upside down, look like ballerina boats. After what seems like forever we pull ourselves away and walk down the road to the bakery (lovely heat and smell of yeast). The paos, just out of the oven, are still warm and as soft as clouds. We eat half on the way back home, singing our own off-key sonatas, and eat the rest back in our room with butter and homemade mango chutney.
A walk on the beach, alone. All that time inside with others can be a bit challenging and it feels good to be away from everyone. The sand is wet, the ocean roaring like a hungry beast. Red flags in the sand warn of the danger that lies within but walking alongside it, I feel turned on by its electrifying power. Roar! Roar! The waves crash over red rocks, erupt into towers of foam, contract powerfully and attack again. I find a place to sit, pull an apple out of my bag and crunch on it, so red and perfect; around me are only shades of grey. Suddenly, a wave of loneliness crashes over me, cold and steely, and I rummage for my phone so I can reach out. No, I’m going to fight the urge, ride it out. A big wave rushes up towards me just then and when it recedes, I find a reward: a perfect little white and purple shell has been deposited right at my feet.
Another rainless day and we’ve gone to Panjim. We drove there the back way, via Candolim and Nerul, over the bridge, all the way to the Betim Ferry and across the Mandovi. After a movie at the Inox and shopping on June 18th Road, there is nothing better to do than sit in the lobby of the Goa Marriott hotel, where the whole front wall of the lobby is open to a grand ocean view: there is no better place in Panjim to sit and watch ocean meet river. This is a wonderful space; the seating is comfortable, the staff friendly. We order some drinks and plan to stay a half-hour. Suddenly a rainstorm is lashing down on us, it is impossible to see through the sheets of water. We order another round of drinks and wait. The storm stops as suddenly as it started, just as we were beginning to despair, and we are treated to a glorious monsoon sunset, starring Marigold Yellow with spectacular supporting performances by Aubergine, Turquoise and Gold. Five stars.
It’s almost midnight, and we are bopping seriously to the live music at Cavala, and then at Myx, both bars/restaurants with live music on a Saturday night. There is such a nice mix of ages, of ethnicities, of styles at these monsoon evening outings: two middle-aged sisters from Calcutta in kurtas swaying to ‘Country Roads’, three hipsters with tattoos and black jackets, a few young Goan professionals wearing smart shirts and woodsy aftershave, a couple of ageing German hippies, a magazine editor, a Punjabi family with two grandmothers, parents and three kids, everyone enjoying the companionship after days and weeks of staying indoors, the music and the breeze. I’m looking at the shiny happy faces as I dance and they all look so lovely to me, rain-kissed and fresh, so easy to love. Maybe it’s that ol’ Monsoon Magic, all of that surrender, putting moksha within our reach.
Where To Stay
Choosing the right accommodation in the monsoon is more important than in any other season as you might be indoors for most of your holiday. Homestays and villas — either full service ones or do-it-yourself options — are great, as there is more living space for those long rainy days and the good food is often built in. The big hotels of course also offer good food and plenty of living space. Rates are significantly lower in the monsoon, so you can afford to stay somewhere nicer than usual. (Incidentally, some places mentioned below are offering special rates for OT readers.) All recommended places have swimming pools, for those sudden bursts of sunshine or if you just like swimming in the rain. All places are in North Goa; all tariffs are per night and valid till September 30, unless otherwise mentioned; taxes are extra.
Capella If you can get a room here, do so, you will love it. A wonderful homestay, up on Arpora hill. Lovely cosy rooms, generous living spaces, a great pool and beautiful gardens, gracious hosts and food so delicious guests must often be coerced to go out and try some other eatery instead of always eating in. Hurry and book, this is a popular place. A generous home-cooked breakfast included in room rate. Tariff Rs 4,000-5,000 doubles, with breakfast Contact Ayesha (9923459488)
Noi Varo With its indoor sitting pool and graceful indoor spaces, Noi Varo in Siolim village is an absolutely wonderful place to be stuck in the rain. This is the queen of villas, simply elegant and supremely comfortable. Great food, tree house in the backyard, video library and good music — so go ahead and stay in. If you want to go out, a walk around lovely Siolim village should satisfy; finish your walk down the road, across the street from the church, at the snack shops for patties, burgers, fish curry, fresh juice or just chai. Tariff $500 for the villa (min. two nights’ booking required), inclusive of breakfast. Discretionary discount for booking done within 72 hours of stay. Contact Vivek (9011071911), shunyachi.com
Ishavilas Also in Siolim, this is a grand place, part of the Neemrana group. Four opulently furnished and decorated rooms, a welcoming common area, an almost majestic swimming pool, home-cooked Goan meals and an in-house spa offering many treatments and even a little steam room. Tariff Rs 5,000-6,000 doubles, with breakfast and one other meal Contact 9822141879, ishavilasgoa.com
Lazy Days This is not a single villa or hotel but an outfit that offers villas to rent in different villages, mainly in North Goa. The two villas (both four bedroom) in Saipem and Nerul are beautiful and open in the monsoon. Breakfast, a cook, maid service and a car with driver are included in the price. Tariff from Rs 15,000 for the villa Contact Call Sue (9823092730), lazydays.in
La Casetta Great, three-bedroom house to rent in a gated housing complex in Candolim, not far from the beach. The place is well-located for the monsoon, with a good concentration of restaurants nearby. Breakfast, a cook and maid service are part of the package. Tariff Rs 10,000 plus tax for the villa, inclusive of breakfast. Use code DISLC for a 10% discount for OT readers. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org, lacasettagoa.com
Zayo Three spacious bedrooms in a beautiful but not over-designed bungalow in Anjuna. Feels like home (only a lot better). The back-garden is ringed by green fields, and there’s a pool that makes it perfect for that holiday with your family and other animals. Tariff Rs 12,000 for the villa, with breakfast Contact 0832-2276090/7587, zayogoa.com
The SOL An atmospheric little boutique hotel in Nerul, a bit inland from Candolim. Lovely rooms and high-end restaurant. Stay here to feel like you have slipped into another world. The romantic setting may make it better suited for couples rather than for families with kids. Tariff from Rs 4,000 doubles, inclusive of breakfast and wi-fi access. Use code OTSOL1 for 25% off published room rates. Contact 0832-6714141, solvilla.in
Avanilaya A breathtaking retreat, twenty minutes inland from Mapusa. Vast gardens, endless views, large beautifully appointed rooms. No TV, but a sunken bathtub in every bathroom! Watch the rain on the fields and river from the majestic enormous veranda. Eat in or at the local fish thali places over the bridge in Aldona. Tariff Rs 8,000 doubles, with breakfast. Valid till Oct 30. Contact Call the GM, Charmaine, for a special discount for OT readers (9850464984), avanilaya.com
Grand Hyatt Resort & Spa A wonderful place to stay with kids on the outskirts of Panjim, the hotel has activities for them and the grounds are large enough for them to run around and play. The rooms have large verandas to sit out on and watch the rain over the ocean and the hotel’s secluded little beach. The buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner are top-notch. Their spa, Shaman, is the most exclusive and luxurious this side of the Zuari river; if you can afford it, grab their great monsoon offer. Tariff Monsoon Special: Rs 15,000 for 2N/3D; includes free stay for kids, all meals, airport transfers, discounts at the spa, activities for kids, use of gym and the large indoor pool (the only one in any Goan resort). Contact 0832-3011234, goa.grand.hyatt.com
Goa Marriot Resort & Spa Great location — right in Panjim but on the beach. A great place to stay for a laid-back city holiday. Super service from a really friendly staff: stay at a five-star and feel at home, really. Their spa is lovely: get scrubbed and kneaded while looking out of the window at the wild pounding waves. Tariff Rs 10,000 on weekdays/11,000 weekends, including all taxes, meals and airport transfers in a luxury car. Contact 0832-2463333, marriott.com
Where & What To Eat
If you followed our advice on accommodation, your great food is right at home — unless you are at a do-it-yourself villa. In that case, stock up on readymade and semi-readymade fare, or buy groceries at Lawande (in Candolim, next to Rock and Raga, a great shop to buy videos, books and odds and ends), Delfino’s (also in Candolim, on the main road before the turn-off to Nerul) or at Oxford Arcade (in Anjuna on the way to Vagator). Norm’s supermarket in Baga (near Tito’s lane) is open in this season as well.
For eating out, there are many options, from local fish thali places to expensive dress-up meals. But it is not necessarily a great time for new discoveries: usually it is the tried and true that stay open in this season, and you want a place with a good reputation and a large enough daily turnover to be sure you are getting fresh food and not ten-day-old leftovers! Look for the pao-bhaji or fish thali places in the village you are staying in — just go into the one that has the most people and order ladyfish: the fish of this season and delicious, especially rava fried.
Republic of Noodles: A bit pricey but offers tasty food and a fun place to sit with a family. All kinds of ‘Asian’ dishes, noodle dishes and stir fries. Attached to the Lemon Tree hotel, Main Road, Candolim
Travel Bar: A small, somewhat moody place with good Continental food. A favourite of discerning local residents starved for choice in the monsoon. Near the turn-in to La Fenice, on the main Calangute-Candolim Road
Bob’s Inn: Everyone loves to eat here, where there is something for everyone and a fun atmosphere. On the main road, halfway between Luma and Lawande supermarkets
The Banyan Tree: An elegant Thai restaurant. Attached to the Taj Holiday Village at the end of Candolim
Tuscany Garden: Kids love the pizza and pasta; there are more solid options for the adults. On the Candolim main road
La Confiserie: A great little snack shop that offers a large selection of Goan savoury snacks, and sweet ones too, all gloriously inexpensive. Try the dodol, and the egg patties. This is where you should load up a basket-full for a picnic on the beach or a day’s drive inland. Next to Cafe Coffee Day on the Candolim main road
Myx: A relatively hopping place, where you end up when you can’t find another place. Offers a small but quite nice menu and a neon-lit bar. There are no walls, so the rain and live music, on weekends, compete with each other nicely. On the Calangute-Anjuna Road, near the Arpora junction
Starlight: An established lunch/dinner eatery much loved by locals, who come here for the fish curry rice and fried fish but there is a full menu. Just after the Arpora Junction towards Baga
Anand: The most popular fish thali place in the district. Come here for the company, the tasty fish curry and the good fried fish. Wash it down with a lot of cold beer. On the road from Arpora to Siolim
Dosa Corner: A hole-in-the-wall joint serving South Indian breakfasts and fish/chicken/veg thalis for lunch. Cheap and tasty. Down the road from the Arpora junction, towards Calangute
Cavala: This is one of the most happening places in the monsoon, so if you are looking for company, here you go. On Friday and Saturday nights there is live music, for which you’ll need to make reservations (0832-2276090/7587). On the Baga main road
Carasid: Sandwiches, muffins and cakes are sometimes the best thing for lunch, after days of rich wonderful food while we were indoors. On Baga beach
Infanteria: Very popular, even more so in the monsoon when so much else is closed. Full menu, snacks and sweets. Seven days a week, rain or shine. In Calangute at the start of the Calangute-Baga road
It can be fun to go into Mapusa for some shopping at the local market (especially if you are doing your own cooking). Stop for lunch at St Xavier’s in the market (non-veg good food, served fast, and fresh juices) or Navatara by the petrol pump (clean, pleasant and efficient pure veg with a large menu, dosas, bhaji, thali, and North Indian). Babaji, near the Hanuman Temple, sells fancy milkshakes, little pizzas, and addictive snacks: try the chicken cafreal bun.