The familiar strains of the Bee Gees flow into the low-lit cabin of Vistara’s A320, as a modest trickle of passengers shoves their bags in the overhead cabinets. No big crowds, no constant announcements, just stillness. If I’m being honest, the silence was quite confronting. Masks were the rule, not the exception. Who’d have thought being back in the skies would seem this unreal.
Till now, I had only heard of the ‘zombie airports’—the living dead of aviation, with the only sign of flight being the tumbleweeds bouncing in the air, down the deserted runways, and through the empty terminals. Never in my wildest imagination did I expect the mega-airports, including the likes of the one in the national capital, to join the fleet. On my first post-pandemic visit, the airport looked nothing less than a ghost town. The hand-sanitising stations installed every few metres, outnumbered the travellers. Taking a flight felt like going to war. From crew and passengers wearing PPE kits, flight attendants distributing face shields to thermal screening at almost every checkpoint, the increased surveillance meant a longer and a rather complicated airport and flight experience. But, hey this was the ‘new normal’.
With no COVID test, no e-passes, and no mandatory quarantine, I headed for my first post-pandemic trip to the land of sunshine and sand. The liberating feeling of driving along the endless rice paddies and palm-fringed beaches, working out of quaint cafés, indulging my taste buds in authentic Goan curries, and calling charming old Portuguese houses ‘home’ for a few weeks—this was all that I needed to retreat into ‘susagade’ mode. Throw in a slice of ‘Tajness’ and you’re in heaven.
Honestly, the notion of ’Tajness’ has never ceased to intrigue me. It suggested and promised a whole load of things. It was an allure, an adventure. But could it be defined in concrete terms? Perhaps not. The only way to get to know it is by experiencing it, like I did, first-hand, during my recent Goa trip.
With history woven into its walls, Taj Fort Aguada Resort and Spa is luxury redefined. Set in the sylvan surroundings adjacent to Fort Aguada, the magnificent architecture in Goan-Portuguese style meets the splendid waters of the Sinquerim Beach below. The Balinese landscaping, swaying palms, and a panoramic view of the sea create a theatrical setting for a lavish stay.
Built on the ramparts of a 16th-century Portuguese fortress, the resort is part of a sprawling 73-acre complex. The signature Taj hospitality is most evident in its restaurants. Morisco, overlooking the Calangute-Candolim Beach, works wonders with seafood. With freshness and flavour written all over it, the heritage Goan thali, available in three variants (vegetarian, meat, and seafood), aims to deliver the diversity and vibrancy of Goan cuisine in a compact and convenient form.
I heard through the Goa grapevine that the Banyan Tree holds the title for Goa’s first authentic Thai restaurant. Set in the shadow of a 300-year-old banyan tree, the sight, sound, and aroma make the complex flavours of Thai cuisine more evocative. With hand-plucked herbs, spices, and regional ingredients, the menu combines classic Thai dishes with new-age fusion options.
My time in Candolim was coming to a close. Luckily, Goa is small enough to travel between the North and South easily. Braving a balmy, humid afternoon, I found myself en route the sleepy countryside of Loutolim. Like a sepia- tinted flashback, it seemed as if I had stepped back in time. I was facing the ancestral mansion of the Figueiredo family, sitting at the end of an unkempt serpentine road.
Commanding immense grace and stature, the mansion pre-dates the Taj Mahal by decades. The sumptuous interiors stand in juxtaposition to the natural beauty of the paddy fields and coconut trees that surround it. Several large rooms with antique furniture flow into each other with crystal chandeliers, waxed wooden floors, family portraits, and paintings a collection of old Portuguese books. Probably one of the best-kept heritage homes, this museum-cum-homestay is the kind of time capsule you just can’t simulate.
Goa may be India’s favourite holiday spot but there’s a lot more to it than the beaches and shacks. Beyond the typical Goan experience, there exists a more nuanced culture that is more refined and elusive. A walk through Fontainhas, the Latin Quarters of Goa, reveals this old world charm that Goa has preserved for ages. Flanked by Portuguese-style houses and villas, the narrow lanes reflect the European flavour left behind. I spent my afternoon admiring the colonial houses, some rundown, some faded, nevertheless oozing with charm. In true Portuguese fashion, all the houses had porches that opened towards the road.
From crossing paths with blue-eyed young lads to encountering colourful villas, Goa had me lost and found.