I don’t know the official definition of North Goa but I would say anything north of the Mandovi estuary can be considered as North Goa. After leaving Panaji, I head to Anjuna Beach, a famous beach of the region. Surprisingly direct buses to Anjuna are rare and I have to change at Mapusa, a town of many hotels, restaurants and shops. One good thing about coming to Goa off-season is that accommodation is easy to find. I check into a nice room and head to Chapora, north of Anjuna.
At Chapora stands a fort on a hill. What remains of the fort is unimpressive from the point of history or architecture. At least, the view towards sea is spectacular. The ramparts are made of laterite stones. Little turrets stand at the corners. On a day of wet weather like today, the deserted fort presents a picture of bleakness. The roaring sea presents an empty expanse on which only a few fishing boats are testing their luck. The crashing waves present the raw energy of nature when she gets wild. Swaying coconut trees dance in this energy out of habit but also out of choiceless fate.
The fort is built on a hill. I don’t really know if I approached it the right way. I found a path going up rocky ground. Cutting through overgrown undergrowth I found a break in the ramparts, a low wall which I could climb; and I was in the fort which had nothing more than collected pools of rain water, uncut grass, loose laterite rocks and stone bricks that must have once been part of buildings within the fort. For company, I found exotic purple foxgloves sprinkled with rain drops. A peacock standing on a distant wall with its long feathery tail trailing magnificently called to its mate. A young Goan couple hiding in one of the corner turrets perhaps made love but really eyed me cautiously from a distance as I wandered within the fort walls.
I can’t really see a proper beach below. The shore is rocky and sharp long rocks reach into the waves, appearing to claw into the sands. I return to the road and make enquiries about Vagator Beach, a little south of Chapora. I am shown an access road but when I get to the beach I see only rocks. I am disappointed. Is it the rain, the season or simply high tide? I can’t tell but surely Vagator turns out to be uninteresting. I return to the main road and have lunch at a restaurant. There are lots of places to eat but most of them are closed. I am told that tourist season starts only in September.
I take a bus to Candolim where there is supposedly a nice beach. If truth be told, I am not really a beach person. Beach holidays are not for me. I prefer mountains any day. This whole concept of beach holidays is something promoted by Western culture in all its glamour and sex appeal. So when I arrive at the beach at Candolim I am far from impressed. The ideal beach holiday picture of broad white sands, clear turquoise waters and an endless stretch of blue open sky is really a mirage. You have to be really lucky to get such a Utopian view. On a day of rain I am not even remotely hoping for one. In fact, I have forsaken the desire for such a beach. I have resigned to enjoy beaches as they come.
The beach is rather clean. Regular towers have been built along the shore for lifeguards. I see a couple of them sitting out on these towers, occasionally scanning the waters with binoculars. The beach during monsoons may be lifeless but it surely is quiet. The whole beach is practically mine. I walk south towards Sinquerim Beach and Aguada Fort but can’t reach them due to high tide. A rounded bastion juts into the sea near the fort. Waves come crashing and rise in a frenzy spray many feet high as they dash headlong into the solid walls of the bastion.
River Princess stands with its rusty hull in shallow waters nearby. This is a cargo ship that got stranded some years ago. No one has bothered to take up the task of removing it. It is an eyesore to Candolim Beach. While it stands abandoned, it makes the waves coming to shore more dangerous and unpredictable. Swimming is not a safe option at Candolim.
I turn around and head north, past Candolim, towards the next beach north – Calangute. Really, it is difficult to say where one beach ends and another begins. From the shoreline, it is an endless stretch of narrow sands for a few miles. Here I find lots of Indian tourists and some foreigners. It is not quite as lifeless as Candolim. There is a decent crowd but I can imagine a tenfold crowd come December.
A man is attempting to catch small fish from the shore. All he has is a nylon string weighed down at its end by a rough stone. For bait he attaches pieces of shrimp. He throws the stone into the waves and waits. With each receding wave, the line is drawn farther from the shore. He does not have a sophisticated reel of any kind, just nylon wound on a piece of coconut husk. With such simple equipment, he has managed a decent catch of two dozen small finger-sized fish. I watch him for many minutes.
Further up from Calangute, is the smaller beach of Baga. This is a pretty beach with wide crescent shaped sands. Tourists are playing in the shallow waters along the shoreline. Away from the waters, under a canopy of coconut groves, a few fishermen are mending their nets. From here I walk quite a distance on my way to Anjuna Beach. There are paddy fields all around. This time of the year, Goa may not be touristy but it certainly is green. Swaying lines of cononut trees in the middle of green stretches of paddy fields make quite a sight. Anjuna Beach happens to be a few miles away. After a long wait, I get a bus going that way.
It is past sunset. It gets dark quickly out here. Ayurvedic spas and restaurants line the lone road leading to the beach. I stop at a restaurant for dinner. The restaurant is empty except for a few foreign women drinking at the next table. At quarter past seven, it might be too early in the evening to get drunk but I guess there is no right time to get drunk in Goa. There are no down to earth restaurants at Anjuna, no simple thali meals or daal-roti-chawal combination. Every offering is meant for foreign tourists with inflated prices. Goa is not for ordinary Indians on a shoestring.
At half past eight, I am in bed. It’s been a long day. Retiring so early might be considered outrageous in season when the beaches are probably getting ready for partying through the night.
In the morning I head out to explore the stretches of Anjuna Beach. It is deserted. Long lines of shops, stalls and places of al fresco dining are all closed. They are not just closed but boarded up, wrapped in plastic sheets or covered with coconut fronds. Framework of wooden poles and roofless shelters stand starkly against an overcast sky. Anjuna Beach is lifeless and deserted this time of the year. Stray dogs watch me intently. They pose a serious threat and keep me on the edge. There is a steady rain this morning. I watch the waves and the grey sky merging with the grey horizon. The beach is all mine and the moment is waiting to be seized.