OFFBEAT GOA WITH KIDS: A SOLO PARENT’S TRAVEL GUIDE

You do not visit Goa just once. I’m clearly a firm believer in this and an admirer of the smallest state in India that never fails to make every touristy dream come true.

It shouldn’t surprise you that the total count of my Goa travels is at a record 10 times since 2005! However, my trip to Goa in November 2021 was something else and very special because I explored it as a solo parent in true backpacker style. The Backpacking Indian Mama (with the baby, of course. It was also an ‘offbeat Goa’ experience with so much more that I’m going to be sharing with you through this blog on the Goa trip. Read on to revisit my exploration of Goa, India with baby, backpack and I…

TOUCHDOWN GOA – ACCOMMODATION, FOOD AND TRANSPORT

In true backpacking fashion, we set ourselves up to travel light and made sure to not overfill the bags. The stars were aligned for our Goa trip and I realised that as soon as we were blessed with an empty seat next to me on the onward flight. My daughter seized the opportunity to make herself comfortable and catch up on some pre-tour sleep.

My accommodation in Goa was a hostel located in Panjim, the capital city of Goa. More about my entire Goa trip in another blog. For starters, I went for an evening stroll after landing and reaching my hostel. Sidharth, my college friend who was already in Goa phoned me to join him in a small Fontainhas cafe for some coffee and goan snacks. Arianna and I were super hungry and walked down to this little cute cafe serving some tasty choriz, cutlets, and coffee.

After this initiation, we walked around the neighbourhood, indulging in some photography around the colourful buildings, looking at the crowd gather around the offshore casinos, bought Arianna a cool ice lolly from the roadside vendors, and just generally felt happy for making it to Goa with my child.

An evening cannot be complete in Fontainhas/Panaji without a visit to the local bodega of sorts, Joseph Bar, a hole in the wall bar serving some crazy Tambde Rossa (a feni and kokum drink), squid, tuna and choriz delicacies. Come dusk, and the little sign saying “Joseph Bar” lights up, welcoming the local as warmly as the tourist, who within a couple of hours, mingle with you as if you have known each other for ages. This is the part of Goa I admire, and it really feels good to be in places where you are not judged by the way you look, or dress up. Arianna was tired after a few glasses of ice cold Kokum juice and sausages, and wanted to head back. We checked into my room and had a good nights sleep right in the middle of the colourful Fontainhas area.

The welcoming vibe at the local bodega ‘Joseph Bar’

We started the next day with a light breakfast at the hostel, and a very budget-friendly Fish Thali at a local tiffin centre in Panjim, which included specialities like Rava-fried Surmai and Coconut Fish Curry. This delicious thali must have cost me somewhere around 180-200 bucks, leaving me truly satisfied with the value for money. Having settled into the Goa vibe, my daughter and I couldn’t wait for our touristy trails to commence. Today was going to be interesting, and you will know why if you read the blog further.

To ensure hassle-free movement and to reach the trail points, I rented a scooter from my hostel. One can rent these scooters from the accommodations, as they have tie ups with local bike rental shops, and you can rent a four wheeler as well, if that suits your budget. The rentals during November were around 400 Indian rupees a day, but can go up or down depending on the season. The majority of the transport requirement on the trails I went on, was taken care of by the good ol’ ferries, the lifelines of Goa which are affordable and super convenient even to carry scooters across water bodies.

Ari and I on our rented bike

TOURISTY TRAILS IN GOA

As you shall find out when you read along, my Goa Trip 2021 can best be described as ‘offbeat’ and ‘one-of-a-kind’. I’d got in touch with Soul Travelling to help me explore this side of Goa with my kid. They responded very warmly and took me along on an adventure I hadn’t yet had the chance to explore. The offbeat Goa tour with them included four trails of lesser-explored corners in Goa, with a world’s difference from its usual hustle-bustle. The trails we embarked upon were arranged by Soul Travelling, a company that curates trails across different parts of Goa and aims to showcase the destination from a lens like never seen before. I will cover all of these trails in separate blogs so the post is more detailed and helpful, rather than being a very brief blog. More on this towards the end, let’s get to the first Goa Offbeat trail now:

FIRST TRAIL: DIVAR ISLAND – a slice of nature’s paradise stuck in time

We couldn’t have started our Goa exploration in a better way! We crossed Old Goa and the holy Basilica of Bom Jesus en route to the first ferry point and for those who are not familiar with the region, Goa comprises several mini islands which are situated between Mandovi and Zuari. Connected to Old Goa only through ferry service, one such island is the Divar island, truly a revelation of natural beauty, serenity and tranquillity. The name of this beautiful island – ‘divar’ is said to be derived from the word ‘dipavati’ and pronounced as ‘divaddi’, which means ‘small island’ in the Konkani language.

Not many tourists find their way here but I’m glad my daughter and I could witness and enjoy nature’s beauty with open scenic fields as far as the eyes could see, dotted with stoic structures of Old Goa along its border. As we boarded our bike on the ferry leading us to the island, (we took this service from the ferry point near the Viceroy’s arch in Old Goa), we could spot so many local island folk going back and forth from the mainland to the islands. This is routine life for the people in this part of Goa, but to me it was a novel way of experiencing a destination cut off from the mainland by water. The ferry service runs between 7am-8pm everyday and these ferries connect to Ribandar and Bicholim in Goa from various directions of the island.

In front of the Bom Jesus Basilica in Old Goa. We set out on a rented scooty – the best way to explore GOA

Still very unexplored and unexploited by tourism or commercialisation, thanks to being disconnected from the famed ‘party’ culture that mainstream India knows Goa for, this island has a unique history of Old Goa and has stood the test of time through a plague and several changes in accession. Arianna and I rode through the narrow roads of the stunning island gaping at the panoramic views full of little vintage homes, beautiful villas and boutique properties that now embrace tourism on the mini-islands as a welcome change from the noisier mainland. We stopped for a brief intro to the island under a tree which has now become popular, thanks to the film “Finding Fanny”, which was shot here partly.

Travelling lets you learn and take on a world of new things. Rightly so, this trail taught my daughter Arianna and I so much – a wholesome social studies lesson. Divar island consists of three villages, namely Piedade, Naroa and Malar. We visited the Our Lady of Compassion Church in Piedade, a village that’s a replica of a typical Goan village during the time of the Portuguese.

From learning more about the consequences of Portuguese rule in Goa, where persecution of the local population took place due to the Portuguese conquest, to witnessing remnants of the Kadamba dynasty in the cemetery and chapel, to learning about ‘All Souls Day’, quite like the ‘Day of the Dead’ in Mexico, where the cemetery is all done up for the village to pay their respects to the souls that have passed on. This was a unique opportunity to learn a thing or two about Divar’s colonial rule.

The cemetery in Piedade Village

PORNE TIRTH TALI – THE STEPWELL TEMPLE SITE

We quickly stopped for a cold drink from the local stores because the sun was still shining strong and rode to an ancient stepwell called Porne Tirth Tali (meaning old pilgrimage site), which consists of the ruins of the Saptakoteshwar temple. During the 16C invasion by the Portuguese, Divar was the first island to be captured and therefore, the temples and deities were shifted across the river for safekeeping. The stepwell is like a structure lost in time, beaten down yet very intriguing with 108 temple carvings from the 12th Century. Arianna explored the sides of the huge stepwell, and I took a good break from riding as well.

Porne Tirth Tali with a 108 temple carvings (pilgrimage site)

MUD BATH EXPERIENCE ON AN ISLAND UNDER THE SUN

After a break, we got onto the bike again and reached the final location for the trail, which was what Arianna had been looking forward to. We changed into wet suits at a local’s home, and went on a long trail right into the paddy fields with views of the setting sun around us. The views are beautiful as you walk along the dense fields and the sky changes its colours to an ochre yellow. Right in the middle of nowhere, the trail ambassador pointed us to a pond full of fresh water and mud!!

This was where we were going to dip ourselves after an afternoon of riding in the sun, and take a medicinal clay bath – an experience I’d highly recommend and so does my daughter because kids love clay and all things messy, don’t they? The water was very cool, the sun was just about setting and the views were absolutely amazing. Arianna managed to spot some crabs, and we played around in the mud pool for quite a while, while slathering clay onto each other’s bodies. The feel of dipping into a natural mud pool was quite exciting, and relaxing as well.

Divar is now home to some beautiful boutique homestays and wellness resorts, and is a welcome destination for those willing to explore the susegaad island life. Little alleys that take you along the island, panoramic views of paddy fields, mangroves and the natural habitat around make this erstwhile pilgrimage island, a very refreshing tourist destination.

Nature always manages to add its magic. Post some snacks and kokum sharbat at a local’s home, it started raining heavily on our way back to the ferry. We made makeshift rain ponchos out of garbage bags, and wore them on the ride back to the ferry, and then to my hostel. Not only was it a sight to behold, but it was the very first time I saw my daughter adapt to sudden weather conditions while standing on the bike and making sure I was undisturbed while riding.

She held onto her little helmet and grabbed the scooter handles while protecting herself from the rain, while not uttering a single complaint. It’s these small joys and growth that reflect in such times shared with your little ones. As we headed back via the evening ferry to Ribandar, she gave me one of her usual toothless smiles and said “Mama I kinda really liked today”. A stamp of approval, indeed.

ROUND-UP OF TRAIL: DIVAR ISLAND WITH SOUL TRAVELLING

Divar trail at Divar Island with Soul Travelling – Timings: Approx 4.5 hours.

Boarding Point: Old Goa Jetty. Advisable to bring your two/four wheeler along.

Food served: Snacks and tea, and classic Feni tasting.

Other places to visit on Divar Island: Malar and Narao – the other two villages.

Acknowledgements

Kudos and a huge shoutout to Soul Travelling who hosted this experience for my daughter and I, and helped us unlock a whole new world in Goa with countless explorations and experiences. Also, my friend and photographer Sidharth Raveendran who took up the shared challenge of documenting this trail with me as he was stationed in Goa incidentally at the same time I travelled there.

Who are Soul Travelling?

With concepts like nature, heritage, food, architecture, culture and many more, Soul Travelling is a Goa based travel operator that enabled us to see Goa in a different light this time. Like I always say, the best way to explore a place is to interact and meet with the locals. Soul Travelling consists of a team of locals who know their state in and out, truly value their roots, and want to showcase it beyond just the typical tags of the sun, sand and sea with utmost hospitality and care. Special thanks to Kedar and Clyde and the Soul Travelling ambassadors (the guides that accompanied us on this particular trail) – Mayuresh, Deepak and the team for coordinating this Divar trail for us.

DISCLAIMER

The views expressed about my experiences of the trails and Soul Travelling, in particular, are my own and completely authentic. While we go places together, rest assured that I have always strived to bring forth real anecdotes and honest reviews of the experiences for all of you, my dear readers. So if you are tempted to take up the Divar island trail, I say trust me and go for it! Backpacking Indian Mama wishes you all happy, safe travels.

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