I returned home to the lovely Emerald Isle two days ago and already India feels like a distant blur. Suddenly my home town seems very peaceful and quiet after the cacophony of sounds over in India, although we did get a little break from the beeping when we went down south to Goa, so back we go to this day last week.
We grabbed one last coffee in Glenz and did a quick stroll around the humid streets of Delhi before getting an Uber to the Delhi airport, cost INR300 between 3 of us. Once we got to the airport we saw that there were long queues at each entrance, it soon became apparent that we needed a print off of our ticket itinerary to get into the airport. We chatted to one of the security guards and she was very helpful, she told us that we had to go to the first entrance and print off the ticket from the airline desk. INR75 later we had our print outs and we had gotten into the airport, checked in and left our bags and we had some falafel wraps for breakfast. As we were boarding our Air Asia flight we could hear music blaring from the airplane, it was the song ‘On the Beach.’ It was like something out of a club on the plane, between the pumping tunes and the condensation that was so heavy I felt like I was at a concert. Throughout the flight it felt like everyone seemed to know each other on the place, there were big groups of friends and large families all chatting to each other. We landed a few hours later and grabbed a taxi to our hostel, Old Quarter by Hostelcrowd, in the Fontainhas area of Panjim.
The buildings and the streets were so different to what we’d seen so far, there were lots of quaint pottery shops, the buildings were really colourful and every second one was adorned with little balconies, it was so pretty. We checked in, discovered our room was in another building, 250m from the hostel and it was very dimly lit. We had been spoiled rotten with our lovely hotel and heritage hotel rooms on the tour. While we were freshening up we could hear the roar of the monsoon outside and it was impressive. Once there was break in the rain we ran to get something to eat, at this point it was 6 in the evening, so we were starving.
We went to a lovely local restaurant called Sitara and I had the rawa masala dosa and some chips for INR150, it’s made from semolina flour, it was lovely and crispy and full of flavour, the lentil soup and the coconut chutney were really tasty too, yum. We wandered around the main town afterwards, armed with rain jackets so we wouldn’t get completely drenched in the monsoon rain. As we walked around Panjim I noticed how commercial it was, there was a Vero Moda, Tommy Hilfiger, Skechers etc. Across the water, on the hills, there were large signs advertising Vodafone, Kingfisher, Addo as well as large casino boats. It was so strange, I didn’t feel like we were in India at all, it felt so different to where we had just come from, weather wise also mind, after moaning about the hot weather we were now moaning about the wet weather, typical Irish, ha ha.
Once we had wandered around the town for a bit and walked up the steps to the church, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, we went to look for somewhere to have a coffee or a glass of wine. We had no luck with the glass of wine but we did find somewhere for dessert at Kamat Hotel. We sat down, had a look at the menu and the only things I recognised on the dessert menu were ladu and gulab jamun, we no longer had our tour leader Alan to help us with the menu and to describe what each dish was, we also had no access to wifi too so it was a pure guessing game. We asked the waiter but he thought we were ordering anything we were pointing to, in the end he mentioned that there was elderflower in one of the desserts so we said we’d chance that one, Shira, and ordered it not knowing what we had just ordered. Out came two pretty big dishes filled with a type of semolina pudding with sultanas and nuts and plenty of ghee as well. It was lovely but we definitely didn’t need to order two of them, waaaay too much. After we were given the usual aperitif of aniseed and cardamom, refreshing, as long as you don’t take too much mind. We strolled back to the hostel and after chatting to the hostel receptionist we decided that we’d head to Old Goa in the morning.
Day 2 in Panjim
We had breakfast at the hostel before heading to the bus station, I had boiled eggs, toast and coffee. The bus station was about a 10/15 minute walk from the hostel, after getting a little lost and another bus dropping us to the bus station we eventually got there. It was easy enough to find the bus for Old Goa as the above video shows. We hopped on and for INR10 we were brought to Old Goa where we wandered around for a few hours.
We visited the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the outside of Se Cathedral as we weren’t allowed in whilst wearing shorts. We walked around the shops too and I bought some cashew nuts in their shells, yum.
We walked up the hill towards the ruins of St. Augustine’s Church, which must have been quite the building in it’s hay day, it had a lovely view also. We walked towards the water to the Viceroy’s Arch also. After we got the bus back to Panjim for INR12, a mark up of 2 rupees since our last trip, haha.
We chilled out at the hostel for a bit, had some lovely pomegranate and mango for lunch and a chai tea too. The chai is served in a huge cup down in Goa, up north it was served in a tiny paper cup, almost like a shot of chai. After we decided to head back into town for another walk around the shops. I bought a few spices in one of the shops, some garam masala, saffron (soooo much cheaper than back at home), Charoli, and cashew nut bars.
After we walked, well ran, through the rain towards the municipal market, where there were stalls upon stalls of fresh fruits, vegetables and flowers. One local guy was amazed at our reactions to seeing the fresh fruit piled high in such perfect little pyramids, I suppose we did look a little odd staring at fruit and vegetables alright. I really enjoyed seeing how the locals shopped, how they put the food they wanted into a basin and that was weighed etc.
Later we went to Viva Panjim for dinner, the hostel receptionist had recommended it the previous night. We ordered the prawn papad for starter, it was very tasty, like a spring roll filled with a spicy prawn filling. For mains I ordered the crab xec-xec, which literally looked like the crab was still in wet sand with the amount of spices on it, haha. It was full of flavour and very tasty, however it was hard work but I think my face says it all, I was happy out, the red wine was also delicious.
Day 1 in Palolem
We got up early enough and it was lashing out, we had breakfast in the hostel and once the rain had lightened a bit we walked to the bus station and got the bus to Margao for INR25, then we took another bus to Palolem for INR100, we definitely got ripped off there as it only cost INR40 when we came back, bound to happen though. We walked up a lane towards our hostel Rainbow Lining and checked in. After the last hostel room this one was like absolute luxury, it had air-con and a fan, it was ensuite, the beds were super comfy, it had plenty of working bright lights and working wifi, woohoo. We wandered up to Avocado restaurant for lunch, they gave us some complimentary poppadoms while we were waiting. It had a great selection of food, a lot of vegan food, salads, juices etc. I had the fish thali, it was sooo good. The fish was so tasty, just the right amount of seasoning on it and the meat literally came off the bone, the prawn curry was full of flavour and the veggie curry was delicious. There was a lovely avocado salad with it too and plenty of poppadoms, chapati and rice. I was so stuffed after it, yum. It only cost INR350, so cheap.
We spent the rest of the afternoon strolling around the shops, looking at different spices, ornaments, clothes etc. We also walked down to the beach and it was a lovely beach, I imagine it would be a very beautiful when it’s sunny too. I loved seeing all the palm trees about, they’re one of my favourite trees. After we went for coffee, I had a nice strong Turkish coffee and I bought a banana and walnut cake slice in another cafe for tea that evening.
Day 2 in Palolem
The monsoon weather was in full force today, it had been raining all night and save for a small glimpse of the sun in the morning it wasn’t great weather for most of the day. So we spent most of the day relaxing, eating and reading. I had breakfast at the hostel, a bowl of fruit, a fried egg on toast and chai tea. I did a little shopping in town, bought a lovely wooden elephant with lovely carvings on it and a few little presents for my family also. For lunch we went to Sai cafe and I had a masala dosa for INR80, very tasty, although the soup was more of a bean stew so not the usual lentil soup we were used to, was lovely though. We went to the Summer hostel for afternoon tea, I had coffee and a lovely warm brownie and I also bought a basil, tomato and mozzarella sandwich and a delicious peanut butter cookie for my tea later. It was nice to just stroll around the town and do nothing for the day, although I would have liked to have walked along the beaches the tide was too far in for us to do that.
Last day in India
We went to Avocado cafe for breakfast where I had a masala chai and a honey, banana pancake. We took the bus to Margao, for the actual price this time, and then bartered for our taxi to the Grand Hyatt hotel in Bambolim. Well we didn’t know ourselves at all, at all. It was absolute luxury, we were greeted at the door, our bags were taken, we were sat down and given a complimentary drink, a welcome letter and wet cloths to freshen ourselves.
We were checked in earlier than usual because we were only staying there for one night and we were driven, in a golf cart, right to our entrance. Each building was designed with a courtyard in the middle in the old Portuguese style.
The room was nice and spacious, it had two large beds, patio doors that opened out to a veranda area with two large chairs, a large bath in the bathroom with two separate doors into a waterfall shower and a toilet. There was also a hairdryer, dressing gowns and the wardrobe opened up inside in the bathroom as well as in the room and it lit up too, fierce faaaaaancy altogether. The only con was the Venetian blinds that covered the glass-less window between the bathroom and bedroom, other than that it was fabulous.
We wandered around the grounds, using our map that we were given at check in, checked out the outdoor pool area with the biggest jacuzzi I have EVER seen, huge, saw the lovely beach but the tide was in so much that you couldn’t get down to the beach. We went to the French bakery and I had a smoked salmon salad, in a jar, with rice, eggs and seaweed, very refreshing. I had a coffee and a banana mousse with chocolate and caramel for dessert, yummy. We spent the afternoon down at the spa, at the thermal suites, I got a deep tissue massage and bought some lovely earrings there too, it was such a relaxing afternoon.
Later that evening we went for dinner at the Indian restaurant, Chulha. It had an open kitchen, which I love, so plenty of time spent staring very unsubtly at the chefs and wondering what they were cooking, I loved seeing how quickly they made naan and chapatis, very impressive. We were given complimentary poppadoms with three little side dishes, a mint, coriander and yoghurt dip, sweet marinated beetroot strips and pickled lemon. I loved the first two, the last one is definitely a required taste, haha. For mains I had the Galina Zacutti, a creamy, spiced chicken dish, and basmati rice. For dessert I had the traditional Goan dessert called bebinca, which is described as layers of coconut, flour and ghee online. It was much lighter than I thought it would be and the coconut ice-cream served with it was lovely too. We chilled out for another hour or so and then I went back to pack all of my things, I had a taxi booked, through the hotel, for midnight to the airport. It was such a pity that I wouldn’t get to spend the night there and see the Independence Day celebrations the following morning. I said goodbye to Claire and wished her well as she was heading on the next leg of her adventure towards South East Asia.
It didn’t take too long to check-in and get through immigration at the Goa airport and once inside there was absolutely nada to do there. At that time there was only one little cafe open, then around 2ish the small duty-free opened up. After walking around several times and trying not to nod off we eventually boarded the plane around 3.15 and I tried to get a little sleep on the plane, although I was woken up when breakfast came around and asked if I wanted some, I decided to pass as I wanted to wait until Doha. So no chance of much sleep on the plane unfortunately but I was sat beside a lovely Indian woman whose living in Leeds at the mo but was over in Goa on holidays, I chatted to her about Independence Day and she asked me lots of questions about my experience in northern India. Soon enough we had landed in Doha where it was lovely and hot. The airport was like a metropolis in comparison to Goa airport. There were so many shops and dazzling gold jewellery shops, soooo pretty. I had some fruit and yoghurt for breakfast and then ran for my gate as I had lost track of time, the plane was delayed and my watch was still on Indian time. Thankfully I made it just in time.
We all got a lovely menu on the plane and I had the scrambled eggs with potato cubes for my second breakfast and the lamb lattice for lunch. Thankfully I snoozed plenty of times in between watching lots of films of course. So I landed in Dublin finally at half 2 and was beyond tired after the long journey.
Chai every morning
I’ve had a couple of days to think about the trip and spoken to a few people about the experience too and I’m glad that I can say that I really enjoyed my trip to India. I would definitely recommend heading to India with a tour group if you feel a bit nervous about heading there on your own or as a couple of friends etc. It definitely took a lot of the usual stress away with not having to worry about transport and accommodation and having someone to explain and describe everything too.
India can be overwhelming, between the smells, the sounds, the rubbish, the crowds, people staring and constantly being asked for your photo. But then I think of the bright colours of the buildings, the beautiful sari’s, the smells of the spices; chai, coriander, sweet cardamom, sweet lassis, creamy flavoursome curries, crispy coriander poppadoms, melt in your mouth garlic naan, delicious coconut treats, the intricate carvings on the forts, mesmerising aarti ceremonies, spectacular stained glass windows, a starry night in the desert, helpful and friendly locals, curious children running and shouting hello, train rides and bus rides passing rice fields, palm trees, colourful yellow clothes amongst the millet plants, Bollywood music, the haunting sounds of the flute at sunrise and the rhythmic tabla, the list is endless.
All in all I had a wonderful time in India and I would recommend that everyone dip their toe in at some point. I’ve even kept some of India with me by having a cup of chai every morning since I’ve been back, I’m hooked now, ha ha.