Floating in the hotel pool under a full moon that brightens the night sky, it seems a bit incongruous to hear the familiar notes of “Love, love me, do” coming from the one-man band in the open-air bar at the edge of the Arabian Sea.
But this is Goa, a beach resort in southwestern India, and incongruity sets the tone for nearly every experience a traveler might encounter. Goa is Hindu, but it’s Catholic.
Roadside altars honoring Hindu gods are on one side of the road. Catholic crosses are on the other.
Lush tropical landscapes and flowers complement the sweeping sands of the shoreline of the Arabian Sea.
Upscale hotels share the waterfront with beach shacks that cater to tourists and serve cold Kingfisher beer, grilled prawns and garlic naan. Groups of makeshift plastic tents, laundry strung between them, share the landscape at the edge of villages with road shacks that cater to locals and sell cold Kingfisher beer, vegetables and cell phones.
Maybe it’s not incongruity so much as a chaotic mashup of extremes. Barefoot and beautiful dark-eyed toddlers barely taller than your knee pat the side of your leg with one hand while the other reaches out palm up.
Down the street, merchants offer a deal on precious gems or silken rugs.
Indian women walk along the beach in jewel-toned saris, cell phones to their ears. Blond western women cavort in tiny bikinis. Big-bellied, tattooed western men on the far side of middle age flaunt barely-there bathing suits.
Welcome to Goa. This is where cows share the roads with scraggly dogs and an impossible array of horn-tooting taxis, scooters, tuk-tuks and motorcycles that rush head-on toward each other before darting back to their own side of the road. This is where the family car is a motorbike with one child perched in front of father as he navigates traffic, another held in place behind dad’s back by mother, who brings up the rear. One Indian acquaintance noted that Indians don’t follow the lane markers, they make their own lanes.
We happened to be in Goa at the end of March during the Hindu festival of Holi, also known as the festival of colors.
The festival made the street scene even more chaotic with revelers marching through the street, pounding drums and smearing each other’s faces and bodies with powdered paint. Tourist were happy targets for the locals, everyone wearing a smirk that seemed to say, yes I know I look silly with colors all over my face, but it’s all in good fun.
We stayed at a boutique hotel along Goa’s Candolim beach. It offers its own bit of incongruity, in a good way.
The rooms are spare, in a chic island sort of way. But elaborate chandeliers, stone carvings and fabric wall coverings contrast nicely. Dark wood and natural stone colors prevail. The rooms all open to the outdoors and the bar and restaurant are nicely done open-air rooms.
Breakfast is included in the room fee. An elaborate spread of Indian breakfast items shares space with an egg station for made-to-order omelettes or fried eggs and pastries. At the beachside bar and restaurant tiger prawns are sold by the gram and cooked any way you like.
A pool, a children’s play area and a spa offering ayurvedic massages and regular salon beauty treatments round out the amenities.
It’s in a good location and I’m happy to recommend it.