Notes from the Road: Going Goa

Lin Urman, Jaunt Contributor (Middle East, Asia)

Lin Urman,  our resident Food and Lifestyle writer based in Tel Aviv, takes us to Goa where hippies frolic with fire and the only thing burning is that curry your waiter said wasn’t spicy. So, without further ado, without masks and secret wants, this is her trip diary from India’s famous beach bum hangout.

The food is for the body and the beach is for the soul.

Getting rid of old boyfriend and starting a new chapter.

So, I packed up the tasty comfortable life of Tel Aviv (or any city and it’s restaurants and the predictable men on the menu), the hectic work and constant running around, and went to India.

I am now in Goa on a beach called Arambol. There are plenty of beaches to choose from and if you don’t like one, well, the next is a walk away. Goa, the land of fashionable hippies, come every year to spend cold winter days on a friendly and sunny part of India. For me, those seasonable friends look, from first sight, like a tribe which embraces you all over again every time you come.

I chose to stay in Arambol – the finest hippie resort – because they have one of the best shows in India… a drumming circle where you can see unbelievably unrealistic physical movement and dancing with a backdrop of amazing sunsets. From the beginning it may seem like a close family meeting, but you soon will find out that it’s enough to know only one of them and you are on the highway to meeting all of them.

Arambol Beach - Goa, India

Arambol is a northeast beach of Goa and it’s very easy to find. Here, there is also everything your body and soul will need. To make your landing easier you can take a private taxi right  from the entrance of Goa international airport. It should cost 1170 rupee ($26) and you’ll be on your first ride with Indian smells and sounds surrounding you. For the next hour and a half drive you will not see any traffic lights but you will pass a few unbelievably huge and impossibly complicated traffic roundabouts that you have never seen in your whole life.

The main road of Arambol beach, which sometimes is called “a market,” will take you directly to the beach, where the only choice you will have is to decide  either to go left or right. All the possibilities of accommodation will be laid out in front of you.

I found a nice hut in a place called “Residencia” (perhaps left over from the Portuguese). It’s a nice basic bamboo house with no toilet or a shower, but with all day long WI FI on the porch, a taxi driver, laundry service, safe box, food and drinks nearby. There’s even a printing service and money exchange and they’ll do anything for you and your “dolachis”.

Hippie Spotting

The sea view is more than compensation for not having your own toilet, and believe me, its better not to have one because very soon it becomes more a problem than a solution when it gets stuck and starts to stink in front of your pleasant bed. “Residencia” is well known as a place of return clients and seasoned travellers and is very easy to find, just take a right when you reach the beach and after 50 meters you will see a huge  nice well kept garden and a clean sand trail.

A little trick: before checking in, take a quick look at the shoes in front of the doors so you can easily predict who your potential neighbors are: rich, slobs, techies or seasoned Indian shoe wearers.

The restaurants of Arambol have everything you could want: Russian, Israeli, Continental, Chinese, Japanese and even Tibetian cuisine, but I prefer a spicy vegetarian Indian food because the spiciness kills all the microbes before they start killing me.

Fellini Restaurant - Goa

The Italian restaurant “Fellini” (on the main road next to the beach) has the best pizza in Arambol and high quality live music almost every evening. At “Relax in” (right on the beach, but you won’t see anything like a restaurant, only chairs and tables), you will never be able to fined a free chair to seat after 7 pm, but if you do, you can enjoy real Italian food and very cheap fish dishes.

Olive Garden” which is also located on the beach (on the left side), you can find very cheap, tasty Indian “paneer” dishes (cottage cheese in different sauces),but you’ll need interesting book or a very good company because the wait for food is excruciating – even by Indian standards.

Laughing Buddha” has a nice Anglo Saxon atmosphere with music and buttoned up waiters (the owner is British). Although it was a little too English for me, the food was nice and pleasant, especially the “malai cofta” dumplings made from potato puree filled with vegetables and raisins in a thick nut sauce.

The main pick up/party/dance bar in Arambol is “Coco Loco” located on the beach and, from 22:00, it becomes very easy to find its location. You just need to hear the booms in the air. Gypsy party, R&B styled- Bob Marley tribal rave, house and even trance, every night new adventure.

Lin in Goa

The best place for the after party is a place called “Woodstock“. Hungry for music, musicians and their audience will go there after Coco Loco closes around 1:00 am. Woodstock is a guesthouse-open air sit-on-the-ground restaurant which is incredibly comfortable for spontaneous jam sessions because it’s located far from the beach with no neighbors around.  An Israeli guy owns this place and will do everything is needed to keep policemen out of his place so you will have one more hour in the great company of musically developed people.

Enjoy the beautiful sunsets, go for a walk to the next beach with a lake on it, and a find a secret road to the jungle where you can meet a real Baba smoking on a magic tree. Dance, smile, eat well and swim every day in warm and nice water, but never ever try to figure out with an Indian waiter if the food that you ordered is a spicy, because there is not any chance he will tell you the truth.

Eat Indian in Goa (or suffer the consequences...)

If you’re smart, you’ll eat Indian. It takes awhile to adjust , but it’s tastier and reminds you less of home. The other people try to recreate home, but unfortunately that usually means that their food is not well made and causes what is well known as ‘the runs’…

So now is it clear why does everyone from around the world wants to come here to heal, experience, and feel a change?

Drummers, hippies, guitar players, music, people clapping, and dancing. As it gets darker, fire displays around people, trinkets spin, spheres, and little ribbons fall and flicker at the end of a chain.

By 20:30, I stop by the Tibetan stand and get a chocolate ball for 20 cents. Best dessert on this side of Asia. I head to my place, put some music on my laptop, light a candle so I won’t be cold, pop a beer, and very quickly make an acquaintance. My parting words: If you like the sound of the music from far away, walk towards it. It is probably some beach party, a circle of drummers or some house music. Up to you, you can always feed your brain and read your book.

But with Goa, there’s a lot more variety on the menu.

India in Luxury: From Mumbai to Jaipur


Oberoi Udaipur, India

This week, Guest Blogger and Jaunt Contributor, Jordan Zucker, takes us to the colorful world of India. An actress and native New Yorker, Zucker is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania with a BA in Mathematics who moved to LA ‘to satisfy her thirst for seaside sunsets and avocados.’ With a hearty appetite for adventure and a good dose of gypsy blood, currently, she can be found on syndicated reruns of [Scrubs] as “Lisa,” the intern.

PS. Jordan loves water chestnuts, but despises cilantro. “I mean, don’t even put us in the same room,” she (half) jokes.

India in Luxury: From Mumbai to Jaipur
By Jordan Zucker

So I went to Northern India for two weeks with the folks and here’s what I gathered for Jaunt. The places we went (in order) were: Delhi, Agra, Ranthambore, Jaipur, Udaipur, and Mumbai. India is a large country so keep that in mind. We visited the North (Rajasthan) and what would be considered only one state out of 35 states and union territories. States were formed on a linguistic basis and, as Wikipedia notes, “India is home to two major linguistic families: Indo-Aryan (74%) and Dravidian (24%). Other languages spoken come from the Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman linguistic families. Hindi, with the largest number of speakers, is the official language. English, which is used extensively in business, has the status of a ‘subsidiary official language. The constitution also recognizes in particular 21 other languages that are either abundantly spoken or have classical status.”

That should give you some idea of the rich -and ancient – cultural influences still present in India today. The country consists of historic trade routes, the Hindu people of the Indus Valley, Aryan-speaking tribal descendants, the tribes of Genghis Kahn, and, of course, a history of British rule. Religions are varied with Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, and Christian being the main four, and Jianism and Sikhism also originating from here. As the fastest growing and largest world democracy, with the second largest population in the world, India shares it’s borders with China, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Burma. It goes without saying that it’s important territory from both a social and political framework. Somewhere between past and present, poverty and promise.

We saw a part of this awesome land on a two-week Sita Tour called ‘India in Luxury.’ Sita Tours offer organized travel for the ‘discerning’ guest. In this case, that meant staying at almost every 5-star Oberoi Hotel & Resort in India. My parents finished off the trip with a jaunt to Goa in the south, so I’ve included some pointers from there, as well.

Here are the pros and cons:

Pros: A great tour guide, fab hotels, and I didn’t get sick from street food. A few notes: you must bring money to use public bathrooms. Delhi isn’t as dirty as I had expected and Mumbai is like the NY of India. It is by far the most cosmopolitan, the most urban, the hippest. Delhi was large in geography but more flat and residential than I would have imagined. Traffic is crazy in Delhi. Apparently, there are multiple pedestrian deaths a day from people being hit by cars while crossing the street. Agra is just a tiny village in comparison, with streetfront box shops just as you’d picture Indian countryside. Also, most of the cities I saw were in Rajasthan. If I had continued to travel to the south – or to the Himalayas- like my folks did, I would have noticed a more drastic difference in culture between the areas, I’m sure. Something I found interesting was that the locals were not opposed to calling the cities by their British rule names (Madras, Calcutta, Bombay). We thought it would offend them but they sometimes prefer the old names.

Delhi, India

When people talk about India, they often reference the poverty, the smells, the grit… Well, I have to say, the country didn’t smell half as bad as I’d anticipated. Yes, it was dirty, but it smelled more of jasmine than feces. There are far cleaner places that smell worse (ie. trash in NJ, BO in Istanbul, the cows at Harris Ranch halfway between LA and SF), but yes, you see TONS of starving people, you see 9 year-olds carrying infants to get pity money for their families, you see all of the poor. It is also common to see people just squatting on the curb and taking a dump. You actually see if fall to the ground like a dog’s would. I recommend carrying around a box of EO lavender hand sanitizers. I get them at Whole Foods.

Cons: Because we traveled in luxury, I felt the experience was a little ‘watered down.’ I felt like a tourist. I like to get a local view and really experience what life is like – authentically – where ever I am. Perhaps it was safer to see the country being shielded slightly from the culture, but if I had my choice…

I also felt that everything was too expensive where we went. Because we could afford to stay in the nicest hotels, the locals on the tour took advantage of that a little too much.


INDIA’S HOTELS

We stayed at the Oberoi’s in each city. As incredible as I find the Oberoi properties, I wouldn’t recommend the Oberoi in the big cities (ie. Delhi and Mumbai). There are better places there. In Mumbai, the place to stay is The Taj Hotel, built by renowned architect W. A. Stevens. The Taj ‘embodies Jamsetji Tata’s vision of a luxurious hotel’ and was the first property with electricity and modern sanitation. It’s an architectural gem with a panoramic view of the Arabian Sea. We’re talking vaulted alabaster ceilings, Indian archways, crystal chandeliers, a stunning art collection and cantilever stairway. You can’t go wrong. It was also counted among the “1,000 places to see before you die” by the New York Times Best Seller and voted in Conde Nast Traveler’s “Best Places to Stay”.

I also heard that The Taj is good in Delhi too, but the Imperial is supposed to be the best. Known as a museum hotel, it’s been a property for artists for over 70 years and displays an impressive collection of the ‘British Art on India.’

http://www.theimperialindia.com

That said, along the countryside, opt for the Oberoi Hotels. They’re fabulous when it comes to design and service. Here are my favs:

1) Oberoi Vanyavilas – Ranthambore – worth the trip just to go here.

And check out the Tiger Safari!

2) Oberoi Amarvilas – Agra – I could see the Taj Mahal from my balcony and had the best India moment out there – all senses on India overload!

3) Oberoi Udaivilas – Udaipur – This property had stunning grounds where you can dine on a patio overlooking the lake.

Special note: The Banyan Tree Spas at all of the Oberois are GORGEOUS!

INDIA’S RESTAURANTS
Again, I felt a little limited in this department as we were always guided to eat at the hotels, but at least I didn’t get sick, right?

1) Bukhara – Delhi – Great Chicken Tikki, Family Naan, etc.

2) Trishna – Mumbai – Best seafood place in the city!!! Favorite of the locals as well!

3) Dome – Mumbai – This is the place to go for an evening cocktail to see the sunset

ACTIVITIES/SHOPPING

1) Mumbai, India – Bombay Electric – Great women’s clothing store

2) Jaipur, India – Elephant Ride. Do NOT take the elephant ride up the fort – the wait in line is hours. Take a jeep up, then get an elephant ride directly from the stable in town – no wait.

3) Delhi, India – Chandni Chowk (market). Pick out your own fabric, make a clothing item.

4) Goa, India – Ingo’s saturday night market is a must to go. Bring cash. Here you’ll get the best buys in everything you can imagine. Favorite shopping spot in Goa: Janota shoes # 64, yellow lane Arpora, Goa.

5) Arpora, Goa – Seasonal store “The Haystack.”
For info call Angela @ 9881773053 or go to http://www.janotagoa.com

GOA HOTELS
My parents stayed at The Taj, but Jaunt editors found these two sites for boutique hotels in Goa.

http://www.directoryofhotels.com/asia/hotels_india_goa.asp

http://www.chiangdao.com/hotels4/asiahotels/indiahotels/goahotels/goahotels.htm

For the upper-crust artsy crowd, Jaunt recommend sites like Tablet Hotels and Design Hotels for finding boutique digs that excel in design and service.

PHRASES TO LEARN

Shukria = thank you

Chalo = go away

Chordo = leave me alone. This is administered with a dismissive flick of the hand (the street vendors are relentless!)

Tuk tuks (mini taxis) = The rate that appears on the meter is the rate code, NOT the fare. You need to ask the driver for the rate card and pay what corresponds to the code! (ie. if the meter reads 350, you do not pay 350 rupees (about $8.50) you look on the card and see what rate 350 costs (probably around 32 rupees which is a little over a dollar)

Always check your bill! They’re notorious for overcharging in hopes that the tourists won’t check. As soon as you point out the ‘error’ they will apologize and remove the excess charges. Don’t take it personally – it’s just their culture.

When asked if I would go back, I’ll say this. There is only one place in the world I have been to that I didn’t like (Morocco) so saying I’d go back to India isn’t a big endorsement. That said, I am also the type of person that wouldn’t go back to a place for the mere reason that I’ve already been and there are far too many new places I need to conquer before I start repeating things.

Do I think it’s worth seeing? Definitely.

The first day we were there we went to a temple in Delhi and there were about 12 school trips there, so it was us and thousands of kids ages 6-14. They ALL wanted to shake our hand and say ‘Hi, how are you!!’ kind of to show off their english speaking skills. They were so excited to see ‘westerners’ and a group of the boys even asked for my autograph (just because I was something new they’d seen, not because of TV)

The people in India were lovely. I felt safer than in Morocco (SKETCHY! I didn’t even trust our tour guide), though they will be overly aggressive if they want you to buy something. Hindu and religion is their highest purpose. They’ll build a 40 year temple in 8 years but will never quite finish fixing the roads – just not as important or worthy a cause for them. There’s something to be said for that.

So I’ll close with my favorite highway sign:

MOTORCYCLES, SCOOTERS, DIPLOMATS, AND CAMELS – PLEASE STAY TO THE LEFT OF THE TOLL PLAZA!

Now Chalo!

14 Day Itinerary
INR 445,000 (US$ 11,125*)

http://www.sitatours.com/Asia/India/india_indiainluxury_14days.html

http://www.oberoihotels.com/specialOffers/india-in-luxury_itineraries1.asp