I get asked the dumbest questions because I have grown up in Goa. ‘You’re from Goa! Do you party every night? Do you go to the beach everyday? Do you do drugs?’. But the best one had to be, ‘You have schools in Goa?’. The depth of peoples’ stupidity never ceases to amaze me. In their defence, I think this is Bollywood’s fault. Popular culture has portrayed Goa as this incessant rave party — an oasis where you go to let your hair down and kick your feet up — with beaches, alcohol, laser lights and loud music. When people ask me these questions, I try my hardest not to judge them. More often than not, I fail. If you ask me a stupid question about Goa (or anything else, really) I will judge you. But I do recognise this as a problem of people’s perceptions rather than their intellects. And as someone who can reach out to a fairly large number of people through this magazine, I might as well try and change that.
Over the course of the next few pages, I’m going to take you on a drive through some of Goa’s nicest driving roads. Once again we have our designated countryside explorer, the Renault Kwid along with us. This is the same Kwid that is a part of our long-term fleet and for the sake of this story, we actually drove it all the way from our base in Pune to Goa. It’s got a 1-litre engine that makes 67bhp, and makes it far more capable of long distances than its 800cc sibling. But this isn’t a story about the Kwid’s highway abilities. We are here to explore the other side of Goa, the one that is conveniently left out of most narratives – the hinterland. And in the process, we’ll explore the other side of the Kwid’s abilities, and see just how good it is when it is out of the city and in the countryside.
Before we get to the route (and I’m going to trace out a proper route for you, so you can actually drive these roads if you’d like to), let me give you the low-down on driving around in Goa. You face two real challenges when you drive in this little state – the first being that the touristy areas are tremendously crowded. You have lunatics zipping around on rented Dios and Bullets, and even the occasional Thar being driven by a shirtless dude who has ingested a lethal amount of alcohol. The second is, when you get away from all this madness and actually begin to explore the Goan countryside, you’ll find the villages are strung together by a network of narrow roads. Very narrow roads. The Kwid’s size really helps – you’re not constantly at the edge of your seat, inching the car through this booze-infused obstacle course. Although the Kwid’s dimensions were intentionally kept to a minimum to keep it zipping past lumbering traffic in cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, this makes it easy to drive in places like Goa as well. Navigating through the sea of tourists becomes easier – it can squeeze in to tight spots and make manoeuvres that bigger cars cannot. Parking! Parking really becomes easy as it squeezes into the most unlikely spots. And even on country roads, you don’t end up playing chicken with oncoming vehicles because it leaves just about enough space for both cars to squeeze through comfortably. The only real problem I see with having a Kwid in Goa is how heavy your wallet remains – the Kwid is frugal and petrol prices in Goa are so low! I wonder how I’m going to deal with that…
Over the course of this drive, I’m going to take you through the villages in north Goa as well as south Goa. North Goa has this reputation of being a party destination, while south Goa still retains that virgin vibe. Not true. North Goa has its fair share of untouched beauty and I’m going to prove it. Let me clarify though, this isn’t a route you should drive at full pelt. And neither should you attempt to do both loops – north Goa and south Goa – over one day, even though it is entirely possible. Yes, the roads are good but you will just miss the views and annoy a lot of locals with your speeding. Instead, take your time. Drive along at a comfortable pace, take in the sights and sounds, roll the windows down and feel the sultry air in your hair (my baldness has nothing to do with this mental image I’m drawing up), and soak in the atmosphere. The Kwid is a car that likes to be driven so, it is extremely comfortable on these relaxed drives.
The drive in north Goa starts in Panjim. Panjim is the capital of the state and lies on the banks of the Mandovi river. While this place is a quaint city if you hold it up to the standards of our metros, it still remains the most urban city you’re going to find in Goa. But the hinterlands aren’t too far away. Most tourists are familiar with the bridge across the Mandovi that leads towards the infamous Baga and Calangute stretch. To begin this drive, you need to cross the bridge but instead of carrying on down the highway to these beaches, you hang a sharp left at the end of the bridge, drive under it and on to the village of Britona. You’re barely five minutes away from civilisation and you’re already in a typical Goan village. The village lies on the Mapusa river (which feeds in to the Mandovi), and you should follow the river further upstream all the way to the village of Pomburpa. Funny name, I know. Pomburpa is another small settlement on the banks of the river. It is speckled with a number of churches and you can see little fishing boats bobbing in the river as you drive alongside it. From there, you can head further inland and explore the villages of Olaulim – there’s even a cute little homestay (with dogs, cats, goats and a donkey!) there called Olaulim Backyards if you fancy spending a day or two in the countryside. Otherwise, from Pomburpa, you can catch an old rust bucket of a ferry to take you to Chorao island. Driving through Chorao is always a pleasure – it’s this idyllic little island, overflowing with everything you associate with being Goan – little Portuguese houses, churches, temples, football grounds… From Chorao, you can head to Aldona, Maem, Divar island (via ferry, again) and then back to Panjim.
Goa has a culture so far removed from anything else in the country – the landscape looks like any other stretch of the Konkan region, however the infusion of Portuguese culture in to the fabric of society lends it a unique charm. You see traditional Hindu temples co-existing with the churches, ladies in sarees chatting up other ladies in flowery frocks – it is this mingling of cultures that gives Goa its inherent charm. Poverty is low, the lowest per capita in the country in fact and most villages you see are clean and rather developed. The road network through Goa is great and the waterways make for an easy way to navigate through as well. Once you start exploring the hinterlands, you feel so far removed from any other place you can visit in India, but it is still so accessible – a mere half-day drive from Pune.
The south Goa loop is extremely enjoyable to drive as well. However, you do need to drive a fair bit on the highway to get there. From Panjim, you drive south through Bambolim till you reach Margao. Drive a further 10km south of Margao until you come to a fork – left keeps you on the highway while the right fork takes you down to Assolna. Once again, this road will take you through quaint Goan villages, surrounded by paddy fields and coconut groves. Go exploring in any direction you like and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. I recommend you continue down the road till you reach Canaguinim and then turn off for the Cabo de Rama fort. Watching the sunset there is nothing short of a spectacle, and even if you’re not a driving enthusiast, the view makes the journey worth it.
The Kwid meanwhile really kept us comfortable. The navigation system was a huge boon – even as a local, I’m not too familiar with all the interior roads and it kept us on track. It’s small, comfortable, and even when we did get back in to the (now rather hectic) traffic in Panjim, it did make quick work of it. It’s no surprise that you find a lot of Kwids in Goa, ambling about in the villages. It just makes for a really convenient car to own.
Anyway, back to the task at hand. I hope through this story, you’ve realised that Goa isn’t just beaches and babes, it’s also got forests, villages, hinterlands – a calm and peaceful side away from all the parties. So the next time you’re in Goa, by all means party. But make sure you take the time out and explore this uncharted side. I assure you, you will not regret one bit of it. Also, the next time you meet a Goan, don’t ask him stupid questions. He will judge you.