The beaches of Goa are just two hours away from Delhi. But that’s provided you are not flying on a no-frills airline. Then, it could be anything above five hours. After all, taking off at the scheduled hour is one of the frills airlines offer for a price.
Delhi airport glitters at this time of the year. Between winter and spring, the Capital welcomes you with the razzle-dazzle of the wedding season as just married honeymooners — the brides all decked out in brand new designer clothes, brand new jewellery and yet-to-fade mehndi adorning their hands — make a beeline for the check in counters for Goa.
The lounge could well be the waiting port for passengers of Honeymoon Travels Pvt Ltd. Grooms gallantly gallop up and down with cups of steaming coffee for their rather nervous-looking brides; some daringly draping their arms around their new wives. And there are couples — seemingly brothers married off to sisters in a neat family package — off for a double honeymoon to Goa.
Thrills but no frills
Six honeymooning couples on my bus, all excited to board the aeroplane that will take them to unknown thrills on our no-frills flight.
Of course, the flight is delayed. The attendants politely but firmly inform us that the food is limited and, therefore, will be served only after we are air borne. Ignoring the rumbling in my stomach, I decide to catch up with my sleep.
Starving passengers during flight delays is sound business strategy cooked up by some wise-guy business executive over a hearty business lunch. By the time the air hostesses got down to business, everyone — everyone — had over-ordered what turned out to be expensive sandwiches (yes, on no frill airlines, you pay for plastic food) that tasted like cardboard and were filled with withered carrots.
But the young women who have been trained to save our lives in case of emergencies, proved to be quite resourceful. Expertly and cheerfully emerging from far corners, they offered us trays filled with Cup’o’Noodles. We lapped it up.
New Year hangovers
With the New Year revellers out of the way, Goa in late February settles down to rather noticeable tourist camps. The leftover trance-psychedelic party hoppers have huddled together at Chapora, the tiniest of villages close to Vagator and Anjuna.
At the centre of the village is a large tree in the shade of which groups of people sit through the day —- and night — drinking glasses of deliciously fresh fruit juice from the Scarlett and Ganesh juice bars, taking chillums through a series of ceremonial motions from their foreheads to their mouths, before hopping on to their bikes to congregate once again at Curlies, a beach shack on Anjuna beach (impossible to find unless you really know how to get there). In our case, we just followed a friend blindly as he zig-zagged his way through a maze of trees, and led us on a short trek till we reached the beach.
This stretch of beach is abuzz with activities: young men and women juggling, swinging their hips to hoola hoops, parasailing (and making big money taking people on rides with them), dribbling with footballs, tanning and jumping into the sea in between. Beer and food never stops. With the fall of dusk, the music and the party begins.
But unless this is really your scene, Anjuna can start grating on the nerves by the end of the second day. Besides, the beach here is rocky and the sea totally filthy. We fled.
Palolem, in south Goa, is all sunshine, sand and sea. This is the beach on which elderly, pot-bellied European couples in thongs love to tan themselves to a beetroot red while the younger ones play beach volleyball and take boats out to the isolated Butterfly island. Besides the change in crowd, and the pace of things, there’s as much indulgence: In food, beer and more seafood.
She just doesn’t care
But the best for the last. Sophie Marceau. Or at least as close a look-alike as you’ll get this side of the Indian Ocean. Her real name is Burcu, she’s Turkish and she took our breath away. Her eponymous café is tucked away next to the Chapora anchorage. She obviously doesn’t care about attracting a crowd; we were the only people there.
Colourful saris are draped on coconut trees and soft cushions and cane chairs are spread out on the ground. Burcu’s menu is limited, and it’s vegetarian. Our hearts sank at hearing that.
But a friend told us once that when in a hurry in Goa, go slow. So we sank further into our cushions with our fruit juices and watched Burcu busy herself in her kitchen for the next couple of hours. She emerged with a breakfast plate of eggs, baba ganoush, three kinds of home-made cheese, two kinds of marmalade prepared by an elderly Turkish neighbour she calls ‘Mama’, a basket filled with five kinds of bread, chilled tomato soup, pasta from the oven and filo wraps filled with everything possible. It was our best meal in Goa — never mind that there wasn’t a fish or prawn in sight. And she does look like Sophie Marceau.