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Goa n’ it alone
Although now I look back on this first solo holiday with pride, and a little nostalgia – it was, after all, seven years ago – I really didn’t want to be going on holiday alone.
My boyfriend (at the time – he’s now long gone) didn’t want to go to India. He’d just come back from Mumbai on a work trip, and was a little tight with money. He’d rather save for our trip to Egypt next year than go away on holiday again. Me? I wanted, no, needed a holiday.
So off to Goa I went. On my brother’s birthday.
Not wanting to go away on my own is just my first confession. The second is that, before I sat on the damp sand at Palolem, swathed in the hot, wet Indian sunset, I was almost overwhelmed with fear.
Having always wanted to travel, and having always wanted to write, at 23 I was already savvy enough to know that a career in travel writing lay in wait. Which is why, seven years later, I still have my (ridiculously detailed) travel diary from which to quote.
‘When I was on the plane, I tried to remember the last time I’d felt so utterly lonely,’ I wrote, three days into my trip. But the thing is, three days in, and that feeling of loneliness had all but sunk with the dying sun. Because Goa, much like Bali, is a beautiful place to stop, and just be.
In fact, the name of my accommodation, where I’d booked for just the first few nights, summed it up. Bhakti Kutir. ‘Where time stands still.’
Goa is a largely coastal slice of India, and it’s recognised as being a somewhat safe sanctuary for the solo traveller. Positioned on the country’s central west coast, the Arabian sea laps at palm-fringed beaches, and nearly 2 million visitors congregate there each and every year.
Much like other parts of Asia, the distinctive water buffalo punctuate a landscape that is divided by paddy fields – rice and fish drying by the side of the road. But the foreign vista is broken up by something more familiar – the dominant European architecture left behind by nearly 500 years of colonial, Portuguese rule.
Goa can essentially be considered as two halves… the north and the south, with the airport somewhere in between. Palolem, one of the state’s most popular retreats, is in the far south, and around a two hour drive from the airport in Dabolim along bustling, unorganised roads.
A community built around a crescent moon of sand, Palolem changes from season to season, predominantly because the local government don’t allow permanent buildings – bars, hotels, clubs – to be built along the beach. Visit in-season and you’ll find a never ending line of bars selling bottled Bud, coconut fish curry and delicate Chai, all of which can be taken down at a moment’s notice, whenever the council decide to get their bulldozers out and raze the unlicensed bars to the ground.
Take a step back from Palolem’s blissful beach, and you’ll find a more permanent strip of tourist accommodation – licensed vendors allowed to stand the test of time throughout the relentless monsoon and beyond.
Having planned to stay just a few nights in the sleepy town before exploring the rest of what Goa has to offer, my two weeks in India were spent entirely in Palolem’s grip.
With Bhakti Kutir – a meditative, treehouse retreat at the south of the beach – as my home, I spent two weeks in a healthy rhythm of dewy, early morning sunrises, followed by hot, beautiful sunsets, punctuated only by bike rides, boat trips, and one unforgettable drive north across the state.
For the single traveller, Palolem is an ideal retreat. Far from undiscovered, there is the opportunity to meet like-minded travellers and revel through the night. But for those seeking a little me-time, Butterfly Beach and nearby Colomb Cove offer space and time to retreat, relax, and practice your Downward Facing Dog.
Seven years on, and I still look back at my time in Goa as a healing, restorative, and overwhelmingly happy experience. Maybe it was the sun, maybe it was the dolphins, but having arrived feeling lonely, I left feeling very much complete.
If you’re planning a trip to the state, make sure you visit:
- Anjuna – Visit on a Wednesday for the flea market. You won’t be able to leave without spending a penny
- Visit Old Goa – Old Goa was he site of the Portuguese capitl until the mid 18th century. Today is it a magnificent complex of churches, monasteries, and cathedrals that cover a 1.5 km stretch.
- Get spicy – Around 6km from Ponda is the Tropical Spice Plantation which is worth a visit.
- Swim with (wild) dolphins – There are plenty of paid-for trips leaving from the Goa’s coast, but ask around and you might get a local fisherman to take you for a one-on-one excursion with the local dolphins.
About the Author
Lizzy has more than ten years’ experience in the print and digital publishing arena and is the Editor at Single File. Having moved from the UK to Australia in 2008, Lizzy has worked for a number of leading publishers in Sydney and has particular expertise in the health, wellness and travel markets. If you have any questions for Lizzy, you can send them across by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.