Route NH17 from Mumbai to Goa going past Panjim (Panaji) and Margao. Driving straight down takes you to Chaudi, the headquarters town of Canacona. A more scenic route is the coastal road (right after Navelim) going via Chinchinim, Assolna, Betul and Canaguinim.
Canacona's beach belt, 'discovered' only after the 1990s, is among the most scenic. Palolem is a freaky recreation of an east-meets-west Goan beach, with a rich variety of exotic food and accomodation to cater to the international palate.
But beyond the better-known Palolem and Agonda, there are nearly 20 lesser-known (or even hidden) beaches. So what if you don't find hotels or restaurants there, the idea is fine if you want to escape from it all. In some cases, the road to the beach is nothing but a narrow track.
Goa's emphasis on foreign tourists -- all of them are assumed to be higher-spenders by those in business -- means that destinations preferred by foreigners are more in the spotlight. Emphasis on the Westerner's food tastes also lends for either an exotic mix of cuisines, or, alternative, a tastelessly watered-down Goan/Indian cuisine.
Some places nonetheless manage to come out of this trap quite effectively.
Dilip Gaitonde's Palolem Beach Resort, bang on Canacona beach, offer a range from different cuisines. Goan dishes are the favourites. Others on Palolem beach itself include Draupadi (Israeli dishes too), German Bakery (health food, German cakes, pies, strudels, six-grain bread, croissants), Sameer Bar and Restaurant (seafood, Indian, Italian), Silver Star (fish tandoor, sizzlers, beef steak), Ciaran's Camp (pre-booked three-course dinner available), Fernandes Restaurant (Goan food, fresh juices), Cool Breeze ("food from around the world" with Jazz), Simba's, Boom Shankar, etc.
Look out for the other 'shacks' that make their appearance on the coastal stretch when the foreign tourist season starts.
Visits to Anjediva Island are permitted courtesy Station Commander Sea Bird Project. Such requests should be channeled through Fr. Britto D Silva Parish Priest St. Annes Church, Binaga Karwar. Tel No 08382 31132 and email address email@example.com Visits in future could be curtailed due to plans by the Navy to step up security.
To visit the Island from Goa one has to proceed by any bus going to Karwar or Mangalore, leaving in the morning. The journey is about 2-1/2 hrs. From the bus stand to Karwar Port, the charge is around Rs 15 for a shared-auto. A trawler takes you to Anjediv. You might need to alight into a small boat before reaching the shore, due to the shallowness of the island waters.
Visits are usually around October or February, during local feasts.
This is also true for neighbouring Quepem, an even more rustic and less beach-oriented taluka of Goa, where history of the pre-Portuguese era is buried or lives unsung among its small hillocks.
Being far away from the central core of Goa, it is also far less urbanised, more rustic and an interesting place if you want to just relax and unwind. Don't expect something hectic here.
But Canacona has charm of its own. Its coast is scenic and virgin. Tourism is rather people-friendly and relatively more-affordable than other parts of Goa. Small entreprenurs man mostly-tiny touristic ventures, adding a homely touch. Away from the coast, Canacona and its neighbouring Quepem taluka have a number of off-the-beaten-track destinations. This is a Goa where you can still find the secret tracks to the beach, and feel like a traveller... not a tourist.
No wonder that when Hollywood filmmakers wanted to depict the East India Company's forays into eighteenth century Bombay (or should we us the then Portuguese term, Bombaim?) they zeroed in on Canacona. They've been scouting around the scenic spot where the river meets the sea at Galgibaga.
One added attraction is that the Canacona railway station is located at the centre of this area, close to the coastal belt too.
THINGS TO SEE AND DO
WHERE TO STAY
Unlike the rest of Goa, Canacona and Quepem has very few luxury hotels. But that's where the charm could lie. Paying guest accomodation is easily available on the coastal stretch.
Canacona's contribution to Goan tourism is the idea of 'coco huts' -- temporary beachside thatched huts built above ground level, right on the beach, during the fair weather (October-May) season.
Sanvordem and Quepem towns -- Quepem is the name of the taluka as well as its headquarters town -- have many small, functional hotels. In the temples of Mashem, Mallikarjun and Zambaulim rooms are available in agrashalas, primarily for pilgrims.
Religious and cultural practices are colourful and rather different in this part of Goa. Contrary to the image created, there is wide diversity within the different regions of this small state. Variations are only now getting the attention they deserve.
"There are simply too many things in this region (waiting to be projected). Some might interest only the serious student of archaeology," says Pandurang Phaldessai, an officer at the Panjim-based Kala Academy who has been finalising his PhD thesis on the cultural history of Canacona.
Mallikarjun Temple, some 2.5 kms away from Chaudi on the main-road leading to Karwar (take the road going left) is one where devotees head for advice from the oracles. Called the 'kaul', the advice of the gods is taken either from priests in a trance or by them interpreting the way flower petals drop down.
Canacona's aboriginal population, the Kunbis (with Gaonkar or Velip as their surnames) live in areas around Gaondongri, Cotigao, Chapoli (the site for a new dam), Assali, Kulem, Khola and Agonda. Besides the Kunbi, there are also their priestly counterparts, the Velips. Some of their culture has got shrink-packaged for entertaining tourists, but little has been done for this oft-neglected segment of the Goan population.
Loliem has a couple of centuries-old 'hero' stones, etchings on stone to record historic events of the time dating back many centuries. This village's statue of Betal, possibly a pre-Hindu deity, itself goes back to the seventh century if not earlier, according to cultural-historian Phaldessai. Canacona has a total of four Betal deities, according to him.
Just before crossing over into Quepem-Canacona, the Salcete coast is full of hotels. At the extreme southern end is Betul. Check out this one:
Betul Beach Resort SECLUDED AND SCENIC Doctor on call, fax, laundry, fishing point. Admn office 108 Naina Gracias Plaza, Near Loyola High School, Margao 403601 Tel 725332 Fax 730365 Resort: Betul Beach Resort, Plot No 1, Rangali, Velim, Salcete, Goa Tel 768123 or 768124.
Coastal Quepem is not the place to stay. There are very functional hotels in the area's small and dusty towns (close to the mining belt). Hotels are scattered along the Canacona coast, most in pockets around touristic centres discovered by the foreign visitor -- primarily Palolem and Agonda. (Of these two, the latter is a quieter shade of quiet.)
Cotigao wildlife sanctuary has its own accomodation, the Forest Rest House is simple yet charming (affordable too, but bookings are a hassle), while the beach-huts atop coconut trees are a speciality that Canacona is getting known for. Canacona's first luxury hotel, the Goa Grand Inter-Continental, has just come up at Raj Bag.
Below is a review of some hotels, moving north to south.
AGONDA Sunset Bar & Restaurant SEAFRONT Val Aframento, Agonda 403702 Tel 647381 10 double rooms. Rs 200-300 per day. Some a/c. Open October to March. Valid till season-end (March 2003) Facilities: Restaurant, laundry arranged, food cooked to requirement. Restaurant cuisine: tandoori, fish-curry, beef steak, beef vindaloo. Overlooking the beach, in a quiet area.
Dunhill Beach Resort SEAFRONT Val, Agonda Beach, Canacona 403702 Tel 647328/647604 firstname.lastname@example.org 12 double rooms Rs 350 per day. Rs 250 in off season Valid till March 2003 Facilities: Dolphin boatrides, sightseeing arranged, sunset view, ticket booking arranged, attached toilets. Cuisine: Chinese, Continental, Indian, Goan. Special dish: chicken xacuti (shacuti). 6.30 am to 9 pm. Nice location. Reputed for its food.
Hi-Tide Beach Huts ON THE BEACH Ourem, Palolem Beach, Canacona 403702 Tel 643104 October 1 to April 31. Website www.goaunplugged.com/beaches/ (See under Palolem) 20 double (16 'upstairs' and four down) Rs 300 downstairs, Rs 450 upstairs (Nov 15-March 15) Valid till March 2003 Facilities: Restaurant, laundry arranged. Restaurant: Indian, Continental, Chinese, Mexican. Beach-hut, set up on the sands. Peaceful. 24 hour presence of the owner or security. Doctor on call. Internet surfing from the beach itself.
Maria Guest House NEAR THE BEACH Ourem, Palolem, Canacona 403702 Tel 643732 Email email@example.com 6 double, 5 single. Rs 400/250 in season, Rs 250/200 off-season. Open Oct-April Facilities: toilets attached, Goan and Indian food, money exchange, STD pay phone, laundry arranged, cyber-cafe. Cuisine: Special, as per order.
Bhakti Kutir HILLOCK OVERLOOKING BEACH 296 Colomb-Patnem, Palolem, Canacona 403702 Tel 643469, 643472 Email firstname.lastname@example.org 20 rooms. Rs 300-2000. Taxes: 5% luxury tax extra. Facilities: Yoga centre, healing centre, boutique. Restaurant: Ahaar. Tel 643469-72. Cuisine: Health-organic food and seafood, mainly veg. Packaged to the "adventure-seeker, health-conscious, nature-lover and eco-nut".
Palolem Beach Resort RIGHT ON BEACH Palolem, Canacona 403702 Tel 643054, 644094 Fax 643054 Email: email@example.com Open throughout the year. Tents removed in monsoons. 12 rooms, 16 tents, 6 huts. In season Rs 400 / 350 / 250 for rooms/tents/huts. Rooms Rs 300 off season. Valid upto April 2003 Taxes 8% extra. Visa/Master cards accepted. Facilities: Restaurant, STD/ISD, laundry, massage parlour, taxi on hire, site seeing, boat trips, waterfall trips and spice plantation. Restaurant: Tel 643054(also fax). Cusine: Goan, Indian, Chinese. Recommended: Fish rechado, tandoori fish. Open 7.30 am to 11.30 pm.
Molyma. NEAR THE BEACH PO Chaudi, Canacona, Goa Tel 653082, 83 and 87. ??? Fax 643081 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Open year round. 42 double rooms, on double or single occupancy. Tariff valid uptil Sept 2003 Taxes 4% extra Facilities: Laundry, hot/cold shower throughout, restaurant open through year, one km from Canacona railway station. Restaurant: Authentic Goan. Breakfast upto 10 am, lunch 11am to 3 pm, dinner 7 pm to 11 pm.
Goa Grand Inter-Continental Resort LUXURY Rajbag, Canacona 403702 Tel 643288/643848 Fax 643278 Email: email@example.com Mumbai sales office: 2873050 255 rooms, suites and cottages. (236 deluxe rooms, 3 presidential suites, 2 luxury suites, 12 executive suites, 2 independent two-bedroom cottages) Facilities: Bath tub, shower cubicle, tea making facilities, minibar, colour TV, international direct dialing telephones, writing desk, outdoor lounging area, safe deposit locker, 24-hour room service, in-house laundry and drycleaning. Also coffee shop, speciality restaurant, bar lounge and dance floor, pool bar, barbeque, modern gaming club. 9-hole golf course. Jogging track, tennis and squash courts. Banquet and conference halls for 15 to 400 people.
Brandon Bar and Restaurant QUIET BEACH Colsor, Galjibag 403728 Tel 641512 3 double rooms, with toilet Rs 250 Open full year. Laundry arranged, Goan food on order. Homely setting, surrounded by authentic village and fields. Half-km from the beach.
Pepper Valley NATURE RETREAT Pepper Valley, Dabemola, Near Cotigao Wild Life Sanctuary, Partagal, Canacona. 403702 On the banks of the river Talpona Seasonal, open till end April 2003 Tel 642370 (sometimes out of order) Email:firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com Rooms: 6 huts, double accomodation. Shared toilet. Rs 400 throughout this season (till 2003). Facilities: Restaurant, small bar (open sunset till 11 pm), a 'natural swimming pool' in the nearby river, air tubes for swimming, laundry/taxi and sight-seeing arranged. Cuisine: Indian, global. Timing 7 am to 10.30 pm. Scenic settings, close to Cotigao wildlife sanctuary.
Resort de Polem ON THE HIGHWAY Near Check-Post, Polem, Canacona. Tel 640477 or 640737 Open year round. 15 rooms (double, attached bath) (Rs 200 each) 5 bamboo cottages (Rs 200-500 in off-season/season) Tariff valid till September 2003 Laundry and sightseeing arranged, black-sand beach one km away. Restaurant: Tel 640737. Cuisine Goan, Chines, Continental, Tandoori. Special dish: Chicken 65. Open 9 am till 11 pm. Mostly used by travellers along the highway to Karwar, and a stopover for buses. Goa's "last hotel" before the inter-state boundary.
WHERE TO EAT
German Bakery & Classic Restaurant and Bar Xitto, Palolem, Canacona Open September to January. Tel 643251 Email firstname.lastname@example.org Cuisine: Health food, pizza, apple pie, croissant, full veg. Recommended: Paneer tikka, tofu burger, tofu butter masala, chocolate pie, Crastolan cake. Open 8 am to 11 pm.
Dropadi Palolem Beach, Canacona email@example.com Tel: 644641 (Res: Sanjay Sharma) Cuisine: Indian, Chinese, Italian, Continental. Recommended dishes: Tandoori dishes, spaghettis and lasagne, seafood (all sorts) lobsters. Timings 8 to 11 pm (including 6.30 pm till 11 pm tandoori) Open year round
Blue Planet Near Posro Beach Road, Palolem Tel c/o 643691 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Cusine: Fresh juices, soya bread, brown bread, tofu, soya milk shakes, healthy salads, Indian food. Recommended: Veg mix salad with dressings, humus, eggplant-dip. Open Oct 15 to April 15.