The sun, sands and the sea? Nah. Not by a long shot.
Those were the images on our mind as well till we glimpsed a different Goa. A rustic and virgin Goa. A Goa that promised to be more alluring than its famous alter-ego. We booked our vacation through India Untravelled and got a chance to stay at one of the most amazing locations ever.
Our homestay “Cancio’s House” was located deep in the hinterlands of North Goa – in the tiny village of Aldona located on the banks of the Mapusa river. “Cancio’s House” also known locally as the Amaral’s house is a 500+ year old Goan-Portugese property owned by the beautiful family of Roberto Amaral, his graceful mom Maria, his wife Raquel, their three lovely kids – Harrison, Antonio and Rafael, their two beautiful dogs – Donut and Jess and the cat which has adopted them – Floss Boy.
The house, which is believed to have been built in the pre-Portugese period, has undergone several restorations over generations but still retains its old world charm with lovely rooms overlooking a central courtyard. We listened avidly as Roberto recounted his rich family history in the charming dining room where black and white photos of his ancestors line the walls, lace curtains adorn the windows and the lilting strains of music floats in the background.The house is surrounded by dense foliage consisting of native trees, shrubs and creepers inhabited by a plethora of creatures.
Roberto and Raquel welcome their guests warmly not only into their homes but also their hearts. I was overwhelmed by their amazing hospitality in spite of them being in the midst of a personal tragedy. My 9 year old was elated to have found such endearing friends and dogs to play with and had to be literally dragged out for any outings! As Roberto regaled us with his inexhaustible supply of anecdotes, Raquel served us wholesome home cooked meals. Her home-made chocolate brownies and jams are something to die for. We tasted several locally made breads like the Katro (Butterfly bread), Poi (Wheat flour based bread) and even had the good fortune to taste the Bol (A traditional goan bread made for distribution during marriages). Roberto took us to visit a local bakery where we had the opportunity to see the breads being freshly made. Piping hot Pois’ straight from the wood fired earthen oven tasted heavenly!
Aldona is a biker’s delight as the narrow but incredibly well maintained roads crisscross the entire village. We rode past lush fields, small water bodies, local churches, old Portugese styled homes and through some interesting stretches that led nowhere. It’s a place where one can keep driving forever. We did stop at times to listen to the call of the Red Wattled Lapwing or to gaze at the beauty which a serendipitous turn on the road would reveal. We stopped by an old stone bridge with wooden sluice gates (Teen Mansher) to see an angler gathering his spoils for the day. Around 4 Km from Aldona are the ruins of the old Corjuem Fort built around 1705.A military fortress used for the defense of Portugese India, the ramparts of the fort were an excellent place to watch the sun set over Aldona.
Amidst the small hamlet, the white washed walls of St.Thomas Church rises imposingly. A 400-year old church, its ornately decorated biblical murals were captivating as I attended the mass with Roberto and Raquel on All Soul’s Day.
The adjoining villages of Aldona boast of some breathtaking lakes and waterfalls. Mayem lake, around 10 kms from Aldona and located among sleepy villages, is a sparkling and serene water body enveloped by lush vegetation. As our boat glided in the crystal clear waters, we seemed suspended in a tranquil space as the greens above merged with their shimmering green reflections.
The Arvalem Waterfalls around 20 kms from Aldona, is located near the village of Sanquelim. Located in a small cove nestled amidst dense vegetation, the waterfall is pristine as the white foam cascades down the sheer rock cliff.
Adjacent to the waterfall, the monolithic structure of the ancient rock cut cave of Arvalem, which dates back to the 5th-6th century, stands striking with its laterite stones. As one absorbs the stillness of the chambers inside, one can almost travel back in time.
One cool morning before sun rise, we set off for Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. As we floated in the estuarine mangrove habitat located along the Mandovi river, we spotted several types of Kingfishers, Egrets, Redshanks, Cormorants, Brahmini Kites, Sandpipers and the more rarely seen Lesser Adjutant Storks.
And at long last, we did go to a beach ! Morjim beach – one of the lesser known and hence, lesser populated beaches in Goa, it also serves as the nesting site for the Olive ridley sea turtles.
My post cannot be deemed complete if I were to omit mentioning one of the most endearing aspects of staying in Aldona. And that is the people of Aldona. Extremely amiable and helpful, simple and unassuming, they unreservedly share their laughter and tears. Our cab driver, Deepak, a happy-go-lucky man was an archetypical Goan as he chattered loquaciously and prevailed on us to have home-cooked snacks with his family. Happy and contented with all that life had to offer and his uncomplicated way of looking at life, he could have given a run to many of the so-called-successful but stressed out folks. Maya Angelou’s words came back to me – “We need much less than we think we need.”
Au Revoir Aldona ! We leave a part of us with you and take breathtakingly beautiful memories back home.