Words: SONIA NAZARETH
Photographs: HIMANSHU PANDYA
GREAT FROM Panjim, Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore
GREAT FOR An offbeat adventure amid nature
It’s hard living in a family of stars.
Goa’s beaches are undoubtedly the stars, drawing the hordes, but there are plenty of worthy siblings in the Sunshine State too. Paddy fields, meandering rivers and wooded hills replete with avifauna characterise this unique part of Goa.
Piedade Village, a large settlement in Divar Island, is one such pocket, which preserves the original charm and tranquillity of countryside Goa. Divar Island Guesthouse Retreat – a restored Portuguese home set on an acre of land thriving with plant and bird life – is a good introduction to the island. Free bicycles and a friendly management urge you out into a landscape dotted with mud-and-thatched homes and brightly-coloured Portuguese villas.
Whether you choose to explore by bike or on foot, your surrounds throw up interesting options like the Church of Our Lady of Compassion. This church, dating back to the early 1700s, is as interesting for its religious iconography as it is for its views over the Mandovi River.
Also nearby is the Saptakoteshwar Temple at Narwe, tugging you compellingly through a history of destruction by assorted conquests (including by the Portuguese) and its eventual re-creation.
But the biggest gift that this island has to offer is its laid-back spirit. Amble down to the sunset point at the Vitorzen Jetty for beguiling river views. The promise of a glass of beer and some chicken cafreal to accompany the scenery from Uncle Phillips bar nearby makes this a great spot at which awaken your senses along with your tastebuds.
For more experiences wholly entwined with the act of going local, visit the Cabral Bar, one in a line of tiny shack-like country bars that dot the island. With brightly-coloured walls and no AC, it’s where the fishermen and farmers go to unwind. Try the cashew feni. Once you get past the distinctive aroma, it goes down smooth. Urak is a lighter, fruitier brew, and can also be sampled here year round.
The abundant bird life that you’re seeing around you on the island is not a manifestation of all the alcohol consumed. It’s as real as the pre-tourism feel that the island still has. But for the holy grail of feathered creatures, drive slightly further afield to Chorao Island. When you reach the Chorao ferry point, hop into a boat and float through the mangrove forest at the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary. Storks, kingfishers, cormorants and lesser egrets rule the roost here, while the fiddler crabs will have your binoculars trained. If it’s low tide, jump at the offer to take a short walk through the mangroves. And somewhere between being serenaded by bird song, interactions with the friendly owners of the Divar Island Guesthouse Retreat, who brim over with fascinating tales about the island and their lives, and the relative scarcity of a mobile network, you realise that you’re slowly being deprogrammed from the compulsive rush of urban living.