Back in 2014, I had to leave Calcutta to make Ahmedabad my temporary home. The initial mon kemon (a sense of longing that is hard to describe) mutated into an ennui that had me cursing my luck as I missed familiarity: the scent of home and the winding alleys, the street food of Calcutta. Around half a month into the stay, I discovered, in the alleys of old Ahmedabad, a little eatery named La Bella. In the land of no fish, no chicken, and no beer, La Bella promised beef and pork, fiery red Goan curries that you pour over a plate of steaming rice. I discovered a sense of belonging, a touch of familiarity in a land that was not mine. This was the first time I had found a home away from home. Far from the cacophony of North Calcutta, in this dim-lit eatery run by Mrs Mary Lobo.
Once the paradise of the hippies, Vagator today remains largely quiet. Unassuming and serene, its lazy off-season demeanour is reminiscent of post-party slumbers. The Vagator we visited, the Vagator that features in our complete guide is perfect for the traveller seeking solace, perfect for the couple looking for slow winding afternoons and bluesy punch-drunk nights, and perfect for the family seeking some quiet time together. The trance parties of the 80s have gone undercover now. A few “secret” moonlit rave parties take place once in a while but you have to be on the circuit for the know-how.
More domestic tourists have started arriving in Vagator which was once the haunt of westerners. There are two beaches in Vagator: Big Vagator or the main beach which has to bear the brunt of the tourist buses that unload selfie-stick wielding hoards in the afternoon. It is not safe for swimming because it is studded with wave-smoothed rocky outcrops. While these flat, rocky surfaces can be perfect for lounging in other seasons, in the monsoon we advise against climbing them because they can be slippery and the currents below are strong enough to tear you off your perch. The beach is also the rambling place for pye-dogs. For a more peaceful time, head south to Little Vagator or Ozran. Backed by red laterite cliffs and thick palm groves, this strip of three connected coves regularly features as one of Goa’s most coveted landscapes. On the southernmost is a carved face of Shiva staring skywards. In the high season, these beaches are full of shacks blaring trance & EDM. For reasons we haven’t yet deciphered, you can spot sizeable herds of stray cows here. Be warned that a rather steep descent leads to these coves. To the northeast of Vagator, on the other side of Chapora Fort, is the sleepy hamlet of Chapora which continues to be the haunt of hippies and smokers and wears a distinct scent of charas on its briny breath.
5/146, RUA 31 DE JANEIRO, PANJIM, GOA
It is too early when we arrive by a Kadamba Transport bus from Madgaon* and swaddled in rain clouds, Fontainhas is sleepy. At Old Quarter, the night guard is brushing his teeth. Check-in is at 2:00 pm. We ditch our bags in a closet whose archaic lock mechanism makes me smile and we drag our tired feet in the lilting rain, determined to stay awake and play explorers but more about that later.
Old Quarter’s main building houses four dormitories, a café and a spacious sitting area; single and double privates are located in a restored heritage property 5 min down the street. All The Hostel Crowd hostels, and there are four in Goa, have a girls only dorm. The lower level of the main building houses two dorms, the reception and a lounge. The cozy sitting area is painted bright white and matte black. It is on the upper level and is accessible by a staircase above which, strung from the ceiling, is an installation of a cascade of books. Handsome wooden desks and benches, comfortable chairs with plump cushions and plenty of natural light make the sitting area welcoming.