‘Don’t break my heart’ – Palolem Beach, Goa

Goa is the ‘Go to’ (get it? sort of?) place in India when it comes to beaches. With a coastline on the Arabian sea stretching for miles there are plenty of resorts to chose from. I read up on all of them, from package holiday central Calangute to hippy Anjuna, and felt I belonged somewhere in between the two. I judged this to be Palolem.

Goa

Palolem is one of the southern beaches in Goa and has one of the longest stretches of sand, a sweeping crescent from which to observe the striking sunsets. A mixture of bamboo beach huts and wooden restaurants, torn down and rebuilt each year ready for the summer season according to local law, line the coast and offer a tempting new location for every meal. Palolem is not your typical white sand and turquoise waters affair though, more beige sand and brown sea. For this is India and if you are expecting a picture postcard tropical paradise you should have gone to Thailand. If you are looking for hospitality, spectacular seafood and a new experience every minute then Goa is for you – it’s the beach holiday with a twist.

Cows rule the roost in India and nowhere is this more obvious than on Palolem Beach. They roam freely around the streets of the town and take up large portions of the sunbathing space on the beach. Sun worshippers lie with one eye open, for when the cows get restless and start moving around you don’t want to get in their way. We preferred to sunbathe close to our amazing resort (Ciaran’s – more of which later) so that staff could save our towels if cows tried to rest on them while we swam. Stray dogs also roam the beach, mostly at night, which means it is a target for fouling from both cows and dogs. Ladies are employed to clean and sweep the sand, which they do every morning before the crowds arrive, in a never ending battle with the foulers. The crowds at Palolem seem to be made up of European backpackers of all ages, vacationing Indians from the cities such as Mumbai and the beach sellers who move there en mass for the peak season.

palolem2Cairans beachfront huts, where you can hear the roar of the sea and spy on the cows and fishing boats from your window

The beach sellers are beautiful, charming and more than a little annoying. Dressed in colourful saris and bindis they tend to be fairly young women who move in packs. They will draw you into conversation, elicit your name, and beguile you into promising to buy something from them before you go home. They carry little knick-knacks and jewellery and are asking only a small price for them, but with at least a 100 on the beach you would be going hungry if you kept your promise to them all. “Don’t break my heart“, they call to you, as you run away feeling like pond scum. This, my friend, is Indian trade.

I love the enterprising nature of the Indians – they can make business out of anything. They know all the tricks of the trade and how to engage their customer. Lying on the beach one day I was approached by yet another seller. This one was slightly older, more experienced perhaps. She took one look at me and said, ‘Tonight I will make offering to the Gods for you, pray that you find nice, not lazy husband. I promise this time next year you will be back in India with your husband.” Not bad for an opener I thought. She then went on to explain that her husband was one of the lazy ones, that she had to work very hard because he does not. She motioned to a scar on her face, ‘from the not nice, lazy husband’, she said. What do you want me to buy, said I.

palolem1

I purchased an anklet of some sort for the equivalent of a few English pounds and therefore immediately became a target for every other seller in the resort. ‘How much you pay for that?’, they would shout at me as I passed. ‘I sell you for x rupees’. Invariably this amount would be less than I actually paid, invariably I would be gutted, and invariably I would have to explain to the next seller that really one over priced anklet was more than enough, thank you, please.

Customer service is personal in Goa. Bar men, hotel owners, taxi drivers, all will want to know your name and why you came to India. All will remember your name, enquire after your health and offer you business everytime you see them for the duration of your stay. You make friends for life in India, or at least until you leave. One may be enterprising enough to suggest the ‘nice, not lazy husband’ you have been promised by a beach seller is none other than him. ‘You don’t come back to India with your husband’, he explained, ‘you come back to India to make me your husband‘. Clever, I see what you did there.

Ciaran’s resort is not just about beach front huts, mouth-wateringly good curry and superb service, it’s about John the owner and Megan and Dave (see their adorable pic on the website homepage) – his English speaking dogs. John and his canine shadows were at the bar of the restaurant for most nights of my stay. I learnt more from him about life in Goa, the best places to eat and ways to get around than I could ever have picked up myself. We also had a bloody good laugh with him every evening. He kept one eye out for us constantly with the other eye on his highly efficient staff who ran around serving the best banana porridge breakfast and afternoon chai and cake (both of which are included in the cost of the room) everyday. A stay at Ciaran’s is like staying with a friend, a friend who owns a really amazing beach front hotel.

It broke my heart to leave.

19 Comments

  1. Reply

    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures

    March 6, 2011

    It was really nice to read a positive post about Goa, as of late all I've been reading is very negative posts. You'll have to let us know if you return to Goa with your hubby this year! ;-)This is my favorite line in your post: The beach sellers are beautiful, charming and more than a little annoying. Hahaha!

  2. Reply

    Jayne

    March 7, 2011

    hahaha sometimes I write as I speak, I can hear myself saying that line to my friends. I think people need to embrace Goa for what it is rather than focusing on what it isn't. Does that make sense? I'll keep you posted on the marriage prophecy 😉

  3. Reply

    Heather

    March 8, 2011

    Have I mentioned how much I love your India posts?! Thought so! I always bookmark them for that "one day I'll go to India for months" trip and try to give them a Stumble as well.I believed you about the cows on the beach but the photo made it real. Something you'd almost need to see to believe. Lovely photos all around too — especially the first one with the sunset!

  4. Reply

    Jayne

    March 8, 2011

    Thanks for your comment and your stumble Heather but most of all thanks for being inspired to travel – that's why we blog isn't it?! :)I didn't believe how many cows there would be on the beach either, it's amazing how quickly you get used to it though!

  5. Reply

    elleswim

    March 9, 2011

    India scares the poop out of me. I guess it's because almost all of the footage of the country that I have seen has shown mass chaos. I know it's only hectic like that in the cities and it's not fair to judge the whole country based on their transportation system but I think it'll be awhile before I get the nerve to consider booking a trip there.

  6. Reply

    Jayne

    March 10, 2011

    I love your honesty Elle – keep it coming!!

  7. Reply

    Fidel

    March 25, 2011

    Really nice post, especially the good things you say about Goa. How's the new job?

  8. Reply

    Jayne

    March 27, 2011

    Thanks Fidel. It's going well although very busy and lots to do – working in social media is harder than it sounds :)Keep safe in Japan please x

  9. Reply

    Kerri - Economy Car Hire

    September 30, 2011

    Absolutely loved reading this post! Like Elle I have always been anxious about visiting India but this post has shown me a different side! The picture of the cows really did make me chuckle, somewhat of an oxymoron! One of my favourite “stumbles” today! 🙂

    • Reply

      Jayne

      September 30, 2011

      Thanks Kerri! I flit being being scared and completely in love of India. It’s a fascinating place and often an oxymoron 🙂

  10. Reply

    Andy

    September 30, 2011

    Jayne
    loved this im planning a still-as-yet-unknown trip as i write 🙂 cows on the beach i will see that some day good luck with the new job

    on my trip front any tips on cambodia?
    checking flights to goa as well right now
    country 30 coming up!! 🙂

  11. Reply

    Jayne

    September 30, 2011

    Hey Andy, thanks for dropping by. Your trip sounds very exciting! You can get a train from Mumbai to Goa if the flights are cheaper and you are feeling adventurous! I have been to Phomn Pehn overland from Ho Chi Minh City which was brilliant but I have not seen what is supposed to be the best of Cambodia like Siem Riep, Angkor Wat and the beaches. It is a beautiful country though and wuite easy and cheap to navigate so I am sure you will have a great time! J

    • Reply

      Andy

      September 30, 2011

      thanks Jayne
      i will keep dropping by be assured 🙂

  12. Reply

    D.J. - The World of Deej

    March 8, 2012

    Great post…I have a hard time not breaking the heart of sellers I encounter. I remember a lady in a small stand in Beijing call me by name, 3 days after I saw her the first time. Naturally, I bought something…

  13. Reply

    Georgia

    January 20, 2013

    Hi Jayne,

    I’m a new reader of your blog, and just came across this post. I’m seriously thinking of going to Mumbai and Goa in October, I was just wondering how big a culture shock it was for you? I’ve travelled in Europe and South East Asia, but I’ve always been a little daunted by India, but really want to give it a go.
    Any tips for a female solo traveller going there for a few weeks?
    Thanks!

    • Reply

      Jayne

      January 20, 2013

      Hi Georgia,

      Thanks for getting in touch. I’m a huge fan of India and am so excited on your behalf. I won’t lie, however, because India is a huge culture shock, possibly more so than anywhere I have ever been. But, as I said, I love the place so don’t let this put you off. If you have travelled in SEAsia before this will help a lot and Mumbai and Goa are particularly geared towards tourists and popular with backpackers so you will find many like minded people straightaway. Expect poverty and smells, kindness and stares, an upset stomach (which you will discuss with any western person immediately upon meeting them), chaos, colour, millions of people and lots of beauty. If you go in with your eyes wide open and lots of prep in advance you will be fine. And hopefully you will fall in love with the place too. Let me know what you decide to do. J

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