GOA has India’s best beaches. Sure. But try finding a secluded beach in the former Portuguese enclave and chances are you’ll draw a blank.
From beautiful Palolem in the deep south to idyllic Arambol in the far north, most of Goa’s 60-odd beaches along its palm-fringed 210 km coastline are all frequented by tourists. Some of the more popular ones, like Calangute and Vagator in the north or Colva and Palolem in the south seem almost like crowded city parks, especially on weekends. Now, you wouldn’t go to Goa to be amongst crowds, would you?
But wait. We’ll let you into a secret. Try Utorda.
This place is a surprise:
a quiet, lonely (though not desolate) beach situated close to the heart
of Goa. If you are looking for a sequestered yet not totally isolated
beach, then Utorda is where you must head for. You won’t have to drive
to the ends of Goa to get there. Why, it’s barely 30 minutes from Goa
airport and some 20 minutes from Margao, the state’s main railway
It sure is a great beach to bathe. The sea is rarely rough here. The breakers roll relatively gently onto the shore, tumbling one over the other as they splash into the sand. There is usually no dangerous undercurrent to worry about unless you venture far out into the sea. Just loll about close to the shore as the warm waters of the Arabian Sea lap all over you. Take the occasional breaker sideways and when there is a really big wave, try riding the crest. Of course, if you know swimming, there’s much more that you can do.
Utorda beach is also great for long, leisurely walks. After you have had enough of sea bathing, get into your shorts and T-shirt and set out for a ramble along the shore. Chances are you will end up at Zeebop, arguably the best "shack" in all Goa. Shack restaurants, makeshift bamboo-and-palm leaf affairs, line most popular beaches in the state, serving seafood, Goan delicacies and western dishes and drinks (Goa’s laws are very liberal when it comes to alcohol). They also usually have music and great atmosphere and are popular with Western backpackers.
Zeebop tops them all, if only for the breeze. It has been described as the breeziest shack in Goa, and inevitably you ask if they have rooms for tourists. Yes, they do, but at some distance from the breezy beach. In fact, these are about the only places to stay at Utorda unless you opt for the luxury Kenilworth Beach Resort. Built in mock-Portuguese style with arched bay windows, a tiled roof and Gothic rib-vaulted ceilings, the 90-room five-star resort is among the classiest of Goa’s ritzy hotels. The package, this summer, was Rs 8,999 for a four-day family holiday, food and sightseeing included (for details, visit www,kenilworthhotels.com). The resort had a superbly designed swimming pool and some great food.
Talking of food, there is a place not too far from Utorda called Martins’ Corner that you must not miss. It is south Goa’s most famous restaurant and serves authentic local cuisine. One writer described it as "embodying the spirit of Goa." Their menu has all the usual Goan dishes — sorpotel, vindaloo, xacuti, fish balchow. Try their chicken xacuti (chicken in spicy coconut gravy) and pork sorpotel (pork cooked in spicy toddy and vinegar gravy).
If it is the taste of Goa that Martins’ offers, the walk to the restaurant from Utorda beach prepares you for it. The quiet meandering roads of Utorda village and nearby Majorda wind through a countryside brimming with the flavour of coastal Goa. Amidst groves of palms stand old tiled-roof houses, rich with mouldings, some with pointed-arch baroque windows with decorative grills, others with sensually-shaped tapering columns that are wide and round at the base. The colours on the wall range from lemon yellow to greens and bold pinks. The architecture is a splendid mix of Portuguese and Konkani styles, as indeed is every aspect of Goa where, remember, the Iberian colonisers had already completed two centuries of rule when Clive won the battle of Plassey.
The Portuguese were of course the unkindest of all European colonisers but they left Goa with a land distribution system surprisingly egalitarian. Thanks to it, even the poorest Goan is not landless and there is little abject poverty here. The towns — Panjim, Margao, Mapuse — are not spilling over with slums; most Goans still live in the villages, contentedly, and often in some style. Cement concrete is as yet not much in evidence, at least in south Goa. The ambience here is still pastoral, with ancient white-washed baroque churches (over a third of Goans, mostly in the coastal districts, are Roman Catholic), some several centuries old, dominating the skyline. The oldest, Mae de Deus in Majorda, was built by the Jesuits in 1588; buried in its foundation are xenddis or tufts of hair that the new converts clipped from their head to symbolically bid adieu to their Hindu past.
Most people in the Utorda-Majorda area are Roman Catholic, and the two villages, along with Calata, once formed a single parish. Utofa, as the name implies, was the northernmost of them, while Majorda (maz-middle) formed the middle village. The villagers here were always an enterprising lot and constituted the majority of emigrant Goans, many of whom began seeking greener pastures soon after 1885 when a railway line was laid in the area that terminated in the port of Vasco da Gama.
They made it good in Bombay, Calcutta and even East Africa, some excelling in such pursuits as music. For, as one writer put it, "If music runs in Goan blood, it’s virtually a river in spate in Majorda-Calata-Utorda." Antonio Gonsalves, the father of Indo-Western fusion music, who after a long stint in Bollywood, has now immigrated to the US, is the most famous of the area’s musicians.
While in Utorda, take a day off to look around south Goa. The Palolem beach, about 55 km away, is certainly worth a visit. The hilly road passes through some spectacular scenery and the beach itself is very beautiful: a C-shaped palm-fringed strip of sand with mountains in the background. The hill at the north gets partly submerged in high tide giving the impression of an island in a lagoon. The Rachol seminary with its old church is another must see, as is the busy commercial town of Margao which has some graceful Portuguese buildings.
And if you haven’t
visited the great 400-year old cathedrals of Old Goa — the grand Se
Cathedral and, across the road, the magnificent Basilica de Bom Jesus
with its gilded statue of St Ignatius Loyola (the founder of the
Jesuit order) and the relics of St Francis Xavier — do take a trip.
Thanks to Utorda’s location, it’s not too far off. If you are
staying at the Kenilworth, the visit is complimentary. We would also
recommend, if you have the time, a day’s stay in north Goa: The
beaches here are crowded but very beautiful and famous, especially
Vagator and Arambol.