Magazine article The Spectator

Elsewhere - Where Else?

Magazine article The Spectator

Elsewhere - Where Else?

Article excerpt

Arriving at the hippy hang-out at Vagator on the red-earthed north Goa coast, where the rocky beach is packed with spaced-out grey-ponytailed men and plump women wearing grubby crocheted bikinis, I wondered if my choice of Goa for my first visit to India might have been a hideous mistake. Might I just as well have gone to an extra-sunny Blackpool? A Portuguese vice-regal state until 1961, Goa stood historically apart from its subcontinent neighbour, and is still sometimes assumed to be a steamy Portuguese outpost, dotted with Catholic churches, the odd dope-blurred hippy lingering on from the Seventies, and with an occasional curry thrown in for ethnicity.

But only a short distance north, I discovered a delicious and un-tourist-tarnished part of the country -- an exotic mix of the Orient, old Europe and modern India.

Elsewhere, at Aswem, to which the word 'hotel' is unpinnable, is reached by a long wooden bridge across a creek. This glorious beach house belonged to the current owner Denzil Sequeira's grandparents who, in 1886, for the equivalent of £20, bought a plot of land on a beach where the turtles still come to lay their eggs and fishermen pull in their laden nets. Babu the cook makes heavenly curry, combining the fresh prawns with coconut, and on a recent visit Angelina and Brad, those discerning seekers of remote holiday beauty, fell in love with the place.

We stayed in one of Elsewhere's three mosquito-free 'tents' overlooking the Otter Creek, where in the morning a kingfisher or a jumbosized red admiral would land on the end of our floaty muslin-draped four-poster. All around us coconuts regularly fell, and from a great height, but they never seem to fall on your head. The Goans say coconuts instinctively arrange their descent to avoid harming you.

Just over the rim of the coconut grove is the sea, where just off the Robinson Crusoe-model beach, early in the morning, the dolphins come out to play, greeting you with a cartoon upturn of a smile before, in Goan-style slow motion, slipping back beneath the water.

Half an hour's walk along the almost empty, white sandy beach we found Albert and his chic-shack French-Goan restaurant, La Plage, serving a perfect chocolate soufflé, a sort of Indian version of St Tropez's Club 55 without the crowds or the kissing.

Ubiquitous beach hawkers, staggering under the weight of sarongs and kaftans, are at first greeted with all the enthusiasm reserved for an approaching traffic warden. …

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