It was a little past 6 p.m. as we set sail along northern Goa’s Chapora River. Palm trees dotted the shore and ferries bobbed along the waves. I was on the Baga River Cruise, organised by The Park Baga River, the luxury boutique hotel I stayed in over a summer weekend. After settling into the ferry, I made acquaintance with the eight other travellers on board. Peppy music blared from speakers as platefuls of bruschetta and quiches did the rounds. The crew helped us to chilled beer bottles, while I indulged in a glass of urange, the hotel’s signature cocktail made with the Goan urak, coconut water and orange juice. The cloudy concoction struck my palate with a pungent flavour, as a burning sensation glided down my throat, growing on me with each sip.
As the sun began to set, we made a quick pit-stop at an unnamed private island. The caramel sandy patch appeared sparse, but I was enticed at the prospect of dining to the symphony of a warbling river. The sky turned from glistening gold to sorbet pink, mirrored in the river as we approached the shore.
A delayed flight from Mumbai and an hour’s drive later, I’d arrived in Baga at The Park Hotel’s second Goan property earlier that afternoon. The three-storey facade of The Park Baga River stands amidst a quiet neighbourhood near Tito’s restaurant on Arpora road. The strategic location offers two views—the Baga River and the village of Arpora, flanked by palm trees and colour-blocked houses, stretching beyond the hotel’s suntrap pool. As I entered my river-facing suite, my eyes shifted from intricate patterns of Portuguese tiles at the entrance to an arresting yellow accent on the living room wall. I headed to the balcony, but the humid air made me retreat. A mural of a sunset by a beach on one of the bedroom walls interrupted the otherwise grey-and-white monotones.
At the resort, the days started early. I snoozed through alarms for an early morning yoga session by the poolside, but made up for it with a bicycle tour of the countryside, à la Alia Bhatt from Dear Zindagi. In the afternoon, it was time for a tour of the Mapusa market, 30 minutes from the hotel, in the town centre. Makeshift stalls lined the lanes, buzzing with customers sampling spices, dried fish, port wine and homemade bebinca. Most of my day was taken up playing the wide-eyed tourist through the market. It took a midnight walk through the old Latin Quarter, Fountainhas, for Panjim to reveal its more discreet charms. Old fashioned Portuguese homes stood along deserted lanes, swept up in a glimmer of dimly lit lamp posts.
Meals at Saltwater, the hotel’s in-house restaurant, were a festive affair. A group of friends were the only other attendants apart from the lot of us. The Park Baga River, launched in January, also happens to be their first adults-only venture. “We’re carving a niche for couples and honeymooners looking for a beach getaway,” said Saurabh Khanna, a senior member of the property staff.
The chef had cooked up a gastronomic storm with dishes typical of Goa’s Konkan, Catholic and Muslim communities. The spice-scented aroma got my appetite racing. I am partial to perennial Goan favourites xacuti and vindaloo. However, for this meal, I made an exception and gorged on chicken cafreal. I paired the cilantro and spice-infused curry with poi. The mildly sweetened loaf balanced the picante flavours of the green paste. Overwhelmed by the generous proportion, I was left with little room for dessert. Regardless, I gave into my sweet tooth and called for a serving of serradura, which translates to sawdust in Portuguese. Sweet and crunchy, it is aptly named so for the fine crumbs of Marie biscuits layered with whipped cream. Retreating to my room later, I hung around in the balcony to admire the moonlit river. Sleep came easily that night. I departed from Goa the next afternoon.
As I passed by the bright hues of the coastal setting, it wasn’t hard to guess why Mario de Miranda didn’t have to wander far to seek inspiration.
Pooja Naik is Senior Sub-Editor at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.