Balcony seats make for a good watch, and the one I have taken in the balcony of Miss Jenny’s Homestay definitely doesn’t disappoint. It’s where I sit for hours, tracking the noon rays parade onto the coconut tree-speckled backyard—an exercise my itinerary-free weekend in a refurbished century-old Portuguese villa wholeheartedly supports. Top that with a location such as Saligao, a sleepy, low-key hamlet in North Goa, and idling seems just the ideal thing to do.
“The original owners had intended this corner to be a pigsty,” Hardika Rajan, the current co-owner, says, motioning underneath. I rise and peer down and what comes into view is a dingy, boxy storage room, devoid of any sunlight. I immediately shift focus to my more pleasant surroundings; the sunshine yellow pillars are the most noticeable. They also make me wonder what the single-storey villa must have looked like a solid 100 years ago? Photographs on Hardika’s cell phone help. I see age-battered, rust-colored walls and buttresses transition to soothing blues and perky whites within seconds; this excitement of scrolling down a dozen images in a jiffy instantly brings to mind childhood memories of flipping through countless flip animation books.
When the sun is just about to surrender is when I come down for a stroll in the garden, and I explore all 7,000 square feet of it. The fragrance from towering chikoo trees is unmissable but it is the sight of a majestic mango tree that fills me with sweet rage. Why isn’t it mango season yet? Almost every alternate tree here is festooned with fairy lights hanging so low that I am tempted to pluck and pop them, one by one…greens, blues, reds, all the colours in a pack of Poppins. It’s January. Christmas has passed. But the lights, I am told, are here to stay year-round. How delightful it is to live each day as if it were a holiday.
The good thing is, mine has only just begun.
Zigging past a scattering of quintessentially Goan colour-blocked bungalows and vast fields growing red rice, I arrive at the Rajans early evening. Their home is on the ground level and the 30-something couple runs a bnb on the first floor. Like many from Mumbai, Hardika and her husband Anirudh decided to quit their media jobs and shift base to laidback Goa, in 2017.“We wanted a home away from the urban hustle and bustle but at the same time have access to most of the central points,” Anirudh tells me while giving a quick property tour. “We have everything we need right here in this village” he says, smiling. It doesn’t take me too long to make sense of his words. Poiwala, or the local Goan bread seller, makes his round door-to-door, alerting everyone with a shrill bicycle bell; fisherwomen announce their day’s catch as they walk down the lane; and if you place your order well in advance, a friendly neighbour will gladly dish out trays of delectable bebincas (the Indo-Portuguese pudding-like dessert makes for a great treat and a perfect souvenir).
Village life charms apart, it is Jenny that I immediately take to. The year and a half old pariah, eponymous of the stay, follows me around on all my walks and jumps right into my lap for breakfast in the Rajan’smodest kitchen. Succumbing to Jenny’s puppy eyes, I often part with morsels of warm poha, sabudana khichdi and bites of crispy toast slathered with tangy homemade guava jam.(Did I mention the garden also grows guavas?)When I pick a table on the tin-roofed porch, monkeys running amok make for some unusual teatime entertainment.
Both mornings I set out for a walk in the village, admiring mansions with balcaos and oyster-shell windows, and trees, both wild and fruit-bearing. I stroll past children riding bikes on sun-dappled pathways and cows moseying in and out of narrow lanes which I wonder lead where but have no energy to explore. The afternoon sun is too harsh and I am too tired. I retire to my room for a siesta. The bright yellow-orange cotton curtains and the wooden cupboard and bed are nothing to write home about but what’s worth a mention is the customised grungy ladder-gone-bookshelf, unevenly light blue. Grabbing a copy of The Motorcycle Dairies, I read myself to sleep.
It’s only in the evening that I step out to get a taste of the seaside. Candolim is just 15minutes by road and en route to it I see several dead shacks slowly spring to life, readying to welcome tourists who throng the state this time of the year. The orange sun dipping into the Arabian Sea (a transition caught best using time-lapse photography), the lulling sound of waves lashing and retreating the shorefront rhythmically, someone swigging a beer somewhere, someone trying their hands at fire poi… sunsets like these are perhaps why the allure of this coastal state never fades. I return to my room relaxed and recharged.
Hardika and Anirudh are keen to make my last night in Saligao a tad bit special. They volunteer to take me to Cantare, a pub that hosts live jazz music on Mondays well beyond midnight and is only a five-minute drive from Jenny’s. When we enter, the restobar is already buzzing with expats and locals. Amidst several glasses of fruity sangrias, impromptu salsa tutorials to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Summertime”, I watch the night come alive in a sleepy little town.
Miss Jenny’s Homestay is located in Saligao, North Goa. The closest railway stations from the property are Thivim (16.5kms/ 30 minutes) and Karmali (20 kms/30 minutes). Dabolim Airport is an hour’s drive. There is an independent cottage on the ground floor, while the first floor includes two interconnected rooms. Doubles start from Rs2,000 (not inclusive of breakfast; miss-jennys-homestay.business.site).
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.