This story appeared first appeared in Discover India magazine about five years ago.
My bus from Mapusa rattled and crawled northwards slowly, stopping at every turn on the way to pick up or drop passengers. The window view kept changing from plush Goan Villas and betelnut orchards on flat terrains to green vistas across rolling hills. Once in a while, the road skirted close to empty sandy stretches at the edge of blue expanse of water, indicating what is in store ahead. I reached Arambol Beach an hour later, or Harmal as the locals prefer to call it.
The long beach of Arambol qualifies for nearly every cliche that Goa’s beaches are known for – gentle waves over shallow waters, wide beaches with fine white sand and tall coconut trees lining the edge of of the sandy shore. But unlike the more popular beaches of Goa, there is no one here who want to help me find a hotel, calling for a parasailing ride, inviting into their restaurants or coaxing me hire a beach bench. My search for inertia in Goa ends at Arambol Beach, with its relaxed and uncrowded beach allowing me moments of leisure and laziness.
Arambol’s popularity is recent, compared to the long list of Goa’s other well-known beaches. Its empty shoreline and beautiful hills to the north were discovered when travellers moved farther from the center of Goa in search of peaceful and secluded locations. As word spread about this last beach of Goa that is still away from the crowds, Arambol entered guidebooks and tourist brochures, and its days of isolation slowly faded into its past. Yet, Arambol remains far less crowded today than the beaches closer to Panaji, thanks to the local resistance to large resorts and hotels.
Strolling on the beach late in the afternoon trying to see how far does the beach extend, I walked past people lazing with a book, chatting away in small groups, swimming in the shallow waters or simply snoozing in the sun. Children splashed at each other in shallow pools formed along the edge of the sea, watched by the admiring eyes of their mothers. A toddler just out of infancy was discovering the joys of water, which was evident from the giggles he let out once a while. A hawker walked the beach looking for tourists interested in buying his small tablas, and was stopped by a curious lad who wanted to try them himself.
Come evening, it was time for revelry at the beach. People gathered in small groups, singing in soft voice and dancing in a slow rhythm that blended finely with the soothing sound of the waves. Restaurants along the beach grilled barbecue on the shore, surrounded by candle lit tables laid out on the sand. A traveller skilfully juggled on the beach and played with fire sticks as a small group of people gathered around him and applauded. Firecrackers lit up the sky, adding to the romance of the evening created by candle lights and rocking of frothy waves.
At the dinner table, the menu in 21 Coconuts restaurant facing the sea has world cuisine to offer, varying from continental to Italian to middle eastern, and of course Indian. My aubergine lasagna melted quickly in the mouth, and freshly cut mangoes for dessert – an unlikely find in winter – made my day.
The best of Arambol was yet to unfold. I walked north of the beach next morning through a small bridle path that ran adjacent to the sea and along the base of a hill, taking me over boulders shaped by the rocking waves. The path dipped into the sea at times and retreating waves exposed the sandy path where I had to get past quickly before the arrival of next wave. As I walked, a sandpiper sprinted across the boulders just ten feet away, searching for its breakfast among the rocks. Tiny crabs scurried along the rock surface and ran into their hole in the sand at my approach. Waves splashed into the boulders and sprinkled on the narrow track I walked on. At the other end of the path is Kalacha Beach, a half kilometer stretch of fine sand that separates the endless ocean from a charming fresh water lake. The lake fills a depression between the hills to the east and the shoreline to the west, its water clear and fresh, supplied by a stream descending from the hills.
Kalacha is quiet and sparsely peopled, with just a handful of tourists playing with the waves or warming up in the morning sun. Someone invited me to take a beach bench and offered to serve coffee, and then left me alone, allowing me lie on the sand and watch the waves hit the shore again and again.
I spent rest of my day sipping a drink at a restaurant and watching the waves bounce off the rocks. The friendly waiter at Om Ganesh cafe at the edge of the sea tells me that the beaches further north are completely deserted. “Walk along the beach for a few kilometers and you will hit the empty beaches of Querim,” he said, “Goa ends at Querim and it is Maharastra further north.” Somehow it is hard for me to imagine being on a beach outside Goa, even if it can match the Goan sands in beauty. There is a charm just in the name of this easygoing state.
I spent my evenings in Arambol Beach swimming in the sea and jumping over the waves. The waves are gentle at the main beach, but raise a meter high at Kalacha, momentarily blocking the views of the horizon and then immediately pulling me along with them towards the shore. Standing in the water, I watch the sun go down painting the horizon with many hues – the bright white ball slowly turning into orange and then into deep red.
My days in Arambol went idling on the sand, swimming in the sea and eating delicious food on the beach. When the time came to to leave, it was back to an hour in the rattling bus tardily cruising the Goan landscape, taking me back to Mapusa.
Reaching Arambol Beach
By Road: Regular buses connect Arambol Beach from Mapusa town (1 hour), which is on the Mumbai – Panaji highway. You can hire a taxi from Panaji (45km), or take a bus to Mapusa to change over for a bus to Arambol.
By Air: Goa’s Dabolim airport is 75km from Arambol Beach.
By Rail: Margao (80km) and Vasco (75km) are the major train stations close to Arambol. If you are coming from Mumbai on Konkan Railway, get off at Thivem station and take a taxi to Arambol Beach.
Where to Stay
Famafa Beach Resort (Tariff Rs.500, Ph – 08322242516, 2008 prices!) close to the beach has the most comfortable accommodation in Arambol. Arambol doesn’t have any premium accommodations due to a local effort to keep the village free from expensive properties. Several budget accommodation line the path from the main road to the beach.
The best thing to do is to sit on the beach and relax, or go for a swim. Ask at the beach for fishing boat trips and paragliding sessions. Go on short walks along the path leading north of Arambol Beach that takes you through green hills to Kalacha Beach, and further to deserted Querim Beach. Kalacha beach has a clean freshwater lake where you can go swimming. A large banyan tree, 10 minutes walk from Kalacha is worth a visit. Long term visitors can take yoga classes at Himalayan Iyengar Yoga center.
Where to Eat
21 Coconuts has the best location near the beach and serves good Italian food along with other cuisines. Ask for aubergine lasagna. Om Ganesh Restaurant at the base of the hill north of the beach serves Goan, Indian, Italian and Israeli foods. It is located right next to the sea, and is the best place for a drink in the evening.