As I planned my visit to Goa, I wondered if all the talk talk of the government banning a particular type of swimwear from the beaches had actually had any effect. Surprising as it sounds, there was a directive to ban bikinis on Goa&rsquos popular beaches to curb &ldquoundesirable&rdquo activities by the seaside. The ban seemed rather misguided, especially since a majority of visitors to Goa during the peak season are from outside India. A designer friend summed it up succinctly when he said, &ldquoNo self-respecting woman would be seen dead in a one-piece swimsuit &mdash especially after the long hours she must have spent in toning her body to look good in the latest in bikinis.&rdquo I needn&rsquot have worried, though. Good sense had prevailed, and I am happy to report that bikinis were seen all over the Candolim, Calangute and Baga beaches, worn not only by international belles, but also by several Indian babes, who also sported tattoos to match
What was disturbing, though, was that the usually overcrowded beaches were almost empty. While that definitely made the experience more pleasurable for those on the beach, the hotels, shacks and eateries around the beaches were taking a hit. The large number of notices and signboards in Russian were of hardly any use since the drop in the value of the Russian rouble had played spoilsport this year, and several charters from Russia had been cancelled at the last moment. The mood was sombre.
I was staying with some friends at their splendidly preserved cottage in Saligao, where Christmas lunch was being planned in grand style. I decided to give my hosts some &lsquofamily time&rsquo by visiting Panaji to pick up some locally-made Christmas decorations, buy gifts, and, in the process, locate an authentic Goan vindaloo. My search led me to the Verandah at Panjim Inn in Fontainhas, where, besides digging into Goan delicacies, I was treated to abstract installations by the Pondicherry-based French artist Pierre Legrand, at the Gitanjali Gallery in the inn&rsquos annexe.
Later, at Panjim Church, as I watched the Nativity tableau being assembled, I started getting into the Christmas spirit. I visited the delightful lifestyle gift shop, called the White Brick Wall, at the Jesuit House near the church. Here I found garments, candles, kites and more &mdash gifts in all sizes, for all ages &mdash perfect for friends in Goa and those back at home. I got back to Saligao just as the ham was being put into the oven for its first roasting the process would be repeated two days later, just before Christmas lunch.
The next day was spent lounging in Candolim Beach near the leaf-covered Pine Café, where I indulged in a lunch of prawn tempura, green avocado salad and apple pie &mdash for which I only paid Rs 600. The café caters to early swimmers with a great breakfast, while lunches and snacks of all varieties are available till nightfall. I saw more swimmers &mdash and bikinis &mdash on the beach than I had on the previous day. As the sun began to set, bigger waves started washing up on the shore. A fishing boat appeared, as if from nowhere, cast a large fishing net to catch the shoals of fish that had risen up on the waves, and promptly dissapeared.
With only a day to Christmas, it was time for me to finish my Christmas shopping. My first stop was Mario&rsquos Gallery. Mario Miranda was an artist whom I had always admired much of my knowledge of Goa was gleaned through his inimitable drawings and cartoons. After a quick browse, I stopped at Litterati, a unique book shop located in an old cottage, where you can lounge with a book and a cup of coffee on a chair under a banyan tree. Café Chocolatti, a bakery-cum-café set in a garden, was my next stop. The waiter who served me when I finally found a table suggested I try out their most popular items &mdash Greek feta salad and a slice of chocolate cake with a cup of coffee. The meal worked out to almost the same price as the one I&rsquod had at the Pine Café the previous day. As I walked out of the café, I saw banners announcing the Sunburn and Supersonics festivals on Anjuna and Baga beach and noticed several couples on motorbikes driving towards Calingute Beach. It seemed that the festive season had finally arrived.
Christmas lunch the next day was quite a meal &mdash ham, chicken, salad and a special version of roasted potatoes, followed by plum cake. My trip to Goa had not only satiated (at least temporarily) my immense love for food, but had given me enough reasons to be back, if not for the bikinis, then definitely for Christmas.