Watch the sun go down spectacularly like it only can in beauteous Karwar, a fishing town that's home to a naval base.
You love beaches, but without the crowds. You fancy freshly caught seafood but would like to choose from a generous spread. You'd like to visit party-loving Goa, but would also like to grab a bit of peace and quiet. If you happen to be one such bundle of contradictions, then Emerald Bay at Karwar, the newest addition to Sterling Holidays' countrywide chain of properties, may offer just your kind of holiday.
About 85 km from Goa airport, Karwar is actually part fishing town and part heavy-duty naval base, located bang on the Arabian Sea. The charming two-and-a-half-hour drive on winding roads took us past some of the greenest locales in South Goa, complete with coconut-fringed lagoons, bustling marketplaces like Margaon — where the Christmas market was in full swing, and the sandy stretches of Canacona. The sight of a pale-orange moon slowly being nibbled up was a bonus — we had arrived in the middle of a lunar eclipse.
Located at the mouth of the estuary where the Kali river meets the sea, the resort at first has all the appearance of a business hotel, with its apartment-style façade and spacious lobby. The rooms, thankfully, are far more spacious than what one has come to expect from business hotels. Our airy peach-and-green accented suite had two large rooms, each with a balcony, but no kitchenette (who wants them?).
Rising at the crack of dawn, if you don't want to tune into the latest India-Australia match (which my husband promptly did), you can gaze leisurely out to the horizon, where a meandering, grey-green Kali river makes its tryst with the Arabian Sea. Fishermen briskly unfurl their nets, Brahminy kites circle the shores to sample the catch and herons foray into the placid waters for their midday meal.
The tranquil landscape begs a closer look, and we walk down to the riverbank, a stone's throw from the resort. There you can relax on the tiny but pristine beach, dip your toes in the placid river for as long as you like, and walk along the long strip of sandy coastline (or squishy mud, as my son put it). Low tide in the evenings exposes a small strip of land, where you can have a marooned-in-a-desert island moment. A late-evening walk is a must-do, as you can watch a glorious sunset, for which Karwar is justly famous.
Bridge across River Kali
Come 5 p.m., and locals and tourists begin to gather on the bridge across Kali river that connects Goa and Karnataka. As we perch on concrete benches overlooking the river, a group of senior citizens is chatting away, a mongrel puppy is begging for scraps and a pani puri-seller plies his trade. As the sun sinks, however, a breathless hush falls over all of us. We raptly watch the sun change colours from an effervescent gold that makes your eyes water, to a bright fluorescent orange and, finally, salmon pink, before it disappears into the sea. It is a scene that calms your senses and stays in your mind's eye; no wonder the locals say they make sure to watch it every day.
We retire, happy, to the resort, where the restaurant rustles up a piping-hot Goan macaroni soup and lachha parathas accompanied by vegetable Xacutti — a spicy curry made using coconut and tamarind gravy. Richard, the resort manager, is disappointed to learn we are vegetarians. To really enjoy Karwar, he says, one must sample the prawn Xacutti and mutton curry made in true Goan style, with the river yonder supplying unlimited fresh catch. We try to make up for our vegetarianism with crunchy mushroom canapés served up to our room.
Karwar town offers visitors little by way of ‘view points', sightseeing tours or multi-cuisine restaurants. In fact, it is hard to believe that this fishing town is home to one of India's most ambitious naval hubs in the making. Behind the tall walls guarding the Navy base, our driver Pradip tells us, work is afoot to develop a port to rival Mumbai, complete with massive berths for warships and submarines, and a ship-lift for navy vessels needing repair.
Having devoted day one to lazing on the beach, we enquire about things-to-do around Karwar on day two. We skip the joys of adventure sports — diving, banana boat rides and snorkelling — in nearby Kurumgad island and opt instead to drive to South Goa. A scant half-hour away is Palolem beach in Canacona, touted the most picturesque in Goa. At this lovely semi-circular beach is the Goa you drool over on picture postcards. White sands, the emerald waters of Arabian Sea, an azure sky with the sun blazing down, tourists sun-bathing with a vengeance. Bordering the beach are shacks that double as accommodation for hordes of backpackers.
We are persuaded to take a boat ride into the sea, to sight dolphins and visit the isolated ‘Honeymoon' island. The one-hour boating is enjoyable, even if very sunny, with nary a wave in the tranquil waters, but the dolphins prove elusive. Our boatman, Raj, apologises profusely for their non-appearance and even offers to return our money! After wading in the seawaters, we head to the seaside eateries. The menu offers a stunning variety of vegetarian food — from Greek salads to ten different kinds of veg pizza, pasta, sandwiches and tandoori delights. Alcohol flows like water here, and we wrap up a meal comprising a medium-sized pizza and a Bloody Mary for under Rs 300. Hut accommodation on the beach is popular here, proving cheap but basic — cottages are crammed together with few clean loos.
Locals constantly complain that the tourist influx has stepped up prices of everything from tourist trinkets to good hotels. For those visiting South Goa, Sterling Emerald Bay offers an ideal stopover for the value-conscious. Suites are priced Rs 5,500 a night (rooms Rs 4,000-5,000), while the restaurant's generous spread costs about Rs 1,000 a person per day. The resort plans to add cottages on the riverbank, allowing guests closer commune with this region's spectacular natural beauty.