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Rediscovering Goa, the hedonistic beach hideout in India

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Goa, India (CNN) – In July, when the threat of Covid-19 subsided, the Goa government declared the popular Indian state open to domestic tourism after months of blockade.

Since then, thousands of passengers have flocked to this safe beach haven. Daytime traffic jams returned and decibel levels rose in local nightclubs when the party returned to Goa.

But has this destination ever been associated with undisturbed hedonism and unbridled commercial tourism, going back to its old ways without thinking about the negative economic, environmental and social impact?

Established in 201

8, this group of 20 tourism businesses is committed to practicing and promoting responsible and sustainable travel.

Here we will take a closer look at the proposals of several of these businesses and understand how they work to rediscover Goa for the better.

Careful approach to watching dolphins

The Terra Conscious Ocean Biodiversity Expereince tour includes dolphin watching.

The Terra Conscious Ocean Biodiversity Expereince tour includes dolphin watching.

Ulrich Müller / Terra Conscious

Puja Mitra is one of the founders of RTCG. She runs a maritime social enterprise called Terra Conscious, which offers a variety of tours on both land and water.

His most popular is the Ocean Biodiversity Experiment, which involves observing dolphins and takes about three hours.

Just after dawn we set off with a brightly colored fishing boat at the mouth of the Chapora River before heading out to sea.

Mitra offers a fascinating briefing on the humpback dolphin in the Indian Ocean – even using a plush dolphin toy as a demonstration prop.

But these are not the dolphins we encounter when we enter deeper waters. There are many jellyfish just below the surface.

Mitra says they are attracted to the growing number of plankton near the coast – a consequence of global warming – while their predators (sunfish and turtles) are declining for the same reason.

“We have to think of the marine ecosystem as an interconnected world, where everything affects everything else, not exists in isolation,” says Mitra.

After a while, a flash of gray and pink appears as mammals soar across the ocean in search of prey. They surface and move so fast that it’s hard to catch a glimpse of them, but it’s still exciting to be so close to these beautiful inhabitants of the depths.

The boatman makes no attempt to chase them and causes a stress response.

Mitra explains that Terra Conscious is partnering with traditional dolphin watching operators to provide them with more of the business, while raising its operating standards to comply with generally accepted ethical standards for conducting such trips.

But his most innovative program is perhaps the partnership with the Goa Department of Forestry, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) India and Drishti Marine Services, in which he reports on (and rescuing, if possible) marine life in difficulty. in the numerous Goa beaches.

The specific role of Terra Conscious, together with the IUCN, is to coordinate the operation on a daily basis, while the two groups also maintain a database, which is periodically submitted to the forest department.

Fresh food, fresh ideas

Goa’s Prana Cafe serves dishes prepared with local organic ingredients.

Goa’s Prana Cafe serves dishes prepared with local organic ingredients.

Courtesy of Prana Coffee

Some of Goa’s restaurants are also responding to the call for greater commitment to sustainability.

Leading is the Prana Café, located next to Ashuem Beach at the top of the state. It offers a casual, friendly mood, its menu emphasizes health and nutrition. In fact, its name comes from the Sanskrit word for life force.

“The idea of ​​Prana is associated first with food that is brought absolutely fresh to the table (it is never stored for another day) and second, with the main focus on the use of local organic ingredients,” says founder Vikram Malani.

Dishes range from delicious shrimp dumplings flavored with ginger and garlic to hummus and couscous salad. Innovative smoothies are made from unique ingredients such as goji berries, almond milk and dates.

The cafe itself is housed in a towering thatched hut built in the traditional coastal style of Tamil Nadu, using exclusive wood and palm leaves without resorting to concrete or nails. Solar panels are used to heat water.

Scattered throughout the space are creative works of art donated by artists invited to join their annual artist retreat.

Once a week it hosts a farmers market, while once a month guests are invited to take part in cleaning the beach.

The proceeds are donated through a family foundation and used to sponsor educational films focused on environmental issues, as well as to provide free consulting services to local NGOs that need help in conceptualizing, implementing and monitoring their projects.

Cafe Prana, Vaayu Village, Ashwam Beach Road, Ashwam, Mandrem, Goa; +91 98500 50403

Enriching the local experience

Make it Happen offers a guided tour of Goa’s colorful Fontainhas district.

Make it Happen offers a guided tour of Goa’s colorful Fontainhas district.

Courtesy of Make it Happen

Goa has a rich cultural heritage dating back centuries of Hindu, Muslim and Christian rule by the Portuguese, a fact often overlooked by crowds rushing to the beaches and casinos.

Founded by travel specialist Maria Victor in 2015, Make It Happen is an experienced travel company that aims to expose tourists to this heritage through guided walks and local experiences.

Victor is a strong believer in community-based tourism, which means “Make it happen” contributes to the local economy through his tours by creating a livelihood (patronizing cafes and restaurants along the way and supporting local musicians and dancers).

“We prepare experiences for life lessons to be revealed in every personal interaction during our tours,” says Victor.

Its leading tour is a walk through Fontainhas, the Latin Quarter of Panjim, the largest and oldest such area in Asia.

Fontainhas is named after the small spring that rises at the base of Altinho Hill. Its narrow streets, filled with upright balconies with wrought-iron railings and walls beautifully painted in an abundance of colors from yellow to purple, are a pleasure to explore.

During a recent tour, our young guide makes us try typical Goa pastries at the reputable bakery on January 31, and the tour ends at another cafe, Nostalgia, where we are treated to a soulful performance of “The Girl from Ipanema” by local musician Maxi Miranda. .

Our second cultural hike is an ebike tour of Divar Island, a large river island on the Mandovi River. Here lies a piece of rural Goa that has clung tightly to its past, that is, 6,000 residents who have rejected all attempts to connect them by bridge to the mainland.

We get on our wheels on a battered old ferry that makes its way through Mandovi and is transported into a peaceful world of unhulled fields, winding roads and beautiful churches.

Everywhere on the green island there are charming traces of a Hindu civilization that was destroyed under Portuguese rule, including hidden idol caves and ancient ruins of temple baths. After three hours of exploring, a delicious vegetarian meal at Devayaa Resort is a welcome end to the tour.

Educational adventures

Konkan Explorers offers tours of Goa’s beautiful mangrove forests.

Konkan Explorers offers tours of Goa’s beautiful mangrove forests.

Ranjan Pal

For adventure seekers, river travel with Konkan Explorers is a must. This unique tourist experience is an idea of ​​the enterprising Frenchman Pascal Ribeau.

“As a trained anthropologist, I’ve always been intrigued by the complex relationships that Indians have had with the natural world, while as a trained sailor I can learn from my maritime experience growing up as part of a sailing family in Marseille,” he told CNN Travel.

“Konkan Explorers was the obvious way for me to combine those two passions.”

We board the small custom-made Red Mangrove fiberglass boat from the Chopdem ferry and soon head up the Chapora River against the current until the tide recedes.

Protection is part of the package, and the solar panels of the canopy provide power to control the navigation equipment and the marine toilet.

We travel for about an hour before dropping anchor in the middle near a large swamp of mangrove forests, where we get on the kayaks of the expedition and throw ourselves into the swamp.

Soon we are engulfed in a mysterious shady green world, while gray langur monkeys slip out of sight and mangrove crabs descend on wrinkled tree trunks. Here the water is quite shallow and at one point Ribo jumps to teach a mini biology lesson.

Several of us follow suit, sinking into the nutrient-rich black sludge that Ribo encourages us to cast on our faces and hands while looking like stealth commandos.

It then returns to the mother ship and the time to board the oar.

The whole tour is fun and complete, the exceptional professionalism of the crew and the detailed instruction based on knowledge given by Ribo, guaranteeing a positive experience with the water.

Behind the scenes, Konkan Explorers is committed to protecting the environment in which it operates, with the entire crew involved in cleaning the river every two weeks. Twice a year, the crew leads local students as part of their efforts to educate locals about the importance of protecting the area.

Luxury in a natural environment

Cabo Serai villas offer easy access to the sea.

Cabo Serai villas offer easy access to the sea.

Courtesy of Cabo Serai

Cabo Serai is not your typical luxury resort. This nature retreat, located on the Cabo De Rama Peninsula in South Goa and founded in 2019, consists of five ecological villas and three tents.

The palace villas are equipped with every luxury and offer easy access to the sea, which fills a secluded bay with steep black rocks. Built on stilts and on a high site to minimize the structural impact on the jungle environment, the entire construction was done with the help of wood and local materials such as laterite stones, mud and coconut straw.

The water is fed into copper dispensers to eliminate single-use plastic, and the waste is carefully managed by separating and composting the waste.

“At Cabo Serai, we are proud to have instilled a culture of mindfulness in our staff and in our product, which allows us to offer guests a true experience of well-being and sustainability,” explains the director of the resort, Trupti Wesley.

This commitment to sustainability extends to the resort’s restaurant menus. Meals are prepared with fresh, local seasonal ingredients.

In terms of community engagement, Cabo Serai employs a significant number of staff from surrounding villages, organizes beach cleaning discs, and neuter and feed stray dogs near the resort.

For those looking to explore, Cabo Serai offers several very interesting trails with panoramic views of the cliffs, including one to the distant Cabo De Rama Fort, one of Goa’s five key fortresses.

Built by the Hindu Sunda dynasty, it was torn from them by the invading Portuguese in 1763, who used it as a major bastion of their defenses. The sprawling fortress has collapsed and nothing remains but fortifications and a few iron cannons, but it offers some commanding views of the Arabian Sea and has a functioning chapel dedicated to St. Anthony.

Cabo Seray, Canaguinim, Goa 403703, India; +91 788 788 2414

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