India // Goa //

Benaulim

The predominantly Catholic fishing village of BENAULIM lies in the dead centre of Colva beach, scattered around the coconut groves and paddy fields, 7km west of Margao. Two decades ago, the settlement had barely made it onto the backpackers’ map. Nowadays, though, affluent holiday-makers from Metropolitan India come here in droves, staying in the huge resort and time-share complexes mushrooming on the outskirts, while long-staying, heavy-drinking Brit pensioners and thirty-something European couples taking time out of trips around the Subcontinent make up the bulk of the foreign contingent.

Benaulim’s rising popularity has certainly dented the village’s old-world charm, but time your visit well (avoiding Diwali and the Christmas peak season), and it is still hard to beat as a place to unwind. The seafood is superb, accommodation and motorbikes cheaper than anywhere else in the state, and the beach breathtaking, particularly around sunset, when its brilliant white sand and churning surf reflect the changing colours to magical effect.

Shelving away almost to Cabo da Rama on the horizon, the beach is also lined with Goa’s largest, and most colourfully decorated, fleet of wooden outriggers, and these provide welcome shade during the heat of the day. Hawkers, itinerant masseurs and fruit wallahs appear at annoyingly short intervals, but you can usually escape them by renting a bike and pedalling south on the hard tidal sand.

Conventional sights are thin on the ground along this stretch of coast, though one exception stands out on the eastern fringes of Benaulim: a splendid new ethnographic museum, Goa Chitra, which looks likely to establish itself as one of Goa’s foremost cultural attractions. Set against a backdrop of a working organic farm, the exhibition comprises a vast array of antique agricultural tools and artefacts, ranging from giant cooking pots and ecclesiastical robes to tubas and sugarcane presses. The idea is to promote appreciation of the region’s traditional agrarian lifestyle – a world of traditional knowledge and skills fast disappearing today. To get to Goa Chitra by bike or motorcycle, head east from Maria Hall crossroads towards Margao, and take the first turning on your left at a fork after 1.5km. When you reach the T-junction ahead, turn sharply right; the museum lies another 500m on your right.