Swapan Seth checks into Champakali that promises to be everything Goa isn’t. And, in a way, is
I am just not a Goa person. I do not know how to chill. And I am not exactly a fruit. So I don’t really know how to hang either. Add to that my dwindling interest in seafood and my acute discomfort with sand between my toes.
But Champakali promised to be everything Goa isn’t. And, in a way, is.
For one, it is in Old Goa. Which shields it from the chatter of Calangute. The bustle of Baga. And the airs of Assagao.
There is no beach to frolic on. No sea to vacantly stare into. And no room for mindless, Instagrammable photographs of the setting sun.
It comprises two imposing villas set on a hill in Velha. Each of the villas has a clutch of spiffy rooms. We stayed at one called Kabootar.
Bindu Sethi, who owns Champakali, has perhaps one of the most discerning eyes that I have known. It beams at you before you even open the door to your room. You notice a tea service coyly placed outside the door. The tea is a blend personally picked by Bindu. You then notice the colour combination of the doors. Salmon pink and a pale teal. Masterful. In one corner of the room lies a tall lamp with a lampshade hung in submission. The dried leaves artwork on the wall brings on a smile. Everything placed in the room lives with a purpose.
In spite of being a homestay, there is an electrifying efficiency to Champakali. The service is stunning thanks to Mathieu who runs the place with engaging ease and the food is simply fabulous. Breakfast can be the house special of crepes. Or a rather obese paratha. The eggs come with a rash of bacon and some deeply divine Goan pork sausages with Goan poi as a bridesmaid. At dinner, you are spoilt for choice. There’s the captivating cold Smoked Aubergine Soup. Subtle yet stunning. The Goan thali is acutely abundant. The Grilled Kingfish with Lemon Butter Sauce is a poetic plate indeed. And the desserts are fantastic. In particular, the Madagascar Vanilla Gelato.
So what really does one do in the “uncool” part of Goa? Several cool things.
I suggest you opt for a deep tissue massage at Champakali. Requisition the services of Wonmi Muinao: she is the sage of stretches. Alternatively, go for a walk and see all the significant churches of North Goa with Jonas, a vastly knowledgeable man.
I also went to Goa for the art. For years, I have been dying to visit Sunaparanta, a labour of love by the Salgaocars. Their annual art, music and cinema show, Sensorium, invariably showcases the very nuanced and evolved. Curated by the terribly talented Siddharth Dhanvant Shanghvi, the show had both gravitas and gait. Julien Segard’s installation was both coy and charismatic. The brutal simplicity of Shreyas Karle’s work was enchanting. Sohrab Hura’s work was mesmerising. As was Riyas Komu’s ‘My Father’s Balcony’. The show continues up to March 1. I would go to Goa just for Sensorium. It is a thunderous celebration of art from around the world.
The other work of art in Goa is Sacha’s Shop. It is unarguably amongst the most eclectic stores in this country. As Sacha said, “It was never meant to be a store. Just a cabinet of curiosities to amuse us.”
And indeed it delights. Great scrubs in harmony with tasteful teas. Fabulous womenswear alongside stunning ceramics. You don’t go to find things at Sacha’s. You go to lose yourself there.
Also in the diary
We also bumped into some glorious gastronomy in Goa. Gunpowder was delightful with its mostly Southern fare. Top marks to their pepper mutton and Andhra Prawns and a decisive thumbs down to their Beef Fry.
Yet the gastronomical jewel in the crown of this trip was undoubtedly the Sourdough Bread by Sujit Sumitran, ‘the bread whisperer’. He conducts baking classes. I had the audacity to call him and ask him whether I could buy his bread. He said he never sells his bread but since I had the gall to ask him for one, he would make one for me. “What would you like in it?” he asked. The next day I got the most divine sourdough bread with cheese, cumin and green chillies.
Given my newly-developed obsession for both cooking and gardening, we went to the spice markets of Mapusa and some fantastic nurseries where I picked up some great plants that were particularly Goan.
Marcel Proust once famously said, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.”
This was Goa seen with new eyes.
Copywriter, author, art collector, wine collector, son, brother, husband, father.... Swapan lives in Gurgaon. His heart, however, is in Calcutta