Discovering diverse Goa neighbourhoods, one story at a time

Make It Happen’s cultural trails offer perspectives and spark interest in everything that makes Goa what it is today.

For the uninitiated, Goa became a tourist destination by mistake. A bus full of travelers coming from Europe via Afghanistan reached Calangute in the 60s and thus started exploring the paradise that is Goa. Way before all of this happened, the Portuguese were already here setting the mood to this sunny state, contributing their culture and infrastructure to the rich tapestry of Goa too.

Cut to the present day, Goa sees more tourists than many other places in the world and only here is there the possibility of crossing paths with people from all walks of life from all points of the globe. The influx of domestic tourists and all the international ones most definitely adds to the commercialisation of any place. This is essential for sure, but its perils are long term. The quality of experience drops and mass production of products and services doesn’t guarantee satisfaction.

In a place like Goa, whose arms are open for everyone, it also becomes a place that is overhyped, stereotyped and immediately overcrowded. In all this chaos, where does one see the Goa in its original glory, the place where Adil Shah ruled, or the place which the Portuguese colonised in the early 16th century, or the paradise-like beaches which the hippie movement aggravated? With locals, is your answer. Locals know everything about their place. This is not news. What is, is that locals are changing the face of tourism here, one story at a time.

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Make It Happen’s storytellers help bring alive the history of Old Goa. Image: Courtesy Make It Happen.

Living in Goa for the past decade, I have been more than proud of collecting stories far beyond the beaches, bars and bohemia. As a writer, the thirst most definitely never ends but it does get quenched when stories find a way into your life. I came across Make it Happen three years ago and I have been exploring Goa with their storytellers who are historians, archeologists, artists and true-blue Goans ever since.

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The beauty of the whole experience and the reason why they never fail to amaze is their in-depth knowledge and relatable storytelling. Image: Courtesy Make It Happen.

Beneath layers of selling the exact same things innumerable times, Make it Happen enables you to look beyond the usual. The amalgamation of local communities, musicians and home-grown businesses gives it an edge in making your experience more valuable and the story more memorable. An eco-tour agency, they are experiential and authentic. Entering their 11th year, Make It Happen has been my perennial discovery companion.

The Signature Fontainhas walk was my first with them and I have explored ample since. An energetic, well-informed storyteller will walk you through streets lined with colourful Portuguese-style houses narrating stories of cultural and historical significance. I ended up doing an entire photo series on windows just in Fontainhas and thus started looking into the intricacies of Goan architecture as I explored further.

The Feni and Tapas trail, even though was in the same Latin Quarter, was a whole different experience altogether. Anybody who has been to Goa knows how everything is a ‘bar and restaurant’. This trail is the Goan equivalent of a pub crawl but in a much more susegaad manner. Picture the oldest pub, the cheesiest rissois, the gourmet snacks and the night life in Panjim that ends in dinner at one of the capital’s oldest inns.

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Sampling feni and Goan-style tapas on a trail filled with tantalising tales. Image: Courtesy Make It Happen.

Their Panjim Art Saunter also takes you around the capital city but on a completely new trajectory. This trail’s artistic nature is fuelled by an art enthusiast who not only gives the right perspective for you to finish your post card, but also takes you back in time with her stories.

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Be inspired by art hidden in plain sight to create your own! Image: Courtesy Make It Happen.

One afternoon, I took a ferry ride to Divar with one of their historians. An island on the Mandovi, here was a Goa devoid of commercialisation. A community that resisted the making of a bridge, so it doesn’t encourage the lures of lucre, Divar is still tucked in and has a lot of historical significance. The guardian spirit of Goa is believed to be the protector here and the first time ever I saw a temple and offerings for guardian spirits which they call ‘rakhanda’.  This somehow made me hungry, and I was delighted to enter a Portuguese villa which welcomed me with the aroma and flavours of the Goan kitchen.

Further on, I visited the old capital of Chandor with them. A cursed city apparently, this once-opulent village had villas with ballrooms and underground tunnels. The families that still survive there are doing it with all their heart, as maintaining these ancient structures needs much more than just money.

I have realised that village life in Goa is fascinating. Beyond the stereotypes, this is where raw life resides. The stillness in the mornings, the slow pace, the bird chirps, the lazy afternoon, the dramatic dusks and the community corners, life here is definitely far from mainstream. ‘Saunters’ with Make it Happen allow you to get a walk full of unprecedented encounters. To know a place, true to its essence, it is essential to take your time and be observant.

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This gorgeous 500-year-old heritage home is certainly a far cry from Goa’s beach shacks! Image: Courtesy Make It Happen.

With them, village saunters around Olaulim and Saligao left me in awe as one took me to a place which was thriving, whilst the other was thrived on. As I kayaked in the backwaters, I was in love with Goa all over again.

Exploring Goa can get quite tricky as it is buzzing with people and their energies. Parties are ample and so are the vibes. Amidst all this hullabaloo, Make it Happen gave me an opportunity to see facets of Goa that were away from my reach even after being here for a decade. The founders are seasoned travellers themselves and they want to be able to tell the stories for visitors to know the beating heart of every destination. They have also started operations in Diu and Conoor, creating new avenues in tourism and generating employment.

My adventures with them don’t end here. Their Handpicked Experiences introduced me to other local companies, who offered nature trails, ethical dolphin spotting, mangrove cleaning, romantic sails on yachts, intimate tea tastings and other unique Goa experiences. In 2022, I plan to travel more mindfully in my own backyard. And you?

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