Tripping Through Gorgeous Goa

5th February 2023
Girl-On-A-Cycle | Text By Mohua Sen | Pix credit: Architect Sameer Nadkarni, President Xaxti Riders

Cycling in gorgeous Goa is wonderous. The good roads, the plethora of interesting little village roads, the sparse traffic, the fact that most vehicles in Goa are still indulgent of these lycra and helmet clad madcaps who can be seen traveling very fast to go nowhere, and of course the beautiful Goan countryside all combine in a heady mix to make cycling in Goa an uplifting, joyful and fun-filled activity. Where else would you be able to see a thousand splendid suns, sometimes an orange ball of fire rising above the tree line, and sometimes reflected golden in one of the numerous ponds and rivulets that are strewn carelessly all over Goa, sometimes setting amidst a blush pink sky that quickly turns purple, sometimes winking naughtily through a screen of coconut leaf fronds, sometimes appearing from behind a church spire throwing the structure into relief and sometimes boringly just vanishing into the evening sea without drama. Of course, you could very well drive around chasing the sun, but where’s the fun in that? The pleasure of cycling is to become an unwitting actor in the theatre of nature’s unfolding glory. No doubt this can be fraught with danger as the ubiquitous dogs may at anytime decide to take a nip out of your ankle, cute little piglets oink across the road forcing you to brake and brake hard, a snake slithers along and you just HAVE to slow down to take a look, a troop of monkeys cross the road in graceful bounds, and on an occasion during a night ride (and I swear it is true) a group of riders had to take cover while a pack of Gaurs(the Indian Bison, not the football team) charged across the road!

The word most dreaded in recent times must have been ‘lockdown’. People stuck at home, wondering about depleting stocks of grocery, worrying about making the technological leap into the era of work-from-home. But hey, remember when life gives you lemons don’t crib about how it sucks, break out the tequila and salt, right? That just about sums the attitude of the average cyclist in Goa. The lockdown became the catalyst for people to take up outdoor activities, cycling being one of the chief ones – age and gender no bar. It allowed you to meet your fitness goals in the fresh open air, hang out with people yet remain socially distanced and to cycle without fear of being knocked down by a vehicle in a tearing hurry. Importantly, it provided you with the leisure to cycle longer distances and consequently explore more and more of gorgeous Goa.  In the time it took the world to go from huh what’s COVID to knowledgably discussing the Omicron variant, the average cyclist in Goa went from huff-puff I just rode 50km to a nonchalant, let’s do a 100km tomorrow – and it is amazing what you can see and experience on those 100km rides.

Cycling to the sunset in gorgeous Goa

There are local cycling clubs all over Goa, each with its own motto and the club I ride with is Xaxti Riders, with the tagline Live to Ride. Born out Architect Sameer Nadkarni’s passion for the sport, it is one of the largest and most active clubs in Goa.  What makes the club special is that not only does it promote cycling as a fitness and leisure activity but also sponsors and nurtures young talent for competitive cycling at the highest levels of the sport. For the most of us though, it is all about fitness and fun with huge dollops of camaraderie thrown in. The Xaxti Riders signature is wonderfully curated rides, especially on weekends. It brings large numbers of riders together in what we call the ‘Sunday Funday’ rides. Come the rains, and two favorite rides are to the historic temple of Tambdi Surla and to the Harvalem Waterfalls.

A ride to the beautiful and historic Shiva temple of Tambdi Surla (53km each way) is a never-to-be-missed experience. Starting off from Madgaon and traversing some fabulous roads and highways, you eventually hit Dharbandora after which you leave the main roads and cycle through twisty, turny village roads all the way to this exquisitely carved stone temple. You park your cycles, but before you can head for the shrine the babbling Surla river, beckons beguilingly in an irresistible invitation and everyone enthusiastically walks down to take a dip in the river. Refreshed and invigorated you walk to the temple where you just have to stop for a moment and gaze in wonder. The black stone washed clean by the rains, nestled in the lap of lush green mountains, bathed in a lovely monsoon mist and surrounded by immaculately manicured lawns. This 12th century monument is protected as a heritage site under the ASI, and is an active temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. There is also a trek that you can do from here to the Tambdi Surla waterfall, but we are here only for the ride and of course the all-important breakfast. Like everything else about the Xaxti Riders’ Sunday Funday rides, the breakfast is always well planned. Cycling off the beaten path onto increasingly narrowing roads, you stumble onto a quaint little place called The Jungle Trail Homestay. Walking the last few meters, you are given a warm welcome by a group of village ladies who are your hosts for breakfast. Imagine sitting in the balcao of an old village home set in the middle of nowhere. The background music is provided by the occasional drizzle. Enjoy a hot, local Goan breakfast of bhaji-pao and traditional rice puris called vodde accompanied with sweet mangane, followed by piping hot tea and coffee. If ever there is a heaven on earth, it here in this moment. (A small tip for anyone who would like to try this breakfast, it is provided by a self-help group and you have to book in advance through the local authorities).

Ride to the Harvalem Waterfall

An interesting element in the gorgeous Goa is the Harvalem waterfall and Pandava caves. A ride to Harvalem waterfall is another wonderful picnic ride. Going from Madgaon to Harvalem takes you through some fantastic roads through the heartlands with names you rarely hear in tourist guides Ponda, Usgao, Candepar, Sanquelim, Bicholim until you reach the lovely Harvalem falls.  The Shree Rudreshwar temple dedicated to and built on the site of an ancient Shiva occupies much of the area, and lends an aura of peace and tranquility, despite the constant roar of the waterfall in spate. (Tip for those wanting to visit, well duh monsoon is really the best time!). The Pandava caves, an old archaeological site with Buddhist style caves where the Pandavas are supposed to have sought refuge in during their exile. The caves have been cut into five rooms or segments and there seem to be remains of Shivalingas in them. Whatever their origins and their story, they are an interesting piece of Goan history.

When the monsoons taper off gorgeous Goa, it’s the season for club cycling events, as each club vies with the other to give all the riders the best and most comfortable riding experience of all. The winner here of course is (and no prizes for guessing this one!) the cycling community, as a vibrant culture of friendship and camaraderie take the events beyond mere cycling to gala affairs with music, food, goodie bags, complimentary physiotherapy and on occasion even some beer!

The Xaxti Riders Club is at the forefront of making cycling events in our gorgeous Goa bigger and better. The routes take you through some of the prettiest areas of South Goa and are fully supported with perfectly marked routes, proper hydration and rest points, sweeper vehicles following the riders and ambulances on standby in case of any mishap.  So high are the standards set, that riders come from different parts of India to participate in the events… and mind you, the only prize here is a medal and the satisfaction of having done the ride!

The Go Girls Go, a first of its kind ride curated especially for the ladies where you can choose to do either 50km or a 100km, and is held in October. It is a day when girls of all ages are spoiled rotten for the duration of the ride. From cold towels to cold oranges, from water sprays to energy drinks, from volunteers cheering at every stop to volunteers riding alongside – Xaxti Riders makes sure that no girls get left behind and every rider no matter how experienced or green, feels the sense of achievement of completing an event ride.

The toughest of all events in Goa is without doubt the Xaxti 200. Not for the inexperienced, nor for the faint of heart. The event requires you to ride 200 kilometers within 13 and a half hours scaling an elevation of more than 2,600 meters. To put it in perspective Mt. Everest is 8,849m, which means that effectively in those 200km, you are climbing almost one-third of the highest mountain peak in the world! What helps apart from the usual pampering and support is the sight of absolutely gorgeous Goa. It takes you through reserve forest and wildlife sanctuary territory, past the Bamanbudo waterfall where you can take a dip to cool off if you so desire. The coastal roads let’s you catch tantalising glimpses of the dazzling blue sea. After all this, what awaits you is a relaxing physiotherapy session to ease out the kinks and aches. Sumptuous evening snacks and a gossip session help your vent out your aches and pains with fellow riders, while discussing and dissecting each segment of the ride.

The event that is the most looked forward to and sees almost 500 riders from all over India  is the Xaxti 100. Since its inception 5 years ago, the event has grown in stature and popularity. So much so that this year with the cooperation of administration, cyclists had the absolute right of way while traffic was regulated for them at every junction, an unimaginable situation anywhere in India and a sure sign that outdoor cycling as an activity is coming into its own in the country.

I started off by saying that cycling in Goa is a trip. It is the way of exploring unseen, un-touristy gorgeous Goa. Of discovering secret local places, and immersing oneself in a world of sensory delight.  Here’s hoping that more and more people will ditch motorized vehicles to discover Goa with its rich history and culture, its quaint villages and local restaurants, its reserve forests and natural beauty all of which exist beyond the allure of the nightlife and the beach shack.

Author: Planet Goa Team
For us at Planet-Goa, our team is driven by that feeling of exhilaration that one gets when discovering that something ‘unique’ and ‘new’ about Goa for our ever-so-discerning readers.

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