This property of two villas and a cottage by the sea has successfully married a contemporary aesthetic to the nature around it. By doing so, it has managed to create a perfectly harmonious world so elusive to the world outside its gate
Life moves into slow lane, and you begin relishing flavours of life, much before you reach Niraamaya’s private residences in Benaulim, South Goa. Your cab sails through the just-waking-up Goa, some streetlights are still glowing in the mist of raindrops while crowds of coconut palms happily nod at you from both windows and scent of rain is in air.
The roads are initially winding, then move straight and widen, only to swerve off the highway taking you through narrow village roads. Glimpses of the splendorous Goa pass by – a forlorn underbridge, clusters of Portuguese-styled cottages with their typical high-plinth porches, a little ramshackle bridge beside an altar, and then the road abruptly opens up to paddy fields, bringing in full view the darkish-greyish blue clouds; this stretch ends before you can fully savour it and you are again in one of the quaint villages of Goa, moving closer to the beach. You have crossed Majorda and Utorda.
It’s from this point the onslaught on commercialization can be seen. There is a sprinkling of Goan restaurants and pubs, catering to budget tourists, along with plush cafés, which are new arrivals in this part of the coastal state. Corner convenience stores and beauty salons have also begun mushrooming. Many T junctions end at the gates of luxury resorts, holding the treasure of golden beach inside them.
You drive up the road, along the boundary wall of Costa Montage, a residential condominium, and take a sharp right turn. You are now on a newly-made road that takes you right up to the terracotta-colored gate, from behind it red-tiled roofs peek.
As the gate closes behind you, your link to the outside world is broken...
And you enter the world of Niraamaya Private Residences. Built on three acres, it’s plush and understated, thrumming the song of the sea, a thick scent of fruits and flowers floats in the air, at a far corner sounds of the raucous crows and seabirds fill the place with an intermittent melodious injection of Koyal and the chirping of other tropical birds. Goa is a habitat for seabirds such as storm petrels, shearwater petrels, boobies and gannets, and others.
You feel three of your five senses – hearing, sight and smell – stirring, and the bright smile of Himadri Bhatt, the host, touches your soul. You ready yourself for the rigmarole of checking into the private residence but Bhatt’s doing no such thing. She ushers you straight to the main villa, where an over six feet reclining Ganesha greets you. The entrance is shaded with pomegranate and chickoo trees. You take a few steps to the landing of the wide entrance, which opens into a massive high-ceilinged hall with a flawless view of the sea, a lawn was strewn with coconut palms (Bhatt puts the number at around 70) and a plunge pool. If you look beyond the not-so-clearly-pronounced boundary of the property, you can see a grazing calf, a seabird (couldn’t identify it), a crow and a dog in a playful huddle. These views fill up the room but the sound is cut off by soundproof glass walls.
The room décor is contemporary and pared-down, lending a sense of immense space to it. The extravagant deep sofas are in a subtle tone, facing the sea and the sea cottage. The large square table, with sharp lines, is in proportion to the dimension of the room. The dining area has a homely feel and offers privacy. It’s got a long, no-frills table and a bar counter.
Inside the bubble of personalised service and comfort, you rediscover yourself.
As I quietly study the interiors of the room, the ever-so-courteous Bhattacharya appears with a blushing glass of Kokum juice. This instantly arouses my fourth sense – taste. Refreshed, I settle down for a tete-a-tete with Bhatt at the dining table as breakfast is served. The scattered conversations range from Niraamaya’s soulful philosophy to eccentricities of guests to her childhood memories of Dehradun to personalised service at the wellness retreats of Niraamaya. Our talk is punctuated with many a hearty laughs.
The colourful platter of seasonal fruits arrives first. “Living up to its commitment to health, every property of Niraamaya makes physical and mental wellness of guests its first priority,” informs Bhatt.
Since Bhatt has already made a note of my preference for meal much before I arrived, the breakfast spread is vegetarian. Going by my north Indian surname, it was deduced aloo (mashed potato) paratha with curd and pickles would tickle my palate. Four hot triangles of aloo parathas, which are crispy on the outside and soft from inside, land on the table. Next comes three subtly-spiced home-made pickles. These are not your run-of-the-mill pickles. They are made from tendli (ivy or scarlet gourd), amla (gooseberry) and beetroot.
After a while, Chef Francis joins us. When I tell him I am game for indulging in local cuisine, he promptly offers to rustle up chana-bhaji with Goan bread pooyi. With his experience on an American Cruise, Chef Francis’ menu runs long but he believes his core strength lies in Goan dishes like Chicken Cafreal, Chicken Xacuti and Goan pork dishes.
At other properties, Niraamaya emphasises on vegetarian food. However, in Goa it has relaxed this rule and is going a bit easy on alcohol consumption too. Chef Francis is finicky about the freshness of vegetables so grows them in his kitchen garden. He is also very particular about the pig he uses for his pork dishes. He insists they have to be English-bred (pink) pigs. For this, he makes weekly trips to Mapusa in North Goa.
Chef Francis has visited Niraamaya’s wellness retreat in Kovalam to be indoctrinated in the Ayurvedic diet. He, therefore, understands the nutritional value of ingredients too well and has applied it to the special menu designed for Goa’s private residence.
For me, he’s planned a lunch, starting with lemon and lentil soup, followed by crunchy stuffed ladies fingers. The highlight of the main course is pinkish beetroot chappati, all this capped with a bowl of fruit custard.
I polish off half a bowl of chana-bhaji, scooping it with warm and spongy pooyi. By now, Bhatt has sensed my discomfort because of the sniffles I have got. She recommends I sip lukewarm ginger water. In an instant, the warm pungent brew is in front of me on the table. How much more personal can the service at a homestay get?
Two villas, a seaside cottage and a huddle of happy birds and animal...
Breakfast done, Bhatt is now ready to take me on a tour of the villa, which has two rooms. The two striking features of the villa are large clutter-free spaces and exquisite interiors. In the master bedroom, a King-sized bed, facing the glass walls, sits in the middle of the room, along with a lounger and an ottoman. Bhatt unfurls the remote-controlled blinds on the glass walls with a flourish, and the natural beauty beyond it blends seamlessly with the room. Somewhere inside me, the nth sense comes alive, it’s indescribable and can only be felt.
The main bedroom’s bathroom is extravagantly spacious with smoked glass roof letting in muffled sunlight. It is attached with a walk-in wardrobe. It could, by far, be one of the best bathrooms in a homestay in India. The second bedroom is smaller by this villa’s standards but by other benchmarks, it’s big.
Around the villa, on one side is a plunge pool and on the other is a patio with benches and a table with the rough-wood finish. Here, you can enjoy a romantic dinner under a starry sky with the sea humming in the background, or a sumptuous breakfast on a bright sunny morning.
Bhatt and I saunter out of the villa, on to the lawns. She asks me to remove my shoes and walk bare feet on the grass and the earth. There, my fifth sense has also come into play. One-by-one, I am consciously waking up all my senses.
We reach the comparatively smaller villa with a veranda around it. The architecture and décor of the two rooms in this villa coalesces Indo-Portuguese and colonial influences to create a delightful fusion. It’s tucked away in one corner of the plot and feels like a hermitage. On one side of it is a sundeck with sunbeds and parasols.
We stroll around a bit more on the lawns as Bhatt tells me about Niraamaya’s signature experiences, detox processes, walking meditation, fishing expeditions, planting saplings to leave behind a trail of memories and a host of other things. She says one of the golden norms adhered by everyone at Niraamaya was to be attentive to guests’ needs without being intrusive. Bhatt is an engaging conversationalist.
Bhatt has saved the best for the last – a cottage, literally, on the edge of the sea. Sparsely furnished, this cottage can instantly put you in a meditative mood. Its glass walls merge into the isolated beach and the turquoise sea beyond it. At one end of the white beach, a bunch of fishermen are readying to launch a boat in the sea to go fishing. A few bright coloured boats are already sailing on the sea. At the other end, is a sleepy hamlet, of which only a few thatched roofs are visible. Beyond the glass walls of the cottage, birds are noiselessly flying, diving and sailing across the horizon. From behind plumes of clouds, the sun is radiating a warm, tangerine glow. All elements of earth seem to be in perfect harmony here.
And it takes immense effort to break away from this perfect existence and head back to the main villa to savour Chef’s delectable lunch. Beyond the boundary, the grazing calf, the seabird, the crow and the dog are still in a joyful huddle, blissfully oblivious of how different they are from each other. Crude realities have distanced themselves from this place but you know you have to return to it.
As I leave, Chef Francis, Bhattacharya and two more staff shake hands with me and bid adieu. Bhatt and I hug. My cab slowly pulls away, and the gate behind me closes; this time snapping my bond to Niraamaya’s private residences as the outside world rushes to embrace me.