Our luggage stacked almost impossibly onto and inside our tiny vehicle – along with six passengers – we neither had weight nor speed on our side.
Then India has always been a nation of contrasts, and Goa is a microcosm of the larger entity, displaying beauty and ugliness, poverty and wealth, ambition and randomness.
One thing Goa also does well is recognise its appeal, even if it struggles to protect its assets; the likes of Baga Beach is almost as blighted by rubbish as the nearby streets.
The huge expanse of sand that draws so many to the “Pearl of the Orient” for relaxation, partying and water sports is also pitted with cigarette ends and bottles, careless tourists as much to blame as the beach bars that seemingly fail to do regular litter swoops.
Look beyond this blemish, however, and it is easy to understand why Goa remains a holiday hotspot. Yards from the drone of jet skis and thump of competing sound systems, fishermen still repair their nets ahead of the overnight sail; herds of cows meander between tourists and hawkers selling snacks. And the sunset continues to conjure far more colours and shades than surely one sky deserves.
By day Baga, town and beach, bristles with all manner of life. At night, a thousand bulbs light the shoreline as those same bars up the volume and cajole customers inside for curries and chilled bottles of Kingfisher.
While there’s talk of Goa’s prices having risen in recent years, it’s still tough to fault the cost of a meal. Spicy and often big on coconut milk, many local dishes don’t exactly promote a beach physique, but it is hard to resist a good Goan fish curry.
Back on the roads, it is worth battling the traffic and crowds to seek out the area’s heritage landmarks. And arguably the largest legacy of the Portuguese occupation of this part of India is the church collection in Old Goa.
At the heart of Velha Goa, Sé Catedral de Santa Catarina’s imposing white structure contrasts most other buildings in the region and is reportedly the largest church in India. The nearby Basilia of Bom Jesus also warrants a visit as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nature arguably has the last word in this lush, green state, however. And it doesn’t shout much louder than Dudhsagar Falls, close to the central Goan city of Ponda and 60km from the state capital Panaji.
Literally meaning, Sea Of Milk, the base is reached via a rugged track through Mollem National Park and Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary, a vast protected spread to Goa’s border with Karnataka.
It brings you to the foot of the falls and clear, chilly waters filled with bobbing foreigners, an intriguing sight for the train passengers crossing the bridge high above on the Mormugao-Londa line.
Although we visited out of monsoon season, this vital part of Goa’s ecosystem still makes for a beautiful and dramatic view, descending over 310 metres, 30 metres wide in places and running along the valley to the hefty residents awaiting a tourist-assisted scrub at the nearby elephant sanctuary.
Clearly aimed at tourists, the Mollem facility appears to do the right thing with its influx of Rupees and these imposing creatures even seem to smile as their pale visitors pamper them awkwardly.
The same tourist desk can book you in to visit the nearby Tropical Spice Plantation in Keri. Reached via a floating bridge over a sultry lagoon, a tasty lunch served on a banana leaf plate is followed by an informative tour of the site where flavoursome and health-giving plants are grown, exported and sold at the exit shop.
Anxious to see more of the Mandovi River, we booked onto one of several small, but busy, tourist boats the next day.
Double that number of boats pulled up for the lunch stop, in a bay that was probably once an idyllic hideaway. Dozens of tourists disembarked for a lunch of BBQ chicken, rice and beers, various European accents mingling with the Konkani chatter of locals perched on rocks spectating this presumably frequent invasion.
A few hours later we catch an Indian shopkeeper speaking fluent Russian. Although the economy has squeezed the influx of Rubles to Goa in recent times, the region remains a favourite among those seeking to escape the harsh winters, especially with a tourist visa easier on their pocket than that of visitors from the UK and several other countries.
Nowhere more so than at the newly refurbished Resort Rio, near the village of Arpora, about 3km from Baga.
The hotel is an unlikely slice of luxury at the end of an unflattering road with views across simple farmland towards Baga. It is also a satisfying base after the relative chaos of Goa’s roads - and good breathing space before tackling the bustling night market.
The weekly gathering beside Baga River is a great spot for souvenirs, including authentic masks and ornaments, art by local talent, and the usual luxury watch and fashion copies.
There’s live music and a huge community feel to the place as well as plenty of food opportunities if your stomach is brave and seeking basic authenticity.
Like all things Goan, you simply need to take a breath and dive in, for this is a place that will give you an experience, regardless of whether you look for one.
WE flew on Jet Airways from DXB, booked via www.skyscanner.com
RESORT Rio was booked via www.booking.com
FOR more on the region visit www.goatourism.gov.in