Instead of going directly to Agonda this year, friends persuaded us to spend a few days first in Benaulim, 35kms north. We met Helene and Remy, who are from France, in Varanasi three or four years ago. They were also the ones who recommended going to Bundi and that was such a success that we felt inclined to follow up and meet them in Benaulim. Because of the train delay we arrived in the village late in the evening. Fortunately Remy had booked us into a guesthouse so we didn’t have to hustle around finding something ourselves. The next morning they showed us around and then we headed down to their favorite beach shack.
Since it was a 2 km walk from the guesthouse to the beach, once you were there you stayed for the day. The shack Helen and Remy frequent was owned by a Belgian/Indian couple and more than half of the customers spoke French. For us, the unique feature of these beach shacks that are scattered along a 20 km stretch is that once you’ve settled in you can leave your possessions in complete confidence sitting on the table while you go for a swim or take a walk . This includes cameras, computers, cellphones etc. Or at least this was the case at the Hawaii beach shack. We were also VERY impressed by the level of hygiene, only surpassed by a five star hotel. (Of course, we’re so familiar with the standards of five star hotels.) The staff was completely professional, food expertly prepared, glasses shining from a dishwasher, a spotless toilet and outdoor shower — we had to ask ourselves if we were still in India. Clearly the Belgian wife’s sense of cleanliness had made its mark.
When we learned that her husband was from Nagar and that they return there in April so their kids can go to school, we all got excited talking about Nicolai Roerich, the early 20C Russian artist/philosopher/explorer who lived there. His bungalow is now a small museum. We look forward to seeing them in April when we plan to visit Nagar again.
One of the main differences between Agonda and Benaulim is the fact that Benaulim sits on a long straight stretch of beach, while Agonda is only 3 km long with headlands on either end, much more scenic. The downside is that Agonda has become over crowded.
It was so nice to spend time with Helene and Remy in such a different environment than Varanasi and gave us the opportunity to get to know them better. They have been traveling SE Asia for over twenty years and every time we brought a place in India we’d visited, they’d already been there. Remy is an exceptional photographer and has an amazing ability to capture candid portraits of the many characters of Varanasi, and beyond. Gerard said, “After seeing your pictures, I feel like throwing my camera away.” We’re looking forward to seeing them again in Varanasi in March and they’ve promised to show us some of the Varanasi that they know.