Taj Exotica, Benaulim Beach,Goa

I have just come back from a holiday in South Goa. As the title tells you, we stayed at one of the (there are three, btw) Taj resorts in Goa, the Taj Exotica. Needless to say, when you are in Goa with your five star room facing the beach, you are bound to have a good time. Which we did.

To start with, we travelled from Pune to Panvel by car at the unearthly hour of 3 in the morning. We had to catch the Konkan Railway, the Jan Shatabdi which leaves Dadar,Mumbai at 5.30 AM. We reached without too much incident at 5 AM and waited drowsily for the train at the Panvel station. It turned up on time which was a relief. The Jan Shatabdi has only chair car bogies with two AC coaches. We were a gang of three families consisting of 6 adults and three tiny boys. We joined the family which had boarded at Dadar.

The first surprise was the staff in the train. They were all young 20-22 year old boys in bright yellow half-sleeved shirts. They scurried about busily serving snacks and beverages. The snacks ranged from omelets, puri bhaji to egg biryani, veg pulav and the like. I enjoyed the upma, bread cutlet and tea!

The train wound its way through the pretty Konkan countryside which had a good green cover even in the last week of scorching April. I imagined how lovely it must be after the rains with plenty of streams and waterfalls. We also noticed a lot of landslide prevention nets which are a constant threat. The Konkan Railway cuts through the Sahyandris (we passed through a lot of tunnels ) and more or less follows the Bombay Goa highway route. As a result, it covers a huge distance of 500+ kms in good time. We entered Goa at around 12.30 PM.

The first stop in Goa was the Karmali or Thivim station at around 1 PM. This is the place to get off for North Goa. Our resort was in the South of Goa and we continued on to Madgaon which is about an hr away. This is the last stop of the train and this is where an engine is fitted at the back of the train and the train goes back to Dadar,Mumbai after a halt. Because the train does not do a U-turn, the passengers going to Mumbai sit facing the direction opposite to that of the train’s.

We got off and made our way to the entrance where our pick up was supposed to.. , well, pick us up. The mini bus (which had arrived on time to pick us up), took about 15-20 minutes to reach the Taj. We entered through the gates and drove upto the majestic entrance. We were given wet towels to freshen up and our luggage was taken care of. Just outside the glass doors was a big ceramic pot filled with water and freshly picked white plumeria floating at the top.

We went in and made our way to the lobby. I liked it immediately.. It was huge, square with big wooden beams on the ceiling and had a sloping tiled roof giving it a quaint look. The centre of the lobby which was one level up overlooked a lovely fountain in the middle which was at ground level. All around along the sides which overlooked the fountain were placed sofas and chairs. We sank in to the white cushions and waited to be checked-in. In the meanwhile, we were given fresh coconut water to drink. So far was beautiful.

However, the not so good part started at check in when we were told that our rooms were placed far away from each other. Now Taj Exotica is immense .. so when they tell you that your rooms are far away, they are a good 10 minute walking distance away at least. This was certainly not acceptable to us as we had made the bookings as a group and wished to spend time together.

We insisted we be given rooms within vicinity of each other. The check-in assistants promised to do their best but not guarantee on what rooms they can provide. This was not looking so good and we sat around waiting while they did whatever they were doing to get us what we wanted.

It was about 2.45 PM and it didn’t seem likely that we would be checked-in anytime soon. We were all ravenous by then and decided to make our way to the restaurant since the buffet was to close at 3PM. Ours was an all inclusive package which started with lunch on day one. However we were taken aback at the restaurant when the rude steward curtly told us to hurry up with our lunch as they were closing. Not the nicest thing to say to guests who were hungry, harassed as no rooms had been given and had only just started their holiday. We gobbled whatever we were allowed to and made a quick exit.

We were finally given two adjacent rooms and were told that a third would be made available within an hour and would that be alright?! We accepted and were checked in to rooms 118 and 119. They were pretty rooms with lovely French windows opening out on to the green lawns. Beyond the blue water glittered and beckoned.

The rooms had the complimentary fruits, wine and cashews and were well furnished. The bathrooms were huge, as big as the rooms themselves with four compartments. The one thing that strikes you about the hotel is their eagerness to cater to the foreign clients. The WC did not have water, just tissue! There were plug points for American gadgets in the rooms. The toilets were called restrooms and there was a Bible kept in each room.

We hung around in room 119 waiting to be alloted a place. At 5PM we were told, we would have to wait some more. Finally the young kids and some of the older ones as well made off to the beach. I patiently waited and when my patience began to run out, I called them. Several times. I was repeatedly told that the staff is doing up the room and it would be ready soon!!

Just when I was beginning to lose it, I was told the room was ready. I finally went in at 6.30 PM in room 117 and heaved a sigh. We had left Pune at 3 AM and I very much needed a place to shower and nap!

Ahh.. the world seemed a more beautiful place once I had freshened up! The lawns seemed greener and the air cooler.

Now I must talk about the food.

The Deserts were de-li-ci-ous!! I remember the Dodol which is a special Goan desert. Another is the Bebinca which we bought to take back with us.

There were other deserts like the Apple crumble and fresh crisp jalebis, mango coconut mousse and ice creams and lot of other scrumptious stuff.. it wasn’t possible to pig out on all of them all the time and I let myself be content by gazing at them with loving eyes.

After helping ourselves to lavish b’fasts, lunches and dinners, it was necessary to move about or we would have soon started waddling rather than walking. So move about we did. The Taj Exotica is spread over many acres and all of it covered in green grass and palm trees. It is serene and lovely. There are winding pathways which you can use to cycle about the place. They stock cycles at the Activity center near the swimming pool and we enjoyed cycling all over the resort. The pool is lovely and clean though not meant for any serious swimming. It’s max depth is 4 feet and we enjoyed cooling off in it and playing ball. Another activity we had fun trying out was Archery. I discovered that it’s no joke and requires strength. My first two shots went flying into the ground though I eventually got the hang of it and even managed a bull’s eye. There was also a special play area for kids called the Tex center which was very cutely done up. It was colourful ,well stocked, had an attendant at all times during the day and the kids were happily engaged for hours there. All these activities were meant to be free for one hour per room per day. However the Taj did not seem very stringent about these rules and generally seemed to let people enjoy them as much as they wanted.

The biggest distraction was of course the beach. The Taj Exotica has a board stating that they do not encourage or provide water sports. So if you do want to do some motor boat riding or fly in the sky, there are other operators who will provide these services on the very beach on which the Taj Exotica is.
But the resort provides comfy lounge chairs under thatched umbrellas and that was good for us. The beach is nice.. very white sand and lots of it.. and its clean and obviously not cluttered with crowds.

That’s the story. The only annoyance was the inability of the staff to manage a full house at any meal. They would suddenly magically disappear if you happened to need water or anything else. And if you did manage to get hold of some unhappy soul, he would appear to suffer from amnesia and your requests for forks/spoons and other eating aids would go unattended.

I remember the last meal of our holiday was b’fast and because it was the b’day of one of the kids, we arranged to have a cake with candles delivered to his table. After the song singing and cake cutting, we went back to our table only to discover much to our chagrin that our table had been cleared off!! This, when after much running around , I had managed to make my cereal – they had run out of many ingredients and were suffering from amnesia as usual when I informed about the lack of the milk or fruit. Since it was the closing time for b’fast, the staff apparently were happier to polish the table rather than ask if the half eaten cereal should be taken away. We let the steward know how upsetting it was; he then ensured that we were served whatever we desired.

The only times we were attended to properly was when we avoided peak times for any meal. So that was that. And of course there was the excursion. Each family was provided with a car and there was a guide with us too.  Now the Taj Exotica is situated on Benaulim beach which lies close to the Colva beach and near the town of Margaon. They took us to the Almeida house in Margaon which was interesting, then some cashew shopping in Margaon. The trip ended with the sunset (though we didn’t get to see it sink in the sea) at the Colva beach. That beach was quite disappointing as it was extremely crowded and littered and a stink of rotting fish pervaded the air. We had no hope nor wish of getting near the water through the crowds; but the kids enjoyed the merry-go-round and such distractions.

The journey back was uneventful and we reached Panvel at 10PM – the train was running slightly late. We reached Pune at 12AM.
Thus ended another lovely holiday!

As far as rating the Taj Exotica,Goa goes: Here’s what I experienced (5 – Excellent and 1 – Poor)
Service: 3 (The service at the restaurant could have been much better)
Decor: 5
Room: 5
Staff courtesy: 4 (Most of the staff was polite save for some of the restaurant staff)
Food:4 (The bakery could have been better. But it was overall good)
Management: 3 (They goofed at check-in and also at check-out)
Price: Just right!

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