Planning on living on a bowl of rice a day in India, or under the age of 25 and hostel jumping in dorms with bed bugs? This article is not for you. Mature-ish, aging hipsters read on: Artjuna is your first stop in India
With the world at our fingertips, working remotely from anywhere, and more time for leisure as many of us skip the high-stress jobs, why not go to India? Home to yoga, ancient mystics, and the kindest people on the planet, India is one of those places that can change your soul and course of life. I was always dreaming of India but hadn’t managed to get there before I had kids. With 2 small ones, I wondered, how do I jump in? Known as “India Light” Goa on the coast is a perfect first stop to exploring India. Come in the fall when the weather is drier and less hot and make sure that you start everything off at Artjuna Cafe in Anjuna, Goa. This is what I did with my family of four and parents.
Moshe Inbar and his life partner Anastasia run the dynamic cafe-cum-community center cum-DJ hub. Even if you don’t love trance music and late night dance parties which the town is famous for, you will meet a wonderful community of kind souls from around the world who can help you navigate your first steps in India. Where should we go and when? How can we rent a house? Where should we eat, is it safe? Where can the kids go to school? I asked all these questions to Moshe before arriving to Goa and throughout our 6 weeks in Anjuna and Vagator he was the best ambassador to the region, connecting locals from Goa and Mumbai to a rich and varied international crowd. He gave his his best advice with all his heart and I feel with left Goa with a new friend.
Moshe’s cafe on one of the main streets provides healthy and clean sustenance in mornings and afternoons. Walk in and you will enter a quiet little kingdom with treehouses for kids to explore. I appreciated the high level yoga classes run by his Iyengar teacher friend Ian Teger.
This is how it started before we travelled to India:
After hearing Moshe’s name a few times from my friends in Israel, I was on a quest to meet him. We connected by WhatsApp and he was answering any questions I had. I found a place on AirBnB, asked him if it sounded reasonable and after yes, booked. The first things we did after arriving to Goa, via Mumbai, was drop our bags, rent a car through our host, get a SIM card and then we visited Moshe.
We put his café in Waze and found it immediately. A kind guard helped us into a parking spot across the road from the café and there we would find our new home in India for 6 weeks at Artjuna Café.
Artjuna functions as the cultural center of India, a drop off point for newcomers, aging hippies, DJ’s, locals, Indians from Mumbai, yoga enthusiasts and people who value good, healthy food, health drinks and coffee. Back in the days when I was a backpacker I would sail from hostel to hostel asking the guy in town a week before me about what’s going on, what I should do. Today, 20 years later, I like my privacy, have an aversion to bed bugs most hostels aren’t for me anymore. This time around we would rent a small house with a bedroom and bathroom for everyone in the family.
Now we have the Internet beyond the Lonely Travel guides and travelling becomes less about being the lone wolf and finding new frontiers, and more about building community, the community you always wanted and how to have authentic experiences with people you meet along the way. In India, Artjuna is the place to start building those foundations.
At its core, Artjuna’s beating heart and brains is Moshe, and his less-public partner Anastasia who runs the boutique selling her own designs in clothes and jewelry, with a collection of things hand made by others. A couple for a couple of decades with two young girls, they both started in the trance scene in Goa years ago. Some fifteen years on with lots of lessons learned, they run the most successful café in the region, for many reasons. Great food, reliable information and advice you would give to your best friend, yoga, community events, and a great clothing shop if you want to avoid the overheated markets.
There is really something extremely yummy for everyone. My daily meal after an hour and a half of yoga every morning was often a Greek salad with bread, or a granola bowl with fresh fruit. Moshe is from Israel so he really knows how to serve up fresh and healthy Mediterranean food. While it’s not hard to find fresh fruit and veggies in Goa, it is a labor making sure that you can eat them, that they’ve been cleaned appropriately. His staff is local. Try the ABC juice.
Alcohol is not served at Artjuna and there is a no drugs policy. There is an annual art show where you can buy art made by Goans and travellers from all over the world. A woman in a yoga class (from Italy) gave me her pants. The people there are amazing.
What kept me coming back daily to Artjuna was the yoga sessions, though about half of the cafe seemed to be just in it for the friendship. Like an Indian version of entering a Cheers set. Many are throwbacks from the 90s rave scene, but there is a great mix of ages, younger and older too.
I enjoyed Iyengar yoga sessions with in-house yoga teacher and good friend to Moshe, Ian Teger. He teaches multiple levels at once, from the just-past-beginner to the master class level student. The very beginners can start studying with Ian’s protégés (one has a great clothing shop too nearby – see Ondi) in a beginner class after the first of the morning.
The classes are challenging, restorative and a lot of fun. Ian takes the less serious route that most Iyengar teachers embrace. The class is full of jokes, sometimes in Yiddish. Ian is originally from the UK and was a close student of BKS Iyengar, a yoga guru who brought yoga to the western world.
While many people struggle to book week-long or longer detox of yoga sessions before they travel to India, I think the best way to get the most for your money and social life is to find a local place to stay (we stayed with a local Goa family) and spend most of your time at Artjuna with Moshe and his crew.
For those with kids, try the Holistic Yellow School, where hippy kids get educated. Drop-ins allowed, even for weeks at a time. Meet you there next winter?