This year my life has dramatically changed. I'm not just thinking about things I want to achieve in life, I'm finally doing them. I'm not sure what took me so long, but as clichéd as it sounds it really is better late than never. Being at the tail end of my 20s has had a big influence on this new attitude, as I didn't want to head into my 30s regretting the things I hadn't even tried.
So after years of thinking about travelling the world and carrying out humanitarian work in deprived countries, this year I was actually going to fulfil my dreams and do it; flying out to Asia for a year of travel, teaching and volunteering with my best friend in tow.
My first stop was Goa, India, where I have been living for the past two months. I arrived in early September during the remaining weeks of the monsoon; and at a time of big change in the region. There was a lot of construction underway for the coming season, as well as hotels and bars exchanging hands. I'll be seeing out my stay until the New Year as I purposely engineered my travel plan so that I could spend Christmas and New Year on the beach!
It will be a welcome change to the traditional British Christmas I am more than accustomed to, though I'll be sad to be missing the Top of the Pops special and the year's big Eastenders plotline, viewing that is as much part of my family Christmas as any stuffed turkey, bolied brussel or glass of mulled wine!
During my stay I have been volunteering at Educators' Trust India, a charity which provides education and assistance to the country's slum children. The charity has several projects in the area; a school open all year round for the local kids, as well as several others in slum communities offering education and aid for the children of migrant workers, here for the tourist season.
Life here is extremely laid back, and to my surprise, a big contrast to the fast moving hustle and bustle of India's famous tourist triangle (Delhi, Agra and Jaipur) which I visited two years prior. There I was constantly overwhelmed by the abundance sellers at every turn harassing me to buy a souvenir at inflated prices or staff who wanted a tip for almost anything. Be it for pointing me in the right direction to using the toilet, though more often than not if they just happen to be standing close by.
Refreshingly, Goa is the complete antithesis of that extreme; and while people do call out and ask if you want a taxi, scooter hire or maybe to come and have a look in their shop, if you say no thank you, they generally respect your wishes and let you go on your way; though might strike up some friendly conversation about your stay.
The other big difference here is that people are a little more realistic with the price of things. You may still have to haggle a little, but it's not as difficult as some of the other tourist traps. Though I'd suggest venturing to the quieter beaches for the best bargains. As a Westerner, you're always going to stick out and be a potential buyer to the locals trying to earn a living, but the great thing about Goa is the relaxed manner you are approached. There's a saying here: 'Goa is like a fridge, everyone just chills here' and I'd say that pretty much sums it up perfectly.
Because of that, easing into my new way of life was a natural transition; it's the sort of place you can find your way around quickly as people are always generally on hand to point you in the right direction, without wanting anything in return. It's a place that I have come to think of as home.
From dodging cows roaming the streets foraging in the garbage and vagrant dogs relaxing in the hot sun of the town's shop fronts, to the fact that everything is masala flavoured (from crisps to even drinks) and whole families riding on the back of one scooter has literally become a visions of normality here. Sights that often make me laugh to myself. This is India and anything goes, and no one bats an eye lid at the things that had I be living anywhere else, would be an odd sight to say the least. I've even grown accustomed to the pungent smell of rubbish that hits me now and again unexpectedly - a stench that always reminds me of the last day of Reading Festival.
Finding a place to stay was more straightforward than we had anticipated too. For our first few nights we had booked a simple room through Hostel Bookers. It hadn't been stayed in since the previous season - if you don't count the hub of mosquitoes - and for that reason was a little run down; in turn giving us the motivation to pound the streets and quickly find an alternative.
The Lonely Planet directed us to the popular stretch of accommodation on Hotel Street, close to the outskirts of tourist town Calangute, though slightly cut off from everything other than the beach. While friendly shop owners directed us to places more central, though they were not close to the beach enough.
However we found our home while looking for somewhere to have lunch, which was fortunately close to the beach, bus stops, shops, restaurants and drinking holes. Walking into Indian Kitchen, a family owned restaurant and apartment complex, you are instantly enchanted by the patterned mosaics decorating the courtyard; where multi coloured lanterns and vibrant trinkets hang from the trees and exotic plants line the paths. Walk further and you are greeted by a cosy living room adorned with traditional Indian statues, paintings and masks; as well as a vast library that guests are encouraged to read from.
A place where the family will often be sitting, always on hand to offer advice on getting around the town, where is best to buy from and how much things should cost. If I ever have a conundrum, everyone is always more than happy to help and even lend me a helpful guidebook. There is also the added bonus of a pool out back, for when I don't want the hassle of the beach sellers and bar PRs. Our plush apartment also comes with a balcony where we often spend our evenings looking up at the local wildlife. So far we have seen frogs, tropical birds, owls, lizards, a mongoose, bats, monkeys and the odd civet.
Situated next to the Our Lady of Piety Church, recently I enjoyed the fireworks and some Portuguese influenced Goan live music to mark the Nine Days of Feast Festival, followed by a travelling theatre group who set up a stage and performed outside the courtyard the following week. There's always something interesting happening around me. Last month I also experienced the Ganesh Festival, which lasts for ten days and is celebrated with fireworks, a Ganesh float and parade of locals dancing through the streets.
I reside between two of the popular Goan beaches, Calangute and Baga, a favourite among tourists who flock from all over the world for the season from October onwards; many of whom hailing from the UK, as well as Russia and other parts of India. Here you can sip cocktails at one of the many beach bars, wander through the colourful markets, partake in the vast number of water sports, buy fresh fish, fruit, veg and spices from merchants, buy exquisite jewellery from the Tibetan Market and sample the local cuisine which specialises in freshly caught seafood. There's also great links to other parts of Goa, which you can hit up by bus for less than 20p or by hiring a scooter to zip around on for about two pounds a day.
The bus is my favourite way of getting around as the palm tree lined fields you see from the windows are absolutely breath taking. Coupled with the Hindi music always buzzing from the bus' speakers; you start to feel like you are in a film montage, with your very own soundtrack playing in the background. For that reason, I always find my bus journeys to be very peaceful; I can just sit back, relax and catch a glimpse of authentic India.
By this mode I've checked out Panaji, Goa's capital, where I've caught a movie at their extravagant INOX cinema, been pampered at the exquisite Snips beauty spa and taken a sunset cruise along the Mandovi River. I'm yet to head back to see the grand state museum, library and secretariat buildings. I've also headed to the market town of Mapusa for its famous Friday market, a place popular among the locals as the prices are a great deal lower compared to beach stalls. I've walked the walls of the historical Fort Aguada, which overlooks the Arabian Sea, and was used by the Portuguese to guard against Dutch and Marantha invaders. I go to get my supermarket shop in nearby Candolim usually after stopping off for a bite at the Fisherman's Cove beforehand, and I've also climbed the cliffs of Vagator Beach to see the ruins of Chapora Fort. I've even fitted in a spot of partying at hippy haunt Anjuna Beach where I visited one of Asia's best night spots, Club Cubana; dubbed the club in the sky for its picturesque views from the club's many mezzanines high up in the hills. Though I'm yet to experience its famous full moon parties and infamous Goa trance raves on the rocks.
This month I'm planning bus trips to a spice plantation, three historical Hindu temples, a famous waterfall called Dudhsagar Falls and the town of Old Goa; where I'm told I can join an excursion to see crocodiles. There's also a spot of scuba diving, dolphin watching and a fishing trip on the cards too.
This really is the life!
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