Goa, a state on India’s West coast, is a former Portuguese colony with a rich history. Spread over 3,700 square kilometres with a population of approximately 1.4 million, Goa is small by Indian standards. It has a unique mix of Indian and Portuguese cultures and architecture that attracts an estimated 2.5 million visitors each year (including about 400,000 foreign tourists).
Since the 1960s, Goa has been attracting a steady flow of visitors — first the hippies and returning expatriate Goans, then the charter tourists (starting with the Germans in 1987), pilgrims visiting Catholic and Hindu shrines, those opting to settle in Goa as their home, people going for medical treatment, and a growing number of those who attend seminars and conferences in Goa.
Goa is visibly different from the rest of India, owing to Portuguese rule which isolated it from the rest of India for 451 years. The Goan population is a mixture of Hindus and Roman Catholics, the distribution being approximately 65% Hindu and 24% Christian. There is also a smaller Muslim population. Despite this, communal violence has been virtually non-existent and Goa is regarded as one of the most peaceful states in India.
Goan culture has been shaped mainly by the Hindu and Catholic population. People are mostly easy going (‘sossegado’ in Portuguese). With better connectivity by Air and Rail, there has been an influx of people from neighbouring states that has led to different cultures. Many Indians from other states have now come and settled here.
Goa’s heart is in its villages. Prominent Goan architect Gerard Da Cunha has argued elsewhere that, unlike others, Goans don’t live in the cities. They mostly live in the villages and they travel to work. Not surprisingly, it’s the villages of Goa which hold both charm and character. Take an aimless ride on a relaxed evening or a languid morning – living in Goa can be tough and slow, but holidaying there is just fine — and surprise yourself with the charms of the Goan village.
Unlike urban areas, the villages tend to be neat and clean, friendly and even good value-for-money, except maybe in those areas where there are a lot of tourists already.
Goa has many different faces. The coast varies from the “hinterland”. Below is a list of some villages where you could find something unusual. But don’t restrict yourself to this list alone.
Assolna, Benaulim, Britona, Cortalim, Curtorim, Goa Velha, Mollem, Usgao, Reis Magos, Savoi Verem, Shiroda. But this list is far from complete. Please note that you wouldn’t necessarily be looking around for accommodation (though you can find it in some places), because these villages are often close to the places where most tourists stay.
Goan Catholics generally acknowledge their Hindu roots, and carry traces of a caste-system within their social beliefs. It is recorded that in many instances the Hindus left one son behind to convert and thus continue to own and manage the common properties while the rest of the family preferred to emigrate to neighbouring areas along with the idols representing their Hindu deities.
Over the years large numbers of Catholics have emigrated to the major commercial cities of Bombay and Pune and from there onward to East Africa (to the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique), to Portugal itself, and towards the end of the 20th century to Canada and Australia. Many old Goan ancestral properties therefore lie either abandoned or mired in legal tangles brought about by disagreements within the widely dispersed inheritors of the property. In recent years, expatriate Goans have been returning to their home state, often purchasing holiday homes along the coast (which are then converted into ‘rent back’ apartments, hired out to short-staying tourists by real estate agents).
The best time of the year to visit Goa is mid-November to mid-February when the weather is comfortable, dry and pleasant.
Weather in Goa
Goa can be reached via its sole airport (Dabolim), by train, and by the many buses connecting the state with cities in India (primarily Mumbai, Mangalore and Bangalore). If you are travelling from Mumbai or Pune, car travel will provide you a journey through breathtaking scenery of the Konkan area.
The Dabolim airport in Vasco da Gama is Goa’s only airport. Some airlines fly directly to Goa, but most international flights arrive via Mumbai. Air India has international flights to Kuwait and UAE twice a week. Air Arabia has discount flights to Sharjah. Qatar Airways has flights to Doha, along with convenient connections to Western Europe, Africa and USA.
Flights can be chartered to the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and Switzerland.
Many domestic airlines have daily flights to and from Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Chennai, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and Kozhikode (Calicut).
On arrival, take pre-paid taxis from Dabolim Airport. A yellow pre-paid taxi booth can be found 30 metres on the left when you exit the main building. There is also a pre-paid taxi stand in the international arrival area.
Official Govt Rate Taxi Board, (Taxi Board is just outside arrivals). Those who want to make the trip to their hotel before the supplied coach may like to go by taxi, Just outside arrivals there is a taxi board showing rates for all the popular destinations (see link). Another option is to find a taxi just outside the airport gates who might be on their way home and save yourself a few hundred rupees. Official Govt Rate (2013).
Many resorts pick up guests from the airport for free, so make sure you ask your resort for free pick-up.
There are several bus routes from various cities, but most traffic is from mainly Mumbai and Pune. Due to increasing demand from the south, there has been an increase in buses and trains from Mangalore, Bangalore and New Delhi. Overnight buses from Mumbai to Goa are an alternative to trains and flying. Book in advance during the crowded seasons (particularly during the Christmas-New Year rush, for Carnival, or when other Indian regions have school holidays when families travel).
Kadamba Transport Corporation is the Goa state-run transport service. Its buses have seen better days, and more efficient times. There are also other state-run buses run by the governments of Karnataka (some services are efficient, specially the Volvo buses), Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. Many private players also offer bus connections to other cities, with varying levels of discounts and efficiency, with the two usually being inversely related.
The main centre for booking train and bus tickets, in Panjim, is around the Kadamba inter-state bus terminus. Tickets for the Konkan Railway can also be booked here, though expect long queues during the holiday season (which in India, can also coincide with the timings when children have a school break).
Indian Railways connects Goa with direct train services from Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Mangalore, Kochi, Kolkata, Thiruvanantapuram, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. The destination station is usually Madgaon in South Goa, one can also choose to get down at Thivim in North Goa. Travelling to Goa by train is a real pleasure as the route passes through greenery and many tunnels. Goa is also connected to Pune via the Belgaum Miraj line.
A railway station most tourists tend to miss is Thivim, which is served by most trains and is located very close to the popular beaches of North Goa. In case one had already booked a hotel, it would be a good idea to consult them on which station to get down at.
For budget travellers, this is the cheapest option, along with being faster and much more comfortable than travelling by road. It is advisable for tourists to make reservations well in advance as the major trains (Konkan Kanya, Nethravati Express, etc.) are usually heavily booked.
Trains from Mumbai and most other places have a quota of seats set aside for tourists. Quota tickets must be purchased in person at the rail station by the tourist and cannot be booked via a travel agent. Note that quota tickets are only sold at the station of origin. Tickets can be booked online.
Unless travelling on a shoestring budget, it is advisable to travel in air-conditioned sleeper coaches. These are quieter and much more comfortable. Each bunk is provided with two freshly laundered sheets, a blanket, and a pillow. You can also have a hand towel on request.
Most travel agents will book tickets for a small fee (₹200), but be aware that trains do get busy and you need to book in advance. Do not leave booking your ticket to the last moment as you may be disappointed.
The Goan staple diet consists of rice and fish curry along with pickles and fried fish. This can be found on many of the beach shacks. The Goan cuisine is a blend of Portuguese and local flavours. Many dishes such as prawn balchao and Kingfish in Garlic have distinct Portuguese flavour. The cuisine is mostly seafood based, the staple foods are rice and fish. Kingfish (Vison or Visvan) is the most common delicacy, others include pomfret, shark, tuna and mackerel. Among the shellfish are crabs, prawns, tiger prawns, lobster, squid and mussels.
Dishes such as Sorpotel, Vindaloo and Xacuti (pronounced Cha’cuti), Cafreal will be familiar from Indian restaurant menus, and are originally Goan dishes. For those with a sweet-tooth, Bebinca is a must. A traditional goan pudding, Bebinca is made of flour, egg-yolk, and, coconut milk. It is certainly a great way to finish that sumptuous meal.
Most beaches have shacks that serve surprisingly delicious meals, specially sea-food and they’ll usually consult you to see how you like your food. Don’t miss the shack eating experience. You’ll want to go back and do it again. Most fancy hotels and restaurants serve terrible food, it is best to eat at local places, ask a taxi driver where these would be and don’t let him take you to any fancy restaurants as they receive commission.
Some really good restaurants not to be missed are 1. Souza Lobo Bar & Restaurant, Off Calangute, North Goa 2. O Coqueiro, Porvorim, Goa 3. Florentine’s 4. Viva Panjim, Panjim 5. Starlight, Anjuna 6. Bob’s Inn, Candolim.
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