Sun, Sand and Surf - an apt description for Goa? But Goa is much more. Ancient temples and old churches? Yes. Portuguese Colony? Carnival City? The original refuge of the hippies? Yes again! Beach Paradise, India's holiday capital... the list goes on...
Goa, 'Pearl of the Orient', is located in South Western India on the coastal belt known as the Konkan.
While naturally blessed with a fortuitous combination of vast expansive beaches, forested hills and fertile plains, Goa's potential as a holiday hotspot is the result of potent intermingling of historical occurrences and the absorption capacity of its own compelling spirit.
Goa, Past and Present
Its creation divinely attributed to Lord Parshuram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, Goa's ancient rulers included the Rashtrakutas, Kadambas, Silahar, Chalukyas and the Bahamanis. More recently, significant from the holidaymaker's point of view, Goa became a coveted colony of the Portuguese, remaining so till liberation by the Indian Army granted it Union Territory status, later upgraded to State of the Indian Republic.
It is to this fact, perhaps more than any other, that a Goa holiday owes its special appeal. For, had Goa been a British colony, history would have been written very differently. Under Portuguese domination, the Iberian culture found a ready crucible to amalgamate with the original sensuous, fun loving Goan spirit.
The best of what both worlds had to offer was assimilated into one people, leading to a flowering of the aesthetic, musical, even culinary arts.
The spirit of Sucegado - carefree enjoyment and tranquil peace is probably Goa's most important, if intangible, export to the leisure holiday industry. Also reflected in his 'happy' acceptance of the Portuguese cultural invasion is the Goan's inherent adaptability and willingness to mix, qualities that hold the holiday and tourism industry in good stead.
A melting pot of races and religions, the fusion of the Eastern and Western cultures into its own unique ethos of mirth and self-contentment is what attracts Indian and foreign tourists, choc-a-bloc, to holiday in Goa.
Such a thriving holiday destination on the world tourism chart, Goa has many attractions to offer. Carefree beach bumming in the true spirit of Sucegado, adventure, watersports, high culture, churches and the appealing anachronism of Old Goa, wild party hopping, culinary adventures... Goa's holiday tourist is charmingly eclectic in his calling.
Beaches in Goa
India's unchallenged beach capital, Goa's coastline is generously sprinkled with sand and surf: From popular tourist spots where one usually sees more skin than sand, to untouched havens that are worth taking that extra trouble to discover.
Starting from Calangute in North Goa, clustered around Panaji, te capital of Goa, and further down, Margao in South Goa, are the most popular beaches on the tourism circuit.
These are thickly surrounded by the usual agencies of tourism - hotels and facilities offering modern day luxuries, restaurants, shops, resorts, entertainment centers, spas, resorts, the works.
Outside this ring, moving either North from Calangute or South of Margao the Goa's beaches become refreshingly more pristine and unpopulated. There, it's just the sea, surf washed sand, sparkling or alternatively shaded by abundant palms fronds, and you! (con't >>)
Goa is a small state on the southwest coast of the Indian subcontinent. It's known for its beautiful beaches, friendly people, and casual atmosphere. There are dozens of beaches catering to every type of traveller out there, from resort-dwellers looking for creature comforts to the more common bamboo shacks for simpler accommodations, and your environment can be as quiet or as active and loud as you are looking for.
Goa is the origin of a type of electronic music known as Goan trance, and during the busy season (November to March) you can experience some of the best trance parties anywhere in the world. The parties aren't for everyone, however, just as India isn't for everyone, or just as a luxurious resort or a lonesome walk down a quiet beach isn't for everyone.
Goa is another side of a multifaceted India, just as the Himalayan regions of northern India are different from the backwater canals of the tropical south, and the rich Bengali history of the east is different from the isolated heat of the Thar desert in the west. There is much to experience and enjoy!
Some of Goa's Popular Holiday Beaches
Vagator: 22 km from Panaji, this crescent shaped beach on the Chapora River basin, in the shadow of the Chapora Fort, is a quiet place to unwind, but during the holiday season is a scene for all night partying.
Anjuna: 18 km from Panaji, nestled between the sea and hill, this is a scenic beach with superb natural beauty makes for an excellent holiday.
Baga: One of Goa's northern beaches, it is comparatively emptier and surrounded by scenic beauty.
Calangute: A favourite with holidaymakers, Calangute in North Goa, 15 km from Panaji, is the 'Queen of Beaches'. The down side of holiday rush means that this stretch of sand is overcrowded at any time of the year.
Sinquerim: 13 km from Panaji, Sinquerim is a popular holiday beach for its water sports facilities offering water-skiing, para-sailing diving and surfing.
Miramar: Located just 3 kms from Panaji, it understandably sees the tourist rush and is dotted with holiday homes of the rich and famous. However, lying along the mouth of the Mandovi River as it meets the sea, it is interesting for its view of the Aguada fort.
Aguada: Famous for the 17th century Portuguese fort, this has now been converted into a Hotel. Though it's grounds occupy much of the area around, the beach is open to general tourists.
Agonda: Secluded, this beautiful stretch of silvery sand is refreshing - just the holiday to unwind on the sand and listen to stories of the sea. The nearby Cabo de Rama is historically interesting. Local legend has it that Lord Rama stayed here with Sita during his exile.
Majorda: A local version of the 'Ramayana' has it that Ram was kidnapped as a child and brought up at Majorda. Later Jesuits discovered the best Goan toddy here and today's holiday attractions remain the bakeries, the best in Goa.
Colva: 39 km from Panaji and immensely popular, Colva offers a comfortable holiday with hotels, discos, shops and restaurants. Colva is also famous for the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, which has the statue of Menino Jesus.
Benaulim: Less than 2 kms from Colva, this lovely holiday destination also has thriving handicrafts center attracts tourists for its traditional rosewood furniture. The Church of St. John the Baptist on a hill is quite famous as is the monsoon thanksgiving feast of São João.
Varca, Cavelossim, Mobor: These beaches south of Benaulim are really inviting. Cleaner and less crowded than others, they are studded with some exclusive beach resorts in Goa and food shacks. A holiday here also offers opportunities for watching wild dolphins.
Palolem: 70 km south of Panaji, this white sandy beach is some commercial activity, including restaurants and shops. Weekends especially tend to get crowded here.
Another contribution of the Portuguese rule to Goa's holiday potential is the occurrence of splendid churches, especially in Old Goa.
Originally spread with passionate fervour by the former rulers, Goa, Rome of the East, sees the dominant influence of Christianity, both in the religious and cultural spheres. Visible expressions of this are the Churches of Old Goa. Historically, these can be classified into the following periods, reflecting changing architectural styles and iconography.
Early Period: Typified by Goa's oldest surviving church, Our Lady of Rosary on Monte Santo in the 'Manueline' style named after King Emmanuel of Portual. This is a blend of Gothic and Renaissance with the motifs featuring Portuguese seamanship. The construction being unsuited to Goa's weather, very few of these can be seen by tourists today.
Baroque Period: 'Golden Goa' time of hectic missionary activity including the arrival of St. Francis Xavier, saw many grand churches in the contemporary European style built. These include the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Augustine Church of Our Lady of Grace.
Indian Baroque Period: Reflecting local Goan influences in style and design, including the outer façade and inclusion of tropical motifs such as flowers and fruits. Outstanding amongst these are the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Church of Holy Spirit, Margao.
Rococo Period: Typified by the smaller size of construction but with excuisite ornate finishing with local motifs, it is also known by the use of Stucco on the exterior façade. St, Stephen at San Esteyan near Panaji is a notable example.
Modern Period: Starting from the nineteenth century onwards, this period saw the liberation of Goa's churches from the rigid norms of the past as different styles flowered. An example is the Nossa Senhora employing the gothic style. Most churches in Goa continue to fulfill their spiritual purpose, revered by Hindus and Christians alike, while also serving as artistic and cultural attractions for tourists.
Goan Hindu Temples
Goan Hindu Temple architecture is another tourist attraction of a Goan Holiday, typified by the influence of local style over the rigid architecturally rigid structure. The maratha influence on Goa's religious architecture lies in the Deepmal or Lamptower which is from two to six stories high, decorated with oil lamps on festive occasions.
Mughal influence seems to express itself in the dome that covers the central shrine in place of the traditional shikhara, as also the Naubat Khana - a small tower at the entrance of the courtyard.
Portuguese Christian influence is visible in the curving roofs of the Mandapas.
Not many of Goa's earliest temples survived the Moghul and later the Portuguese invasions (exceptions are the "Pandava Caves" dedicated to Lord Shiva, located at Aravelam and the Shiva Temple at Tambdi), which saw temples being razed and churches erected in their place. As a result most surviving temples that the tourist in Goa comes across are comparatively modern. The Mahalaxmi Temple in Panaji was the first temple allowed by the Portuguese, following much deliberation, in 1818.
Food is another attraction for the tourist in Goa. Touring in Goa is a wonderful way to encounter Goa's inimitable cooking is as much a melange of different cultural invasions as its art, music, culture and literature.
The staple for Hindus and Christians alike is rice and fish curry. And while tourist's taste buds succumb to the temptations of Ambot Tik (Prawns/fish in a sour hot gravy), Sorpotel (fiery wet pork) and Xacuti (spicy meat dish), washed down with Feni (a pungent potent brew made from cashew nuts) it can be too much for the uninitiated palate to handle.
Deserts in Goa come in the form of sinfully delicious Dodol (made from coconut and Goa jaggery) and Bebinca (a baked dish with coconut juice and egg yolk)
Truly, this amazing pot-pourri of beach, nature, food and drink, culture and kitsch, religious fervour and profanity and fun galore that represents tourism in Goa would be hard to find anywhere else in the world.
Roozbegh Gazdar is also a writer for www.traveljini.com. Photos: Kelly Martin.