Goa is unlike any other state of India. It is the smallest state of the country and Panaji or Panjim is its capital. It has a unique international atmosphere and layering, which is seen in its festive atmosphere and becalming halo. Goa was a Portuguese colony for centuries, from about 1510 until 1961, and this has left behind strong traces of foreign power here. It is a melting pot of people, happenings, events, that draw visitors to this city from all over the world. Even if one has not seen the city, one does occasionally hear about it from people who have been there, who extol its many virtues, and when one sees Goa in pictures, as stills, or moving images, they realise that Goa is dissimilar to other states of India in many ways and perhaps it is this combination of many cultures, artistic and world influences and communities, which bring forth new experiences for those who want to see an eclectic mix of transformation and modernity combined with tradition; and a different image of an effervescent, laid-back, relaxed and plentiful milieu that invigorates and enchants.
The region, due to its proximity to rivers and the sea, was the principal port of entry for the Portuguese, who used it to access even other parts of India, once upon a time, and now, it is often regarded as a travel destination by many, from within India and from abroad. Goa is an influence beyond the ordinary, it is everything one hopes for in one’s vacation - a mix of beaches, carnivals, markets, forts, temples, rivers, churches, chapels, casinos, restaurant-cum-bar, only-food joints, seafood, spice farms, museums, old Portuguese villas, a rich heritage evident in almost every nook and cranny – everything interconnected, a carefree, spirited ambiance, and a mix of experiences separated yet strongly connected to the rest of India.
Seeing the state is wholly a different experience, it is unlike anything one will feel in any other part of India. Goa has a multicultural and urban influence on those who live here and those who visit—travellers from around the world come here every year. Russians, the English, Germans often visit, and so do travellers’ from other parts of the world and from within India, for it offers them sun, sea and beaches, drinks, parties, exploring opportunities, and an escape from their daily life. Its many-faceted hues have caught the attention of many explorers and travellers in the past and continue to. There is music to hear, dance to, a liberating essence to find, Goan lifestyle to be a part of, things to buy, to see, to cherish, to bring back as memories, cuisines to check out, for those who love food, and trips to make here. Goa is a mixture of the traditional, customary and the foreign and diverse.
As a first-time traveller to Goa, one may compare it to other cities of India and realize it has strong elements of a period film in a modern setup. Portuguese influence is marked here. The freshness of Goa can only be felt in nearness. Goa is a state, so there is much to see and discover. If it is one’s first or consecutive visit, anticipate the urge to return. Every traveller to Goa will have different stories to tell and varied anecdotes to share.
If one has seen Goa, it is easy to realise the quintessential nature of the state as a travellers’ paradise. Goa is not too far away from Mumbai and has a lot of inns, hotels, guest houses and resorts open for travellers from around the world. However, it is important to note that a traveller should refrain from doing as they please in Goa, because Goan culture, although it is comparatively forward-looking, is still inherently shaped in the traditional and conservative mold of Indian principles and ideologies. The population of Goa is approximately 14.58 Lakhs, of which about, 52-65.8% of Goans are Hindus, whereas 30-35% are Christians, 5-8% are Muslims and then there are residents from other religions and communities. The percentage figures mentioned may not be exact and could vary. Expect to see a diaspora of lifestyles here.
Seasons to visit Goa
The peak season to visit are the months of November to January, when the state is in full swing, with revellers, vacationers, Goans congregating and enjoying everything (including carnivals) that the place has to offer. One can also enjoy expansive scenery and enthusiastic travelling in the month of October, even post-January, up till May. Goa is a discovery-in-waiting, an exploration that cannot be delayed. However, whether it is off-season, like in the months of June to September or any time of the year, Goa has something for everyone – it is for the young and the old, the serious or fun-loving. Off-season, during Monsoons, one may not find much to do on the beaches, but one could still see the historic old churches, chapels, forts, temples, museums, spice farms, and several other locations within the state – therefore, there would still be a whole lot to experience and see here. Even if it’s raining, an umbrella will suffice, and one could walk through the forts, peer inside churches and chapels, see the uniquely structured temples, spend time at a spice farm, and window-shop while searching out shops-tied-to-streets, journeying almost back and forth in time. Goa is for those who want fun and frolic, but it is also a sacred and religious place of repute, for the devout.
The expanse of Goa
Some main cities to see in Goa are Panjim, Mapusa, Madgaon, or Margao, Vasco, and Ponda. Vasco De Gama is the largest city in Goa. There are possibly more than 400 churches in Goa, and about 800-900 chapels here. Every village probably has two churches, and more than four-five chapels, which is a place meant only for prayers. There are about 600-700 temples in Goa. Please note some of these mentioned figures are only reflective numbers, shared by a local - the actual numbers could be different.
Goa is divided into the two districts of South Goa and North Goa. Margao is the headquarter of the South Goa District, and Panaji is that of North Goa. Panjim although geographically is not centrally located, but for the sake of convenience, can be considered a central point, from where one can visit both North and South Goa. Both the regions are full of sights to see, so, one should decide beforehand on what they wish to line up in their itinerary, and then head out.
South and North Goa: Temples, Churches, Chapels, Spice Farms, Museums, Villas, Casinos, Beaches, Forts, Nightclubs and plenty more
Places of Worship and other Sights
One can start with temples – Mangueshi temple, a Shiva temple - Lata Mangeshkar’s (legendary singer from India) family originally hails from this part of the state; and Shantadurga temple, a Goddess Durga temple. These temples do expect visitors to follow rules to maintain piety of the place, so visit only if prepared. Some of these temples almost look like a combination of a temple, mosque and church – their overall structure does deviate from the structure of normal temples in India - they do exhibit a Portuguese story somewhere in their distinctive architectural workmanship. Internally, the temples, however, are just like any other pious Hindu temple.
Old Churches of Goa, like Basilica of Bom Jesus Church, is one of the most revered churches here and next to it is another famous church - St. Francis of Assisi Church. Maintaining silence within these churches is also mandatory and required. Some churches do not allow photography. The peaceful milieu enfolding the churches is divine, and the quietness offers a glimpse into the religious beliefs, which to date, enhance Goa. The exteriors and interiors of these two main churches in Old Goa, are beautiful and have a strong historical story and lineage attached to them. There are perhaps 9-12 churches in Old Goa itself. The architectural styles of many such churches are also matters of importance and should be explored further, for those interested in architecture. The churches and chapels of Goa are the silent narrators of continuing historical, and cultural envelopment.
In addition to these, one can also see St. Catherine’s Chapel, which was the first chapel built by the Portuguese here. Ruins of an old abandoned church, the St Augustine church, is a direct and stony reminder of some of the large and significant churches built by the Portuguese. Some of the churches and chapels are still active, whereas some stand as testimony to an earlier colonization of the region. Some of the other churches to view in Goa are the Lady Rosary church, and the Mount Mary Church (Chapel of our Lady of the Mount), which is on the top of a hill—this is a 16th-century creation and proffers a beatific view of the rivers, the Sahyadri hills and the city dwellings upon them.
Another remarkable looking church is the St. Cajetan Church, whose length and breadth are the same. The interiors of this church are intricate reminders of Portuguese beliefs. Within proximity to this church, is an entrance, the only remaining evidence of the palace of Adil Shah, who once ruled the region before the Portuguese arrived. This palace was demolished in 1820. This heritage region - where this church is, the gateway, in combination with some other monuments - is also known as Old Goa. The Portuguese had first come here into Old Goa, from the Arabian Sea, entering river Mandovi. Related to this, one can also search out Viceroy’s Arch, a symbol of the time when the Portuguese had first entered Goa. There is another summer palace-combined-fortress in Panjim, which was built by King Adil Shah and later on, used by the Portuguese.
Another important place to visit in Goa would be the Big foot in Loutolim, which is an informative museum that offers a look at the old Goan way of life, and also houses a holy praying place for Big foot, which is related to the legend of Mahadar. Quite close to Big Foot, is a 250 year old Portuguese-styled villa, known as Casa Araujo Alvares, which is open to visitors, and gives a direct look at how families during the reign of the Portuguese lived – the furniture they used, the utensils, the kitchen, their collections, decorations and many other household and daily items of use. Both these destinations would be close to Ponda city.
Panjim: An idyllic city by river Mandovi
Coming back to Panaji – Panjim is a modern city set up by the river, and its charm is quiet and unruffled. In Panjim, one could also take a sunset cruise with their family and friends upon the river Mandovi in the evening. Mahalaxmi temple, temple of the Goddess of wealth, is also in Panaji. Then there is the dainty Panjim Church, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, one could visit. In addition, a tourist could also shop on the 18th June Street and MG Road or just walk the streets of Panaji. Some of the important casinos in Panjim are on the Mandovi River, as still large cruisers, like DeltinRoyale and Casino Pride 2, whereas those with slot machines, maybe about 9 or 10, are on land. There are many other casinos in Goa. Those fascinated with this game-like-aspect of life could try these out.
There are hardly any traffic signals in Goa, but expect to see a few in some places. Without traffic signals, it could get a little cumbersome for pedestrians when crossing roads. OCoquiero Junction in Porvorim, close to Panjim, is famous for seafood, and this is the place where the notorious serial killer Charles Shobraj was captured by the Goan authorities - in particular by Madhukar Zende from the Mumbai police.
Not too far away from Panjim, thrives the legend of Dona Paula – most guides will mention the romantic story of a Portuguese woman of high-rank and a fisherman, who jumped off a cliff here - for their couple was never accepted by their society. There are some ghost stories too, associated with the area. However, the truth of this location is possibly different from the circulating stories, and such fables should be believed only if one enjoys fiction over fact. One of the important beach areas, in proximity, in Panjim is Miramar beach.
Beaches: Sun, sea, sand and water sports
In North Goa, one must definitely visit some of the famous beaches like Calangute, Baga, Anjuna, Vagator, Candolim, which are named after villages, they align with. Do look up the names of other famed beaches, too, for a range of options to choose from. Water sports and parties are highlights on and close to these beaches, during active tourist months. In Calangute, some beautiful villas can also be seen, which belong to the rich and the famous. The residents in these villages could be approximately about 7000-8000+ per village, in number. Within the locations surrounding the beaches, there are many restaurants and inns, and shops of variety, to purchase clothes from, umbrellas, shoes, cashew being grown in the state, and many other items from.
Also in North Goa are two famous forts: Reis Magos fort, and the Fort Aguada, remnants of the erstwhile Portuguese rule. Reis Magos fort has two galleries displaying art by the great Indian Cartoonist and Illustrator Mario Miranda, and it will remind one not to miss seeing the many murals spread across Goa.
Fort Aguada is a large dark brown expanse of concrete and mammoth walls at a height and offers a lovely view of the waters, the Western Ghats and typical miniature Goan structures from a distance. Near Fort Aguada, is St. Lawrence, which used to be a church. Also close to it is the Sinquerim beach. The area is potted with places to see, one may even sight peacocks and peahens near Fort Aguada.
Spice farms should also be a must-see on one’s travel list – the Sahakari spice farm close to Ponda city, which is in North Goa, offers a short trip through one of the spice plantations of Goa—what they have for visitors is not the whole sweep of the plantation to tour, but only a glimpse of a certain percentage of the 130 acres actual farm. The entire excursion paves the way for an understanding into how spices like cinnamon, vanilla, cardamom, nutmeg, betel nut palm and black pepper are grown here. They even show and explain how cocoa, coffee, cashew nuts, and Goa Feni or Fenny, the popular alcoholic drink from Goa, is grown and made here. Tropical spice farm, Sahyadri farm, Pascoal farm, Savoi farm are some of the other farms to see in Goa. The options of riding elephants and bathing them are also there in Goan farms or elsewhere, but one needs to dig further, and find out what particular experience one is truly looking for.
For those who party
Party life of Goa is famous worldwide. Goa also has a lot of nightclubs for people who love partying. Titos near Calangute is one of the famous clubs here. Club Cubana in Arpora, on a hill, is also one of the most visited clubs for party-goers.
In addition, in the backwaters of Goa, one can fish, or take a trip-on-waters to see dolphins. One can also hire houseboats here for a further extended stay. Dolphin sighting is possible elsewhere, as well.
An overall look
There are approximately 347-356 villages in Goa, the actual numbers could be slightly more, and unlike villages in other parts of India, these village homes look strong and stable, villa-shaped and seem to have a certain heritage value. Goan homes are a sight-to-see, with Portuguese work in their architecture - the constructions are the remains of a strong cultural history, and each old or new home is Portuguese-influenced-and-styled with distinctive doors and windows; colorful outer palettes - from mauve, mustard, deep ochre, pink, orange, yellow, lemon green to blue – and these homes are to be seen and admired. One can see some of the simple but entrancing old Portuguese homes in Fountainhas village, and in some other villages of Goa. How long these simple-and-elegant heritage buildings remain here, depends on how their owners are able to maintain them – for an expense is involved in their maintenance. Portuguese influence and subtlety of art is defined here, on the outside and on the inside. How the Goans dress, how they decorate their homes from within, their cuisine, are all linked to this once-foreign-governance.
Goa also becomes a shopping center, for a variety of clothes, accessories, and items-to-purchase, once the tourist season begins. Saturday night market in Arpora, an evening market, Anjuna flea market, in North Goa, a day market, are not open during the off-season, especially during the rains, but sometime from November to April-May, before the rains set in. One can shop for trinkets, clothes, shoes, and other souvenirs here. Some of the other markets, mostly open after November - are, Ingo, which is a night market, started by a German; The Mackies, a Saturday night market in Baga. Many more markets come alive during peak season time.
Locals and travellers’ speak
“Although I live mostly in Mumbai, I am constantly in touch with Goa and have been a part of it since 2009. I go to Goa often. You could say I am unsettled both in Mumbai and Goa, but love my association with Goa. However, I am a Goan by birth.
Goa to me is like sunshine in a bottle.
People simply think of Goa in terms of a relaxed lifestyle. When you touchdown in Goa, you feel relaxed. Goa brings to mind relief. Goa is about sea, sand and sun. People who are associated with Goa feel good. There is good food here, good drink and great people. It is the people who make a place and the same goes for Goa. People here are similar in nature, but different too. Goans are very accepting people.
I am part of the Only Olive, a riverside Portuguese villa-styled accommodation in Aldona village, which is so named for the only known olive tree in Goa, which is on the property, which is more than 100 years old. The village is surrounded by the river on three sides, about twenty minutes from Baga beach. Here you can experience the real Goa, through Goan food and a way of life. Lots of travellers, mostly families, those who want to experience the beach, the music and the coast, come this side. We also have a lot of Anglers, those who like to fish, who come here. You can also see the cemetery here, which goes back as far as 1800 and has tombstones.
Places to see in Goa are its beautiful backwaters. Panjim is also the place to see in Goa. In fact, every nook and corner of Goa are worth a visit. The people of Goa are gentle and kind. They believe in sossegarde and their lifestyle is similar.”—Adrian Pinto, part of the family who owns the Only Olive, Aldona Village, Goa
“One can also see close-to-white waterfalls, also known as Dudhsagar near Ponda city, where Chennai Express the Hindi film, was shot, and Pandav’s caves are to be seen, too. Then there is the Farmagudi temple of Lord Ganesha; and the Safa Masjid, which is older than the Portuguese. Most of the Hindu temples can be seen in Ponda city, which is a major city – here there are many temples, small-scale industries, mining business, and hotels. One can also check out Konkan Railway on Zuari River. There are also a few wildlife sanctuaries to see in Goa. In Goa, everyone has enough. That is the way we are. One will not see beggars on the streets, even if one does, they may have come from other places.”—Goan Hindu, Living in Goa with family
“Simplicity, in a word, sums up why I am fond of Goa. The whole state is like one big village. It does not take one long or far to find places to unwind even from mild town-city life, which is only now beginning to grow. It is unfortunate that most tourists come to Goa with the perception that it is India’s answer to a Sin City. The monsoons feel the most refreshing here, summers are tolerable, and winters are exotic and therein lies the beauty of this state. Goan cuisine is a wonderful amalgamation of east meets west, like the chicken cafreal and vindaloo, for example, besides varied preparations of seafood.
Fishing as a pastime is really enjoyable and relaxing, so is just going for a ride through the village roads, and stopping by the little shacks offering local delicacies like sausage bread, cutlet bread, fish cutlets, or Mirchi Pao. It is amazing we still have local bakers bake varieties of bread morning and evening, and have it delivered right to your doorstep! Is there any other place I’d rather live? No, Goa is and always will be home.”—Jason Pinto, Goan from Panaji
“Goa is near the sea, so this makes it very attractive to travellers. It is beautiful and calming, with serene, soothing sound of waves. The body of St. Francis Xavier is there in the Basilica of Bom Jesus church, which is brought out for public viewing every ten years. The carnival festival that takes place either in December or on other occasions also make Goa unique. The city is flooded with tourists during the peak season, i.e., from November to about February, and especially during the winter carnival season. Nightlife is very active during December, with lights on the streets and varied cruises available, which is also very fascinating and fun for tourists, and also for honeymooning couples.
There is a lot of dance, music, fun and games happening on some of the cruises. People’s most favorite seafood cannot be forgotten in Goa. Most loved seafood being some of the prawn preparations. Restaurants are flooded with people indoors and outdoors, during the on-season. I also saw a Russian boy, immaculately pedaling a one-wheeled cycle, carrying a tray in one hand, a large smile spread across his face, serving food and drinks at a particular restaurant, giving out a vibrant energy and attending to the guests. His positive energy was worth remembering. I also cannot forget the watermelon juice I had there. All this makes Goa wonderful in itself, including the sight of numerous travellers from India and abroad, thronging the beaches of Goa.”—Traveller from India - had travelled to Goa with family
A Travellers’ Destination
The more one explores, the more shall be revealed to them – such is the kaleidoscope, and the vivid and varied nature of Goa. The very layout of this richest state of India is akin to the insides of a book containing illustrative pictures of many heritage dwellings and gentling landscapes. Here relaxation and contentment, lead to a good standard of living, which is available to most who live in Goa.
A traveller only needs an interesting place to explore. Goa is just that. Goa is an exploration project for any interested traveller, who may want to return once again, for another round of discovery. Goa is a flowing panorama of moving pictures. Goa will keep any curious traveller on their toes lest they miss something because there is so much to observe and absorb. Goa has that effect on any traveller, whatever their intention of travel is – whether it is vacation, exploration, partying or simply sightseeing. It ideally won’t be possible to see all the major and offbeat sites in one visit, so one can plan ahead in time, as per personal selection.
Every part of Goa has an enrapturing influence on visitors. It has much to do with the people, the place and the history of Goa, which brought about this copious confluence together. Goa is an entirely different Indian experience, and it will always turn out more than what one awaits. However, during one’s journey, especially if one is travelling to India for the first time, research in depth, well in advance, read reviews, and take whatever precautions are necessary to make the voyage a great one. Check all details and recommendations before travelling to Goa. Stay safe and healthy, and enjoy the scenic, relaxed and historical beauty of Goa—that is all the state and Goans expect.
Picture Credit: Photo of Se Cathedral and Church of St. Francis of Assisi in Goa, by Trisha Bhattacharya