Goa

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Goa is a former Portuguese colony, currently a state in India’s West region. It is 3700 square kilometers in size and has a human population of approximately 1.4 million. Its east-west mix, beaches and syncretic culture is what attracts an officially-estimated two-and-half million visitors each year. Out of these, about 400,000 are foreign tourists, the rest coming from other regions of India.  Portuguese culture and architecture can still be found.

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Some call it “India lite”, an easy-to-encounter version of India. Others label Goa’s Panaji (also referred to as Panjim, Ponnje or Pangim) as India’s most charming of state capitals. It probably still is, despite recent changes. Goa has its brown-tiled roofs, beaches, a reputation for centuries as a place where cultures and people meet. And undoubtedly, the holiday capital of South Asia.

But Goa is much more too. It’s a charming place with a different history. A place that acts as an entry point into India for a growing number of Euro tourists. And a place that writer, creative persons and others find increasingly attractive to make their home. From the 1960s, Goa has been attracting a steady flow of visitors — first the hippies and returning expat Goans, then the charter tourists visiting (starting with the Germans in 1987), pilgrims visiting both Catholic and Hindu shrines, those opting to settle in Goa as their home, visitors coming here for medical treatment, and a growing number of those who attend seminars and conferences in Goa.

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If Goa is visibly different from the moment you encounter it then, that has something to do with Goa’s unusual past. Obviously South Asia, like any other corner of this region, Goa’s isolation from the rest of India for 451 years of Portuguese rule, in many ways, shapes its current reality.

Many are attracted by Goa’s Portuguese face, even if the post-1961 dominant political face sees this as somewhat politically incorrect. Hotels too sometimes name their suites with quaint Portuguese names and icons.

Cities

For a state which claims to be “half urban”, Goa has a surprisingly large number of villages. Even its “cities” are more like small, crowded (in Panjim’s case, scenic) towns. Currently, not one city has a population significantly more than 100,000, though some are close to it. The villages can be charming, and in a world of their own, though sadly, tourism and the real estate boom it engineered is seen by locals as destroying the very place the visitors come for.

* Panaji (Panjim, also referred to a Ponn’je in Konkani, and earlier called Pangim and Nova Goa during Portuguese rule) – the state capital

* Margao (Madgaon)

* Vasco Da Gama

* Old Goa

* Mapusa

* Ponda

Goa also has a number of other smaller, sometimes charming and sometimes crowded towns such as along the beach belt (Calangute, Candolim), and in the interior (Chaudi in Canacona, Sanvordem-Quepem, Bicholim, Pernem town, etc). Some of these are gateways to the nearby touristic areas. In addition, Goa has some nearly 350 villages, often scenic and each having a character of its own.

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Other destinations

* Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary

* Dona Paula – a popular beach.

* Fort Aguada

* Calangute

* Old Goa, home of famed sixteenth century churches, convents and monuments

* Ponda taluka, the temple heartland of Goa

* Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary

* Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary

* Candolim

* Dudh Sagar Waterfall

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, there have been no communal clashes (except for violence in 2005 in the twin towns of Curchorem-Sanvordem, involving the Muslim and Hindu communities, over a dispute believed to have been politically stoked-up) in the past and Goa is regarded as one of the most peaceful states in India.

Goan Catholics generally acknowledge their Hindu roots, and carry traces of a caste-system within their social beliefs sometimes. 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 neighboring 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, 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 therefor lie either abandoned or mired in legal tangles brought about by disagreements within the widely dispersed inheritors of the property. In recent years, expat 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 realtors).

The best time of the year to visit Goa is mid-November to mid-February when the weather is comfortable, dry and pleasant.

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Talk

Goa’s state language is Konkani. Most Goans speak Konkani, English, Hindi, Kannada and Marathi. Portuguese is also known by a small segment, especially the elite and earlier privileged class or the older generation which studied in pre-1961 Portuguese-ruled Goa.

However, different languages tend to be used for different purposes in Goa. Konkani is the most widely spoken. English and Marathi tend to be most widely read. (Most newspapers are read in these two languages too.) For primary schooling, education has to be imparted in “local regional languages” (i.e. Konkani or Marathi) to be entitled to receive government grants, on the argument that elementary education is best imparted in the “language of the child”. At middle and high-school, and college too, education is almost wholly imparted in English.

Catholics largely use Konkani for their prayer services, while the language for religion is largely Marathi for Hindus. The administration is largely conducted in English, which is also the language of publication of the official gazette, and the main used tongue in the courts.

It can be rather difficult currently to be able to learn Konkani, with options for learning rather restricted. The language is written in four to five scripts, in and beyond Goa — Devanagari (the official script), Roman or Romi (widely used in Goa), Kannada-script, Malayalam-script and Perso-Arabic reportedly used by some Muslim communities further south along the Indian west coast. Recently, books to learn Konkani in the Roman script have also been published, making it easier for those not knowing the Devanagari script (used to write Hindi, Marathi and other languages too) that is the officially-recognized script for Konkani in Goa.

Get in

Goa can be reached by its lone 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 would provide you a journey through he breathtaking scenery of Konkan area. Travel from Mangalore to Goa is through konkan rail and you can see its breath taking scenary and doodh sagar.

By bus

There are several bus routes from various cities, but most traffic is from mainly Bombay and Pune, but with 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 one alternative to trains and flying. Note that while many of the coaches are newer Volvo models, you will share your sleeper bunk with one other person. (2 Person bunk)

By train

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. Travelling to Goa by train is a real pleasure as the route passes through greenery and many tunnels.

A railway station which most tourists tend to miss is Thivim, which is served by most trains and is just 20 minutes away from Calangute beach by taxi.

For budget travellers, this is the cheapest option, apart from 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. Also note that 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 also be booked online (but only if you hold an Indian creditc card or bank account)[2].

Unless travelling on a shoe string budget, it is advisable to travel by the Air conditioned sleeper coaches, that are relatively 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.

Travelling by train can be quite an experience as you are more likely to be able to interract with fellow Indian travellers visiting Goa from different parts of the country, under more relaxed condiions.

By air

Goa has one airport at Dabolim in Vasco, which was actually owned by the Indian Navy. Wide bodied aircrafts are unable to land here. Presently the airport is heavily used due to the influx of tourists.

Some airlines fly directly to Goa, but most international flights arrive via Mumbai.

Goa has daily flights to and from Bangalore, Delhi,Hyderabad Mumbai and Pune (no flights return to Pune) and has flights twice a week to Chennai. Recently, daily flights to Jaipur and Ahmedabad, as well as to Mangalore, Kozhikode (Calicut) and Kochi (Cochin) have also been added.

There are international flights to Kuwait and UAE twice a week on Air India and charter flights to the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia and Switzerland.

On arrival, it advisable to take a pre-paid taxi from Dabolim Airport to various parts of Goa. You will see the yellow pre-paid taxi booth 30 metres on the left when you exit the main building.

Normally most resorts pick up from the airport for free so please make sure you ask your resort for free pickup.

By ferry

The once-popular steamer service that connected Goa with Bombay via a 22-hour inexpensive journey no longer plies. There are occasional cruise services between the two.

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Beaches

Goa is world famous for its beaches, its ancient temples and churches, and its Goan carnival.

If naval aviation interests you, you might want to stop by the Naval Air Museum. This is behind the Dabolim Airport, and you will need to loop around the airport perimeter across the Dabolim Railway station to get there. There are seven outdoor exhibits and other memorabilia and models in a two story building.

* Anjuna Beach – Close to the Chapora Fort, its key attraction is a magnificent Albuquerque Mansion built in 1920, flanked by octagonal towers and an attractive Mangalore tile-roof. Anjuna was the second-home (and main location) of the hippies in Goa, in the 1960s and 1970s, after other destinations like Calangute got more “crowded” for them. It is still venue of a (vastly-changed, more mainstreamised) flea market held each Wednesday. In the nearby village of Arpora, two colourful Saturday night bazaars are held in the non-monsoon seasons. This is still part of “alternative” Goa, though charter and other tourists also visit the place in increasing numbers to “get a feel of the hippy years”.

* Palolem Beach A scenic beach in extreme south Goa. Getting a bit crowded. Good eating options. Turning pricey though (by local standards). The rocks and islands off its schore are definitely scenic.

* Patnem Beach – a small and quiet beach in Canacona taluka

* Vagator Beach – a beach in Bardez, neighbouring Anjuna

* Morjim and Asvem – two quieter beaches in extreme north Goa’s Pernem taluka

* Mandrem Beach – another beach in extreme north Goa’s Pernem taluka

* Candolim and Sinquerim Beaches in North Goa’s Bardez taluka. Once humble fishing villages. Now the crowded concretised coast of North Goa. Goa’s Benidorm. Or quickly getting to be as crowded.

* Colva Beach – This beach’s spectacle of sea, sand and sky blend in a enchanting natural harmony, weaving their magic spell on the visitors. Known for its scenic beauty. This is part of Salcete, Goa’s only Catholic majority sub-district. Once a very hospitable area, now relations are getting monetized thanks to tourism.

* Calangute Beach – aka Queen of all Beaches in Goa. Once highly rated. Now crowded. Expect traffic jams along the main crowded street.

* Baga Beach A family-beach and charter tourist destination just outside Calangute.

* Chapora Home of the Chapora fort. Close to Vagator and Anjuna beaches. Also site for a fishing jetty where trawlers (introduced into Goa in the 1960s and 1970s, amidst protests from traditional fishermen, who were affected by them) bring in their catch.

Do

Since Goa has a large Catholic minority, it has many Catholic holidays besides the Indian national holidays. One of them, the Carnival though often mistaken for a ‘Catholic holiday’ is largely a Government sponsored affair of Floats and festivities.

There is a lot to do – for those who like their fun a little laid back

* Relax at the beaches. Goa has an almost unbroken 70 km coastline of beaches

* Be sure to take precautions if you go swimming.

* Visit the venerable cathedrals of a bygone era at Old Goa, which are still in remarkable good condition where the sacred remains (once considered the incorrupted body) of St. Francis Xavier is.

* Enjoy the cuisine at a range of restaurants that cater to just about every palate. Goa is an amazing place to try out food from across India and the rest of the globe.

* Check out the several discos and pubs that have sprung up around Goa.

* Goa is more than just a set of scenic beaches. It has long been a meeting place of cultures, and played a role in global history in the past centuries. Check out local resources, meet interesting people, visit unusual institutions — you could find more than you expect here.

* Check out on Goa’s Natural Wonders.

* Information is hard to come by in these areas of Goa. Ask villagers for one or two villages down the line, as some tend to get confused by questions about longer distances. People are generally very helpful if approached politely and with a smile. More polite, naturally, than in the more touristy parts of Goa. Banks and the bus-stops are the few places that mention location names. They are good guides to get a sense of bearing, in a place where there are few sign-boards.

* Be kind to the local people. Most villages are tightly-knit communities, where everyone knows everyone else. The presence of a stranger in places outside of bigger beach areas (like Palolem) becomes immediately obvious to villagers. Treat the areas with respect; and make your intrusion less interfering. Villagers are quick to help out, and reciprocate a smile. But ‘outside’ origins are quickly obvious — even a Konkani speaker from another part of Goa would get immediately ‘betrayed’ by his accent!

* Take care of confusing (and newly-changed) names. Locals are unsure about the names of some beaches. Where exactly is Tari? Or, has that name become redundant after the canoe connecting the two points fell into disuse (‘tari’ is Konkani for canoe-point) now that there’s a bridge there?

* To add to the confusion, some beach names have been arbitrarily set up by foreign visitors. ‘Butterfly’ is supposedly an island between Palolem and Agonda, which few locals would know by that name. Some guides refer to Khola (written as ‘Cola’ by the Portuguese) as Pepsi Cola and Coca Cola!

* Be kind to the environment. Goa has long been an eco-friendly, waste-free society, though the waterguzzling tourism mega-projects and the large scale plastic influx has changed all that. On the roadsides, you can see coconut shells drying. The coconut tree, which predominates South Goa (the favorite drink is coconut feni, not cashew feni as in North Goa) is very much used in the kitchen to home-building and many other purposes.

Stay safe

Goa is an ideal holiday destination for travelers and is safe ,but of course tourists should bear in mind that like any country with all its heritage and culture comes its own set of safety issues. Readers please don’t be alarmed with the advice you may get here, but its just a guidelines to the dos and don’ts in Goa.

* Avoid unprotected sex with strangers, as there is always a risk of AIDS

* Western women should not walk on the beaches at night alone. If you have to, take along a companion. Goa is actually quite safe except for unsafe pockets of long-term foreign hippie tourists, be careful of them the most.

* Do not accept un-bottled drinks from strangers under any circumstances

* Do not accept rides from strangers, local or foreigners, especially at night.

* Do not indulge in anything more than light drugs, if you have to. Best is to avoid.

* Be careful when wading at the beach as undertow riptide currents can be strong in certain beaches. Avoid the mouth of all rivers (such as the Mandovi River at Miramar), especially at low tide when the flow of the water current out to sea is the strongest. And just don’t get into the water at all in the off season. The safe swimming period in Goa is November to early May.

* Avoid contact with unprocessed cashew nuts as they contain an irritant (‘urusiol’) also present in poison ivy. The cashew apple is edible when ripe.

* Goans are very friendly and helpful, should you have any problems talk immediately to the nearest Goan shop, restaurant or bystander and ask for help.

* Travel guides can be expensive and have been known to dupe foreign visitors. Try your hand at travelling alone, buy a map and hire a taxi or rent a bike. Befriend a decent taxi driver and give him business often.

* Temperatures in winter and summer can be extreme, do not forget sunscreen.

* Beware of hawkers who always mark up their goods, up to 300%

* Beware of any scam that offers a free ride in return for a “prize”. The prize will suck guaranteed

* Also beware the ‘ear doctors’ who are more likely to accost men than women and ‘produce’ some tiny revolting creature, supposedly from your ear, for which they then offer a ‘cure’ (it is however humorous to read the cards they print up promoting themselves)

* While travelling by train, beware of pickpockets, strangers who offer you snacks or tea, and other such people who make trains in India a regular hunting ground.

* Don’t trust travel agents who say that a train is fully booked! They want you to hire a car that costs more and provides them a kick back. A better thing to do is to check out the details yourself on the Indian Railways website [64].

* For additional information on Laws in Goa – Laws in Goa.

Get out

Most tourists travel to and from Goa by bus. 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). Trains connecting Goa offer an inexpensive and fairly pleasant ride, provided you get confirmed reserved seats. Unconfirmed travel can be pretty harrowing.

Goa is fairly well connected to other nearby Indian cities (Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, etc) via bus. One problem is that most buses ply in the night, and reach their destination the next morning. If you have a connecting bus, train or flight, this means that the timing you reach there might be inconvenient.

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 center 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).

Paulo Travels is a Goa-based private player, along with Sharma Transports, and Seabird Travels. You can get packages online also through Yatra, Cleartrip, MakeMyTrip, TravelMarg, SpriceTravel and TravelMasti.

District(s)         2

Established       30 May 1987

Capital             Panaji

Largest city       Vasco da Gama

Governor          Shivinder Singh Sidhu

Chief Minister   Digambar Kamat

Legislature (seats)         Unicameral (40)

Population        1,400,000 (25th)

Language(s)      Konkani?

Time zone         IST (UTC+5:30)

Area                 3,702 km2 (1,429 sq mi)

ISO 3166-2     IN-GA

Website            goagovt.nic.in