The land of mellow sunshine and sandy beaches, flavourful cuisine and pungent feni, crumbling architecture right out of a bygone era, river cruises, water sports, hot air ballooning, all this and more is part and parcel of a holiday in the Indian Paradise known as Goa. With its geographical and cultural diversity, Goa has something to offer everyone. From the balmy sea breezes to the vanilla scented air of the spice farms, the tropical beaches to the cool Dudhsagar waterfalls*, panoramic ocean vistas or ancient man-made edifices, spicy cuisine to continental fare, luxurious five star hotels or little seaside shacks Goa can satisfy your appetite for almost anything.
A land which is said to have been created by Lord Parshuram, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, the creator God, Goa lies on the western coast of India in the Konkan region. Ruled by many dynasties over the centuries from Rashtrakutas to the Bahamani Muslims and most recently the Portuguese colonists, Goa has amalgamated the essence of each of these into one glorious whole.
Goa was liberated from the Portuguese in 1961 when the Indian government and a group of dedicated freedom fighters finally annexed it to India. It was initially annexed as a Union Territory, and later achieved statehood on the 30th of May 1987, when it became the 25th Indian state.
Sheltered by the lush green Sahayadri mountain range and nourished by the abundant South west monsoons Goa has fresh water galore. Rivers like the Mandovi* and Zuari* meander through the interiors, providing sheltered nooks wherein lie little fishing hamlets, surrounded by coconut trees and cocooned in peace and serenity. In addition to coastal and inland waterways, Goa also boasts an international airport, located at Dabolim*, near Vasco* (one of the major townships). There are also plenty of local buses that ferry tourists and locals alike to and from their destinations. For the more adventurous there are the ubiquitous pilots (scooter drivers) to be found at all the major tourist hotspots.
The Portuguese influences are evident in the crumbling stone facades of gracious churches and formidable forts that they constructed to protect their lands from enemy invasions. Goa contains many superb examples of art and architecture for the cultural enthusiast, ranging from the world famous Bom Jesus Basilica* to the landmark Mahalaxmi temple* at Panaji* (the capital city) or even the impregnable Aguada Fort*. Like everything else within its borders the art and architecture of Goa is culturally diverse and ranges from the ancient to the modern, often side by side in a brilliant juxtaposition which delights the eye and intrigues the mind.
The people of Goa have a warmth and joie de vivre which makes everyone feel welcome and at home. Nowhere else will you find the distinct blend of bonhomie, tranquillity, savoir faire and enthusiasm, known locally as “susegaad”, which comes so naturally to the average Goan. Whether affably instructing the tourist on the history and lore of the land, taking the more adventurous out for fishing and water sports* or bargaining fiercely over the prices of handicrafts*, Goans retain a certain charm and inherent likeability.
Due to its multitude of cultural influences, Goan culture is perhaps unique from that of India. With a predominantly Hindu and Christian population (Islam and other religions being in the minority) Goa has a long and unbroken tradition of religious tolerance and harmony, with the people celebrating festivals like Ganesh Chaturti, Sao Jao* and Eid with equal pomp and fervour.
The traditional Goan cuisine* combines the best of Indian and Portuguese tastes. Whether one is enjoying a delicately spiced, coconut laden dish of fish curry and rice, or a spicy plate of pork vindalho or goa sausage, the food is a mouth-watering, sensual feast the likes of which is hard to come by elsewhere. With fresh caught fish, prawns and crustaceans, the Goan chef produces gastronomic delights which range from the simplicity of rava fried shrimp to delicately sautéed kalamari to Goan curries which combine coconut milk, vinegar and spices into a bouquet that explodes on the tongue and delights the senses.
However, not everything in Goa is steeped in tradition. Of late, there have been a number of adventure sports, water sports and leisure activities that have steadily been gaining prominence on the Goa tourist’s agenda. Some are available at the beaches, like water scooters, parasailing, etc others, like helicopter joy rides, hot air balloons and river cruises have a specific starting point that you would need to reach. With such a multifarious array of choices there is no shortage of options for the Goa tourist. Above all, Goa gives one a chance to rest, relax and recharge, whilst surrounded by the best of all cultural influences.