Goa, one of India's smallest states with a territory of 3,702 sq.km. is cradled in the Sahayadri Range in the Western Ghat. The name, 'Goa' is derived from that of the pastoral communities (Go) who are thought to have migrated to Goa in the prehistoric period. Here, long beaches are interspersed with open grasslands and low hills. The vegetation is tropical with cashew and teak plantations, coconut and areca nut groves and paddy fields.
Goa is very much “India Light,” a cosmopolitan tourist-oriented place of fivestar resorts and boutique guest houses, and in many ways this is the perfect introduction to a country that, elsewhere, can be very challenging indeed. Of course, when the crowds arrive, particularly over New Year’s, Goa’s beaches and markets are anything but tranquil. Sun beds and shacks line the most commercial beaches, and hawkers haggle ceaselessly with droves of fresh-off-the-charter-plane Europeans here to sample paradise at bargain prices while Mumbai and Bangalore puppies crowd the shoreline bars and restaurants. If it’s action you’re after, you will run into endless opportunities for allnight partying and reckless abandon, but Goa’s true pleasures are found away from the crowds, on the more remote beaches to the far north and south, on the semiprivate beaches adjoining expensive luxury resorts, or in the charming guesthouses located farther inland. Come for at least 3 days, and you may end up staying for a lifetime—as a number of very content expats from around the world have done. However you decide to play it, live the local motto—“Sossegade”: “Take it easy.”
GOA’S BEST BEACHES
Goa’s reputation for having some of the world’s best beaches is well-deserved, but inevitable commercialization has taken its toll, with the infamous Baga-to-Calangute area (north of Panjim) now part of a tourist-infested strip of sun loungers, backed by beach shacks serving beer, cocktails, and fresh seafood—the sort of packaged beach experience best avoided. A little north of Baga, Anjuna comes alive with parties and trance music during the winter, when full-moon festivals get the crowds howling. It also has a fabulous Wednesday market. Just north of Anjuna is lovely Vagator , with Chapora Fort overlooked by stark red cliffs. But the real northern paradise starts at Asvem , which has somehow managed to remain off the beaten tourist road. A little north of Asvem, Arambol , seductively far away from the package-tour masses, is one of the last refuges of hard-core hippies. Though there are no private beaches in Goa, the southern beaches generally become the private domain of the fivestar resorts fronting them, because of the sheer sizes of property they occupy. In the far south, gorgeous Palolem has just one large resort close by (the InterContinental Grand, a few kilometers south in Cancona), and gets our vote for the best beach in Goa: Although it’s become increasingly popular in the high season and is home to a sizable hippie community, it has yet to be overwhelmed by day-trippers. Just 7km (4 miles) north of Palolem, Agonda is even more isolated and peaceful, while to the south, Galgibaga is another remote haven with eucalyptus trees and empty stretches of sand. And then, of course, there’s Om Beach, just over the border, an hour into neighboring state of Karnataka, considered by many to be the best beach in India and one of the most beautiful in the world. However, the hippies have zeroed in on it, so don’t expect seclusion.
Goa is located between the latitudes 15°45'00" north to 14°53'54" North and longitudes 74°20'13" East to 73°40'33" East. Goa is located on the western coast of Indian Peninsula and separated from Maharashtra by the Terekhol River in the north, Karnataka in the south, the Western Ghats in the east, and Arabian Sea in the west.
Goa has a moderate temperature showing negligible variations in different seasons. May is the hottest month while January and February are the coldest. There is a prevalence of tropical weather rest of the year. Southwest Monsoon brings rain in Goa between June and September. July is the month that receives maximum rainfall while February gets the least amount of rain.
Goa's history stretches back to the 3rd century BC, when it was park of the Mauryan Empire. Later, at the beginning of the Christian era, it was ruled by the Satavahanas of Kolhapur. Control eventually passed to the Chalukyans of Badami, who ruled from 580 to 750 AD. Goa fell to the Muslims for the first time in 1312, but the invaders were forced out in 1370 by Harihara I of the Vijayanagar empire, whose capital was at Hampi. Over the next 100 years, Goa's harbours were important landing places for ships carrying Arabian horses to the Vijayanagar cavalry at Hampi.
The Portuguese were nearly overthrown by the Marathas in the late 18th century. However, the Portuguese clung on till 1961, when they were finally ejected by India. Goa remained a union territory for 26 years and gained full-fledged statehood on August 12, 1987.
Panjim (Panaji) & Old Goa
Located at the mouth of the Mandovi River, the state capital of Panjim (moved here from Old Goa in 1759) is a breezy, laid-back town that lends itself to easy exploration. The chief attraction is the wonderful colonial Portuguese architecture, particularly in the eastern neighborhoods of Fontainhas and Sao Tome, where the atmospheric cobbled streets are lined with old mansions and churches dating as far back as the mid-1700s— look for Fontainhas’s Chapel of St. Sebastian, where the crucifix from Old Goa’s “Palace of the Inquisition” is now kept. The figure of Christ on the crucifix here is unusual, with head upright and eyes wide open, unlike the usual figures who feature lowered head and eyes. Dominating Panjim’s town center is the imposing Church of the Immaculate Conception, built in the Portuguese baroque style in 1541. Nearer the water’s edge is the Secretariat; an old palace of Adil Shah of Bijapur, this became the Portuguese viceroy’s residence when the colonial administration moved here. Wandering around Panjim on foot shouldn’t take more than a few hours. If you’re pushed for time, skip the walk and hop onto an auto-rickshaw or on the back of a bike to Old Goa (30 min. from Panjim), reviewed in detail below. From Old Goa, it’s a short trip (and a great contrast) to view the popular Hindu temples that lie north of the dull town of Ponda, on National Highway 4. Very few Hindu temples dating back earlier than the 19th century still exist. (Affronted by the Hindus’ “pagan” practices, the Portuguese tore them down.) Sri Mangeshi Temple was built specifically as a refuge for icons of deities smuggled from the coast during the violent years of the 16th-century Inquisition. A path lined with palm trees leads to a colorful entranceway, behind which the tiled, steep-roofed temple exemplifies a fusion of Hindu and Christian architectural styles, hardly surprising considering that it was constructed by Goan craftsmen weaned on 200 years of Portuguese church-building. Walking distance from here (15 min. south) is the slightly less commercial (no temple “guides”) Sri Mahalsa Temple.
EXPLORING OLD GOA ON FOOT
The once-bustling Goan capital is said to have been the richest and most splendid city in Asia during the late 16th and early 17th centuries, before a spate of cholera and malaria epidemics forced a move in 1759. Today, this World Heritage Site is tepid testament to the splendor it once enjoyed. The tranquillity behind this well-preserved tourist site (barring the grubby stands selling refreshments and tacky souvenirs) belies the fact that it was built on plunder and forced conversions, though you’ll see little evidence (like the basalt architraves) of the mass destruction of the Hindu temples initiated by fervent colonialists. The entire area can easily be explored on foot because the most interesting buildings are clustered together. To the northwest is the Arch of the Viceroys, built in 1597 in commemoration of the arrival of Vasco da Gama in India. Nearby, the Corinthianstyled Church of St. Cajetan (1651) was built by Italian friars of the Theatine order, who modeled it after St. Peter’s in Rome. Under the church is a crypt in which embalmed Portuguese governors were kept before being shipped back to Lisbon—in 1992, three forgotten cadavers were removed. St. Cajetan’s is a short walk down the lane from Adil Shah’s Gate, a simple lintel supported by two black basalt columns. Southwest of St. Cajetan’s are the highlights of Old Goa: splendid Sé Cathedral , which took nearly 80 years to build and is said to be larger than any church in Portugal; and the Basilica of Bom Jesus (Cathedral of the Good Jesus) . The so-called Miraculous Cross, housed in a box in a chapel behind a decorative screen, was brought here from a Goan village after a vision of Christ was seen on it—apparently a single touch (there is a hole in the glass for just this purpose) will cure the sick. The surviving tower of the Sé’s whitewashed Tuscan exterior houses the Golden Bell, whose tolling indicated commencement of the auto da fés, brutal public spectacles in which suspected heretics were tortured and burnt at the stake. Nearby, the Convent and Church of St. Francis of Assisi (now an unimpressive archaeological museum) has a floor of gravestones and coats of arms; note that the images of Mary and Christ are darker-skinned than usual. Opposite the Sé, the Basilica of Bom was built between 1594 and 1605 as a resting place for the remains of the patron saint of Goa, Francis Xavier (one of the original seven founders of the Jesuit order and responsible for most of the 16th-c. conversions). The withered body of the venerated saint lies in a silver casket to the right of the altar, his corpse surprisingly well-preserved (although one arm is on display in Rome and a missing toe is believed to have been bitten off in 1634 by an overzealous devotee looking to take home her very own relic, during the first exposition of the body—now a decennial event). Up the hill from the Basilica are the ruins of the Church of St. Augustine; below is the Church and Convent of Santa Monica and Chapel of the Weeping Cross, where a miraculous image of the crucified Christ is said to have once regularly bled, spoken, and opened its eyes.
North of Panjim
Goa’s reputation as a hangout for hippies during the ’60s and ’70s was made on the northern beaches of Calangute, Baga, and Anjuna. Along with the relaxed lifestyle and good times came busloads of Indian men keen to observe free-spirited foreigners and, finally, a crackdown by local government. This forced fun-loving hippies to head to more remote tracts of coastline, leaving the door open for backpackers and package tourists. Thus were the north’s most famous beaches transformed into tanning lots for the masses—even Anjuna has become an Ibiza-like experience—and today no cardcarrying hippie would deign to set foot on the beach that stretches between Calangute and Baga (defined by resort-centered Sinquerim in the south to Vagator in the north). That said, you can’t deny the beauty of the beaches (in south Vagator, Ozran Beach is peaceful and beautiful, with relaxed swimming in a bay at its southernmost end)—certainly this is where you’ll want to be if you’re here to party during the season. Baga is the smaller, slightly less-developed area of activity. Beach shacks like Britto’s (Baga) and Fisherman’s Paradise (Calangute) are crowded with beer-quaffing visitors recovering from the previous night’s adventure at the legendary bar-cumnightclub, Tito’s. (Be warned that the “special lassis” served at some Goan beach shacks will dramatically increase your amusement at the cows sunbathing alongside the tourists on Baga Beach.) For a sense of Goa’s hippie origins, head for Arambol, Goa’s most northerly beach (36km/22 miles northwest of Mapusa). It also offers better bodysurfing—the water’s a little more turbulent. It draws quite a crowd during the season (you arrive through a lane crammed with stalls selling CDs and T-shirts, and laid-back restaurants playing competing brands of music), but the setting is nevertheless lovely, with a hill looming over a small freshwater lake fed by a spring. The farther north you walk, the more solitude you enjoy. Besides looking at beautiful bodies, you can spend hours watching the surf glide. Better still, head a little farther south from Arambol for Asvem Beach.
South of Panjim
Compared with the beach playgrounds of north Goa, the south is more about solitude and stretches of virgin sand (with the north only a short ride away). For the most part, you’ll be sunning yourself on whatever beach is slap-bang in front of your resort hotel—each with its own idyllic setting, these stretches of largely untouched beaches are paradise. If you’re on a tighter budget or want a bit more atmosphere, head farther south to picturesque Palolem . Remote and tranquil (yet only 40km/25 miles from Madgaon), this is one of Goa’s most beautiful stretches of coastline, a gorgeous sandy crescent cove lined with coconut palms and a few shacks and stalls. Although it’s becoming increasingly popular over the high season, it remains free of sun beds, day-trippers, and large resorts, with accommodations limited to thatched tree houses or wooden houses on stilts. At sunset, Palolem becomes a natural meditation spot; the sun disappearing slowly behind the beach’s northernmost promontory casts a shadow over local fishing boats, swimmers, joggers, and cavorting dogs, as the rusticated bars come to life with pleasant lounge music. Just 7km (41⁄2 miles) north of Palolem, Agonda is even more isolated and peaceful, while to the south, Galgibaga is another remote haven with eucalyptus trees and empty stretches of sand. Getting There From Panjim you can travel directly to your beachfront resort by taxi or motorbike (the latter should take no more than 2–3 hr.), possibly stopping off for a swim at Bogmalo. One of the quietest of south Goa’s popular beaches, it has quaint shacks (as well as a number of ugly concrete buildings), fishing boats, and a view of two small islands some distance out to sea—ask about trips to the islands at the Watersports Goa shack, which also has equipment for activities like windsurfing and water-skiing. Farther south, you can stop for lunch at Martin’s Corner (&0832/288- 0061 or -0413; 11am–3pm and 6:30–11pm; follow the back road between Majorda and Colva to Betalbatim), where Martin Pereira’s widow, Carafina, runs the kitchen with an iron fist. She began cooking wonderful dishes for this family restaurant back in 1994, when it opened with only two tables. Now Martin’s sons operate a successful and extremely popular courtyard establishment, surrounded by mango, coconut, and jackfruit groves. Order snapper recheado, butter-garlic prawns, or pomfret caldin made with a coconut milk curry. Carafina makes a mean homemade masala, prepared according to a secret family recipe with fresh Goan spices.
Alternatively, consider a meandering trip via the Goan interior, traveling past Ponda to the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary to view Goa’s oldest Hindu temple, Mahadeva Temple in Tambdi Surla, and the 600m-high (190-ft.) Dudhsagar (Sea of Milk) Falls. Constructed from slabs of black basalt, the 11th-century Mahadeva Temple is one of the few to have survived the Portuguese, thanks largely to its distance from the coast (some 75km/46 miles from Panjim). To reach the falls, you will need a jeep, so either set off with one from the outset (see “Arrival & Orientation,” earlier in this chapter), or hire one in nearby Collem. Take lunch (look out for greedy monkeys) and a bathing suit for a swim in the deep, icy pool surrounded by rocks and wild greenery. There is no reason to stop in Goa’s second city, Madgaon (Margao), which has little more to offer than a stroll through the sprawling spice-scented town market—a maze of covered stalls selling everything from garlands of flowers and peeled prawns to sacks bursting with turmeric, chilies, and tamarind—but two worthwhile house museums are nearby.
Goa Tourism Information
Basilica of Bom Jesus
This is situated in old Goa. Inside the Basilica, you will see a beautiful display of architectural pieces in wood, stone, gold and granite. Immediately to the right is the altar of St. Anthony and to the left is a wooden statue of St. Francis Xavier. The remains of the body are housed in a silver casket, and on the walls around it are murals depicting scenes from the saint's journeys.
Chapel of St. Catherine
It is situated in old Goa and is dedicated to St. Catherine. It stands as a living monument of the conquest of Goa by Alburquerque. There is also a beautiful altar dedicated to St. Catherine upon which stands another statue of Our Lady Of Peity.
Church of St. Francis of Assisi
This church situated in old Goa is a 17th century piece of religious art. A beautiful octagonal tabernacle richly decorated in an ornate style has two statues, one of St. Francis of Assisi and the other of Jesus on the Cross. This is one of the most interesting buildings in old Goa.
Church of the Lady of the Mount
Located near Ponda, this was apparently the vantage point from where Adil Shah beat back the Portuguese only to meet his doom few months later. Wonderful views of the imposing and towering churches below make a trip to this church even more worthwhile.
Church of Mae De Deus
Saligao in Bardez is vaulted in shape and boasts of a primitive style of Gothic architecture. The statue of Mae De Deus (Mother of God) is placed inside the courtyard and two bells can be seen inside the church tower.
The Church of St. Alex is 9km from Margao at Curtorim, and this is one of the oldest churches in Goa, built in 1597.
Church of Rachol
It is situated in Margao and is dedicated to St. Ignatius of Loyola. A mini-museum situated in the premises of the Rachol Seminary houses some rare and beautiful pieces of religious art dating back to ancient times and is worth a visit.
Holy Spirit Church
This is situated in Margao and has a beautiful rectangular square in front and a row of old houses on both sides. The main altar of this church is dedicated to the Holy Spirit. The best time to visit is during the church festivities on the 10 of June.
The Jama Mashid is just 26km from Margao at Sanguem. Built in the last century, the Jama Masjid was completely renovated in 1959. The new structure is remarkable for its harmonious proportions and elegant simplicity.
Mary Immaculate Conception Church
This is situated in Panjim. The real beauty of this church can be seen at night, when as soon as evening sets in, this huge monument is transformed into a glowing spectre as it is illuminated with small electric bulbs. The church bell is said to be the second largest in the world. The best time to visit this church would perhaps be during the feast of the Immaculate Conception, celebrated every year in Margao and Panjim on December 8.
It is situated on a hilltop facing the town of Bicholim and was built durig the Muslim era in Goa.
Our Lady of Rosary Church
It is situated in Navelim and is the place to be on 3rd of the church's festival. Entertainment programs are held such as, music, dances, live fashion shows, etc. Children are also kept entertained with swings and candies.
Reis Magos Church
Reis Magos Church situated in Bardez is one of the first of its kind. This church is dedicated to Gasper, Baltazar and Melchior. The church's feast day is celebrated on January 6 at the Reis Mangos Churches in Bardez, Cansaulim and Chandor.
Royal Chapel of St. Anthony
It is dedicated to St. Anthony, the national saint of Portugal, held in great veneration by the Portuguese. It is situated to the west of the tower of St. Augustine and was built in the beginning of the 17th century. In 1835, the chapel was closed but opened again in 1894 after being renovated. It was again inaugurated in 1961after complete the Portuguese government did restoration.
Safa Shahouri Masjid
Built in 1560 by Ibrahim Adilshah of Bijapur, it is the biggest and most famous of the 27 mosque in Ponda Taluka. Next to the mosque is a well constructed masonry tank with chambers containing 'maharab' designs.
Saint Cathedral Church
This church is located in Old Goa and is the largest church in the area built in the 16th century. This Portuguese/Gothic building with a Tuscan exterior and Corinthian interior houses a famous bell, often called the Golden Bell because of its rich sound.
Shrine of The Holy Cross
Situated in Bambolim it is also referred to as the church of flowers, because the white cross at the entrance of the church is forever decorated by big flower garlands and candles. This church is popular with people making pilgrimages or offering masses for favors granted.
St. Cajetan Church
This is situated in Old Goa. An amazing feature of the church is the high vault on which are inscribed the words of Christ, "My House Is a House of the Words of Christ". The church has alters dedicated to the Holy Family, Our Lady Of Piety and St. Clare, and to the right are altars dedicated to St. Agnes, St. Cajetan and St. John.
This is strategically situated at the estuary of the river, Mandovi and was constructed in 1612 as a guard against invasions from the Dutch and the Marathas. The walls of the fort are 5m high and 1.3m wide.
Fort Cabo da Rama
It is located on the southern coast of Goa. This fort was been under the regime of various rulers until the Portuguese took it over from the Raja of Sonda in 1763. After taking charge of the fort, the Portuguese rebuilt it. Later, it came under the British rule.
After the Portuguese had won Goa, the threat from Muslim and Maratha rulers went on. To protect themselves, they built the Chapora fort in 1617. However, unlike the Aguada fort, this fort did not remain unconquered and the Portuguese troops surrendered to the Maratha ruler, Sambhaj in 1684.
This fort is located on the Terekhol River, on the northern tip of Goa, on a hillock overlooking the Arabian Sea. In its courtyard, is the century old church of St. Anthony. Maharaja Khem Sawant Bhonsle built the fort in the 17th century.
Sinquerim beach has clean, white sand, and is close to the historic Fort Aguada, the early 17th century Portuguese fort that was built by the Portuguese to control the entry into River Mandovi and to protect old Goa from enemy attack.
This festival is celebrated on the fourth Saturday of August every year at Divar Island, 12-km from Panjim. The name, 'Bonderam' revolves around the involvement of flags which in itself is an interesting story. Frequent disputes which occurred between two wards (section of the village) - Piedalda and Sao Mathias - over property matters often led to bloody duels, and sometimes death.
Like elsewhere in the world, December 25 is celebrated in India too as the nativity of Jesus Christ with traditional joy and gaiety. In fact, it cuts across the limits of the innumerable churches of Goa to spill over into the streets for all to participate.
The Ganesh Festival
This festival is one packed with fun and frolic, a time for prayer as well as pageantry. It is an occasion to clean and decorate the house, to prepare and to receive the divine guest, Lord Ganesha to get together with family and friends, to exchange gifts, and to rejoice the birth of the Lord with new attire, dance and music.
Carnival in Goa
This is a non-stop 3-day festival of color, song and music, providing a healthy entertainment for all, young and old. The soothing climate, full of fun- 'n' -frolic, which the Carnival generates, is much longed for. There is enthusiasm and happiness all around.
Sao Joao Festival in Goa
Sao Joao is the feast of St. John the Baptist observed all over Goa on June 24, every year. Newly wed sons-in-law's house. On this occasion, the mother presents the daughter, a basket full of fruits like jackfruits, mangoes, pineapples, etc.
Shigmoutsav in Goa
Shigmo in Goa in essentially a festival of the masses. It is festival of farewell to the winter season, celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Phalguna (March), the last month of the Hindu Calendar.