Goa – A Basic Guide
The behemoth Indian subcontinent can take years, if not longer to get to grips with, to traverse and savour. In contrast, Goa, India’s smallest state allows you to cover its length in a day. That’s if you’re in a hurry.
By the time you lay your bags down and start sipping on coconut water with the ocean waves licking at your feet, you’ll realise it makes little sense to rush about in Goa.
A week or two weeks can give you a fairly good idea of the landscape from the tout-filled streets of Panjim, the main city, to the tropical palm-fringed rural villages; both strewn with tangible architectural remnants from the colonial days. Then, there are the beaches. Creamy swathes of sandy warm-water beaches of the Arabian Sea that draw swarms of visitors: young and old, hippies and hipsters, partygoers and paradise-seekers.
Having ruled for 451 years, the Portuguese influence remains apparent in the religious customs, food and drink, dress styles, inter-mingling of cultures and the peculiar fusion of Indian and European norms. Goa’s best features are not just the beaches, as the package holiday deals will have you believe. It’s a combination of these eccentricities that distinguish Goa from the rest of India, giving it a lovable and welcoming charm
A comfortable bed
The Park Hyatt Resort & Spa (www.goa.park.hyatt.com, 0091 832 272 1234) in south Goa is close to the airport, and set on 45 tranquil acres along Arossim beach. It has excellent dining options as well as entertainment for children. Doubles from INR12000, Dh708.
To experience the grandeur of an original and lovingly restored palácio, a Portuguese mansion with antique furniture and décor, book a suite at Siolim House Heritage Boutique Hotel (www.siolimhouse.com, 0091 832 2272138). Opt for one of two large suites upstairs but note there is no air-conditioning here and it can get uncomfortable.
Yogamagic Eco Retreat (www.yogamagic.net, 0091 832 652 3796) in Anjuna in northern Goa will appease any yogi who wants to practice in style under the guidance of authentic instruction, while lounging in luxury tents or suites made from local, sustainable materials. Doubles from INR9000, Dh531.
Find your feet
While the beaches are peachy, try to explore Goa from different angles to get a richer understanding of the region. Hire a cab for the day (arrange with your hotel, around INR2000, Dh118) and visit the historic churches and basilicas of Old Goa – book an exploratory walking tour (www.choltacholta.com, from INR2200, Dh129).
On the same trip your driver can take you to Panjim to visit the magnificent Church of the Immaculate Conception, shop at 18th June Street and later visit the famous Hindu temples.
For nature lovers, book an intriguing wildlife tour with experienced guide, photographer and snake charmer Rahul Alvares (www.rahulalvares.com, from INR2300,
Meet the locals
To mingle with the locals, venture away from the tourist-jammed northern beaches of Baga, Calangute and Candolim and take a train (www.konkanrailway.com for schedules and fares) from Pernem in the north or a bus or taxi from Panjim down to the Agonda, Palolem and Patnem beach cluster in the south. If you’d prefer some cultural stimulation, attend an exhibition, musical performance or indie film screening at Sunaparanta Goa Centre for the Arts in Panjim (www.sgcfa.org, 0091 832 2421311, 63/C-8, near Lar de Estudantes, Altinho,) set in a grand mansion in a leafy suburb.
Book a table
Book an afternoon-long lavish tasting feast of Indo-Portuguese food such as prawn cutlets, vegetable soup, whole baked fish and several vegetarian dishes at INR600 (DH35), made with locally sourced ingredients at the marvelously restored Palácio Do Deao in Quepem (www.palaciododeao.com, 0091 832 266 4029). The complimentary tour of the landscaped gardens is a treat.
For less fanfare, book a table at Mum’s Kitchen (www.mumskitchengoa.com, 0091 9011 095557) in Panjim, where locals and tourists come to sample Goan home cooking and seek out the famous vindaloos (around INR180, Dh10).
Candlelight (http://www.facebook.com/pages/Candlelight-Restaurant-Bar) in Siolim, while bordering on dive-ish, serves moderate portions of simple Goan favourites. The owner tightly guards the semolina prawn recipe.
Head to 18 June Street, the main shopping street in Panjim for a mish-mash of clothing, souvenir and bookstores. Bargain at Benz (www.benznx.in, 0091 9326104111), a sari store off the main drag.
Iconic designer Wendell Rodricks www.wendellrodricks.com 158, near Luis Gomes Garden, Campal, Panjim) is worth a visit for bespoke resortware. Sacha’s Shop stocks an eclectic and magical mix of affordable local clothing, accessories and homeware (House #E526, Next to ICICI Bank, SV Road, Panjim, 0091 832 2222035)
The markets around the country are worth a visit. Keep an eye out for dates and times: www.goatourism.gov.in/shopping/local-markets
What to avoid
While security has tightened in recent years, keep a watchful eye on your belongings, especially if you’re staying in a beach shack in the more touristy beaches up north. It’s always advisable not to walk alone or too far off from your accommodation at night.
While Goa has a liberal dress sense by Indian standards, it’s a good idea to bear in mind that European beach dress isn’t the norm here, especially where there are fewer foreigners.
The Arabian Sea can be unpredictable with wild currents –if there’s no lifeguard about make sure that it’s safe to swim before you do. The levels of pollution in some beaches – both human and that caused by oil spills, have somewhat soiled the idea of a beach paradise of late.
Explore a historic palácio. Avid historian Dr Luis Dias takes visitors on a private tour of the old Mint House of the Estado da India belonging to his family. He conducts several bespoke tours in old Panjim giving personal insight into Goa’s multi-layered past, and ending at his heritage residence.
Jet airways (www.jetairways.com) flies daily from Abu Dhabi non stop to Goa, from Dh1260 return. Local carrier Ethiad (www.etihad.com) flies to Goa, with a stop in Mumbai, from Dh1490 return.