Goa the Moveable Feast, India


Dogs and tourists on a Goa beach, India (Sanjay_Austa)

Dogs and tourists on a Goa beach, India

(click on photos to go to gallery)

(Whenever you meet a foreign tourist in India you inevitably get asked about Goa. I had never been to Goa and had no intention to go there until work took me there in november 2010. I am not a beach person though i have frolicked in some beaches in Malaysia and Zanzibar. In comparison Goa was a disappointment. A magazine however asked me to write a travelogue on the carnival atmosphere in Goa at the year end.  In retrospect,  I  must admit I glorified Goa in the piece  and did not  focus  so much on my  disappointment with it.)

Until this year I had wondered why would any upper-middle class or middle class Indian go to Goa when they can get the same and sometimes cheaper air-ticket deals to the beaches of neighboring South East Asian Countries. I realized why on my first visit to Goa recently.  The beaches of Langkawi or Pattaya may have the softest of sands, the best shacks and water sports in the world but nothing beats Goa when it comes to general all around celebrations. Its no wonder why it remains the favorite haunt of the newly weds who choose it over other foreign destination to celebrate their love. If you happen to visit Goa between October and February- the grand Indian wedding season- Goa is colonized by the newly-weds. The new brides wearing the bright red `chudha’ are a clear give away.  Sometimes the girls insist on wearing it with the bikini on the beaches making for a strange mix of tradition and modernity.

So while I was busy looking for happening spots in Malaysia and Thailand,  I missed the fun in my own backyard back home. Come the year end, the time for holidays and merriment, Goa  becomes the watering hole for any comers.    It is definitely the first on the itinerary of  domestic holiday makers but its ranks high on the lists of foreign tourists from all over too. The Lonely Planet lists   Goa among the top 10 destinations for year 2010 in the world vouching for its popularity abroad.

My first brush with Goa and what it had to offer starts not with the beach but on a cruise down the river Mandovi. If you stay in the Goa Tourism Board hotels and resorts you get a complimentary ticket to a river cruise . But one can buy the tickets at the harbor itself and hop on to any ferry of ones choice.  I find myself the only single male in a ferry full of honeymooning couples. The chudhas are prominent in display as is the  affection .  But this is  Goa . The excesses of joy or revelry may look incongruous with  `Indian `culture’ in other parts of India but  in Goa the only one out of place is me sitting alone twiddling with my camera.

It is amazing to see how instinctively the tourists respond to Goa’s carnival spirit. The young emcee on the ferry has to only suggest to the happy crowd to come on the stage when everyone is up there and dancing with gay abandon. Besides making the tourists dance there are several  performances for them ranging from the local to the Konkani dances in its colorful costumes. But it’s the Portuguese dance that gets the loudest cheers.  The cruise is also a good way to familiarize yourself not only with the Goan culture but with other holiday-makers. They have many interactive games and dance competitions on board and it is interesting to see people from diverse backgrounds take part in them with childlike enthusiasm. The cruise takes us down the beautiful Mandovi  riverside  but its only me looking out . The rest are too busy with the activities on  board.

Unless you are staying in one of the several five star hotels in Goa, the only casinos you will see are around the Panaji area . Some of them on the Mandovi river are very popular but  often criticized for polluting the river with garbage.  You can spend a night gambling in any one of them if you are so inclined.  If you want to partake of the Goan culture , its Portuguese heritage , the church architecture then North Goa is the place to base yourself in.  During Christmas the churches are decorated beautifully and elaborate services are conducted.  North Goa also has some of the most popular beaches including Anjuna, Candolim and Baga.  These may not offer you as much solitude as the quieter beaches in South Goa but they make up for with their  celebratory air of all-night music and dance something everyone looks forward to towards the new year.

Of course not all beaches in Goa are worth swimming in. Some of them are deemed dangerous because of their turbulent waters.  These hardly have any tourist so no touristy shacks skirt them. But even then they make for great places for sports activity  ranging from soccer, baseball to jogging.

A constant irritant on the beach but something I  noticed not many sun-bathers seemed to mind , were the  stray dogs. They seemed to be well adapted to the beach and had somehow been accepted as part of the  Goan scenery.

Each beach or resort in Goa is separated by large swathes of water-bodies or vegetation. The best way to get around is renting a  bike or if you have a family , a car. Going from one point to another you can enjoy the diversity of Goan landscape which changes seamlessly  from water to land  , from rural to urban and from beaches to the forests as you drive. The lure of the beaches is such that not many people known that Goa, owing to its location on the Western Ghat range is a bio-diversity hot-spot with rich flora and fauna.

Goans are a bit ambiguous about their Portuguese heritage. They are caught between asserting their new identity and flaunting their unique and rich Portuguese past.  However wherever you go what doesn’t change is the Goan spirit of hospitality, humility and  joy de verve . Its perhaps this spirit that one comes to partake.  Goa, like Ernest Hemingway’s Paris is indeed a moveable feast , which stays with you no mater where you go and makes you want to come to it again and again.

How to get there.

Goa is easily accessed by air from almost all major cities in India. It is also well connected by  rail.  From Bangalore it’s a 570 kms journey by train and from Mumbai 607kms. Goa can also be reached by sea from Mumbai.

Where to Stay.

The state run Goa Tourism Development Corporation hotels and resorts are spread all over Goa. You can pick up a booklet on them at the airport . These hotels  make for an economical and pleasant stay with their spacious rooms and big lawns but their service like any government enterprise is wanting.

Goa beach, India (Sanjay_Austa)

Goa beach at sunset, India

3 Responses to “Goa the Moveable Feast, India”

  1. Raj says:

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