….. Rajesh Deshpande © 2017. Based upon my multiple personal visits to Goa, latest being in April 2017.
Destination Type – Beach. Trip Type – Leisure.
Shimmering beaches, swaying palms and turquoise waters are the three quintessential elements that attract 2 million visitors annually to Goa’s laid back shores on the west coast of India. Goa (Panaji city) is about 580 Kms south of Mumbai.
Goa is an international holiday destination popular in India and world over. With a lineage of beaches right from Keri in the north to Rajbag in the south, rivers, wildlife sanctuaries, cathedrals, temples, forts, spice plantations, river cruises, floating casinos, carnivals and the Goan cuisine, Goa has plenty of choice for tourists.
Goa is the smallest state in the union of India with two districts viz. North Goa and South Goa. Panaji is the state capital and district headquarters of North Goa. Madgao is the district headquarters of South Goa.
How to reach?
By Rail – From Mumbai, Konkan Railway has many trains to Goa. The fastest train to Goa from Mumbai is the Dadar Madgao Jan Shatabdi Express. The LTT Madgao A/C Double Decker is a good train for day journey. Konkan Kanya Express is a good train for an overnight journey to Goa. By rail, Goa is well connected to all major cities of India.
By Road – From Mumbai, the national highway NH-17 (Panvel Kochi highway) is the old way to reach Goa, the entire route has spectacular scenery, especially post monsoons with winding roads, ghats and greenery all the way. It takes about 12 hours to reach Goa from Mumbai through this route with 2 – 3 halts. Another option is to take the Mumbai Pune expressway till Pune and then the national highway NH4 which passes through Satara, Karad, Kolhapur and Nipani. Little ahead of Nipani a right turn leads to Sawantwadi in the Konkan region through the small towns of Ajara and Amboli. It takes about 10 – 11 hours to reach Goa through this route with 2 – 3 halts. This route has many tolls which amount to about Rs. 840/- till Goa. This includes the Rs. 250/- toll of Goa govt. collected for cars at entry points in to Goa (at Dirghalim and Chorla ghat). Many private and state run buses ply from Mumbai to Goa. Paulo, Canara Pinto, Murad Naik, Kaloji, Neeta and the state run Kadamba buses operate daily. Recently Maharashtra’s MSRTC has started the daily Shivneri A/C Volvo service from Mumbai to Panaji.
By Air – Dabolim Airport, near Vasco is the nearest Airport. Direct flights are available from all metros and major cities of India. Indigo, Spicejet, Air India, Jet Airways operate many flights daily.
Where to Stay?
Being a full service tourist destination, Goa has abundance of Hotels and Resorts to choose from that can suit every pocket. Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) has good hotels and resorts at all major destinations across Goa. Some popular hotels in North Goa are Belmonte (Vagator), Curlies guest house (Anjuna), Double Tree Hilton (Arpora), Keys Ronil Resort (Baga), Resort Terra Paraiso, Goan Heritage Resort, Paradise Village Beach Resort, Supreme Grande (all at Calangute), Country Inn and Suites, Victor Exotica (at Candolim) to name a few. Most of them are boutique hotels having a three star rating. The super swanks can rejoice at the many luxury hotels and resorts like Novotel (Candolim), Vivanta by Taj (Fort Aguada), Taj Holiday Village (Candolim), Cidade de Goa (Dona Paula), Goa Marriott Resort and Spa (Miramar), Grand Hyatt Goa (Bambolim) to name a few. All are five star properties. In South Goa, some popular three star or equivalent hotels are, Majorda Beach Resort (Majorda), Nanu Resort, Beleza by the Beach (both at Betalbatim), Baywatch resort (Sernabatim) to name a few, the swanky ones are Ali la Diva (Majorda), Taj Exotica Beach Resort (Benaulim), Ramada Caravella (Varca), Dona Sylvia Beach Resort (Mobor), with four or five star rating.
Star rated hotels in Goa provide amenities like swimming pool, gym, multi cuisine restobars, choice of accommodation and meal plans. Almost every resort offer package deals which include Airport or Railway station transfers, accommodation in well-appointed rooms, meals as per plan, half or full day sight-seeing and resort facilities like swimming pool, gym, WiFi connectivity, spa and Ayurvedic treatments. Some resorts also have live entertainment and performances in the evening. A 3 nights, 4 days package turns out to be economical.
Tip – if the purpose of visiting Goa is a laid back holiday and if most of the time is to be spent in the resort or on the beach, it’s wise to opt for a swanky resort with MAP (breakfast and dinner) or AP (all meals) meal plan. But if the holiday idea is to stay outdoors most of the time for sight-seeing, going on excursions or shopping, it’s wise to opt for an average hotel with CP (bed and breakfast) meal plan.
Things to do?
Goa is a paradise for beach buffs. The beach culture of Goa is open and barring nudity, liberal beach wear is a custom. After a refreshing dip in the sea, relaxing and rejuvenating with a pint of beer on a sunbed at a quaint beach is a must do thing while in Goa. The foodie can satiate the taste buds with Goan style seafood at the beach shacks. The thrill seeker can venture in to the sea for water sports (snorkeling, jet skiing, water scooter, banana tube, parasailing or Dolphin safari).
The party animal can indulge in to the extravagant nightlife Goa has to offer. Boozing in the beach shacks all day long, intoxication, gambling at floating casinos, trance music and rave parties are few of the many options to experience buoyancy and high spiritedness.
The adventurous and avid traveler can go for an excursion to a wildlife sanctuary, temples and cathedrals, forts, river cruise and spice plantations.
General Info, Safety and Travel Tips
Beaches in Goa are steep, although lifeguards are available at many of the popular beaches, one must be careful about the undercurrents during the change of tides and especially at the confluence of river and sea. It is advisable not to go farther in to the sea typically up to the point where water rises above the waist level.
Goa is a blend of cultures and remains a conservative society with Catholics on one hand and traditional Hindus on the other. For being the king of good times, be responsible and observe limits of dressing and drinking. Although the law in Goa is liberal for alcohol consumption, it cracks down severely on illicit drug trade and one must be careful about such indulgences.
Tourists, especially women are advised not to get out alone after dark or stay back on beaches or on the lonely village streets.
Goa has a fairly large geography, with large rivers like the Chapora, Mandovi, Zuari and Sal crisscrossing the landmass. There are several bridges over these rivers which experience traffic jams during rush hours. One must start well in advance if travelling from South Goa to North Goa or vice versa.
Goa has good public transport system with intercity and interstate bus service to neighboring states of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Bicycles, Scooters and Cars are available on Hire throughout Goa. Taxi and Auto Rickshaws are also available for local travel. Taxis typically charge Rs. 2500/- for a sightseeing day trip in a hatchback car and more for sedans depending upon the choice of vehicle.
Konkani is the official language of the state with Marathi having equal status and are thus the most widely spoken languages. The locals also speak in English and Hindi while many can understand and speak in Portuguese, French, German and Spanish.
Goa has a tropical climate and remains humid throughout the year. Winters (Nov. to Feb.) are pleasant while summers are very hot. Goa experiences moderate to high rainfall and the atmosphere during monsoons (June to Oct.) is enchanting.
Places to see
Beaches – Goa is an international tourist destination because of its beaches and scenic beauty. The beaches of North Goa are one of the most ‘Happening’ places in Goa and the center of tourism. Keri and Harmal (Arambol) are the northernmost beaches of Goa, and infamous for being a place for trance music, rave parties and illicit nudity. These idyllic beaches are a haven for souls looking for solitude out of hallucination. Down south lay the beaches of Mandrem, Ashvem and Morjem where expatriates from Russia have settled (many illegally) and indulge in drug peddling and nudity making these places infamous as well. Further down are the beaches of Vagator, Anjuna and Baga. At Anjuna, there are a number of beach shacks playing to a dance & trance crowd during the tourist season around New Year. The tourist traffic is predominantly Western backpackers. Anjuna has a weekly market every Wednesday (was known as the flea market few years ago) where local vendors and expat Russians, Brits and Hippies descend to haggle the day over artifacts, souvenirs, imitation jewelry and clothing.
Baga is the most happening beach in the whole of Goa, it has night clubs / discotheques, restobars, water sports and everything that’s required for a good time on the beach with family and friends. The night life at Baga goes on till 2 AM.
Adjacent to Baga is Calangute beach, popular among Indian tourists. The beach has everything that is needed for a fun filled holiday – shops, hotels, shacks, sunbeds, water sports and lifeguards. Calangute is flanked by the Candolim beach to the south, also a hub of tourist activity.
South Goa beaches are relatively quainter and less happening but are blessed with tranquility. The beaches are lined up from Bogmalo, Velsao, Uttorda, Majorda, Betalbatim to Colva. Colva in South Goa is what Calangute is to North Goa. Colva beach is the center of tourism in South Goa with the entire recipe for an ideal holiday. Down south Colva are the beaches of Sernabatim, Benaulim, Varca, Fatorda, Mobor, Agonda, Palolem (Butterfly and Honeymoon Beaches), Rajbag and Galgibag. Most of these beaches are desolate for long stretches and are totally unspoilt.
Places of worship – The spiritually inclined can go for a sightseeing tour of the many Cathedrals and Temples, the prominent ones being the Basilica of Bom Jesus at Teeswadi, famous for the mortal remains of Saint Francis Xavier, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi opposite to the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Church of Immaculate Conception at Panaji. The Mangeshi, Mhalsa Narayani and Shanta Durga temples at Mardol, Ponda are the most popular Hindu temples in Goa visited by devotees from neighboring states of Maharashtra and Karnataka.
Cruises – Goa has lot more, a river cruise on the Mandovi river is an enthralling experience with live performances of traditional Goan dance forms – the Dekhni and Fugdi accompanied with melodious Konkani songs. The cruise can be taken at the Panaji jetty adjacent to the Mandovi river bridge. From the same jetty, a day-trip can be taken for cruising along the backwaters of the Mandovi river to the Chorao and Divar islands, the boat also docks at the spice plantations at Savoi and Keri. While on the cruise there are good chances to spot crocodiles sunbathing over an afternoon siesta on the banks of Mandovi. The cruises are operated by GTDC and private operators separately, however, it is highly recommended to opt for the GTDC cruise. As an independent excursion, bird watchers can visit Dr. Salim Ali’s bird sanctuary on the Chorao Island.
Casinos – Goa is one of the few states in India where gambling is legal. Casinos can be found around many of the five star hotels and on boats docked to the Mandovi River. Most of the action takes place on the floating casinos. Goa’s largest and most popular floating Casino, Casino Royale is located on a huge boat anchored to the Mandovi River. Casino Goa and Casino Carnival are also popular.
Waterfall – Goa has a majestic waterfall called Dudhsagar, 11 Kms from Kulem Railway station on the Madgao – Hubli rail link, it is a spectacular sight to see water plummeting from a height of few hundred feet creating a foamy delusion akin milk, hence the name.
Wildlife Sanctuaries – Goa also has wildlife sanctuaries with diverse species of wildlife. The Bhagwan Mahavir Wildlife sanctuary at Molem is in Darbandora taluka in East Goa region whereas the Cotigao wildlife sanctuary is in Canacona taluka of South Goa.
Forts – Goa also has some well-preserved forts. Fort Tiracol at the northernmost tip of Goa is a Goan toehold in Maharashtra. The fort has a chapel of St. Anthony and a deluxe hotel overseeing the confluence of the Keri creek and the Arabian sea. Fort Aguada is another magnificent fort flanking the Candolim bay with an old lighthouse, part of the fort is now converted in to the 5-star Vivanta Luxury hotel of the Taj group. 25 Kms down south of Madgao is the ancient Fort Cabo-de-Rama, now in ruins but provides stunning views of the sea.
Other Places – A little away from Panaji is Dona Paula, a shrine of lovebirds. Some scenes of the popular Bollywood movie ‘Ek Duje Ke Liye’ were shot here. On the road to Fort Aguada from Candolim, there’s a jetty from where boats leave for Dolphin spotting.
Carnivals – The Goa carnival is the most colorful and spectacular carnival of Goa amongst others held in the month of February every year in many towns of Goa with the center of attraction and activity being the capital city of Panaji.
Where and what to eat and drink?
The Goan cuisine can be categorized in to two distinct food cultures, the Portuguese influenced coastal cuisine and the traditional Gomantak cuisine. The beach shacks, hotels and resorts on the coastline of Goa primarily dish out the Portuguese influenced cuisine. Fish, Chicken or Veggies cooked as Caldin, Vindaloo, Peri Peri, Balchao, Recheado, Xacuti are some of the quintessential dishes of the coastal cuisine accompanied by Pao or Garlic Pao (bread). Teesryo Sukke, Crab masala, Lobster Masala, Bangda, Rawas, Surmai Fry, Goan Fish Curry, Vade Sagote, Bhakriv, Appam, Amboli, Solkadi and Kokam Sherbet are some of the traditional Gomantak dishes. Bebinca and Dodol are popular deserts served with a dollop of vanilla ice-cream.
Feni is the most popular Goan liquor. It is made from Cashew fruit and has a pungent odour. Many local home grown liquor brands are available and are cheap due to the liberal alcohol policies and low rate of taxation in Goa.
Goa has abundance of restaurants and eateries serving authentic Goan, Indian, Continental and Oriental cuisines. Food chains – Dominos, McDonald, Café Coffee Day and Kamath restaurants are present everywhere in Goa. The popular places to dine in Goa are Brittos in Baga, famous for its seafood and seaside dining experience. Night clubs like Titos and Cafe Mambos also have good restobars. House of Rogues on the Baga road is popular for continental cuisine, wood fired pizzas and live band. Palm Groove restaurant in Vagator serves lip smacking seafood. Their King fish thali should not be missed. Martins Corner at Betalbatim in South Goa is known for its authentic Goan seafood. Martins is a famous eating joint popular for being a favorite hangout of Sachin Tendulkar. Florentines restobar in Saligao is popular for the best chicken cafarel in Goa. Beach shacks like Zanzibar, Andrews and Marins at Baga serve scrumptious seafood, cocktails and liquors. Curlies beach shack and Shiva valley beach shack on south Anjuna beach provide accommodation and have a nigh club in addition to their multi cuisine restaurant, liquors and hookahs. For authentic Portuguese cuisine, the old Latin quarter of Fontainhas in Panaji has many restaurants and bakeries. Fontainhas has maintained the Portuguese influence to this day with narrow streets, old villas and colourful art deco buildings reminiscent of the era bygone.
Rajesh Deshpande © 2017