The City of Goa, on the southern bank of the River Mandovi, was part of the Mauryan Empire as long ago as 300BC, and over the next two millenia was successively ruled by the Stavahanas, Chalukyas, Silharas and Kadambas – a highly influential Hindu dynasty.
From 1312 the Delhi Sultanate governance precipitated another series of power struggles, but by 1510 Goa was the largest trading centre on India’s western coast after the Portuguese capitalised on the closure of traditional spice trade land routes by the Ottoman Turks. In the late 17th century, Chatrapti Shivaji made several unsuccessful attempts to reclaim Goa from the Portuguese.
As other European powers subsequently colonised India, Portuguese territories were surrounded by the British and Dutch. Goa, now Portugal’s most important possession in India, was granted civic parity with Lisbon.
At the same time, many residents were forcibly converted to Christianity by missionaries under threat of property confiscation, although many converts retained elements of Hindu heritage. Thousands instead fled the state, settling in neighbouring towns.
After India gained independence from Britain in 1947, Portugal refused to relinquish control of Goa. The UN stepped in in 1960, advocating Goan self determination, and in December 1961 the Indian army mobilised 40,000 troops, inducing Portuguese surrender in just 26 hours.
Portugal finally recognised India’s action 1974. Goa, along with Daman and Diu, was made into a centrally administered Union Territory of India. In 1987, the Union Territory was split, and Goa was elevated as India’s twenty-fifth state, with two districts, North Goa and South Goa.
Places to Visit
There’s a lot more to Goa than the beautiful sea and idyllic beaches – but there’s a reason that that statement needs to be made. And that of course is because the sea is so beautiful, the beaches so idyllic, that it’s easy to feel that there’s nothing more there need be.
Below the beaches are listed from North to South…
Querim (or Kerim) Beach: Goa’s northernmost beach near the river estuary at Terekol, it is untouched by mass tourism and an idyllic place to have a picnic.
Arambol Beach: Retaining the laid-back atmosphere from its days as a hippy bastion it’s very popular with backpackers. The restaurants and bars here are suitably inexpensive and yoga, meditation and massage services are easily found.
Mandrem Beach: Attracts a similar crowd and offers the same services as Arambol but on a smaller, more charming, scale.
Morjim Beach: Is the southernmost of the beaches north of the Chapora river and follows on from Mandrem. It’s less attractive than it’s rivals further North.
Chapora Village, Harbour and Beach: The uninviting beach here is not much of a draw, but watching the fishermen setting off and returning provides an interesting insight into Goan life. The hardcore hippy village of Chapora provides a very different insight.
Big Vagator Beach: A wide expanse of sand which only appears to appeal to domestic tourists.
Little Vagator Beach: An attractive beach with plenty of food and drinks on offer, this is the centre of the Goa party scene. If Goa Trance is what called you to travel all this way, then The Nine Bar, The Primrose and The Hill Top are your Sirens.
Anjuna Beach: Home to the famous Wednesday Flea Market, that’s produce spans the spectrum of Goan culture: From traditional arts & crafts to day-glo hippy paraphernalia. At night people flock to the nearby bars and clubs.
Baga Beach: The place to party for western charter tourists and young middle class Indian tourists: Lively, noisy and generally very friendly.
Calangute Beach: Probably the most developed beach front in Goa but popular with many European charter tourists and domestic tourists. It’s lively but attracts an older crowd than Baga. You won’t be short of entertainment in Calangute.
Candolim Beach: A beach popular with mature visitors and families, Candolim is home to many European Ex-pats.
Miramar, Caranzalem, Dona Paula Beaches: Are beaches in the suburbs of the capital Panjim. They’re all pleasant places to visit and a frequented mainly by locals rather than foreign tourists.
Bogmalo Beach: A cove of white sand just 3 mins drive from the airport serviced by a couple of good restaurants. If your flight is delayed a much better bet that hanging around at the airport.
Velsao, Arossim, Majorda, Betalbatim, Colva, Benaulim, Varca, Cavelossim and Mobor: Appear in that order as you travel south along the second longest beach in Asia. This 27km stretch of palm fringed white sand is, even today, largely unspoilt with pockets of activity at the entry points from local villages. The whole beach used to be referred to as Colva beach but with the advent of tourism in South Goa parts of the beach took on the names of their local villages to make navigation easier. This long stretch of sand is popular and houses most of Goa’s 5 star hotels but remains much less developed than it’s northern rivals – with the possible exception of Colva itself.
Agonda Beach: This unspoilt beach is one of Goa’s least developed and is a popular place for a day out away from the busier Goan beaches. There are signs that overspill from its busy neighbour Palolem are starting to make the place busier though.
Palolem Beach: Now THE place in South Goa for Independant Travellers. See Arambol for description of crowd & services. Best Restaurant – Dropadi. Best Bar Cafe Del Mar. The Alpha Bar has a ‘silent disco’ where participants recieve music transmitted to their headphones allowing it to go on late into the night. Although its become developed in an ‘alternative’ way this is still one of the most picturesque beaches in Goa.
Patnem Beach: Paololem’s quieter little brother 10 mins walk south. A nice way to visit the area is to spend the day chilling out on the quieter Patnem then head over to Palolem for a lively night out.
The Basilica of Bom Jesus
‘The Basilica of Bom Jesus’ is just one of the attractions in Old Goa which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site about 10km from the capital Panjim. The Basilica of Bom Jesus contains the remains of St Francis Xavier, which are clearly visible through glass panels on the side of his coffin, and is famous throughout the Roman Catholic world. The feast of St Francis Xavier, which happens around the 3rd of December, attracts pilgrims from Goa, India, and around the world.
The largest falls in Goa named from the Hindi ‘Dudh’ & ‘Sagar’ meaning Milk Sea as the pool at the bottom is milky in colour due to mineral deposits.
Tambdi Surla Temple
The oldest Hindu temple to survive the Portuguese inquisition is set in a pretty, peaceful jungle location. Its unusual, completely black, appearance is due to its construction of black bassalt.
Sahakari Spice Farm
Provides a fascinating tour allowing visitors to understand how the spices and tropical fruits they eat at home are cultivated and prepared. A traditional Goan lunch is included and it’s pretty good! For those that normally avoid organised tourist activities this is still worth considering as it’s both good value and highly informative.
The Western Ghats
The ridge of hills and mountains running from north of Bombay in Maharastra, through Goa and then right down into southern Kerala in the south. The Western Ghats provide a fascinating area to explore if you want to get off the beach while in Goa.
Day trips covering all of the above can be arranged for those interested.
Goa is full of vibrant and exciting markets. Here are four of the best:
Anjuna market is the best place for gift shopping although you’ll have to haggle harder there than at Mapusa to get a reasonable price.
Mapusa market is great if you want to experience a produce market with a local atmosphere on any other day apart from Friday. On Friday the atmosphere, goods & prices are more orientated towards tourists.
Ingo’s Saturday Night Market in Arpora is run by a German guy of the same name. Its distinct party atmosphere has seen it grow into a great tourist attraction and large crowds are drawn to its wide range of food and entertainment.
Ghandi market & New Market are adjacent to each other in Margao and are great places to go to explore the wide range of Indian foodstuffs.
Goa is perfect for those with an ornithological bent. In the early morning practically any waterway, lake, river, beach or paddy field will provide a keen Twitcher with an array of species. Places especially good are:
The Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary on Chorao island, near Old Goa and Panjim.
The forests on the Swapnagandha hills are identified as an Important Bird Area by Bird Life International. The hills are in the Western Ghats on the North East border of Goa, near Sankhali.
The area around ‘Randhan’: Here you can find endemic species such as the Malabar Whistling Thrush, the Indian Pitta and many others.
Trips with a famous local naturalist can be arranged for those interested.
Goa Main Festivals
Ganesh Chaturthi is the biggest Hindu festival (other than Diwali) celebrated in Maharastra, Bombay, and Goa. A procession of people carry paper effigies of Lord Ganesh (the elephant headed god) to the sea and immerse them. Ganesh is the God normally associated with prosperity and financial matters and so it is in the hope of good fortune in these areas that the act is carried out. Panjim’s beaches are probably the best places to witness the festival.
St Francis Xavier’s festival
Taking place around the 3rd of December, the feast of St Francis Xavier attracts people from all over the world. Unless you are a pilgrim or want to experience the festival crowds this probably isn’t the best time to visit Old Goa. Every 10 years the remains are removed from the Basilica and a street procession is held. This is the biggest event in the Goan Christian calendar and attracts huge crowds. The next ‘Exposition’ is in 2014.
Christmas is celebrated all along the predominantly Catholic coastal belt with some enthusiasm. About a week before Christmas houses are decorated with hundreds of electric lights and small cribs placed at the front, children sing carols, large cribs are constructed at considerable expense and effort in the villages, and thousands of domestic and foreign tourists arrive to join the party. On Christmas Eve people attend mid-night mass then head to the beaches in vast numbers to party well into the night – The amount of fireworks set off would embarrass Guy Fawkes! Christmas day is then spent chilling out on the beach in the glorious climate at that time of year.
NB. Visits at Christmas should be booked well in advance, flights and accommodation sell out fast. Some places sell out a year in advance as people book again to come back the following year!
The Carnival in the ten days before Lent, and leading up to Easter, is based on the same principal as the Rio Carnival: Party hard before six weeks of abstinence. The party moves around Goa, with fixed dates for different areas making it possible to party for the entire duration – the dates and areas are printed in the local papers. While the costumes and atmosphere are more conservative than Rio the atmosphere is still extremely vibrant.
Goa has an area of 3,702km² and 101km of coastline. Bordered by Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the south and east, it’s mostly part of the coastal Konkan region – basically an escarpment rising to the Western Ghat mountain range, with the Deccan Plateau beyond. The highest point, at 1,167m, is the Sonsogor. Goa is divided along the middle into North and South:
North Goa The district has an area of 1736 km². The administrative headquarters is Panaji, the capital of Goa. The district is divided into six subdivisions or ‘Talukas’: Pernem; Bardez; Bicholim; Satari; Tiswadi and Ponda.
South Goa The district has an area of 1,966 km². The administrative headquarters is the commercial capital, Margao. The district is divided into five Talukas: Mormugao; Salcete; Sanguem; Quepem and Canacona.
Goa is most famous, though, for that magnificent coastline, with the Arabian Sea disappearing over the horizon. There are five main rivers, and the Mormugao natural harbour at the mouth of the Zuari is among the best in Asia. All in all Goa is an aquatic paradise, with 250km of navigable waterways, 150 islands and 100 medicinal springs.
Goa’s climate is generally warm and humid. May is hottest at a humid 35°C, with monsoon rains bringing respite from June to September. The cool season from December to February sees days of around 29°C with only moderate humidity, while inland and uphill it’s cooler still. While the mineral rich soil here is conducive to plantation, some of the oldest rocks in the Indian subcontinent (c.3.6million years) are also to be found on the Karnataka border.
How to get there
Dabolim Airport (GOI)
Direct scheduled International Flights from Sharjah, Kuwait, and Colombo.
Regular charter flights from Europe between late October and late March.
Direct domestic flights from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Jaipur, Hyderabad, Mangalore, Kochi, Trivandrum, Ahmedabad.
Konkan Railway and South Central Railway connect Goa to all India’s major cities. The fastest trains are the Mandavi Express (day) and Konkankanya Express (sleeper) from Mumbai, both take 12 hours. There’s also the Jan Shatabdi Express (day) from Mumbai which takes only 8 hours. From Delhi your best bet is the Nizamuddin Trivandrum Rajdhani Express which takes 26 hours. The full journey from Delhi to Trivandrum is the longest route in India.
Goa is connected via an extensive network of private buses to Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Trivandrum, Kochin, and other cities in neighbouring states. For destinations further afield a change of buses is required. Book AC Volvo buses for maximum comfort and avoid long distance State run buses. Sleeper buses are available on most intercity routes.
From Mumbai its possible to hire a car and driver for the journey by road which takes between 12 & 16 hours depending on traffic. If you fill the car this can be a reasonable alternative to flying at around Rs2,500 per person with 6 sharing a Toyota Innova, the best car for the job.