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WHERE TO GO
Which beach you opt for when you arrive largely depends on what sort of holiday you have in mind. Heavily developed resorts such as Calangute and Baga, in the north, and Colva and Benaulim in the south, offer more "walk-in" accommodation, shopping and tourist facilities than elsewhere. Even if you don�t fancy crowded bars and purpose-built hotels, it can be worth heading for these centres at first, as finding places to stay in less commercialized corners is often difficult. Anjuna, Vagator and Chapora, where accommodation is generally more basic and harder to come by, are the beaches to aim for if you�ve come to Goa for the techno scene. To get a taste of what most of the state must have been like ten or fifteen years ago, however, you�ll have to travel further afield � to Arambol, a sleepy fishing village and hippy hang-out in the far north; or to Agonda and Palolem, near the Karnatakan border, where tourism has made less of an impact. Foremost among the attractions away from the coast are the ruins of the Portuguese capital at Old Goa, nine kilometres from Panjim � a sprawl of Catholic cathedrals, convents and churches that draws crowds of Christian pilgrims from all over India. Another popular day excursion is to Anjuna�s Wednesday flea market, a sociable place to shop for souvenirs and the latest rave gear. Further inland, the thickly wooded countryside around Ponda harbours numerous temples, where you can experience Goa�s peculiar brand of Hindu architecture. The taluka (district) of Salcete, and its main market town, Margao, is littered with wonderful Portuguese mansions, churches and seminaries. In addition, wildlife enthusiasts may be tempted into the interior to visit the nature reserves at Molem, in the far east of Central Goa, and Cotigao in the south, which both support fragile populations of rare animals.
With so many tempting beaches, markets, monuments and nature reserves within the state, it�s no surprise that few visitors venture across the Goan border into neighbouring Karnataka. But beyond the shelter of the Western Ghats, amid the parched plateau lands of the Deccan Trap, lie the remnants of several ancient capitals. Among these is one of the most spectacular archeological sites in South India, the ghost city of Hampi. Today, weed-choked palaces, temples and discarded statues are virtually all that remains of this once opulent metropolis, capital of the formidable Vijayanagar dynasty, but a visit here will give you a vivid insight into the extravagant art and culture of pre-colonial Hindu India, while the ten-hour journey to the ruins can be an adventure in itself.
For this reason, we�ve included a detailed account of Hampi in Chapter 4, Around Goa, which also features the highlights along the Konkan coast, the lush strip running south from Goa in the shadow of the Sahyadri Hills. Previously accessible only by a winding pot-holed highway, the Hindu pilgrimage town of Gokarn can now be painlessly reached by train from Goa on the new Konkan Railway, while India�s highest waterfall, spectacular Jog Falls, 154km from Goa, also lies within relatively easy reach of the coast. It�s possible to string these two together in a trip of three to four days, but with a week to spare you�ll be able to spend time exploring rarely visited fishing villages and forest areas along the way.
Chapter 5 covers Mumbai (Bombay), a hot, congested and seedy city that is the arrival point for most international flights. Mumbai gets a pretty bad press, and most people pass straight through, but those who stay find themselves witness to the reality of modern-day India, from the deprivations of the city�s slum-dwellings to the glitz and glamour of Bollywood movies � a stark contrast with Goa.
WHEN TO VISIT
The best time to come to Goa is during the dry, relatively cool winter months between mid-November and early April. Throughout this period, you�ll be lucky to see more than a faint whisp or two of cloud in the sky; daytime temperatures are perfect for lazing on the beach and the sea is blissfully warm, while at night it is usually possible to sleep without a fan, under a thin cotton sheet. From the end of April onwards the heat and humidity begin to build, culminating in June, when a giant wall of black cloud marches landwards from the Arabian Sea. When the monsoon finally breaks, violent storms wrack the coast for days on end, bending the palm trees and turning the rivers into fast flowing, brown torrents. Some two-and-a-half metres of rain fall over the coming months, keeping fishermen off the sea. Not until October do the skies start to clear, and even then you can expect spells of intense humidity, grey skies, haze and occasional rain storms, alternating with bursts of strong sun.
For the past five years or so, the monsoons have spilled into November, shortening the tourist season. This has put the peak period, from mid-December to the end of January, when the temperature gauge rarely rises above 32 degrees centigrade, under increased pressure. Finding a room or a house to rent at that time � particularly over the Christmas and New Year fortnight when the tariffs double, or triple � can be a real hassle in some resorts, notably Anjuna, which is inundated with party-goers. So if you�re travelling without pre-booked accommodation, it may be worthwhile reserving a room by phone before you leave.