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The Rough Guide to Goa is the essential guide to India's best-known resort region. The guide includes a 16-page, full-colour section introducing many of Goa's highlights. There are evocative accounts of every beach in the state, from remote fishing villages to luxury resorts, plus the region's temples, markets, wildlife sanctuaries and waterfalls. The guide also takes an in-depth look at the sights of Mumbai and neighbouring Karnataka, including the ruined city of Hampi and the seaside pilgrimage site of Gokarn. There are lively reviews of all the best places to stay, eat, drink and party with maps and plans for every region.
About the Author
David Abram first visited Goa in 1983 and has since visited regularly and researched continually. David is a contributing author of the Rough Guides to India and South India and author of the Rough Guide to Corsica.
Read an Excerpt
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.
Table of ContentsIntroduction
PART ONE BASICS
Getting there from Britain and Ireland
Getting there from North America
Getting there from Australia and
Visas and red tape
Information, maps and Web sites
Costs, money and banks
Eating and drinking
Mail, phones and media
Police, trouble and personal security
Cultural hints and etiquette
Festivals and holidays
Shopping and souvenirs
PART TWO THE GUIDE
CHAPTER ONE: PANJIM AND CENTRAL GOA
Chorao and Divar Islands
Around Ponda: Hindu temples
The Bondla Sanctuary
The Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary
The Dudhsagar Waterfalls
CHAPTER TWO: NORTH GOA
Betim and Reis Magos
Aswem and Mandrem
Chapter Three South Goa
Vasco da Gama
Around Vasco da Gama
East of Margao
Cavelossim and Mobor
Cabo da Rama
Colom, Patnem and Rajbag
Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary
CHAPTER FOUR: AROUND GOA
CHAPTER FIVE: MUMBAI
Marine Drive and Chowpatty
Eating and drinking
Nightlife and entertainment
Getting to Goa from Mumbai
PART THREE CONTEXTS
The religions of Goa
Environmental issues in Goa
Goan music and dance
LIST OF MAPS
Panjim & Central Goa
Candolim & Fort Aguada
Vagator & Chapora
Vasco da Gama
Churchgate & Fort
If any word could be said to encapsulate the essence of GOA, it would have to be the Portuguese sossegarde, meaning "carefree". For Goan expatriates, the term conjures up memories of long, lazy evenings on pillared verandas, surrounded by tropical vegetation and the heady scent of cashew and frangipani flowers, with the crash of surf drifting periodically through a curtain of coconut palms. The pace of life in this former colonial enclave, midway down India�s southwest coast, has picked up over the past twenty years, but in spite of the increasing chaos of its capital, beach resorts and market towns, Goa has retained the laid-back feel that has traditionally set it apart from the rest of the country. Its 1.4 million inhabitants are unequivocal about the roots of their distinctiveness; while most of the subcontinent was colonized by the stiff-upper-lipped British, Goa�s European overlords were the dissolute Portuguese, a people far more inclined to enjoy the good things in life than their Anglo-Saxon counterparts.
Goa was Portugal�s first toehold in Asia, brutally carved out by the explorer Alfonso Albuquerque in 1510, and served as the linchpin for a vast trade empire for over 450 years. However, when the Portuguese colonial mission began to flounder in the seventeenth century, so too did the fortunes of its capital. Cut off from the rest of India by a wall of mountains and hundreds of miles of unnavigable alluvial plain, it remained resolutely aloof from the wider subcontinent. While India was tearing itself to pieces in the run-up to Independence in 1947, the only machetes being wielded here were cutting coconuts. Not until 1961, after an exasperated Indian prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, gave up trying to negotiate with the Portuguese dictator Salazar and sent in the army, was Goa finally absorbed into India. A decade or so later the overland travellers� trail wriggled its way south down the Konkan Coast from Mumbai, ensuring that this hitherto remote enclave of Latin-influenced culture would never be quite the same again. Those visitors who came here back in the late 1960s and 1970s found a way of life little changed in centuries: Portuguese was still very much the lingua franca of the well-educated elite, and the coastal settlements were mere fishing and coconut cultivation villages. Relieved to have found somewhere inexpensive and culturally undemanding to recover from the travails of Indian travel, the blow-ins got stoned, watched the mesmeric sunsets over the Arabian Sea and partied madly on full-moon nights, giving rise to a holiday culture that soon made Goa synonymous with hedonistic hippies.
Since then, the state has largely shaken off its reputation as a drop-out zone, but hundreds of thousands of foreign visitors still flock here each winter, the vast majority of them to relax on Goa�s beautiful beaches. Around two dozen stretches of soft white sand indent the region�s coast, from spectacular 25-kilometre sweeps to secluded palm-backed coves. The level of development on them varies wildly; while some have ritzy Western-style resorts, the most sophisticated structures on others are palm-leaf shacks and old wooden outriggers that have to be heaved into the sea each afternoon.
Goa�s beaches, however, are only a part of the picture. A short foray from the coast will take you into the state�s real heart, the densely populated strip inland � a lush patchwork of paddy fields, coconut and areca plantations, and gently meandering rivers. Further east, the jungle-covered hills of the Western Ghats separate Goa from the drier Deccan plateau, scattered with tiny thatch-roofed settlements and isolated communities of forest-dwelling farmers � direct descendants of the region�s aboriginal peoples.
Wherever you travel in Goa, you�ll find traces of former Portuguese domination, creating an ambience that is at once exotic and strangely familiar. Gabled Baroque church facades nose tantalizingly above the tropical treeline, padres in long cassocks cycle to Mass, fishermen wear crosses and Madonna medallions, and on Sunday evenings Christian families take a leisurely stroll in their best clothes, the women in carefully tailored dresses, the men in slacks and shirts. Blending the Latin love of meat and fish with India�s predilection for spices, Goan food, too, is quite unlike any other regional cuisine in Asia, as is the prevalence of alcohol. Beer is cheap, and six thousand or more bars around the state are licensed to serve it, along with the more traditional tipple, feni, a rocket fuel spirit distilled from cashew fruit or coconut sap.
Outside the Christian heartland of central Goa, the temples, rituals and exuberant festivals of Hinduism, the religion of more than two-thirds of the state�s population, mingle easily with more recently implanted traditions. Unlike many parts of India, religious intolerance is a thing of the past here; faced by the threat of merger with neighbouring states, Goans have always put regional cohesion before communal differences at the ballot box, and some of the state�s principal religious festivals � notably Christmas, Carnival and Diwali � are celebrated by adherents of both faiths.
However, the debate over statehood and identity has gradually come to dominate the political agenda in Goa over the past decade or so. Following New Delhi�s recognition of Konkani, spoken by the vast majority of Goans, as the official state language in 1992, the press platformed calls for greater autonomy, as well as curbs on immigration from other Indian states. Goa is considerably more prosperous than adjoining regions, and this has stimulated a vast influx of economic refugees, the poorest of whom live in shanty settlements around the construction sites where they work. Among the main employers of migrant labour in recent years has been the Konkan Railway, completed in 1997 to form a super-fast land link with Mumbai � another stimulus for economic growth that has already brought with it lasting changes.
Fuelled by remittance cheques from expats working in the Gulf and North America, and by the hard-currency receipts from tourism, the recent boom has placed a great strain on Goa�s fragile natural environment, and green issues nowadays feature prominently in any talk of the region�s future. Much anger, in particular, has been directed towards a handful of purpose-built luxury hotels, which have been accused of ignoring environmental laws. We have tried to reflect such concerns in the Guide, indicating which hotels have been taken to task by the green lobby and what you can do to minimize the impact of your presence in this part of the world.
If you�ve never travelled in Asia before, Goa may come as something of a shock. Its beaches certainly conform to the glossy holiday brochure image, but once outside the tourist spots many first-time visitors are surprised to find themselves in workaday rural India, where bullock carts far outnumber cars, rice is planted by hand, and the majority of villagers subsist on an average annual wage that is far lower than the cost of a flight from Europe. Don�t, however, let this deter you from venturing off the beaten track in Goa. The little-frequented corners of the state are likely to yield some of the most memorable moments of your trip, combining beautiful scenery with the chance to encounter a way of life that is worlds away from the headlong commercialism of the beach resorts.