Variously known as "Pearl of the Orient" and a "Tourist Paradise", the state of Goa is located on the western coast of India in the coastal belt known as Konkan.
The magnificent scenic beauty and the architectural splendours of its temples, churches and old houses have made Goa a firm favourite with travellers around the world.
But then, Goa is much more than just beaches and sea. It has a soul which goes deep into unique history, rich culture and some of the prettiest natural scenery that India has to offer.
Much of the real Goa is in its interiors, both inside its buildings and in the hinterland away from the coastal area.
Since the arrival of the Hippies in the sixties, Goa has been a major destination on the itinerary of international and domestic tourists.
The tourist season in Goa begins in late September and carries on through early March. The weather in these months is usually dry and pleasantly cool.
Then the weather gets fairly hot around May and by end of June, Goa receives the full blast of the Indian monsoon with sudden downpours and tropical thunderstorms. However it is also during the monsoon that Goa is probably at its most beautiful, with greenery sprouting all around.
Besides the natural beauty, the fabulous beaches and sunshine, travellers to Goa love the laid-back, peaceful, warm and friendly nature of the Goan people. After all, more than anywhere else on planet earth, this is a place where people really know how to relax.
How to reach Goa ?
BY AIR : Goa is well connected by airline services to most major cities in India. All flights, national and international, to and from Goa, operate from the Goa Airport at Dabolim near the port town of Vasco-da-Gama.
The airport is about 30 kms from the capital city of Panaji and is owned by the Indian Navy. Major airline operators such as Indian Airlines, Jet Airways , Spice Jet and Kingfisher Airlines have flights carrying passengers and cargo in and out of Goa. Besides these, a number of chartered flights land in Goa from UK and other European countries.
BY TRAIN :
Today, the high-speed Konkan Railway has a daily train which hardly takes around 8-9 hours for the same journey. Other trains between Mumbai and Panaji take typically around 10-12 hours.
The rail route also has trains which travel past Mumbai to other northern areas of India right upto Delhi as well as down south to Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala.
The Konkan Railway has special reservation facility via the internet for foreigners which allows payment to be made by credit cards. There are also computerized reservation systems in most metros.
As the demand for the rail journey is quite high and most trains run filled to capacity, it is highly advisable to reserve the tickets well in advance of your actual journey to Goa.
Goa has two major railway stations — Margao and Vasco-da-Gama, both located in the southern area of the state. The South Central Railway terminus is at Vasco-da-Gama and the Konkan Railway terminus is at Margao. Besides the two main stations, the trains usually halt for a few minutes at a number of other smaller stations in Goa. like Thivim, Karmali, etc
The Konkan Railway has trains which ply between Mumbai and Goa and other destinations. The latest updated schedules for these are available on the official Konkan Railway website. The South Central Railway has one train, the Nizamuddin Goa Express coming in daily in the early morning. This train departs from Delhi and comes to Goa via Pune.
The Konkan Railway undoubtedly offers the quickest and cheapest route to Goa from Mumbai. In Mumbai there are two booking offices: one is on the upper floor of the Western Railways booking office in Churchgate Station and the second is at the Central Railway booking office, at the rear of Chatrapati Shivaji Terminus (Victoria Terminus or VT).
BY ROAD : Goa is connected with all the major towns in India via the National Highways NH4A, NH17 and NH17A. In most places along the way, the highway roads are in excellent condition and motorable at fairly good speeds.
There are bus services operating from Goa to most towns and cities in neighbouring states, such as Mumbai, Pune, Belgaum, Hubli, Bangalore, Mangalore etc. at fairly regular intervals throughout the day.
These services are operated by the state owned Kadamba Transport Corporation (white and blue buses) as well as the respective transport corporations of the neighbouring states. Besides there are numerous private bus operators who provide all kinds of bus services from special to deluxe AC to sleeper coaches along these routes.
The bus services operate from the huge Kadamba bus stand at Panaji and from similar but much smaller bus stands in other Goan towns.
Most buses tend to arrive in Goa in the early hours of the morning. The departures are in the early afternoon as well as early evening.
The buses usually stop along the way for dinner and breakfast at roadside restaurants.
A journey to Mumbai, takes around 12-16 hours.
The drive down from Mumbai, if you are coming by car, is along the beautiful highway which hugs the Konkan coastline, with excellent scenic beauty and typical small towns and villages along the entire route. There are a few winding and steep routes (called 'ghats') across the mountain ranges which add to the charm of the journey.
Beaches of Goa
105 kms of Konkan coast stretches across the state of Goa providing a wide range of choice in beaches to suit everybody's needs. There are unspoilt pristine streches of sand for the solitude seeker and there are those ones jammed with people in every square feet of sand.
There are beaches far from human habitation with very basic or sometimes no facility for accommodation. Then there are some with ultra modern comforts like internet cafes, massage centers, gyms, swimming pools, night clubs, etc. With such an enormous choice, one might feel confused about which one to take.
But on the contrary, it's quite easy to plan an itinerary for getting suntan allover the body. Taking the capital Panaji and the next major city Margao as base points, all the beaches can be visited in a stretch. North from Panaji lies the most famous beach of Calangute.
From here onwards to the northern tip of the state, swaying palms and shimmering sands stretch giving an enchanting sight. The further north, the emptier the beaches become. The same can be said about the silvery sands, which stretch down southwards from Margao. Right from Colva, the famous silvery white sand beach, there is an uninterrupted continuity in beaches. The more you move south the lonelier the beaches are.
North Goa Circuit: This stretch begins from the headland of Fort Aguada just outside Panaji city and moves up north towards the border to Maharashtra. Right from the Fort Aguada Beach Resort, an interrupted stretch of sand lies awaiting tourists, sunbathers and party animals.
Sinquerim, Candolim, Calangute, Baga, Anjuna, Vagator, Morjim and Arambol are the beaches that can be covered in the North Goa Circuit.
South Goa Circuit: Another major base to begin the beach conquest is from Margao, the second most important city in Goa. This railway junction connects Goa to all major cities in the coastline like Mumbai, Mangalore and Kochi.
Beginning from Majorda beach, a 20 kms long silvery white sand stretches across till the headland of Cabo de Rama.
Velsao, Majorda, Betalbatim, Colva, Benaulim, Varca, Cavelossim, Mobor and Betul beaches are all interconnected.
Waterfalls & Lakes
Dudhsagar Waterfall : The magnificent Dudhsagar Waterfall is perched in the high peaks of the Western Ghats and is a sight to behold especially in the monsoons when it is in full and furious flow. From a distance, the waterfall appears like streams of milk rushing down the mountainside. The exhuberent and spectacular waterfall is located in the Sanguem taluka.
Measuring a mighty 600m from head to foot, this waterfall on the Goa-Karnataka border, attracts a steady stream of visitors from the coast into the rugged Western Ghats. After pouring across the Deccan plateau, the headwaters of the Mandovi River form a foaming torrent that splits into three streams to cascade down a near-vertical cliff face into a deep green pool.
The Konkani name for the falls, which literally translated means "sea of milk", derives from clouds of milky foam which rises up at the bottom of the falls. Dudhsagar is set amidst breathtaking scenery overlooking a steep, crescent-shaped head of a valley carpeted with pristine tropical forest, that is only accessible on foot or by train.
Like most places in Goa, the Dudhsagar waterfall too has a legend attached to its name. The legend tells the story of this powerful and wealthy king who ruled a kingdom in the Western Ghats. His lavish and opulent palace in the hills was surrounded by vast gardens which were full of deers and gazelles.
The King had a beautiful daughter, who used to enjoy taking a bath during the hot summers, in the picturesque lake near the forest on the edge of the King's palace grounds. It was her habit to finish her bath and have a jugful of sugared milk in a jug made of pure gold.
One day when she was finishing her usual jug of milk she found herself being watched by a handsome prince standing amongst the trees. Embarassed by her inadequate bathing attire, the resourceful Princess poured the sugared milk in front of her to form an improvised curtain to hide her body, while one of the maids rushed to cover her with a dress.
Thus was the legend born. The sugared milk (dudh) poured down the mountainside and continued to flow in torrents as a tribute to the everlasting virtue and modesty of the Princess of the Ghats. The Dudh Sagar (Sea of Milk) continues to flow to this day and attracts thousands of visitors to one of the most popular and famous tourist spots in the state of Goa.
A number of private operators offer special trips to the Waterfalls and the tours operated by GTDC (Goa Tourism Development Corpn) also have Dudhsagar Waterfalls as one of the tour stops.
The falls can also be reached by a train journey from Vasco or Margao. At Collem, in the Bhagwan Mahaveer Sanctuary near Mollem, there is a railway station where the train stops to pick up passengers for the journey to the waterfalls. There are two trains a day that stop at Dudhsagar Station and it's possible to catch a morning train up and spend several hours at the falls before taking an afternoon train back.
Near the top of the falls, the railway line from Vasco to Londa crosses the mountainside, with excellent views from the train. There also a couple of pools that you can swim in, making Dudhsagar a great place for a day full of fun and frolic. The alternate way of reaching the falls is only advisable between January and May, when the level of the water in the rivers abates enough to permit jeeps to approach the base of the falls.
Dona Paula is a secluded bay only 7 km from Panaji with a magnificent view of the Mormugao harbour. This idyllic rocky tourist attraction lies at the spot where the Mandovi and the Zuari rivers meet the Arabian Sea. It is easily one of the most popular spot on the itinerary of tourists visiting Goa.
Dona Paula is nestled on the south side of the rocky, hammer-shaped headland that divides the Zuari and Mandovi estuaries. It is an ideal spot to relax and sunbathe. The Dona Paula monument is located on a small islet, linked to the mainland by a small bridge and a quay. Also on the islet is the "Belvedere", a Greco - Roman type of structure, from where one can view the Arabian Sea and the River Zuari.
The Dona Paula-Mormugao Harbour Ferry takes passengers across the bay, every day of the week between the months of October and May. Water scootering facilities are also available over here. Other water sports like boating, para-sailing, water scooters, yatching, swimming, wind surfing and fishing are available in the area.
The first live-game floating casino in India is located on board the MS Caravela (named after the first Portuguese ship that came to Goa in the 16th century). This is a joint venture between Advani Hotels & Resorts India Ltd and Casinos Austria International.
The MS Caravela is a catamaran, twin-engine vessel and can accomodate 270 passengers with 30 crew members. The Caravela is specially designed to sail the river waters of Goa.
The Caravela is built with fire retardant interiors and houses a lavish restaurant with multi-cultural cuisine, a bar, sundeck and a swimming pool. Two suites and four rooms are also provided for the VIP guests. The plush interiors of the vessel gleam with chandeliers from Italy and fire-resistant rugs from the US. The restaurant on board serves a multi-cultural cuisine.
The decor of The Caravela is very modern with vibrant colours and exudes a relaxing effervescent, congenial atmosphere. Glimpses of Goan culture are visible at the restaurant that sports bright pastel shades.
Everything works in numbers here, and tension is thick amid the clinking of coins and glasses. Money changes hands faster than you can imagine, with the cash registers ringing round the clock. The tables offer American roulette, blackjack, Indian rummy complete with slot machines. The 1000-tonne vessel even has a private gaming room for high-fliers.
Among additional convenience are: acceptance of credit cards, travelers cheques Digital security lockers State-of-the art survelliance system .
The entrance fee for the Dinner Cruises includes meals on board together with soft drinks and beverages along with non negotiable chips.
Access to The Caravela is on a jetty just near the Mandovi Hotel in Panaji. Guests are even picked up from the airport and dropped off either at the cruise ship or at the Renaissance Goa Resort.
Goa has many other casinos, which are mostly in the five star category hotels.
Skim the waves. Surf the seas. Float across the skies. The fabulous golden Goan coast is sprinkled with water sports excitements from windsurfing to paragliding.
John Lucas, an Englishman, who first came to Goa in the early 70s like thousands of other westerners on a spiritual journey, found his heaven here in Goa. Being a keen windsurfer, the next time he came back to Goa, he had with him, his board and rig. And the trend for water sports in Goa was set.
Today there are a number of water based sports and activities available in Goa. The best season for enjoying water sports in Goa is from October to May when the skies here are cloudless and blue, and the waters fairly placid.
Windsurfing : Windsurfing is a unique blend of surfing and sailing, which requires the surfer to adjust his strength and balance to the changing patterns of wind and water. To the expert who has honed himself in all these nuances, windsurfing can indeed be an exhilarating experience.
Windsurfing trainers and experts alike claim Dona Paula bay to be the ideal location for the beginners. The prevailing winds and the calm sea, ensure almost lake-like conditions. The morning breeze is light and steady — just right for learners; while stronger winds that set in during the afternoons offer a perfect challenge for the more experienced.
Dinghy Sailing :
A pleasant change from windsurfing is dinghy sailing, often referred to as ‘beer and sandwich’ sailing. With the winds in Goa, so gentle most of the time, this particular sport offers its participants much time to relax.
Dinghies are available for hire at the Cidade de Goa and the Taj Holiday Village. Instructors are available for beginners.
These 15-odd feet long crafts hold three to four people comfortably. The Zuari estuary at Dona Paula is an excellent learning area - its calm waters being the kindest Goa has to offer.
With two sails and side decks to sit upon, dinghy sailing is as much fun as windsurfing and it is not necessary to be either agile or youthful to enjoy this form of sailing.
Scuba Diving : Scuba diving is also fast gaining popularity. Underwater visibility in the more tranquil of Goa’s bays and lagoons ranges between five to ten meters.
Although Goa does not have magnificent coral reefs it boasts of myriad schools of fascinating marine life.
Attractive coral heads, lobsters, bright colored fish, and other marine life can be conveniently explored in the shallow waters.
There are even a few wrecks dating to colonial Portuguese and British times for you to explore underwater.
Water Skiing :
For the speed-lovers Goa offers the thrills of venturing into the sea on speedboats. The high-class speedboats which are available in some places, can achieve speeds of up to 30-40 miles an hour.
These crafts, which can carry between six to eight people, are available at the Cidade de Goa, Bogmallo Beach Resort, and Taj Hotels. They can be conveniently used for sightseeing as well as water-skiing.
The beaches of Goa offer a varied and plentiful, almost inexhaustible, supply of seafood, still fairly cheap and absolutely fresh.
The Agonda beach in Canacona, which lies a short distance from the more famous Palolem beach is a popular spot for angling. Soormai, salmon and mullet are frequent catches.
High fliers amongst the speed lovers can opt for parasailing. Both the Taj and Bogmallo Resort hotels provide the necessary equipment for this enthralling sport.
There’s a rope about 300 feet long attached to the parasail harness at one end and to the speedboat at the other.
When the boat speeds off on the water, the parasailor just takes one or two steps and he is lifted into the air, the parasail lifting behind him.
Water Scooter :
Water scooters accommodate two people on a ride.
This action sport provides all the thrills of a motorbike with the softness of an ocean instead of hard tar road beneath the feet.
The most common water sport is swimming, although it is least mentioned in the media. The waters around the Goan beaches are warm and almost always safe.
Swimming can be enjoyed by the young, the old, the infirm, the affluent and the budget traveller alike. There are life guards at all Goan beaches, so check with them about the status of the sea, before you jump in.
The huge, deadly looking crocodiles with dagger-like teeth are seen in the wild, right here in Goa in the narrow creek that intrudes into the thick mangrove jungle near the small village of Cumbarjua.
Most crocodiles that live in the Cumbarjua canal spend their days sunbathing on the muddy banks of the canal, watching visitors pass by in their canoes. The canal is a 15 km long stretch of water located about 20 minutes drive away from Panaji. It links the two biggest rivers in Goa - the Zuari and Mandovi.
The Cumbarjua canal is the only place in Goa where crocodiles can actually be seen in the wild. Some stray crocodiles are sometimes also found in places like Chorao, Tivim and Quepem.
On the canal, there is a thriving and vibrant mangrove habitat which serves as spawning ground for fish, prawns, and mollusks. This marine-life-rich ecosystem also sustains a healthy population of birdlife and crocodiles. The population of crocodiles in the Cumbarjua canal is currently estimated to be between 40-50.
Interestingly, the crocodiles found in Goa (Crocodylus palustris) are actually freshwater crocodiles - called 'freshies' - and they have actually adapted themselves to surviving in the saline waters of the Canal. This extremely rare phenomenon does not occur anywhere else on the Indian subcontinent.
Called 'mugger' locally, they are pretty harmless unlike their salt-water cousins who prey on livestock and sometimes humans. Most of the Cumbarjua crocodiles are used to human presence so much so that the local children even swim in the canal with the crocodiles nearby.
There has been no case of human killing by the crocodiles here, in recent living memory. If anybody ventures too close, they just jump into water and move away. In the village of Durbhatwadi on the canal, the crocs are even worshipped on the day of the new moon in January as the guardian spirit of the community.
Being cold-blooded, crocodiles need to spend a lot of time in the sun to keep themselves warm. Hence you can see them sunbathing on the muddy shores of the Cumbarjua canal. The greyish-brown skin of the crocodiles ensures they are extremely well camouflaged on the mud banks.
These fresh-water crocodiles are basically scavengers who also prey on sick fish and birds as well as crabs, dogs, cats, and - the very big ones on buffaloes or deer. They may even eat rocks to act as a ballast and help them stay underwater for up to an hour at a stretch. But they don't eat much and get hungry only once every two weeks or so.
Crocodiles are a hole-nesting species, with the eggs laid in a pit away from the water's edge and guarded by the mother crocodile. Out of the typical clutch of about 30 eggs, only two or three hatchlings are expected to survive, the others becoming snacks for predators like mongoose, rats, ants, birds, and even some humans who consider crocodile eggs a delicacy. A full grown adult can grow up to 4 mt in length. To communicate, they bark like a dog or let out a bellow.
The life span of a crocodile is between 60 to 80 years. During the mating season which lasts from November to February, the crocodiles make a spectacular sight thrashing, jaw-slapping and blowing of water bubbles.
Crocodiles have been hunted worldwide for their skin and in India they are classified along with tigers as highly endangered.
The most wellknown crocodile spotting outfit in Goa is operated by Harvey and Neil Alvares. They arrange boat tours for the visiting tourists.
The Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) runs a variety of river cruises on the Mandovi river — daytime, sunset and moonlight. There are two types of day cruises -- from the Panaji jetty, down the Mandovi into the Zuari bay and up the Mandovi to Aldona and a mineral water spring.
A few private firms also offer a variety of imaginative cruises or boat tours for sunset views as well as for crocodile or dolphin spotting.
The Magic of The Monsoons
Millions of tourists visit Goa every year, a majority of them making the trip during the peak season in winter from October to January. Quite a few visit Goa during the summer around the month of May. But they seldom make the trip when Goa is at its most beautiful — during the monsoons. The rainy season (monsoons) in Goa is simply a magical experience.
The real beauty and grandeur of Goa is at its height during the rainy season when it offers you a plethora of unique experiences. The rivers joyfully overflow with their rushing streams, the trees dance to the tune of the winds, the mountains and the fields cover themselves with a verdant green carpet ready to welcome you to a land of eternal beauty.
In early June, after the sweltering summer heat of the summer months, the monsoon gives Goa the first signal of its imminent arrival. Ominous grey clouds gather over the horizon, the blue skies disappear and the thunder rumbles in the distance sounding like a typical Goan drum beat. Frogs croak their welcome urging Lord Varun (the God of Rain) to hurry.
And when the monsoon finally arrives, quite dramatically, it is accompanied by claps of thunder and streaks of lightning. The smell of wet earth is everywhere and the croaking of the frogs reaches a crescendo. Monsoon in Goa means sudden bursts of torrential downpours which usually last for a short time, although occasionally, there are periods when it rains for hours on end. These sudden bursts are always succeeded by bright sunshine which lights up the countryside in brilliant colours.
Soon the Goan landscape undergoes a complete transformation as if being painted in various shades of green. Hills turn coy and shroud themselves with misty veils, while their luxuriant green covering of trees greets the stormclouds and the undergrowth grows rapidly. The rice fields are emerald green with a deep green fringe of palm trees and an even deeper green of other smaller trees. This colorful canvas of a rhapsody in green is in sharp contrast to the dark cloudy grey of the skies.
The rivers and estuaries which criss-cross Goa, are swollen with rainwater, flowing with renewed gusto giving up their usual shades of blue-green to turn a deep orange-yellow. The Arabian Sea all along the Goan coastline, is not to be outdone. Angry and active, it puts on a grand show for the occasion, roaring and creating huge waves which pound the sandy beaches.
Swimming in the sea at this time of the year is out of the question as the sea is very turbulent and the waves treacherous. But try walking barefoot along the beach and listen to the roar of the ocean and feel the rain and the salt spray splash on your face. It is a great feeling.
Goa in the rains is a serene and peaceful refuge for those seeking respite from the concrete jungles of the urban world. The best thing you can do is sit out on a verandah and watch the world pass by while the hours waft into wonderful, lazy, rain-soaked days.
If relaxing in the cozy ambience of your room is not your idea of fun, then there are a plethora of outdoor activities for the adventurous at heart. Fish along the riverside, go crab hunting or if you hanker for some real excitement, then trekking is the ultimate experience.
Go for quiet walks in the hinterlands and enjoy mind-riveting sights of white-washed churches and ancient temples resting against lush green paddy fields. The breath-taking natural wonders of Goa have to be seen, to be truly enjoyed.
And as they do all around the year, Goans celebrate. The unique feasts of São João and Bonderam are celebrated at the height of the monsoon in August. The magnificent colour and pageantry is accompanied by the usual singing, dancing and vibrant music.
The tourist rush is absent at this time and most hotels and resorts offer special monsoon packages at discounted rates. But to soak in the goodness of Goa in the rains, you must take up residence in the villages in the quaint inns or lodges set in picturesque surroundings of paddy fields and small streams.
Yes, Goa in the monsoons has all the ingredients of a dreamy, misty, green vacation with peace and solitude in just the right measure.
Forts - Sentinels of the Past
Compared to Indian standards, Goan forts are very small in size. Nonetheless, these are historic specimen of immense military, political and economic importance in a land crisscrossed by rivers and canals and bordered by sea on the west. The old monuments, now in ruins are mute testimony to the joys and sorrows, and colourful and dark events of a bygone era.
Some are awesome in sheer size like the Ruins of the St. Augustine's Tower, while others are marvellous pieces of architecture, such as the Gate of the Adil Shah's Palace at Old Goa.
There are quite a few old Portuguese forts dotted around Goa, most of them on the coast. Most of them are in reasonable state of preservation and are worth a visit if you have the time.
Goa has several imposing forts, though most of them lie in ruins today. One marvels at the massive effort which was involved when the huge laterite stones were lifted to the top of inaccessible hills, to erect the forts.
Sans cement, steel or mortar, the giant walls have stood the vagaries of nature for centuries, and would have gone on to last for several centuries more were they to be looked after properly.
The Portuguese found the need to raise the fortresses at several strategic points facing the river mouths to defend their new acquisitions in the East. Of course, they also acquired forts built by the neighbouring chieftains, when the latter's lands were annexed by the Conquistadores. However, once the defence priorities receded, the forts too were abandoned by the Portuguese.