DESTINATION GOA - The Rome of The East
Stretches of endless silver sand and white surf beaches wetted by the rush of the 'azure' arabian sea, the revelling of late nights over the local feni brew, the tarvernas, white churches and temples resting against plush green padding fields and coconut trees, the nostalgic atmosphere, longer days of sun, sand and sea, in other words -- Welcome to Goa.
But there's so much more than the sun, sand and trance. The allure of Goa is that it remains distinct from the rest of the other Indian states, and is yet small enough to get hold of and explore in a myriad of different ways. Its not just the familiar remnants of European colonialism that make Goa seem so accessible, but rather the prevalence of Christianity and some form of socio-political progressiveness that tourists most notably Westeners, can relate to. Although Hindus outnumber Catholics by 70-30, there are more skirts and pants than saris, and its people display a sense of liberality and civility which you'll be hard pressed to find elsewhere in India. Goa is perhaps the only place in India where shorts and tank tops and skimpy outfits are not frowned upon anywhere except at religious locations.
This former Portuguese enclave located on the western coast of India has enjoyed a prominent bookmark in the travellers diary since the early days of the 1960's, when it became a favorite place for 'hippies', thanks to cheap accommodation availability and freely availability of drugs, and the fascination of roaming like Adam and Eve, stark naked on the beach - both of which are banned.
Travellers in Goa feel at home, 'hang out' around, be mellow or tipsy or wear local tribal outfits, but the once upon a time hippies have now been replaced by backpackers, ogled eyed Indian tourists scampering about the place in hope to see naked westerners on the beach, and a large number of foreign charter tourists, perhaps escaping the winter in Europe, on a 2 week holiday jaunt to this beautiful haven.
The palm-lined coastal plains, the wooded uplands and beaches so still and endless, create an illusion of lethargy - laziness or Sosegado, the local term. But in reality, Goans are hardworking, full of song, dance and merriment. Tourism is the main money-spinner and the majority of the population is engaged in related business. On the coast itself, coconut cultivation and fishing (both in-shore, with small boats, canoes and hand-nets, and off shore, with modern trawlers) are still the main sources of income. The discovery of iron in the hills to the east has also generated considerable revenue, and the economy is further fuelled by the stream of remittance cheques sent home by expatriate Goans working in Mumbai, the Gulf states, Europe and the U.S.
Blend of East & West -- Goa's 450 years under Portuguese domination produced a unique, syncretize blend of East and West that is at once exotic and strangely familiar: Christmas and Carnival are celebrated as enthusiastically by the 30-percent Goan Christian population as Diwali and Durga puja are by the Goan Hindus. The state's separate identity is discernible in other ways too, most visibly in its Latinate architecture, but also in a preference for a fish-and meat-rich cuisine. Another marked difference 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 tipples of feni, the local hootch, and toddy, a derivative of palm sap.
Being the highest literate state in the union territory of India, Goa has come along way now from just being a beach haven. Apart for its distinctiveness, progress in fields of Education, Information Technology and Industry have scaled to new heights and all round development. But still a lot needs to be done as bureaucracy is seen as the major hindrance towards all round development of the state.
Facts at a Glance
Country: Goa, India
Area: 3660 sq km
Capital City: Panaji
Aiport: Dabolim (29kms from Panaji)
Language spoken: English is widely spoken and understood. Konkani (The Official State language) and Hindi are the other languages used for communication.
Religion: Hindu, Christian and Muslim
Time: Five and a half hours ahead of GMT.
Climate: Maximum temperature of 35 degrees Celsius. Minimum temperature of about 15 degrees Celsius. Rainfall is upto 900 mm in the monsoons (June-August).
Best times to visit
Goa's lifestyle is best experienced during the winter months between October and end of February. At any other time, you're likely to either roast under the sun or find yourself threatened by the downpour of the seasonal monsoon rains that lash the state between the months: June - August and a little in September. The months of January, February and March are the best for witnessing Hindu festivals and celebrations. January has the colourful festival of Shantadurga Prassana, February, the 3-day zatra of Shri Mangueshi, and in March is the festival of Holi, called Shigmo.
The month of March, 'Carnival' - is an event celebrated by Goan Christian community. It is a 3-day festival of fun and merry making and colourful floats, a 3 day orgy just before the 40-day Lenten period of fasting. Huge parades through the cities are organised with bands, floats and dances and balls in the evenings. The final day concludes with the famous red-and-black dance held by the Clube Nacional in Panjim. The origins of carnival are apparently the hedonistic feasts of ancient Rome and Greece. It made its appearance in the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, where it metamorphosed into the very Latin singing-dancing. The carnival is presided over by King Momo, who on the opening day declares the countdown to fun and merry making. Hotel bookings must be done in advance for carnival as the festival attracts thousands of tourists.
For a complete list of festivals and events celebrated in Goa, click here.