India is truly a diverse subcontinent and one of the best outcomes of its diversity is its utter lack of stint in providing us ideal getaway vacation spots. Whether it be hills you seek, or the driest of deserts, whether a lake view suits us or an ocean, whether towering waterfalls inspire one or hot springs, there is such abundance of choice in the area of vacation spots here that every traveler’s demands are fulfilled. It is therefore not unfitting that while the rest of the world holidays at Hawaii, India should have an equally celebrated beach state. I am talking of course of Goa, as famous and sometimes even as notorious as the greatest holiday destinations the world has to offer.
While planning a holiday in Goa, it is important to remember that Goa is not simply beaches and waves. It is also an important historical location, having been under Portuguese rule for over 400 yrs and having gained independence as late as 1961. The state is rift with evidence of the absorption of Portuguese culture in the lives of the people and the famous churches and other world heritage buildings boasting of awe-inspiring architecture stand witness to the place’s rich history. A few museums such as the Archeological Museum and Portrait Gallery near the Bom Jesus Basilica bear evidence to this history and ought to be visited by those seeking to understand Goa and its vibrant past. The Bom Jesus Basilica is of course most famous for housing the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, widely considered the patron saint of Goa, and is hence the object of many pilgrimages. Goa also boasts of rich flora and fauna which flourish due to its position on the Western Ghats and has thus been classified as a bio diversity hotspot. River cruises on its two major rivers, Mandovi and Zuari also add to the attractions of Goa.
However the main pull of Goa is still the beaches, which on their part are more than deserving of this special status. The beaches in extreme north and south Goa are relatively deserted and hence usually avoided by tourists. They would be ideal for those looking to spend a peaceful time in a single spot. The popular beaches are all close together and well populated during the holiday season, with the most favoured being Calangute, Candolim, Baga and Anjuna, all north beaches. Calangute specially has no dearth of hotels and shops and hence ought to be avoided by the traveler who does not wish to enjoy the company of a lot of fellow humans. The kinds of tourists visiting the beaches vastly depend on the time of the year you visit. Indians choose to visit during school holidays and then too mostly in summer while foreign tourists throng mostly in autumn or winter after the rain spells are over. A curious thing about Goa beaches is the way each beach becomes the unofficial hangout of tourists from a particular nation alone. For e.g. Russian tourists tend to patronize Morjim while the British unerringly flock to either Candolim or Sinquerim. A major feature of Goa beaches are the wide range of adventure sports on offer, the sports ranging from parasailing to dolphin chases to the curious banana boat rides. Candolim and Calangute particularly are renowned for their water sports. However it must be remembered that water sports are not to be indulged in during off seasons (roughly June to September) since the water becomes extremely rough due to the monsoons rendering even swimming unsafe. After having suffered a near death experience myself due to the rough sea I would also advise you not to believe the assurances of the water sport salesmen who promise safety since they care more for their profits than the customer’s life. Instead rely on your own good judgment or inquire as to the dangers from a lifeguard.
The cuisine of Goa is another major attraction and not to be missed be the zealous tourist. Travelling to an alien land and coming away without tasting their fare is a criminal offence on the part of a good tourist. While Goa is undoubtedly the haven for the non vegetarian gourmet, with its myriad of wonderful sea foods, it nevertheless also lays claim to a variety of vegetarian dishes, turning once familiar vegetables to a source of new delight. A great place to dine in Goa would be Souza Lobo, one of Goa’s oldest and most iconic restaurants, famous both for its spectacular location, being right spat on Calangute beach, as well as its delicious and time honoured fare.
After having reveled in the thoughts of vacationing in Goa, the only consideration left for the hasty traveler would be a question of fare. However this should hardly be an issue, since one of the world’s greatest vacation spots also happens to be one the most economic. Cheap hotels, excellent travel deals and easily available cheap public transport everywhere in Goa make it a haven even for backpackers. Alongside these are also the luxurious resorts attached to private beaches in South Goa, ideal for those with dough to spare. Travelling to Goa also poses little problem, the state being easily accessible through bus, car, train, air or even, for distant travelers, by sea. What remains is simply to pick a good time, pack sunscreen and towels and be on your way. Have a great trip!
[Image courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kkoshy/3048092112/]