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Holidays in Goa
Sun, sand and surf – an apt description for Goa? But Goa is much more. Ancient temples and old churches? That. Portuguese colony? Carnival town? The original hippie haven? yes again! Beach Paradise, the holiday capital of India… the list goes on.
Goa, the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, is located in southwest India on the coastal strip known as the Konkan. Although naturally blessed with a fortuitous combination of vast sprawling beaches, forested hills and fertile plains, Goa’s potential as a vacation hotspot is the result of a strong interweaving of historical events and an ability to absorb its own compelling spirit.
Goa, past and present
Its creation is divinely attributed to Lord Parshuram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu, the ancient rulers of Goa included the Rashtrakutas, Kadambas, Silahar, Chalukyas and Bahamans.
In recent times, which is significant from the point of view of tourists, Goa became a desired colony of the Portuguese, remaining so until its liberation by the Indian Army, which granted it the status of a Union Territory, later upgraded to the state of the Republic of India.
It is to this fact, perhaps more than any other, that a holiday in Goa owes its special appeal. Because, if Goa had been a British colony, history would have been written quite differently. Under Portuguese rule, Iberian culture found a ready place to merge with the original sensual, fun-loving Goan spirit. The best of what both worlds had to offer was assimilated into one nation, which led to a flourishing of aesthetic, musical, even culinary arts.
The spirit of Sucegad – carefree enjoyment and peaceful tranquility are probably Goa’s most important, if intangible, exports to the leisure industry. Also reflected in his ‘happy’ acceptance of the Portuguese cultural invasion is the Goan’s inherent adaptability and willingness to blend in, qualities that keep the holiday and tourism industry in good stead.
A melting pot of races and religions, the fusion of Eastern and Western cultures into its own unique ethos of gaiety and self-indulgence is what attracts Indian and foreign tourists, choc-a-bloc, to vacation in Goa.
Such a successful holiday destination in the world tourism rankings, Goa has many attractions to offer. Carefree wandering on the beach in the true spirit of Sucegad, adventure, water sports, high culture, churches and the attractive anachronism of old Goa, wild entertainment, culinary adventures… The tourist on vacation in Goa is charmingly eclectic in his calling.
Vacation on the beaches in Goa
The undisputed beach capital of India, Goa’s coast is generously strewn with sand and surf: from popular tourist spots where you tend to see more skin than sand, to unspoiled havens worth the extra effort to discover.
Starting from Calangute in North Goa, clustered around Panaji, the capital of Goa, and further down, Margao in South Goa, are the most popular beaches on the tourist circuit. They are densely surrounded by the usual travel agencies – hotels and facilities that offer modern luxury, restaurants, shops, resorts, entertainment centers, spas, resorts, the works.
Beyond this ring, heading north from Calangute or south from Margao, Goa’s beaches become refreshingly more pristine and unpopulated. There is only the sea, sand washed by the surf, sparkling or shaded by abundant palm leaves, and you!
Some of the popular holiday beaches in Goa
Vagator: 22 km from Panaji, this crescent-shaped beach on the Chapora river basin, in the shadow of the Chapora Fort, is a quiet place to relax, but during the festive season, it is a scene for an all-nighter.
Anjuna: 18 km from Panaji, nestled between the sea and the hills, this is a picturesque beach with superb natural beauty for an excellent holiday.
Baga: One of the northern beaches of Goa, it is relatively emptier and surrounded by picturesque beauty.
Calangute: A favorite among tourists, Calangute in North Goa, 15 km from Panaji, is the ‘Queen of Beaches’. The downside of the holiday rush means this stretch of sand is overcrowded at any time of the year.
Sinquerim: 13 km from Panaji, Sinquerim is a popular holiday beach for its water sports facilities offering water skiing, parasailing and windsurfing.
Miramar: Located just 3 km from Panaji, it is understandably exposed to the tourist crowds and is studded with vacation homes of the rich and famous. However, as it lies along the mouth of the Mandovi River when it meets the sea, it is interesting for its view of the Aguada Fort.
Aguada: Famous for its 17th century Portuguese fortress, now converted into a hotel. Although its grounds occupy most of the surrounding area, the beach is open to general tourists.
Agonda: Secluded, this beautiful stretch of silvery sand is refreshing – a true retreat to relax on the sand and listen to tales of the sea. Nearby Cabo de Rama is historically interesting. Local legend says that Lord Rama stayed here with Sita during his exile.
Majorda: The local version of the ‘Ramayana’ says that Ram was abducted as a child and brought up in Majorda. Later, the Jesuits discovered the best Goan toddy here, and today’s holiday attractions remain the bakeries, the best in Goa.
Colva: 39 km from Panaji and extremely popular, Colva offers a comfortable holiday with hotels, discotheques, shops and restaurants. Colva is also known for the Church of Our Lady of Mercy, where there is a statue of Jesus Menin.
Benaulim: Less than 2 km from Colva, this lovely holiday destination also has a thriving handicrafts center that attracts tourists with its traditional rosewood furniture. The Church of Saint John the Baptist on the hill is quite famous as is the monsoon feast of Sao Joao which is celebrated as a day of thanksgiving.
Varca, Cavelossim, Mobor: These beaches south of Benaulim are really attractive. Cleaner and less crowded than the others, they are dotted with some of Goa’s exclusive beach resorts and food shacks. A holiday here also offers the possibility of watching wild dolphins.
Palolem: 70 km south of Panaji, this white sandy beach is a hive of commercial activity, including restaurants and shops. It is especially crowded here on weekends.
CHURCHES IN GOA- HOLIDAY
Another contribution of Portuguese rule to Goa’s holiday potential is the emergence of beautiful churches, especially in Old Goa. Originally spread with passionate fervor by former rulers, Goa, the Rome of the East, saw the dominant influence of Christianity, both in the religious and cultural spheres. Visible expressions of this are the churches of Old Goa. Historically, they can be classified into the following periods, reflecting changing architectural styles and iconography.
Early Period: A typical example of Goa’s oldest surviving church, Our Lady of the Rosary on Monte Santo in the ‘Manueline’ style named after King Emmanuel of Portual. This is a combination of Gothic and Renaissance with motifs of Portuguese seafaring. Since the structure is not adapted to the weather in Goa, tourists can see very few of them today.
Baroque period: ‘Golden Goa’ a time of busy missionary activities including the arrival of St. Francis Xavier, saw the construction of many magnificent churches in contemporary European style. These include the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Augustinian Church of Our Lady of Mercy.
Indian Baroque Period: Reflects local Goan influences in style and design, including the exterior facade and the inclusion of tropical motifs such as flowers and fruits. Notable among them are the Church of St. Francis of Assisi and the Church of the Holy Spirit, Margao.
Rococo period: Characterized by the smaller size of the structure, but with an exquisite ornate finish with local motifs, it is also known for the use of stucco on the exterior facade. St. St. Stephen’s in San Esteyan near Panaji is a notable example.
Modern Period: Starting from the nineteenth century onwards, this period saw the liberation of churches in Goa from the rigid norms of the past as different styles flourished. An example is Nossa Senhora, which uses the Gothic style.
Most churches in Goa continue to fulfill their spiritual purpose, worshiped by both Hindus and Christians, while serving as artistic and cultural attractions for tourists.
Goan Hindu Temples
The architecture of the Goan Hindu Temple is another tourist attraction of the Goan holiday, typified by the influence of the local style on the rigid architecturally rigid structure. The Maratha influence on the religious architecture of Goa lies in the Deepmal or Lamptower which is two to six stories high, decorated with oil lamps on ceremonial occasions. Mughal influence appears to be expressed in the dome covering the central shrine instead of the traditional shikhara, as well as in the Naubat Khana – a small tower at the entrance to the courtyard. The Portuguese Christian influence is visible in the curved roofs of the Mandap.
Not many of the earliest temples in Goa survived the Moghul and later Portuguese invasions (the exceptions being the “Pandava Caves” dedicated to Lord Shiva, located at Aravelam and the Shiva Temple at Tambdi), where the temples were razed to the ground and churches erected in their place. As a result, most of the surviving temples encountered by the tourist in Goa are relatively modern. The Mahalaxmi Temple in Panaji was the first temple allowed by the Portuguese, after much consideration, in 1818.
Food is another attraction for tourists in Goa. Touring Goa is a wonderful way to experience Goa’s unique cuisine which is a mix of different cultural invasions as well as its art, music, culture and literature. The staple food for Hindus and Christians is rice and fish curry. And while tourist palates succumb to the temptations of Ambot Tik (shrimp/fish in sour hot sauce), Sorpotela (fiery wet pork) and Xacuti (spicy meat dish), washed down with Feni (a strong and strong cashew drink) can be too much for uninformed palate. Deserts in Goa come in the form of sinfully delicious Dodol (made with coconut and Goa jaggery) and Bebinc (baked dish with coconut juice and egg yolk).
Indeed, this incredible pot-pourri of beach, nature, food and drink, culture and kitsch, religious fervor and vulgarity and abundance of entertainment that Goa tourism represents would be hard to find anywhere else in the world.
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