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In the minds of travelers in India, Goa looms large, so large that the legend alone intrigues and entrances wayfarers. Goa’s siren call takes myriad forms, from the lullabies crooned by doting resorts and the steady drone of surf able waves to the virile roar of Enfield motorcycles cruising the beaches for full-moon techno fixes to the carnivalesque cacophony of Anjuna’s flea market. Tourists in turn recreate the Myth of Goa, which reverberates on the road, through the internet, and across radiowaves. Tourists have also had a major hand in constructing the actual landscape of the paradise. The homes of Goans have become their guest houses; restaurants, whose chefs have mastered the art of banana pancakes, surface from the sand; and five star hotels have transformed pristine beaches into capitalist megaplexes. These newer institutions sit alongside moss-covered Baroque churches, leaf-fronded coconut groves, and soft-sanded shorelines strewn with fishing nets.

This destination of dreams first captured the imagination of the Western world in 1498, when the Portuguese explorer Vasco da Gama landed on the Keralan coast, whetting his native country’s taste for the spice trade. For business purposes, Portugal needed a foothold on India’s west Coast, and in 1510 Goa ended up a Portuguese colony, which was to remain until 1961. During the 16th century, Goa became a prosperous trading city where Portuguese soldiers and adventurers mingled with the locals, many of whom converted to Catholicism and married Europeans. Under the guidance of the Jesuits and the terror of the Inquisition, Goa also developed into a stronghold of Christianity in India. Treaties with Britain prevented Goa’s absorption into Raj control, and Portugal held on until 1961, when India annexed the region. Goa became a Union Territory and official statehood was conferred in 1987.

According to some, the subsequent invasion of hippies and five star tourists in search of paradise has made Goa a colony all over again. But Goa is more than an enclave of sybarites, and indulging in the pleasures it offers need not be exploitative. After five centuries of Portuguese rule, Goa is perhaps the most bizarrely unique of Indian states – you are as likely to meet a Portuguese speaking Roman Catholic dressed in jeans and a muscle shirt as a lungi-clad fisherman shouldering his day’s catch. About 30% of the Goa’s inhabitants are Christian, and the state has one of India’s highest literacy rates and one of India’s highest income levels. Goa is small enough to explore thoroughly, and the locals tend to be eager to share their Eden with visitors. Its quiet, gentle pace is stalled altogether in the early afternoon by the traditional siesta.

Goa’s party packed beaches are hopping from early October to late March, with beach-fervor peaking in the weeks before and after Goa’s psychedelic Christmas, when it may be difficult to find a place to stay. Things close down during the monsoon. But rates fall with the monsoon rains that cool Goa and fill its wells, and the showers often cease for long stretches of sunny days. With the exception of some of the stragglers, you can almost have Goa to yourself during this time; towns and hotspots are reduced to a mere dying flame of their partying peak.

Getting there

Most travelers reach Goa from Mumbai, 600 km to the north. An array of transport options suits most traveling styles and budgets.

By Air
Dabolim Airport, 29 km south of Panjim, serves mostly domestic flights, although charters from European countries such as UK and Germany also arrive here. Flights from here connect to all major airports in India.

By Train
Goa’s main railway stations are Margaon Station, south of Panjim, and Vasco De Gama Station, close to the airport. Broad gauge trains from Mumbai travel through the Konkan Railway.

By Bus
For Mumbai to Goa, bus is the cheapest option. There are both private video coaches available.

Beaches of Goa

Goa is roughly divided into two regions, North Goa and South Goa. The state capital Panjim is right in the middle but is considered part of North Goa. The town of Mapusa, 11 km north of Panjim along National Highway 17 is a smaller center for North Goa and a transport hub for most northern beaches; Margao, 30 km southwest of Panjim, is a hub for the south. Goa’s train line from Karnataka passes through Margao on its way to Vasco da Gama, on the coast, which is near Goa’s airport.

The sandy turf you stake on Goa’s beaches, also divided into northern and southern strips, may be the biggest factor in molding your Goa experience, from the type of accommodation you use to the food and drink you consume to the travelers and locals you meet. Some beaches are strictly five-star resorts, others brim with homely guest houses, while still others are filled with palm leaf shacks as transient as the backpackers who construct them. In general, beaches farther from Panjim in either direction are less developed and more sedate.

The southernmost of the northern beaches, resort-filled Fort Aguada, is on the north bank of the River Mandovi, across the Panjim. Near the ruined fort, the Taj Group runs a five star complex, complete with its own beach, and the posh package tourist atmosphere seeps onto the nearby beaches of Singuerim and Candolim. From Calangute all the way to Arambol, 70 km northeast of Panjim, backpacker culture has inscribed the sandy terrain with its exploits. In the 1960’s tsunami of hippies crashed onto the pure sandy stretches of Calangute. They soon expanded a kilometer or two up into nearby Baga, where a steep hill temporarily stopped the party from exploding right into Anjuna, now home to crazy flea market and a rave scene. Calangute and Baga have since become more developed, and backpackers have migrated ever northward in search of beaches more removed from the main tourist hub. At the pristine beaches of Vagator and Chapora, the Arabian Sea cuts into the coast and forms a weaving river that slices through North Goa. To reach the less spoiled beach of Arambol, beyond the river, one may take a ferry from the small town of Siolem to Chopdem northeast of Chapora.

The beaches of South Goa are either highly developed resorts or not developed sand sanctuaries, stretching all the way to the border with Karnataka and farther on south. The developed beaches begin with the resorts of Majorda. Slightly south, and easily reached from Margao, are Cola and Benaulim, which only see a smidgen of Anjuna’s party scene. South of Benaulim is a 10 km stretch of luxury resort beach known as Varca and Cavelossim. Further south is beautiful Parole.

Map of Goa

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