by Arabella Seebaluck Four hundred years of ‘solitude’… Ok, so you’re going to think sea, sun and shellfish? Buckets and bikinis, scooters and sunsets? Or raves and hippies, or raving hippies? That could sum up Goa… but also try and imagine the sensuousness of colours, the kaleidoscope of cultures, beaches and their huts, old Portuguese women and their Indian children, Goan – and not simply Indian – food, churches and forts. But, there’s also so much more! And all this is just waiting to be discovered alongside the kilometres lining the shores of the state, or the ones furrowing further inland, tickling the borders of Maharashtra and Karnataka. Therefore, like the ins and outs of the waves, their swelling and crashing on the coast… Goa’s history could be the most interesting in India. So for a short lesson as we launch into the state here, the former ‘Portuguese India’, began in the 16th century, ending as recently as 1961, when the new Republic re-attached was is legitimately its own. Located in the south west of the peninsula, brushing the neighbouring states of Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east, its cultural and linguistic influences are not only infused with the Portuguese, but the Maharashtrian and Kannadiga too, to a sizeable extent. Thus the cultural and ethnic blend is illustrated in linguistic, religious and culinary traditions, bringing together the Portuguese and Konkan influences alongside the regional ones to form a very particularly unique brand of a country. So, this may be how the blending of two amazing cultures, two distinct, geographically and radically opposed lands in essence and nature may be defined. This could also be how ‘east meets west’ can be defined in more simple terms. Perhaps you can even find your own personal, your own intimate definition in Goa, as you peel off its ‘beach’ layer and go a little deeper into its heart. Ergo Goa! Goa is history and legacy, palms and poetry, seafood and shores marked with Portuguese and Konkani words, even some Marathi… overall, a fascinating melting pot! Without further ado, let’s begin, shall we? Vamos à praia… … or let’s go to the beach, in Portuguese. Since this is the thing that tends to be on travellers’ minds when they think Goa, this is where we might as well begin. Since Goa is separated in north and south, it makes sense to proceed in this logical order. Anjuna Located in the ‘comunidade’ of Bardez, in North Goa, there are mixed feelings about this place. But there is also an inescapable charm, potentially dating back to the hippie era, where flower power, peace and love enchanted the beachside. It is still known for some of its parties, thus attracting the middle-rung tourists, backpacker or hippie-revival type of traveller. However, not to be discounted especially with its well-known eateries such as Shiva Alley or Curlie’s, and legendary Wednesday flea market. Arambol Arambol or Harmal Beach is found in the Pernem locality. This is a fisherman beach, with the Arambol village nearby provides lots of nice seafood for visitors. Since there is no major hotel construction in the area, it is one which is popular with peace-seekers: “This is undoubtedly one of the best beaches in North Goa. It is a great beach to take a dip in the sea, come to the shack, enjoy a hearty and inexpensive meal at one of the many nearby shacks and get back to the ocean again…Typically this is not one of the more crowded beaches which adds to the tranquillity of the place. Undoubtedly one of the best beaches in Goa,” one traveller says. (Source:TripAdvisor) Aguada One of the stunning features of this beach is its circular stone promontory sitting practically in the middle of the sand strip. A magnificent, romantic, melancholy figure which adds to the character is the fort and lighthouse, to be seen a little later. It offers some luxury accommodation nearby, and most of the regular beach qualities that can be expected…. including sea, sun and sand. Baga Baga (Bardez) is potentially ‘the’ tourist hotspot in Goa. Even the name of it is unescapable, rhythmic and inviting… Lots of beach ‘everything’ goes on there, to cater for the hordes of foreign visitors… whether boating or para sailing, if this is your thing, then you’re likely to find it in Baga. A wide choice of eateries are around this area, as well as hawkers and people who will want to sell you anything and everything if you don’t look too local. It is a party beach too, with some pretty impressive feasts going on particularly around the New Year, but for those on the ‘younger’ side of the age spectrum. A must for those who are looking for a fun-filled, action and people-packed holiday. Candolim Candolim, still in the Bardez commune, is all about soft sands and serenity. Termed as the second largest in Goa, it is not the one which is the most ‘peopled’, since there isn’t much canopy and the waves tend to be pretty wild! Like its counterparts, there are hawkers and eateries… and everything else that is the usual part of beach folklore. There are beach huts or long chairs which you can rent there. So, just make sure you have plenty of sunblock or tanning lotion – depending on what you’re going for – and stretch out and relax! Calangute We’re still in the Bardez sub-district, but on what is described as the longest beach in the state. Seven kilometres of pure sand make up what is now Goa’s most visited beach… so don’t go there unless you want to be in the crowd of hyped or crazed beach-goers. The beach is also quite renowned for its parties, with locals and tourists alike swinging to all sorts of tunes throughout the night. The peak season is definitely a ‘peak’ in the local landscape… but this beach tends to be pretty busy throughout the year, given its popularity. So lots of water sports will be available there, as well as places to eat and little shopping hubs. Miramar & Dona Paula This is also a very popular beach, given its closeness to the state capital of Panjim/ Panaji. Miramar is also an en route to the nearby Dona Paula Beach. This is where the Mondovi River throws itself into the Arabian sea, offering gorgeous sunsets or just nice little benches to sit and relax. Dona Paula is best known for being home to some local top brass, given its exclusive and expensive real estate value. Catch the sight of the melancholy Dona Paula statue, which depicts two feminine figures staring out to the sea. Sinquerim This is quite a popular beach, which explains the loads of water sport activities you will find there, alongside the top-range resorts. So this isn’t the place for peace, but the place for fun. Being quite filled up with people all year round, expect lots of amenities like food joints and shops of all sorts around. Vagator Well, some say this is the rave beach… or party beach. Dramatically circled by some prominent promontories, Vagator is much quieter than many of its counterparts of the commune. As popular as it is for parties with foreign tourists, locals are also quite fond of watching sunsets from the cliffs there. Agonda Beach We are now in South Goa, which is more of the ‘party’ scene for some, though Agonda is one quieter little spot. Known for some mildly intense waves, it another location for a perfect getaway… with a beautiful long stretch of beach. Ideal for those wanting a more peaceful location. Benaulim Beach Benaulim has a mystical character, being the setting for a story of Hindu mythology involving the deity Vishnu. Perhaps this will convince you of its divinely peaceful character, which much like the previous beach, is tranquil and serene for those looking for this type of setting. Some beach shacks offer water sport activities there, whilst eateries are also at hand. Betul Beach “Betul Beach is located at the southern end of the Sal River which flows through the south of Goa. This beach is basically a cove; it has a hillock on one side, laced with coconut tree plantation on the other and you will be able to see where the Sal River drains out into the vast Arabian Sea. A lovely fishing beach, Betul Beach remains hidden from outside, making it incredibly pretty and secluded. Not even a kilometer long, the Betul Beach is devoid of any commercial distractions,” said one happy traveller. (Source: TripAdvisor) Colva Beach Located in the Salcete commune of South Goa, this beach is located near one of the larger Goan towns, and is also quite stretched out over almost 2 kilometres. This is a typical postcard beach, with lazy coconut palms hanging out on the beach, like visitors themselves who wish to soak in the sun and the salt water. Being a very popular spot, expect everything to be quite easily accessible here in terms of food, transport water sports and shopping. Majorda Beach This beach is one of the less crowded ones, also with flat stretches of white sand, with the extra scenery of paddy fields and other greeneries nearby. Majorda is also idyllic with its swaying palms and blue sea. A picture perfect, for the visitor’s bliss. Bakeries are famous here… as is the village for its own version of the Ramayana, claiming that the Hindu deity Lord Ram was raised there. Palolem Beach The claim to fame of Palolem is that it is where scenes of Bourne Supremacy¸ starring Matt Damon, were shot. But that shouldn’t be the only reason… since Palolem is also beauty embodied. It is a very popular beach with locals and foreigners alike, offering beachfront accommodation in little character shacks. Palolem has another feat: “At the top of the island adjoining Palolem beach there is a stone sculpture created by an American conceptual and land artist Jacek Tylicki called "Give if you can – Take if you have to" also called the "Money stone". It became a pilgrimage destination. At the low tide it is a tough jungle walk and a guide is recommended. People can leave or take money at will at the Money stone.” How to reach the beach? Goa International Airport at Dabolim lies conveniently on a small peninsula which separates north and south Goa. Therefore, it would be an equidistant to where you choose to go. Taxis and auto rickshaws are available galore to take you to your selected accommodation on the selected beach. Therefore there is no need to fret about how to get there at all. There are a number of railway stations in Goa, going along the coast and through to centre state. The ones which will get you to northern Goa include: Parnem, Mapusa, Maem, Old Goa, Vasco da Gama and Dabolim. For south Goa, the station names also include Dabolim and Vasco Da Gama Verna, Canuasaim, Majorda, Saraulim, Margao, Barcem and Concona. Bus routes and stations and/or stands are many in Goa. Most major towns will have one, but some hubs would include Vasco da Gama, Panjim (north) and Margao (south). It would be advisable to check online individually the town that would be closest to where you intend to stay. Shack or Palace? Goa being Goa, that is a tourism hotspot, there are many places to stay in most locations… and these will most generally vary from the backpacker beach shack to the five-star beach front palace. It really only depends on your holiday objective (party or relax), budget and location preference. So, there again, some personal online digging is required. You may also find a bunch of home stays which are becoming a popular alternative worldwide… and many internet sites may be able to make that connection for you. That would be a good way of getting insight on local life, whilst making the most of everything else the beaches have to offer. It could also be a way of ensuring you’re just not sat in the sun the whole day and may get out and about to breathe in the other aspect of Goa… which is the next subject coming up! ‘Heritage’ or Indo-Portuguese Legacy So it’s not all about beaches in Goa, given the strong old European influence, mixed with a solid local identity. Thus the architecture, culture and religion is seasoned with a good dose of east and west, although delineated in different faiths. Beautiful churches stand side to side with temples, supported by a different creed: the military, with its majestic fortresses of yonder year guarding the remnants of this luxurious legacy. These would be perhaps the most interesting to begin with… or does that matter really? A Few Goan Forts… Fort Aguada Time stands still there… perhaps one can imagine galleons and canons detonating into the air… perhaps not for war, but just to proclaim the majesty of the place… which is truly majestic with its dark rocks structurally piled to form one of the most impressive landmarks of India’s smallest state. The Aguada Fort – literally the ‘water fort’ as it imposingly looks over the sea – was built in the 1609 -1612 to guard Old Goa from rival invaders. The fort has quite extraordinary dimensions: 5 metres high and 1.3 metres wide, and holds the record for have never been assailed in the 450-year Portuguese history in this region. A lighthouse was built in the 19th century, and remains a romantic figure on the promontory to the day. Although the fort is not up to its former glory, it certainly holds and ‘legacy’ charm to it, undeniable for those who want to scramble on its walls and look out to the sea… The fort is located at the estuary of the Mandovi River, north of Panjim. The airport at Vasco da Gama, Dabolim is some 40 km away, whilst the nearest railway station at Karmali is some 25 km away. Cabo da Rama Fort As previously said, legend in these parts has it that the Hindu Deity Lord Ram hung out in these parts with his wife Sita, whilst trying to flee some seriously wrong people. But, this fort was not where they lived – unfortunately for the wandering minds! It was built well before the Portuguese invasion and held tight until the latte took it over from local Hindu overlords. The church of San Antonio inside the fort is still used as a place of worship, whilst the fort itself has lost some of its shine, but still well worth a look-see. This could be another place to let your imagination take a free flight, or free fall! Located in the ‘taluka’ (or commune) of Canacona, Canacona Railway Station is some 23 km away. Reies Magos Fort This fort, which is the oldest in Goa, is protected by authorities and has been listed under the Goa Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act… sounding all important, which it is! Built in 1493, it is now a Heritage and Cultural Centre, after being fully restored. The fort has a wonderful history, serving as a defense structure, jail, then hospital. But there is more to the history and architecture of the place which can be found onsite. The fort is located in the Bardez commune, with Dabolim, Karmali and Thivim railway stations being the closest, at a few tens of kilometres each. Panjim is the biggest city across the Mandovi River, with the Panjim bus stand is some 5 km away. Pray Tell! Old Goa, at the heart of the state, is where its spirit lies… in particular the old spirit of Christianity, with the evangelisation and missionary life floating around like a film on the firmament. Difficult to imagine this was once a hub, as hardly anyone lives there nowadays, potentially because of the world-class archaeological and historical value of the site. Indeed, some of its oldest monuments have been classified by no less than the UNESCO’s World Heritage List. But other Christian religious sites are also found outside of the old city, usually of much more recent history and architecture. Goa has, however, a predominantly Hindu religious culture. But because of the historical developments since Portuguese invasion, a lot of the original Hindu temples were destroyed and replaced. Thus, Hindu temples in the state are mostly modern, though there are a few of the long standing sacred sited which remain to the day. Basilica of Bom Jesus (Old Goa) The most important and probably most beautiful one is indeed under the UNESCO purview and is the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Built over nine years, from 1594 to 1605, this prestigious religious monument is also the resting place of St Francis Xavier, the Catholic and patron saint of the state, canonised in 1622. The basilica’s – or ‘minor’ basilica to be religiously correct – architecture is of beautiful baroque detail, standing as one of the finest of its kind in this part of the world. Our Lady of Rosary (Old Goa) This church is one of the oldest found in Goa. The church, found in Monte Santo in Old Goa, is said to have been constructed on the very site the Portuguese conqueror Alfonso de Alburquerque ‘claimed’ the state. The 500-year old construction is said to be of the ‘Manueline’ type of architecture, which is a mixture of the Gothic and Renaissance currents. Se Cathedral (Old Goa) Also known as the Saint Catherine Cathedral, this is said to be the largest church in Asia, built in the 16th century. And if you are an expert or an aficionado of religious structures, you are going to love this… because it oozes everything heavily spiritually symbolical. One of the feats of this amazing building is that has five imposing bells, with one being the biggest found in the state. The Goan Department of Tourism has a complete description of the history and architectural detail of this church on its website. Church and Convent of St Francis of Assisi Built in 1661, this is the old palace of the Archbishop, which adjoins the Se Cathedral. It houses a beautiful wood-carved statue of the patron saint of the chapel as well as a statue of the Lady of Miracles. Elaborate interiors and architecture of Baroque and Corinthian overtones define this church. (For Goan Department of Tourism history and architecture details, please click here.) The Convent of St. Cajetan and Church of Divine Providence (Old Goa) For one minute, you could think you are in St Peter’s square in Rome… but indeed, this church is one which has been modelled on the St Peter’s Basilica. Said to be an example of Corinthian architecture, it is definitely one of the finest of its kind in the state. Built in the 17th century, the Basilica includes no less than seven altars, and an array of vaults inside which relics and remnants of various saints. Its full architectural and philosophical construction is well documented by local authorities. How to Get to Old Goa? Old Goa is within easy of Panjim, or Panaji, which lies at about 9 km from the old state capital. Direct buses from Panjim are easy to catch and very cheaply priced. Taxis are not advised as they tend to cost a little more since the town is a tourist hub, yet this is up to the visitor. Do remember there are also rickshaws which can do the ride for less, if you do not wish to over-complicate matters looking for the bus. Karmali railway station is the nearest local railway, with main hub station at Vasco da Gama being some 25 km away. The airport at Dabolim is about 30 km away. Our Lady Of The Immaculate Conception Church Found in the city of Panjim, this is perhaps one of the most iconic landmarks in Goa, being among the first to be built there. With its characteristic white façade and criss-crossed staircases, some say it’s where sailors arriving from Lisbon in the 16th century would stop and give thanks for their safe travels. Others call it the ‘wedding cake’. It is definitely just a wonderful sight, a beautiful spiritual elevation which is a definite invitation to stop, murmur a few word of thanks or just meditate. A must-add to the bucket list for this state! (For Goan Department of Tourism information click here.) Panjim is 10 km east of the main railway station, Vasco da Gama, and some 35 km from the airport at Dabolim. It is easily accessible by bus, with the main bus stand being at Kadamba. Kadamba Transport Corporation (KTC), from Goa, Maharashtra State Road Transport Corporation (MSRTC), from Maharashtra, and the Karnataka State Road Transport from Karnataka offer the main state-run bus routes. Rachol Seminary and Church Built in 1580 and turned into a seminary in 1762, this is where the first Indian printing press was set up in 1616. With an old Muslim fort in the backdrop and scenic natural landscapes, the site is also home to a church which is dedicated to St Ignatius of Loyola, who founded the Jesuit order. A little off the beaten track of things in Goa, the closest railway there is Chandor Railway Station at about 5.8 km away, with the main rail hub of Margao is only some 7 km away. Dabolim airport lies some 20 km away. St Thomas Church, Aldona Located in the Bardez taluka, this is another white-walled landmark which has braved the centuries and local histories to continue standing where it is today. With a beautiful ornate altar at its heart, the church stands on a high plateau which can be reached through a broad set of steps. This experience can only thus only be a true ‘ascension’. Aldona is located almost 5 km from the Thivim Railway Station, and about 23 km from the main railway hub at Vasco da Gama. Dabolim airport is about 40 km away. Nossa Senhora de Penha de França This beautiful, romantic-looking church overlooks the confluence of the Mandovi and Mapusa rivers. Found in the village bearing its name, which is also that of a Spanish saint, the church was built and rebuilt, with the current structure founded in 1626. Said to grant special blessings upon sailors, it was awarded the status of national monument in 1932. Being in the Bardez taluka, this village is some 15 km from the Thivim Railway Station, and a rough 13 km from the airport at Dabolim. Reies Magos Church The Three Kings hold a special place here, as they bestow their gifts upon baby Jesus, according to the Christian tradition. This is why a special festival takes place here on the Day of the Kings, the 6th of January, following the Iberian tradition of honouring these true believers in Jesus Christ. The Baroque church is simply stunning, having been built in 1555 by friars of the Franciscan order. Like many of its counterparts in the state, it is believed this church was built on the ruins of a Hindu temple. A rough 4 km from the state capital Panjim, this church is also part of the Bardez taluka. The closest railway station at Thivim and Dabolim airport lie some 15 km away. Mahalsa and Mangueshi Temples These are potentially the two better known temples in Goa and are located within a kilometre of each other. The Mahalsa temple is one which is dedicated to an avatar of Hindu deity Lord Vishnu, precisely and interestingly so a female avatar. The structure of the building is beautiful and quite appealing and is known for elaborate ornaments and an intricately spiritual and physical structure. One if the most prominent features is a 40-foot light pillar, which distantly resembles the tower of Pisa, but which is quite unique in its capacity and design. Indeed, it carries no less than 21 levels or ‘rings’ which can in turn hold 150 small lamps each. A visual treat when lit, undoubtedly! The Mangueshi temple, close by, is dedicated to an avatar of Lord Shiva. The temple has existed for about 400 years, although the structure has been refurbished and currently presents quite a modern outlook. It is also known for being one of the few structures to have somewhat withheld Portuguese invasion. Both temples are located some 20 km from the state capital Panaji, in the Ponda taluka. They lie a rough 40 km from the airport at Dabolim and some 32 km from Vasco da Gama railway station. Mallikarjun Temple This is one of the oldest remaining Hindu temples in the state, located in Shristhal, in the Canacona taluka. It is most wonderfully set in the midst of nature, and is dedicated to Mallikarjun, an incarnation of Lord Shiva. Built in the 16th century, the temple underwent some transformations about a century later, but retains a unique antique feel and character, with highlights such as supreme wood carvings illustrating the Hindu scriptures. One legend comes to life here, as it is said that this is the place where the Hindu diving couple Shiva and Parvati reunited after a long time. One specific festival attributed to this temple is that of Veeramel, which occurs at about the same time as Holi. The temple is about 6 km from the Canacona Railway Station, which is the closest. Dabolim airport lies some 64 km, whilst the state capital Panjim is some 74 km away. Naguesh Temple Another temple dedicated to an incarnation of Lord Shiva is the Naguesh Temple, whose existence can be traced back to the 15th century. The current structure, however, stands since the 1880s. This temple has the particularity of not having suffered the destruction frenzy of the colonisers and therefore has retained a lot of it essence. The temple is found in Ponda, in North Goa. It lies some 32 km from the airport and some 25 km from the Vasco da Gama railway station. Safa Shahouri Masjid Still in Ponda is a 16th century religious shrine, built by the Sultan of Bijapur. It is said that before the Portuguese era, Ponda was brimming with mosques. The Safa Shahouri Mosque is one that used to be part of an ornate complex of gardens and beautiful structures, a whiff of which is still present today. An interesting feature of this mosque is that it has no minaret. However, it does have a beautiful stone water tank and stands amidst a very serene natural setting, which undoubtedly calls for one’s spiritual dedication. As for the Naguesh Temple, the Safa Shahouri Masjid is only some 2 km from Ponda town and easily accessible by rickshaw. Of Masks and Men The strength of Hindu and Christian traditions is felt in Goa through the feasts it celebrates, whether out of religious or just pure life-loving belief. Although many of the festivals observed by the state are common to other Indian states, there are some inherently local celebrations. Goa Carnival This is one of the seven carnivals held throughout the world to mark the beginning of the Christian period of Lent and is the signature feast of the state. People from everywhere on the planet converge for this festival which puts Goa on a map, if it wasn’t already there for many. You may feel like you’re in Rio, but don’t be fooled that this could be just a mimicry of its renowned Brazilian counterpart. The Goan chapter rivals what goes on elsewhere by not being a purely denominational feast. Its unique quality is precisely is that it celebrates Goan diversity in colour and creed, with splashes of splendour, fun, friendship and just an awful lot of goodwill. The festival, like most carnivals, is prepared a few months in advance and lasts over three days, usually in the months of February/March. It involves everything a carnival is, including dances, parades, masquerades and everything that has a party flavour or exuberant overtone. And all this wonder culminates with the Red and Black Dance performed by the Clube Nacional of Panjim. There is a cultural and culinary carnival that parallels this Carnival, whose float parade will ‘float’ through the state in the main cities including Panjim, Margao and Vasco to name but these. However, the programme has variations every year so it is wise to check local authorities and their websites for when you do choose to go. The Goa Department of Tourism website is a definite good place to start when checking dates and itineraries for this carnival. Bonderam Festival Unique to Goa, this is celebrated on each 4th Saturday of the month of August. The island of Divar, located about 12 km from the state capital Panjim, is host to this ‘feast of rivalry’. So what goes on there exactly? Well, in the old Portuguese times, two rival factions of the island used to get into a tuff… so to speak, so the rulers established a system of territorial boundaries marked by flags or ‘bandeiras’ in Portuguese, hence the evolution of the word into ‘Bonderam’. But despite this attempt at creating clear boundaries, the locals wouldn’t relent and hence would throw stones or other projectiles at the markers. So the fight goes on to this day, though mockingly and in good humour of course. It has given rise to a feast of carnivalesque colours, with its distinct flavour of Goan traditions, including beating flags with something made out of bamboo called a ‘fotash’, hosting a parade and dress competitions… and just making merry out of the whole story! It’s overall a great attraction during the monsoon period for locals and visitors alike. Ferries to Divar Island can be caught from Old Goa, to reach the north side of the island, whilst the south side is accessible from Narve, which is about 25 km from Panjim. The island is within the mainland structure, but floats in the middle of the Mapusa and Mandovi Rivers, further inland east of Panjim. Thus the state capital will easily connect travellers to this destination via rail, buses or the airport. Feast of St Francis Xavier There could not not be a feast in honour of the state’s Patron Saint… and this one is held every 3rd of December, in honour of St Francis Xavier. Now, he died in China… but when his body was transferred to Goa a year after his death in 1553, he became the local patron. Now his body did not deteriorate as natural causes would have them, explaining the immediate 'canonization' or elevation to the status of Saint. Therefore, parts of it were 'cut off' and distributed around the world because of their alleged miraculous healing powers. His saintly body is displayed every decade, with millions of believers flocking to his final resting place for a glimpse of his 'feet'. This gives rise to the 'feastly' nature of the pilgrimage, with stalls and fairs being held to honour the holy man and the millions of pilgrims who come to seek his blessings. The feast will start with a 'novena', usually on the 21st of November and the 10-day ritual will invoke the Saint and all of his holy capacities during that time. The relics of the 'Goencho Saib' (Lord of Goa), kept in a silver casket, can however be seen until the 2nd of January. Feast of the Three Kings Goa’s unique blend of Christian ancestry and tradition means that this Iberian feast has been kept very much alive in south western India. The Three Kings of Bethlehem are revered for their faith which guided their path to where Jesus was born. So the feast is held from the Christmas period on to the 6th of January, the date of the Holy Epiphany, according to Christian belief. The church bearing their name, or ‘Reis Magos’ in Verem and the chapel of Our Lady of Cures in Cansaulim are the better known hosts of this festival. Verem lies about 8 km from Panjim, whilst the nearest railway is at Thivim, 16 km away. Dabolim airport is some 34 km away. Shigmo Shigmo or Shishirotsava, or even Shigmotsav is a Konkani festival, celebrated particularly by the Hindu Community in Goa. It is said to have been traditionally “celebrated as spring’s biggest festival which honoured the homecoming of the warriors who had left their homes and families at the end of Dusshera to fight the invaders. Traditional folk dances and enactment of mythological scenes is the major highlight of this parade. Shigmotsav as they call it, is similar to Holi but is celebrated for 14 days in Goa. It is also a farewell to the winters.” (Source: Goa Department of Tourism). This is particularly a celebration of colour… which also incorporates Holi in its own particular flavour and form. This festival includes a great deal of dancing and music, usually following the religious rituals. Being a spring occurrence, rooted in farming and reaping, new elements have been introduced to it, such as games and some friendly competitions. The festival is one that is very vivid with its own procession of everything colourful and wonderful. Something not be missed as it is a very unique aspect of Goan tradition, usually in the month of March. Ganesh Chaturthi Also locally known as ‘Chovoth’, this is the main and biggest festival in the state, given the influence from neighbouring Maharashtra and Karnataka, where Ganesh is a prominent figure in the Hindu divine pantheon. This celebration goes on for over a week until the final ‘Visarjan’, or immersion ceremony of the Ganesha idol. However, religious rituals may not go for more than a couple of days. As colourful as can be, this is yet another local feast which is to be experienced like no other. It usually takes place in the months of August or September. Eat, Drink and Be Merry! To sum it up, one would like to say rice and spice… or fish curry and crab masala. But Goan cuisine is far from being so simple. There are, truth be told, some undeniable stars in this culinary galaxy, but these are inextricably linked to some staples, basics or even principles of Goan food traditions. Let’s have an literary, not literal, taster… shall we? Goan Fish Curry Ok, this is the first and foremost… as this is Goa, which means the sea, and which means seafood. It will probably be the most likely item you will find on a menu, or which you will be offered if you are visiting a local family. So what makes it different? Well, it’s cooked under the sun of course, so to speak… so expect sunny ingredients such as tamarind and coconut to be added to the sauce which will also combine an array of spices, from coriander to cumin seeds. The red colour is given by adding Kokum, but also in some cases, mango, to this concoction. This blend of flavours is usually slow cooked with fish already marinated in lemon juice. Top chefs recommended local unpolished rice to accompany this… so go, have a Goan fish curry! Fish Recheado So, a ‘recheado’ is basically a filling, or stuffing. In India, the name has been juxtaposed to masala, becoming ‘recheado masala’. Pomfret and Mackerel are the preferred fish for this meal, which is so typically Goan, it’s potentially unmissable. So what happens here is that the ‘recheado masala’ is prepared with spices including turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, chili, ginger and garlic. Then this somehow placed a stuffing inside the fish cake or patty of some kind, depending on the chosen recipe… after which it is fried. And there you have it… all the way from Goa to your plate! Goan Prawn Curry Ok, so what is new in this one? Well, the variation is that the acidity will be brought in with vinegar instead of lime in this recipe. So the combination here includes all the usual spicy suspects: onions, chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric and pepper which will form a sauce held up together by some coconut milk. The tang, as previously said, comes in with some vinegar which should make this mouth-watering dish one you will remember for some time. Prawn Balchão A lot of chillies go into that one! And they combine with other spices such as cumin, ginger, garlic, onions, turmeric and tamarind. The masala is blended with vinegar and added to the prawns once these have been sautéed with selected spices. This is another bright red dish which unmistakably very high on the ‘hot and spicy’ scale. But it is one that cannot be missed, overlooked… on the pretence that it would be too hot to handle. Crab Masala Ok, so you cannot be by the seaside and not have crabs… and I mean the ones you will find on your plate. This variation of ‘masala’ combines all the spices with tamarind, but also tomatoes, to give you another unique, signature taste of Goa. Fingers are the preferred cutlery in India, but this meal requires no other. You just have to dig in deep with your fingers to get to the bottom of the gravy, its flavours, its scents and spices… and jiggle with the crab until you find its tender white meat, complemented with the most mesmerizing flavours you will only ever find in Goa! Chicken Xacuti There’s another mean with yet another interesting name… pronounced as ‘shakuti’. Lots of other ingredients such as anise and nutmeg are added to the paste which is the basis of this preparation. The flavour is also intensified through the use of coconut which are fried up with onions before the chicken is cooked and masala is added. Definitely another signature Goan dish, which also has meat and seafood variations. Enjoy! Chicken Cafreal “A Goan dish of tribal origin is Cafreal. It was named after the African soldiers or Kaffirs who brought it to Goa centuries ago. Today, the dish is made by marinating pieces of chicken in a paste made of spices, chilies, garlic and ginger and lemon juice and then deep-fried or shallow fries till dry. The result is rather dry, but spicy dish. This is the equivalent of Portuguese-style grilled chicken and the sauce it is marinated in tastes a lot like the famous Portuguese Peri-peri sauce.” Pork Vindaloo The Vindaloo is another of these signature Goan preparations… known worldwide as being ‘the’ Goan thing. So this is another combination of spices, such as garlic, ginger, cumin, cinnamon, cloves and red chillies, preferably Kashmiri ones for the special added flavour and colour. These are blended with vinegar. This is the masala or baste in which the pork meat will be left to steep, preferably overnight. The whole preparation is then added to some ground onions before it is left to slow cook, until it takes a fiery read, vindaloo colour. The rest is for those who dare to find out! Pork Sorpotel Some say this is the dish served for Christmas or other feasts in Christian households in Goa. It has some variations which include offal, so really it depends on the chosen recipe. Historically known as ‘sarapatel’ or ‘sarabulho’ in its native Portugal, the dish has evolved to become one of the signature culinary feats of Goa, but also Brazil. The preparation is also said to taste better over the days, so allow some advance time if you’re planning to cook… or go over and taste it a few days after your host has been at the stove! The dish is not for the faint of heart, as some variations have the preparation steep in pig’s blood (a delicacy for some), alongside many spices and vinegar. Some even add a peg of ‘Feni’, the local alcoholic brew, for added character. The whole dish is said to be served with ‘sanna’, which is a form of bread made of steamed rice and coconut. Other meats are also used to prepare this dish, although it will be most commonly available with pork meat. Mushroom Caldin The ‘caldin’ or ‘little broth’ in Portuguese, is a common type of soup available in many of the food shacks in Goa. It comes both in a fish or vegetarian version, but for the sake of balance here… we’ll focus on the mushroom variation of this preparation. As with everything else, the masala is key and combines lots of spices and coconut milk. This masala is the same base as for the yellow curry in Goa, with extra liquidity to turn into a soup. Thus, mushrooms are cooked until dry before being basted in masala and soaked in the coconut milk, until the mixture turns into a broth… and voilà! Yours to slowly sip and delight… Goan Dal This is another soup, made with ‘dal’ or yellow lentils… with the addition being a ‘drumstick’ or the popular Indian ‘moringa’ stick. Once these have been peeled and cut accordingly, they are left to simmer with the pressure-cooked lentils and grated coconut. Turmeric is added to the preparation, and while it’s sitting there of the fire, you can start on the tempering of the spices which will complement the soup. These include a generous amount of cumin and mustard seeds, curry leaves, ginger and garlic which are often combined with melted ghee just for the added lusciousness to the soup. Bebinca Bebinca is this yummy-licious, layered cake… of dozens of layers of everything sweet and wonderful, from sugar, to ghee… which have just been built over and over and over each other so that the cake is compounded into one delightful amount of sweet goodness! But one thing is for sure, a lot of patience is required to prepare this cake, since its 16 or so layers have to cook individually before the next one can be added. Often used as the ‘celebration’ sweet, it is eaten freshly-made and preferably warm, while complemented with some ice-cream, the cake is also often kept for days… and eaten as and when. Due to its Portuguese origins, variations can also be found in Portugal and Mozambique. Nevri This popular pastry is a well-known sweetmeat of Diwali and Ganesh Chaturthi, also known as Karanji. It is not a complicated confection, since it is only composed of flour and filled with grated coconut mixed with sugar, almonds and cardamom and/or other combinations of spices. The dough for this preparation is cut in round shapes and filled before being folded and fried. A simple, yet delicious pastry which is thoroughly enjoyed at either tea, or party time! Feni All of the above delicacies could be simply washed down with Feni, or Fenim, for the alcohol takers. This is the liquor and spirit of Goa. Made of cashew apples or coconut, depending on the folklore … this indeed a matter of pure Goan tradition. Whilst the cashew is seasonal as it depends on the availability of the fruit in the winter and spring months, the coconut version is an all-year-round thing. Locals will tend to have their Feni neat. But there are a few popular mixers as well, and these are, of course, lime and sugar or sugar syrup. However, this isn’t limited as the cocktail inventors may have a new kid or two on their block, (or bar) for you to try. Fruit juices are becoming the trend to add to this concoction for those with a sweeter tooth. So how is this beverage prepared? Like most alcoholic preparations. The fruit is stomped or grinded and then distilled. Normal alcoholic content for Feni ranges at about 40%, making it rather stealthy. The sale of this liquor is officially not allowed outside of the state of Goa, classified as a ‘country’ one. Even the preparation and commercialisation is somewhat hap-hazard and even generational. This means that local artisans prepare the brew and have dedicated clients at hand, including pubs or other watering holes, with which some have what can be termed as ‘historical’ deals. Onto Beats and Tracks… (or the party scene) So last, but not least… the party scene. Indeed, this is where many come to party, and only party. So this section will be dedicated to those who are not looking into beaches, culture or food… but just party. And indeed, there is so much of that in the state! It’s a place to party all year round, although New Year is known to be the absolute epitome of the season. You can find all sorts of gatherings in Goa, from the different trends and scenes, including trances and raves… for those who are familiar with the variants, this will – of course – make complete and utter sense! Beach clubs and parties are found alongside the coast, but most famously so in the southern part of Goa, usually at Baga Beach, Calangute and Arpora. Just little internet search will leave you feeling completely frazzled with choice of where to go, what to do, how, why and all the questions that may or may not run through your mind as the party fever grips you. So where does all this come from? Well, hippies arrived in the state in the ‘love’ days of the 1960s… and therefore started their own brand of this culture. However, the music has evolved, although the spirit of surfing the heights of happiness has remained pretty much the same. So lots of beaches will tend to offer enormous open-air parties, although some rubrics do point out that the male gender will be infinitely higher in proportion to the female one, thus leading to a comical sobriquet given to some of the parties where it’s just an ocean of men looking for a good time. Partying maybe extremely costly during New Year, so if it’s the season during which you are trying to get out there, try and plan ahead of time. Although the spirit of the season means you can just kip on the beach and live off little food and lots of liquid, you should still take a look at preparing to have the best possible party experience. Social media is also a good place to poke into the party scene there. So urban or beach legend… it’s up to you to find out. You just have to get out there and find your party feet, because it’s also about being in the spur of the moment and living it completely ‘loco’! When to Goa Being in a tropical zone, humidity hangs in the air big time in Goa! So expect fuzzy hair and sweat marks on your clothes. But the temperatures are fair all year round, with May being the hottest month with peaks of 35°C. The monsoon kicks in at about June until September, and leaves Goa drenched, complete with thunderstorms and lightning. This period of ‘freshness’ is regarded as quite pretty by many, since it gives way to a lot of greenery around the state. December to February are the coolest month, but the temperatures will barely go below the 20°C mark, at night time. Just ensure you are well prepped for the month you are planning to go, whether in terms of sunblock or raincoat. So sun, rain, wind, whatever comes, these are the broad guidelines for when to head to this superb state! One for the Road Goa is so much more than appealing. Even just pronouncing the name of Goa elicits some charm, a sensuousness, perhaps even some intrepidity… all defining the state’s values both historically and contemporaneously. One thing is for sure, there is something there for everyone. Even if the majority of visitors will stick to the coast, there are hidden treasures a few kilometres inland which will delight the more adventurous spirits, or those who are just a little tired of ‘just’ sitting in the sun. If you’re hungover and have slept on the beach the whole night, have had enough of the ‘Feni’ or the frenzy of the trance parties… perhaps walk into a church in Old Goa and find some peace, quiet and even your inner voice. If you’re done with eating the continental food in your five-star hotel, perhaps take a walk down to the food shack on the beach, or one near the bus stand in Panjim and pick up something that maybe a fly or two has pecked on, but which will give you so much more satisfaction than any of the fancy food imported especially to bore your palate to death! Goa is about going out there… just go out there. Breathe in the experience from any of the forts… smell the history. Imagine the Portuguese man in his heavy armour, suit or whatever… look out to the Arabian Sea and its story. Whatever may come, it’s not only about a beach or a party. Goa is an entire culture. It’s the blend of two entire worlds, two entire belief systems coming together. It’s finding peace in compromise, solutions in enmity, peace after strife. Goa is Old Portugal, but very much so a part of the Republic of India. It is a blend of what truly has been and continues to be the best of both worlds!