Walking through village streets, taking in the serenity; finding your way in a maze of palm trees, that open to majestic beaches where the waves crash to harmonize with the beating of your heart, as it’s filled with excitement when you see fishermen haul in their catch; the aroma that of delicious food that levitates you and pulls you ever so gently; the tea time conversations that range from god to gossip, life and death, and peace to prophets; wild energy of people celebrating Shigmo or dancing during Carnival; and even the numerous churches dotted all over the state that radiates the immense faith of the people. These are just a fraction of the memories which Goa leaves you with.
All the temples, massive forts, churches, hidden ruins, and the inherited Portuguese mansions pose as nothing but catalysts to the overwhelming sense of belonging that everyone develops when they arrive. In this sauna for an environment, compressed with two thousand years of hand sculpted history, a culture has evolved that offer in abundance to the casual visitor. This is magnified by the wonderful locals that welcome make you a part of their life.
The lifeline of the people for years has been agriculture and fishing, which has provided them abundantly with numerous seafood curries which make for an extremely healthy diet. The sea has also provided this land with an amazing trade route which put the state on the map, both before and after the Portuguese.
The rivers Zuari and Mandovi created the beautiful landscape we see today. Economy was traditionally based on sea and land in a healthy mixture.
When you stroll through the streets of the Fontainhias, it dawns on you that this really was a buzzing port city during its time. Even though the main port has now been moved to Vasco. It used to be a vital port that provided southern India with so much trade and commerce, but now the glory and the position has been taken up by Bombay, the monuments which were built upon that wealth still remain.
It wise to keep this in mind when you stand mesmerized at the churches that are generously sprinkled all over this beautiful landscape. During its time, the Old Goa churches were the hub of the port. If you had to just glance at it, you would believe it to be a mess, but if you were to experience it, you would be blown away by all the different types of wares and the how overwhelmingly wealthy the city was. This is why its visitors would declare those who have seen visited here, need not see Lisbon. Flowers would gracefully rain down from the balconies of the storeyed seigniorial houses whenever the viceroys would return triumphant and victorious riding their chariots.
Strolling through the green parks which surround the ruins and the few churches still standing puts you in a trance that forces you to travel back in time to when these place were in their prime.
One of the places that makes you beg that you were born during its’ hay day is past the Arch of the Viceroys, down by the river where some parts of the great wall that gridded the city still remain. The scene of merchant ships tying up at the wharf and presenting their opulent wares to the Customs House although just your imagination, but it presents itself as a memory that you’ve experienced.
From here on you follow the road under the arch and drown in the bustle of the capitals’ streets. But the trance has to wear off at some point, and this is where it happens since you can see nothing but empty roads, lots of greenery and trees. Now the grandeur that preceded Old Goa has long since vanished and left in its wake cholera and malaria which eventually caused its disintegration, with only the churches remaining as relics of its former splendor.
The now capital city Panjim, too has lost some of its fame with the port being moved. But its fish market is still lively as ever. The chaos of buyers and sellers haggling over the price of fish is almost nostalgic to the surviving few who lived during the Portuguese era.
Most tourist fly in from Bombay, a flight that takes them forty-five minutes. They land near Vasco and then drive to their respective hotels. Those with a lot of time or maybe shy wallets or a carefree outlook on life tend to take a twenty hour journey by boat. Most of the time during seasons all the cabins are booked months on advance usually by out-stationed families returning home. This usually brings the younger crowd and also those who have been visiting since the 90’s and who represent the major part of the western tourists in the state. The arrivals and departures rekindles the spark that Panjim once had, as the travellers prepare to take in what the state has to offer, which in retrospect seems ironic as when back in the day traveller would come bearing opulent goods to sell to the land, whereas now the land offers up its culture, history, and lots more to travellers.
Speaking of things up for offer, there are some that you will find only in this part of the country, one of those being ‘Feni’ because of the distinct way of preparation that is passed down from generation along with its essence that if produced anywhere else, it wouldn’t be the same. There are two types of feni, cashew and palm. The one distilled from cashew is very strong as compared to the one distilled from palm toddy, which is milder and introduced to the casual visitor. Feni is made by crushing the cashew fruit, the red/yellow part that forms immediately after the seed. The liquid that collected after said crushing is then distilled and the result is a pure nectar. It is usually drunk with numerous mixers, this makes the drink a long drink.
It is rarely possible to obtain an eighteen year old feni which is the same as some of the better known liqueurs, and makes a wonderful digestive drink. To truly enjoy this pure nectar, it should be followed by a delicious dinner at any of the many restaurants.
The architecture in Panjim is so, that you can roam the city without actually catching any suns heat. Once the mid-day heat has passed you can move more freely through the city, exploring the different places, or just stroll by the river side admiring the ships, or just have fun at the beach. All this strolling and wandering will make you thirsty, and what better way to quench that thirst than by visiting one of the thousand cafes or pubs in Panjim.
One of the better places to rewind and meet friends is at the Hotel Mandovi, it also provides for a great view not only of the river but also of the Carnival procession, as the entire atmosphere is energized by the music, dancers, and the crowd cheering and dancing along with the different floats cruising by.
Dona Paula is some distance from the city, so most people usually take a taxi there. Though you can walk there too alongside Miramar beach and the coastline.
Dona Paula overlooks the Zuari to Vasco Da Gama. The name given to this place is said to be named after a viceroys’ daughter, who fell in love with a fisherman whom she could not marry, and is why she jumped into the sea from the cliff. On the edge of the cliff sits a pavilion which is the perfect place to catch the sun set across the waters of the Arabian Sea. Dona Paula hides a gem in its midst, a secluded beach which has some excellent accommodation for tourists and restaurants that serve delicious meals, specializing in mouth-watering seafood.
TRADITIONS & CUSTOMS
With the influence of the Portuguese, all of the houses of that era were the same, but totally different at the same time. It was certain key points that play an important role in the lives of architects, like the use of porches and long running balconies, Mangalore tiled rooves, having seats built into the balconies which invited gossip, the use of oyster shells instead of glass for window panes, big courtyards in front of the house, and the grand stairwell leading to the entrance of the house. Use of colors that do not clash with the rest of the buildings, like the white and ochre, the two most associated colors with old local houses other than the other colors being used.
Apart from a few exception major hotels which are built in the recent years have taken into consideration the landscape that surrounds them and along with that have beautifully woven the local architecture into the hotels. The Fort Aguada hotel which forms part of the Taj Group, is set within the confines of the fort has carved into the hill and therefore does not clutter the skyline. A series of individual Portuguese themed cottages form the background to the main building.
It is now joined by Taj Holiday Village which is located on the beach and has series of cottages and villas inspired by original old dwellings. To achieve the authenticity and perfect Goan architectural vocabulary, the architects studied over three hundred houses and buildings. It proves very difficult to find faults with the luxurious ambience created at the southern end of Calangute beach.
But if you move further north along the beach, it feels as though you have entered a completely different area of the beach. Calangute itself stretches for eleven kilometers. In this area it used to be found the principle center of the psychedelic movement. The long beach has always been able to contain both types of travellers with great poise. Nowadays majority of the uninhibited youngsters have moved to the beaches further north.
Part of the local charm is the way different people mix and give off this calm and peaceful atmosphere. For example, early morning when the fishermen haul their catch in, one may come to walk down the beach, someone else may come to buy the fish, someone else may be there to photograph, and someone may just be there to catch some early waves. Everyone meets at that hour at that hour and there is no distinction among them, they just co-exist in harmony.
Another addition that fits perfectly into the local culture scene are beautiful hotels such as the Cidade – de – Goa which is on the coast line east of Dona Paula. It is a Portuguese village along the beach with a main building and staircases that lead down to the beach and some go up and down to various rooms that give off the illusion of being separate houses, while the main building has the different bars and congregation areas. This is yet another example of how the hotel blends perfectly with the surrounding landscape and looks like a small hill town.
Given the culture and tradition along with the beautiful landscapes and beaches that has attracted tourists from far and wide, the existing hotels have taken an approach to keeping in with the local lifestyle, and hope that the hotels to follow will do the same. This also proves as an incentive to hotels, attracting crowd from people who appreciate the measures taken to keep the local ambience and acknowledge the growing ecological and conservationist movements in the world today.
This outlook should not be limited to the major hotel groups, but should be applied equally all across the board. The Oberoi hotel at Bogmalo beach is hushed by the extensive planting and greenery, the Baia do Sol hotel at Baga beach portrays sensitive design on a small scale that blends perfectly. The architect tendency that is not willing to compromise to concentrate on the interiors and the wide range of sea sports which the hotel offers along it private beach.
Another interesting outcome of the ecological movement is the creation of reserve sanctuaries within the state. There are three such reserves that you can explore. The largest one is at Cotigao, another in Molem, and a small one in Bondla. The one in Bondla is 80 sq. km, and is well known to attract school children and families due to its considerable facilities for education, and a well landscaped garden and wild deer park, with a series of tourist cottages near the restaurant.
The one in Molem is more of a sanctuary. The 240 sq. km Baghwan Mahaveer Sanctuary contains a magnificent herd of Indian bison as well as leopards, lions, elephants, deer, and other wild animals. However at the moment you can only enjoy a pleasant bird watching session, it still needs a lot of planning and work before it can become a hotspot for tourists.
Despite all that Goa has to offer, it is justifiably famous for its beaches. Which deserve a section to themselves. It’s like a beautiful breakfast, you have your eggs and sausages, and beans but you always savour the bacon. You may come to quell your hunger for the deep Portuguese history, or feast your eyes on the greenery and wildlife, or treat you tummy to all the delicacies that the culture has to offer, but you will eventually be drawn to the beach, you will want to feel the heat of the golden white sand till it starts to burn them and you run to the water not only to cool off but be washed over body and soul until you feel yourself submitting to the tranquility as you see the palm trees swaying back and forth hypnotizing you, tormenting you with the reality that you can’t stay in this paradise forever. Before you torture yourself with having to leave, you will have to wrack your head with which beach you want to visit. There is the ‘Queen’ of Goa’s beaches, Calangute probably because it was the center of life during the 60s and 70s, much of which has died down during the restricted 80s. But she still retain her beauty, even though there are fewer coconut trees and the sea may not be that gentle. Just north of it is Baga, less crowded and still clings to its quite charm and it’s only a couple kilometres away from the lively Calangute beach. Apparently at the end of the 70s Calangute had no attractions that brought people to it, so they moved further north to Anjuna where they still remain. It is popular among one group of travellers since it’s a place with few inhibitions. Just north of Anjuna is a quaint village that nestles under a canopy of dense coconut palm around the fort which is built on a headland, this is one of the most interesting and beautiful parts of this land, this place is known as Chapora.
Most of the westerners flock here, staying in the houses in the village, however now the Vagator Beach Resort has a series of cottages that caters to the more affluent type of traveller who can enjoy all the advantages of living in the village, including the small sandy coves near the headline that makes it unique from the main beach.
The northerly most part of the state is pinned by Fort Tiracol and a beach elegantly situated at the conflux of the river and the sea. The fort has been converted into a tourist hotel with simple accommodation but the soul satisfying peace and tranquility is worth the travel and any minor inconvenience faced. Due to the hotel development and the bulk of the tourist attention in concentrated on the northern beaches, the southern beaches are untouched jewels waiting to be discovered. Forty kilometers of flowing silky sand, playful inviting waters, dressed up with palm trees slopping gently towards the coast, is what makes Colva beach so unique. It has been nicknamed ‘a touch of paradise’. And it is for good reason that hoteliers are seriously considering to expand their operations down south.
Fishermen catch and dry fish around Colva itself which spreads a fishy aroma around, but a short walk away will lead you into total solitude. The tourist accommodation so far is not much with a few cottages around some sea food restaurants. Somehow the scarcity of hotels adds to the beauty of the beach, the ones that are present have beautifully blended in with the landscape. But hopefully the hotels that are yet to come aren’t concrete boxes that disfigure the beaches.
Beyond Colva beach, beyond the most southern forts, there is this one beach, it is the holy grail of getaway beaches which is Palolem beach. A practically deserted beach, with the mountains of the Western Ghats descending to the sea.
Following the coastline from Tiracol in the north to Palolem in the south, the landscape is bejewelled with beautiful beaches to suit all tastes. And over the past 25 years they have attracted and brought in so many tourists, who are bewitched and return time and again. As the tourists infrastructure grows, so do the type of tourists that visit. Hopefully they explore more than just beaches, because that is just the tip of the ice berg of what this land has to offer.
The vast majority of the population still live in villages cluttered around a white church. There are also the bustling market places where customers come in early in the morning to just to get that best fish or fresh produce, or late in the evening to get a good discount from vendors readying to go home. The day can get pretty hectic when dealing with persistent customers or searching for that perfect produce, fortunately there is always a bar right next door. Where you can drop by to glug a few beers or take home a bottle of feni to just unwind and relax. And relaxing is one thing that all locals do best. It is this laidback attitude towards life that help the fellow tourists to let their hair down and rest their feet up and relax.
Stopping and taking the time to talk about things is one of the many living arts seen everywhere . The local folks always make the time to stop and talk to you about almost everything. Almost all houses here have seats built into their verandas or in their garden to sit and discuss everything that goes on in the world in great detail. They will talk about their community, politics, their children, God, everything under the blue sky. Some may call this gossip but this is the breath of life for the locals here. This conversation flows even better with a glass of beer or feni.
Apart from the beaches the villages are beautiful examples of Portuguese style houses. Painted in different colors with beautifully constructed doors and windows, surrounded by a garden of beautiful flowers. Many of them small and often grouped with a big house. These may not be in the same league as some of the mansions but still make people react in awe at the architectural value. You will come across different types of such houses, some of them big, some cosy, some so well maintained that you would want to buy it, some abandoned as the family either emigrated elsewhere or can no longer maintain it, but even in decay and the abandoned state that it is in, it will still command necks to turn and picture the building in its majesty and glory. The ones that still cling to their former glory have their owners greet you as though they have just rolled out of bed, to present that they are landlords and don’t have to work as they belong to the leisured classes.
Although there are changes under modern living, the state still enjoys a considerable class differential. In spite of all this the church is still center of it all in the Catholic community. And at the epicentre of this is the local priest who plays an important and well respected role in his community. He is invited to most if not all the occasions that take place in the village, from birthdays to inaugurations to events that have little to do with his spiritual calling. But nobody can take his place when it comes to weddings and the different festivals celebrated in the village. Weddings can steal the cake during the early months of the year but soon fade into the background as Lent and Easter roll by.
Wedding receptions can either be a small gathering of close friends and family, or a grand celebration where the entire village is involved, usually it’s the latter. Speaking of grand celebrations, the Carnival is one that brings together people who aren’t even for those than are only visiting.
Christian, Hindu, or Muslim festivals, each of them are celebrated with equal enthusiasm if not more. Every parish in every village has a feast to celebrate its local saint, then there are also those saints that are celebrated all over, but there are also some that are celebrated only in certain villages which attract all equally. Three Kings is a feast celebrated in Cansaulim on 6th January, with a great fair at Reis Magos near Fort Aguada. There is a church that was one of the oldest and first church to be erected in North Goa and has many visceral associations.
In Rome, there is a procession that features twenty six statues of saints on the Monday after the fifth Sunday during Lent. The only other place to have this similar procession is the St Andrew’s Church, in Goa Velha. And when this procession began in the seventeenth century, it had sixty five statues. People line up to witness and walk along as the statues are carried on palanquins. The feast is accompanied by a fair just as other feasts.
On Sunday, sixteen days after Easter one of the biggest fairs is held at Mapusa. This feast is jointly celebrate by Christians and Hindus. This is that of Lairaya, the goddess of the Sirigaum Temple, who is also venerated by the Christians as Our Lady of Miracles. Almost all locals flock to the Mapusa Friday market and the feast is just a massive extension of that with religious overtones.
There are many feasts in the month of June to pray to the saints for rain as it is crucial for farmers. The feast of St John the Baptist is celebrated because he baptised Jesus, and also as a thanksgiving for the rains. It is traditional for people to go around the village wearing crowns made of different flowers and leaves, dancing and singing searching for wells, which basically are found in every courtyard. Fruits and bottles of alcohol are thrown in the wells, and the villagers jump into the wells to collect them, and given that it’s the rainy season, the level of the well water is pretty high so there is little danger. Nowadays the parish in each village organise a number of activities where the entire village can partake and enjoy. This is a festival celebrated all over the state.
The monsoon is clearly one of the major seasons of the year since so much takes place during that time. Farmers are busy tilling their fields and readying them for the upcoming crop, fishermen oil their boats, check for holes and check the engine before venturing out to sea, and a number of water associated festivals take place. One of these being that of St Peter, the patron saint of fishermen, that is celebrated on 29th June. Three local fishing villages gather near Fort Aguada where this festival takes place. Here they tie up a number of boats together to for a stage where they then enact a pageant on the stage as the stage itself floats gracefully down the river.
On August 10th is another monsoon festival, which is the Feast of St Lawrence. This is towards the end of the monsoon. The church erected in 1630 on the north bank of the river Mandovi near its mouth is a superb white majesty. St Lawrence is the patron saint of sailors, and his feast allows the fishing boats to sail out, because of some unknown reason the sandbars that were built up on the Mandovi during the monsoon break up on this day.
The great Harvest Festival is the St Peter Novidade, celebrated on 21st August every year. Here farmers offer the first cut of paddy to the priest. Subsequently some more rice is offered to the Cathedral at Old Goa on 24th August, later to the Governor and Archbishop. There is a private re-enactment of the dramatic battle between Albuquerque and Adil Shah’s soldiers at the Lieutenant Governor’s palace, this was previously held in front of the Governor’s palace.
The Hindus celebrate the birth of Lord Krishna slightly differently that the rest of India. The Hindus celebrate by bathing in the river Mandovi off of Diwar island, this was something that was heavily frowned upon by the Inquisition in former times. They also have a grand procession along with firecrackers to celebrate Diwali, or also known as the New Year according to the Hindu calendar which falls towards the end of October. Everyone seems to celebrate Christmas and Easter in their own little way, but everyone shares the same enthusiasm when it comes to Carnival. Preparations begin weeks before on both ends, the city to tidy up, erect seats and stages, and decorate the streets with lights and different types of polystyrene décor, to the participants who set up their floats, the music and speakers, the décor that goes onto the floats, to the actors on them and not to forget the dancers that follow the float.
As the main day draws closer, the working hours on the floats get longer, practice sessions for the dancer extend as well. Costumes are prepared, last minute changes are made, and some malfunction is inevitable during these times. But the people just move on without really dwelling on the matter.
The great day finally dawns, and the tension is palpable. The Carnival is held over a period of four days, and each day it in a different city, on the first day it parades through the capital, Panjim. And the rest of the days it would go through Vasco da Gama, Margao, and Mapusa, the order would not matter as it changes every year. The crowd thickens as the afternoon heat subsides and the floats start off, as they approach it sounds like utter chaos as the music from thirty odd floats fills the atmosphere. But as they are passing by you tend to focus on the float parading in front of you and somehow block the noise from the others until it passes. The entire parade is just a riot of colors, the dancers gliding over the road in perfect unison, with the occasional shower of sweets and treats from the passing floats. Apart from the main floats there are other attractions too, usually under the category of clowns, but they are not limited to that name. People will dress up as something from a horror movie, or in a ridiculous outfit with a cardboard with a message often mocking the political issues of the land, or teens on bikes performing stunts in between the floats. So do not be surprised if you notice a full grown man dressed as an old lady carrying by standers, it’s all in fun.
As the parade comes to an end the floats all gather up in one spot and everyone just goes around wish each other as they start to head home and the floats begin their journey to the next city. But just because the parade has ended doesn’t mean that the night has as well. Many other events take place to entertain the crowd after the parade. The Food and Cultural festival is one of them.
The local culture is well known for its theatrical performances, over thousand shows are staged yearly. Vast number of these are dramas or tiarts put together by people who want to tell a story, usually related to God, sometimes politics. These have received phenomenal support from Kala Academy, a splendid modern building that hosts a series of drama contests annually.
There are three categories, two in Konkani and one in Marathi. Each year the quantity as well as the quality increases too. A number of plays performed at Kala Academy are in Marathi, however the Konkani plays are increasing in number as well and they are written and produced by Goan playwrights, whereas the Marathi ones are written by Maharashtrans.
Like all things great about Goa, one that does not shy away from the spotlight is the food. It’s is influenced by so many countries, and cultures. Portugal for starters, then Britain, India, and not to forget the people from the land themselves. The natural abundance of raw materials is an added bonus to this state. There no such thing as restricted when it comes to the local menu. Chicken, beef, pork, duck, mutton, rabbit, and lamb are some of the many ingredients that pair nicely with the rich verity of fresh fish of many kinds from rivers, to lakes, to ponds, and the sea itself. Shellfish stand out as delicacies, ranging from clams, to snails, to crabs of all sizes, lobsters, to oysters, and magnificent prawns, especially tiger prawns, that are big enough to create a meal in it of itself. No dish would be typical of the land if there was no rice to go along with it. And given how abundant this land really is, the vegetables grown here add a completely different twist to the taste of the dish. It is truly remarkable as to anything will grow in this rich soil.
Savory dishes are not the only dishes that have made memories into the hearts of visitors and locals alike, because the desserts are to die for or at least get diabetes. Just the sheer variety of dishes that are available makes you want to stay a year just to try them all. Different festivals and feasts call for different delicacies. You will not get the sweets prepared for Christmas during monsoon. The sweets prepared for Christmas itself are mountainous. Preparation begins the day the month of December begins. Locals prepare some these sweets are prepared the same way their ancestors prepared them, in a large copper vessel over a wood flame, some of these are Dodol, Doce, and Bebinca. Some of the other sweets are; Chocolate Fudge, Kulkuls, Cormola, Neoreo, Marzipans, Bolinhas, Angel Wings, and Jujubs. During Eid the Kheer that is made is heavenly. But not comparable to the Modaks that the Hindus make during Ganesh Chaturti.
All these delicacies are prepared at home and are the pride of the chef in the kitchen. There is always a little friendly rivalry between families celebrating the festival. There are always parcels of the sweets going around from household to household as a way of portraying their cooking. The children are often the bearers of these parcels. People prepare enough sweets for the entire village that they live in regardless of the faith their neighbors follow, and it is this care and love that makes the community a tightly knit one.
Many of the restaurants and hotels serve a huge variety of almost inexhaustible cuisine apart from the international menu as usual. But more often than others, when it comes to preparing one of the delicious desserts, it is out sourced to a local who lives nearby, whose Doce is locally renowned, and provides a supply that is always fresh.
There are so many traditions and customs that the locals follow which keep the culture pulsating with richness and alive for visitors to witness. But change is inevitable and natural, so rather than fighting it, moving forward is the only option. In many instances this has proved to be quite a delightful transition towards the development of the state, but there are still some, where this says otherwise. Though there are many attempts to change its identity, modernize, industrialize, and generally standardize it trade and commerce ties. However Goa reluctantly remains ever so delightfully different just like many of the other states of India. Maybe it is true; India truly is a country filled with diversity.