As a beachy bohemian retreat, Goa has long been home to the alternative, free-spirited and fresh-faced traveller. With a shoreline that hugs the romantic Arabian Sea, it has seen the passing of Portuguese and African traders who have left their indelible mark through their architecture, religion and palate. Goa was originally known as a part of Portuguese India until 1961 and it has long been the attraction for powerful dynasties, seafarers, merchants, monks and missionaries. It’s this fusion influence that has created such a liberal corner of an otherwise steeply traditional India.
Thai meets Indie
With its arched palm trees billowing in the afternoon sea-winds and the curve of the coastline, the beaches of Goa are a distinction from the other waterways of South India. The downpour of the mid-year monsoon creates a greenbelt of dense oversized gardens and neon flowers. In amongst the shopping alleys and markets, there are street-side treasures, the glamour of fake brands and late night stalls that resemble the bustling commodity of Thailand. Try the night markets in Siolim Road in Aguada on a Saturday or regular late night shopping along the main street of Baga Beach.
You know you’re in Goa with bamboo and thatched roof shacks popping up across the sand, brandishing signs of fresh seafood, cocktails and beachside foot massages. With the lines of padded wooden deckchairs and golf umbrellas at the doorways, each shack creates its own little summer haven. Music blaring (80’s on cue) and loose ponytails catching the breeze, the summer cocktails are delivered beachside and hot Goan dishes lift the aroma of coconut milk and curry leaves. What’s miraculous about these signature shacks is that they are completely reassembled each October after the monsoons. During the summer months, the beaches are clear, except for the slashing rains pelting into the rough waters.
With its Portuguese heritage, beaming white churches arise from the jumbled Indian streets of Goa and offer tourists a rich and inspiring cultural trail. The Basilica of Bom Jesus in Old Goa holds the remains of St Francis Xavier and was built at the turn of the 16th century. In all the diversity of Goa, just 130 years later, the elegant Shri Shantadurga Temple was built and is today a private temple complex. Posted along the industrious and watchful coastline at the rise of Portuguese occupation, the remnants of numerous forts still stand. Though they are limited in terms of information, they provide stunning outlooks and reveal the strength and might of European rule.
Above the Chapora River in Bardez, Goa, is the Fort of the same name. If not for its historical significance, people flock there today to see this famous backdrop of the Bollywood movie Dil Chahta Hai. The largest and better preserved of the Portuguese bastions is the Aguada Fort built to control entry to the river Mandovi and easily made visible by the towering lighthouse perched on the rocky peninsula.
The blend of European, Muslim and Hindu cuisines has created a joyful mix of tropically inspired dishes laden with fresh local produce and international spices. Famous for the flavour’s of coconut milk, fish, red chilli, local spices, tamarind and rice, Goan food is renown worldwide. There’s a huge range of vegetarian dishes too but of course, the seafood caught fresh from the ocean every morning is always a favourite. The menu at the beachside shacks includes everything from prawn curries, veggie xacuti to north Indian cuisine and continental pasta’s. To sample the tastiest of Goan cuisine, seek out Calamari on, String fellows Beach Shack in Candolim, Pousada by the Beach in Calangute. Thanks to its bohemian spirit, Goa is a paradise of healthy eats, from the health-conscious chia bowls at Natti’s Naturals to organic local produce stacked high in delicious street-side burger huts.
Goa on India’s western coast sounds like a one-stop holiday destination, but in reality, it is a sprawling region divided into north and south each with its own character. For the hippie crowd looking to party on the beaches and embrace the bohemian spirit, North Goa is most often the pick, while South Goa is known for more authentic and luxury Goan getaways. It’s one long winding road that curves its way through markets, corner pubs, cafe quarters and nightclubs from north to south but each village so distinct, you’d never know you were traversing one road. It’s in the high season between October to April that Goa bursts to life, offering a cultural retreat that except for language, tests your memory that you’re in India at all. Unlike the dry and dusty inland, life is centred around the beach, from an abundance of adventurous water sports to pop up cafes perched in the hot sand that overlook the far-reaching horizon.