The last thing I remember was being sprawled across the light sand, having the most glorious of massages that ironed away all the kinks of my city-stressed body with the warm breeze caressing my body and the robust smell of cashews engulfing my nostrils. Then, sleep took over.
It was midday and I was at Ashvem beach in North Goa with a glass of feni
(a Goan alcoholic drink made of cashews) by my side, surrounded by everyone and everything from bikini-clad sunbathing women and hawkers peddling hats to sun-baked tourists to masseurs offering their services for as little as Rs 100 ($1.5) and a cow (yes, a cow on the beach!). Yet, in the midst of all this cacophony, I had never felt more relaxed.
There’s something in the air in Goa, India’s smallest state
, that lies on the country’s Western coast and has coastlines stretching along the Arabian Sea. With just a 1,430sq mile area, the state was under Portuguese rule until as early as 1961. Its clean beaches, scrumptious seafood and cultural and historical diversity have made it a hit domestic and international tourist destination.
A Little About Goa
Just about an hour-long flight away from the muggy, fast-paced city of Mumbai, Goa is a tropical paradise that urban dwellers flock to on long weekends and short breaks. The state is roughly divided into North and South, both of which offer a strikingly different experience to travelers.
is trippy, hippy and very touristy, with a party-happy young crowd thronging its numerous shacks and clubs and a strong Russian population that you’ll be remiss to miss. The more popular beaches of Baga, Candolim, Calangute, Anjuna and Ashvem lie in this area, which a lot of foreigners have now made home. You’ll find a truly international crowd here, with many of the French, Greek and Italian restaurants owned by natives.
This is also where you’ll find a plethora of shopping options, from local Indian designers such as Wendell Rodricks and Malini Ramani to international ones such as Jade Jagger
and Sophie Paget Steavenson
. North Goa is also where a lot of the water sports, including jet skiing, parasailing and windsurfing, take place.
, in contrast, hosts an older gentry that’s looking for a more relaxed holiday without the crowds. Here, resorts are spread out across many acres, several of them with their own private beaches and spas, so you don’t really need to step out at all. These include the beaches of Palolem, Agonda, Majorda and Colva.
The Goan Experience
A sleepy state where locals enjoy a languorous existence, Goa’s major languages are Konkani and Marathi. However, English is widely spoken and understood, so travelers should have no problems with communication. Remember, though, to bargain your way through the many flea markets, fruit and vegetable bazaars, and, yes, even taxi drivers.
Goa truly comes alive at night, with both beach shacks and clubs remaining open until 4am; flea markets such as the Anjuna Flea Market
and Saturday Night Market
set up with food, drink, music and wares; and entertainers and performers along the beaches. I remember watching a wonderful international fire dancing troupe perform in the pale moonlight on Morjim beach, while sipping a local King’s beer and wearing psychedelic, glow-in-the-dark bands on my hands. This was also the day India defeated Australia in the cricket World Cup, so in between all the music on the beachside dance floor were fireworks lighting up the starry night sky in celebration. It’s this kind of atmosphere that makes Goa a hot favorite with locals and international visitors alike.
The Goan Food
Set along the coast, it is inevitable that Goan cuisine places heavy emphasis on seafood, such as fresh crab, lobster, calamari, prawn and fish. Cooked in authentic Goan masalas
and curries, they go fabulously well with rice and naans
(Indian bread). However, that’s not the only thing I’d recommend in Goa. The state has a number of authentic French (La Plage, L’Azur, Baba Au Rhum), German (German Bakery, Lila’s Café), Italian (Infantaria, La Dolce Vita), and Greek restaurants. In fact, I’ve had the best souvlaki outside of Greece at Thalassa, a cliffside restaurant on Vagator beach
, offering spectacular sunset views. If you’re a red meat fan, don’t forget to try the Goan chorizos, either with rice or in a pav
(another kind of Indian bread).
If all this talk of food has made you hungry, rest assured that you’re not the only one. Woken up from my midday siesta by the mouthwatering smell of freshly baked bread and masala fish, I hauled myself up and followed my nose to the closest shack. It may not have made it to a Fodor's
list, but I know that in Goa you’re never too far away from good food.