Pint-sized Goa is more than beaches and trance parties. A kaleidoscopic blend of Indian and Portuguese cultures, sweetened with sun, sea, sand, seafood and spirituality, there’s nowhere in India quite like it.
Goa’s biggest draw is undoubtedly its virtually uninterrupted string of golden-sand beaches. This shimmering strand stretches along the Arabian Sea from the tip to the toe of the state, and each of the various beaches have developed their own personalities and reputations since the hippie days of the sixties. They cater to every tropical whim: choose from backpacker Arambol or bolder, brasher Baga; from the palm-fringed sands of Palolem to hippie market bliss at Anjuna or lovely, laid-back Mandrem; from expansive groomed sands in front of fancy five-star resorts or hidden crescent coves, where the only footprints will be the scuttling crabs’ and your own.
Want to top up your Zen as well as your tan? Welcome to winter in Goa where yoga is king and the crop of spiritual activities grows more bountiful each year: sunrise healing courses, meditation, and just about every other form of spiritual exploration, are all practised freely. Many travellers come here for a serious yoga experience and you’ll find everything from drop-in classes to teaching training courses and spiritual retreats, specially at Ashtangayogabenaulim. Benaulim is in Goa’s Salcete district, and lies 6 or 7 kilometers directly West of South Goa’s main town Margao. The village itself centers around a crossroad, with a few smaller guest houses and restaurants strung along the roads. There are better ways to walk to the beach, such as through the warren of lanes that lead under the shady palms, past scattered village houses and through the vibrant green rice paddies. These rice fields are often dotted with herons and other wading birds in search of food. Benaulim is indeed an enchanting place, sandwiched between the golden sands that lace the azure Arabian Sea in the West and the meandering River Sal, which moves Eastwards with green grace and grandeur.
Food is enjoyed fully in Goa, as it is throughout India. The scents, spices and flavours of Goa’s cuisine will surprise and tantalise even seasoned travellers: whether it’s a classic fish curry rice, a morning bhali-pau (bread roll dipped in curry), a piquant vindaloo, with its infusions of wine vinegar and garlic, or a spicy xacuti sauce, the Indo-Portuguese influence is a treat for the tastebuds. While you’re here, visit a back-country spice farm to learn why the Portuguese were so excited about Goa.
Goa stands out in India for its Portuguese colonial architecture and heritage. The Portuguese arrived in Goa in 1510, lured by the exotic East and the promise of lucrative spice routes. Their indelible mark is still evident in the state’s baroque architecture, whitewashed churches, crumbling forts, colourful Catholic ceremonies, mournful fado music and the stunning cathedrals of Old Goa.