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Go Goa & Get Calm
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Stretches of endless silver sand and white surf beaches wetted by the rush of the 'azure' arabian sea, the revelling of late nights over the local feni brew, the tarvernas, white churches and temples resting against plush green padding fields and coconut trees, the nostalgic atmosphere, longer days of sun, sand and sea, in other words -- Welcome to Goa.
 
But there's so much more than the sun, sand and trance. The allure of Goa is that it remains distinct from the rest of the other Indian states, and is yet small enough to get hold of and explore in a myriad of different ways. Its not just the familiar remnants of European colonialism that make Goa seem so accessible, but rather the prevalence of Christianity and some form of socio-political progressiveness that tourists most notably Westeners, can relate to. Although Hindus outnumber Catholics by 70-30, there are more skirts and pants than saris, and its people display a sense of liberality and civility which you'll be hard pressed to find elsewhere in India. Goa is perhaps the only place in India where shorts and tank tops and skimpy outfits are not frowned upon anywhere except at religious locations.
This former Portuguese enclave located on the western coast of India has enjoyed a prominent bookmark in the travellers diary since the early days of the 1960's, when it became a favorite place for 'hippies', thanks to cheap accommodation availability and freely availability of drugs, and the fascination of roaming like Adam and Eve, stark naked on the beach - both of which are banned.
 
Travellers in Goa feel at home, 'hang out' around, be mellow or tipsy or wear local tribal outfits, but the once upon a time hippies have now been replaced by backpackers, ogled eyed Indian tourists scampering about the place in hope to see naked westerners on the beach, and a large number of foreign charter tourists, perhaps escaping the winter in Europe, on a 2 week holiday jaunt to this beautiful haven. The palm-lined coastal plains, the wooded uplands and beaches so still and endless, create an illusion of lethargy - laziness or Sosegado, the local term. But in reality, Goans are hardworking, full of song, dance and merriment. Tourism is the main money-spinner and the majority of the population is engaged in related business. On the coast itself, coconut cultivation and fishing (both in-shore, with small boats, canoes and hand-nets, and off shore, with modern trawlers) are still the main sources of income. The discovery of iron in the hills to the east has also generated considerable revenue, and the economy is further fuelled by the stream of remittance cheques sent home by expatriate Goans working in Mumbai, the Gulf states, Europe and the U.S.
 
Blend of East & West -- Goa's 450 years under Portuguese domination produced a unique, syncretize blend of East and West that is at once exotic and strangely familiar: Christmas and Carnival are celebrated as enthusiastically by the 30-percent Goan Christian population as Diwali and Durga puja are by the Goan Hindus. The state's separate identity is discernible in other ways too, most visibly in its Latinate architecture, but also in a preference for a fish-and meat-rich cuisine. Another marked difference is the prevalence of alcohol. Beer is cheap, and six thousand or more bars around the state are licensed to serve it, along with the more traditional tipples of feni, the local hootch, and toddy, a derivative of palm sap.
 
Being the highest literate state in the union territory of India, Goa has come along way now from just being a beach haven. Apart for its distinctiveness, progress in fields of Education, Information Technology and Industry have scaled to new heights and all round development. But still a lot needs to be done as bureaucracy is seen as the major hindrance towards all round development of the state.
 


1. Goa Beaches
 
 

 

Goa's long stretch of sandy coastline is renowned for its multitude of beaches. There's something on offer for everyone, from luxury resorts to makeshift huts, and trance parties to tranquility. The Goa India beach that's right for you will depend on the kind of experience you want to have. Want water sports? Head to Baga. Want to hang with the hippies. Try Arambol. Prefer isolation? Agonda or Patnem might be the beach for you.
 


2. Markets


 

The Anjuna flea market is held every Wednesday from morning until evening, except during the monsoon season, on the southern end of Anjuna Beach. The market has has exploded in size and attracts people from all over Goa. It's now got over 500 stalls, and is still growing. You'll find a huge assortment of goods there, but make sure you bargain. After a day of shopping til you drop, head over to Curly's beach shack and take in the sunset scene there.
If one market isn't enough for you, the Saturday Night Market and Mackie's Night Bazaar, both in the Arpora Baga area, are also worth checking out. They offer entertainment, including live music, as well as an eclectic range of food.


3. Old Goa
 


 

Once the magnificent Portuguese capital of Goa India, these days all that remains of Old Goa is a handful of imposing churches and cathedrals. They are amongst the largest in Asia though. Some of the buildings have now become archeological museums, and provide a fascinating display of Goa's history.
One of the most interesting buildings in Old Goa is the Convent and Church of Saint Francis of Assisi, built in 1521. Just opposite is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, which contains the preserved remains of the body of Saint Frances Xavier, a revered missionary and the patron saint of Goa. The body is shown to the public every 10 years, with the next exhibition due in 2014. Old Goa is situated not far from Panaji, Goa's current capital.


4. Wildlife Sanctuaries



 

Goa India isn't just all about beaches and churches. The state's location along the mountainous Western Ghats is home to an array of birds and animals. Around 20% of Goa consists of wildlife sanctuaries. They're open all year round, although October to March are the best months to visit.
The two main sanctuaries are Bhagwan Mahvir (of which Mollem National Park is a part) and Cotigao. On the fringe of the Mollem National Park you'll find the imposing Dudhsagar Falls, where the water rages down from a huge height during and just after the monsoon season. Accommodations, provided by the Goa Forest Department, are available at both sanctuaries. For a very eco-friendly stay, try a mud hut at the Shanti Nature Resort in Mollem National Park.
 

 
 5. Spice Plantations

 

 

Another highlight of a trip to Goa India is the spice plantations around Ponda. Goa's tropical climate and dense forests makes it an ideal place to grow spices. The spice farms are open to visitors. You can take a guided tour, enjoy the picturesque scenery, and finish with a spicy lunch.
One of the most acclaimed spice plantations in Goa is the Savoi Plantation, reached by an enchanting drive through dense jungles and hills from Ponda. Others include the Sahakari Spice Farm, Pascol Spice Village, Abyss, and the Tropical Spice Plantation. Accommodations, and other activities such as elephant or boat rides, are offered at many of the farms.
 


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