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Goa,  a state on India's West coast, is a former Portuguese colony with a rich history. Spread over 3,700 square kilometers with a population of approximately 1.4 million, Goa is small by Indian standards. It has a unique mix of Indian and Portuguese cultures and architecture that attracts an estimated 2.5 million visitors each year (including about 400,000 foreign tourists).
Since the 1960s, Goa has been attracting a steady flow of visitors -- first the hippies and returning expat Goans, then the charter tourists (starting with the Germans in 1987), pilgrims visiting Catholic and Hindu shrines, those opting to settle in Goa as their home, people going for medical treatment, and a growing number of those who attend seminars and conferences in Goa.
Goan culture has been shaped mainly by the Hindu and Catholic population. People are mostly easy going ( 'sossegado' in Portuguese). With better connectivity by Air and Rail, there has been an influx of people from neighbouring states that has led to different cultures. Many Indians from other states have now come and settled here.
Goan Catholics generally acknowledge their Hindu roots, and carry traces of a caste-system within their social beliefs. It is recorded that in many instances the Hindus left one son behind to convert and thus continue to own and manage the common properties while the rest of the family preferred to emigrate to neighboring areas along with the idols representing their Hindu deities.
Over the years large numbers of Catholics have emigrated to the major commercial cities of Bombay and Pune and from there onward to East Africa (to the Portuguese colonies of Angola and Mozambique), to Portugal itself, and towards the end of the 20th century to Canada and Australia. Many old Goan ancestral properties therefore lie either abandoned or mired in legal tangles brought about by disagreements within the widely dispersed inheritors of the property. In recent years, expat Goans have been returning to their home state, often purchasing holiday homes along the coast (which are then converted into 'rent back' apartments, hired out to short-staying tourists by realtors).
The best time of the year to visit Goa is mid-November to mid-February when the weather is comfortable, dry and pleasant.
Apart from the consulates there are cultural organisations active in Goa, with the Portuguese again being most active.
Fundação Oriente has a large presence in Fontainhas, the Latin quarter of Panjim, and sponsors cultural events that add variety to Goa's cultural scene. However, it faced some major problems when it was first set up. Goa's uneasy parting of ways with its former Portuguese rulers, and lingering ultra-nationalism amidst a section of freedom fighters could be seen as some of the reasons. The Fundação has also been subsidising a book-publishing plan which has helped put out more Goa-related titles in what is otherwise a small but colourful market for books dealing with a tiny region of South Asia.
For a state which has a lot of people passing through, Goa has nearly two weeks of holidays each year. Government offices have a five-day week (closed Saturday-Sunday). Panjim closes early (around 8PM) each evening, and shops here could have a fairly longish siesta break (from around 1.30PM till up to 3.30PM). Goan shop owners take this siesta break seriously, and no business is conducted during this time. Bars, restaurants and other shopping centers are more buyer-friendly.
Major public or special holidays are around Christmas, Republic Day, Id-ul-zuha, Gudi Padva, Good Friday, Independence Day, Ganesh Chaturthi (both days), Gandhi Jayanthi, Dussehra, Diwali, Id-ul-fitr, Feast of St Francis Xavier, Goa Liberation Day, Mahashivratri, Holi and Id-e-milad. Banks may remain open during local religious celebrations.
Expect a huge influx of tourists and locals residing in other states during festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi and the Carnival, which is celebrated at the beginning of Lent in the Christian calendar. It is advised to make bookings for trains, buses and flights well in advance if you intend on visiting the state during these times.
By Indian standards, Goa is a very small state with only two districts -North and South Goa. These districts are together further divided into 11 talukas. These divisions, however, don't make much sense for a traveller. North and South Goa are similar, and each has its own "coastal" and "interior" areas. The major division in Goa is actually between the central coastal areas where the beaches are located and the hinterland. The coastal areas were under colonial rule for longer, reflecting more of Portugal's influence, including having a relatively larger Christian population. The interior is more Hindu, and has more protected forest areas, mining zones and villages.
Contrary to popular perception, Goa is not an island, though parts of what was considered "Goa" in the past were cut-off from the mainland by the many rivers this region is known for.
Goa also has a number of other smaller, charming and sometimes crowded towns such as those along the beach belt (Calangute, Candolim), and in the interior (Chaudi in Canacona, Sanvordem-Quepem, Bicholim, Pernem town, etc). Some of these are gateways to the nearby touristic areas. In addition, Goa has some nearly 350 villages, often scenic and each having a character of its own.
Wild life sanctuaries and others
Goa's state language is Konkani. Most Goans speak Konkani, English, Hindi, and Marathi. Portuguese is also known by a small segment, especially the elite and earlier privileged class or the older generation which studied in pre-1961 Portuguese-ruled Goa.
Different languages tend to be used for different purposes in Goa. Konkani is the most widely spoken. English and Marathi tend to be most widely read (most newspapers are read in these two languages too).
Catholics largely use Konkani for their prayer services, while the language for religion is largely Marathi for Hindus. The administration is largely conducted in English, which is also the language of publication of the official gazette, and the language mainly used in the courts.
It can be rather difficult currently to learn Konkani, with options for learning rather restricted. The language is written in four to five scripts, in and beyond Goa -- Devanagari (the official script), Roman or Romi (widely used in Goa), Kannada-script, Malayalam-script and Perso-Arabic, reportedly used by some Muslim communities further south along the Indian west coast. Recently, books to learn Konkani in the Roman script have also been published, making it easier for those not knowing the Devanagari script (used to write Hindi, Marathi and other languages) that is the officially-recognized script for Konkani in Goa.
Goa can be reached by its lone airport (Dabolim), by train, and by the many buses connecting the state with cities in India (primarily Mumbai, Mangalore and Bangalore). If you are travelling from Mumbai or Pune, car travel will provide you a journey through breathtaking scenery of the Konkan area.
The Dabolim airport in Vasco Da Gama is Goa's only airport. Some airlines fly directly to Goa, but most international flights arrive via Mumbai. Air India has international flights to Kuwait and UAE twice a week. Air Arabia has discount flights to Sharjah. Qatar Airways has flights to Doha, along with convenient connections to Western Europe, Africa and USA.
On arrival, take pre-paid taxis from Dabolim Airport. A yellow pre-paid taxi booth can be found 30 metres on the left when you exit the main building. There is also a pre-paid taxi stand in the international arrival area. Rates are slightly cheaper than the yellow cabs .
Many resorts pick up guests from the airport for free, so make sure you ask your resort for free pick-up.
There are several bus routes from various cities, but most traffic is from mainly Mumbai and Pune. Due to increasing demand from the south, there has been an increase in buses and trains from Mangalore, Bangalore and New Delhi. Overnight buses from Mumbai to Goa are an alternative to trains and flying. Book in advance during the crowded seasons (particularly during the Christmas-New Year rush, for Carnival, or when other Indian regions have school holidays when families travel).
Kadamba Transport Corporation is the Goa state-run transport service. Its buses have seen better days, and more efficient times. There are also other state-run buses run by the governments of Karnataka (some services are efficient, specially the Volvo buses), Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh. Many private players also offer bus connections to other cities, with varying levels of discounts and efficiency, with the two usually being inversely related.
The main centre for booking train and bus tickets, in Panjim, is around the Kadamba inter-state bus terminus. Tickets for the Konkan Railway can also be booked here, though expect long queues during the holiday season (which in India, can also coincide with the timings when children have a school break).
Indian Railways  connects Goa with direct train services from Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Mangalore, Kochi, Kolkata, Thiruvanantapuram, Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. The destination station is usually Madgaon in South Goa. Travelling to Goa by train is a real pleasure as the route passes through greenery and many tunnels. Goa is also connected to Pune via the Belgaum Miraj line. A railway station most tourists tend to miss is Thivim, which is served by most trains and is just 20 minutes away from Calangute beach by taxi. For budget travellers, this is the cheapest option, along with being faster and much more comfortable than travelling by road. It is advisable for tourists to make reservations well in advance as the major trains (Konkan Kanya, Nethravati Express, etc.) are usually heavily booked.
Trains from Mumbai and most other places have a quota of seats set aside for tourists. Quota tickets must be purchased in person at the rail station by the tourist and cannot be booked via a travel agent. Note that quota tickets are only sold at the station of origin. Tickets can be booked online If you use a foreign credit card, when you are asked to choose your payment option, you must use the payment option "AXIS."
Unless traveling on a shoestring budget, it is advisable to travel in air conditioned sleeper coaches. These are quieter and much more comfortable. Each bunk is provided with two freshly laundered sheets, a blanket, and a pillow. You can also have a hand towel on request.
Most travel agents will book tickets for a small fee (₹200), but be aware that trains do get busy and you need to book in advance. Do not leave booking your ticket to the last moment as you may be disappointed.
Here are some useful trains to get into Goa:
Travelling by train can be quite an experience as you are more likely to interact with fellow Indian travellers visiting Goa from different parts of the country, under more relaxed conditions.
See also Rail travel in India
Distance from Goa to various cities:
Occasional cruise services used to sail from Mumbai to Goa. This was run in past years, but is currently discontinued.
High resolution maps are not available for Goa. For example, some popular isles are not shown in many maps.
Parts of Goa lack sign boards, so finding your way around could be challenging. When in doubt just ask - usually people are friendly and helpful- but don't expect precise answers(a so-called 'five minute drive' could take a good twenty minutes).
When driving, expect surprises like domestic animals and little children darting across the road and unmarked speed breakers / speed bumps.
Choice of geared and un-geared motorbikes and scooters can be rented (typically without helmets). Those planning to stay long may consider buying one instead. Rentals are around ₹300 a day (₹200 in non-peak season) for a Honda Activa scooter and a little more if one is looking for a geared motorcycle (you buy the gasoline as needed). Many small roadside shops sell gas at ₹75 a liter, while the going rate at a station (these are hard to locate in the coastal areas) is around ₹65 a liter.
For the motorbikes, always ask for a discount if renting long-term (one month or more). You should not have to pay more than ₹100 per day. Ensure that you have all the ownership documents of the bike. Also, avoid taking motorbikes with yellow plates out of Goa, as it is a punishable offense. Hiring a bike with white plates is ok for local travel in the immediate vicinity but if you want to travel further afield then always rent a bike with yellow plates. Wearing a crash helmet is compulsory when you go on any major roads (there is ₹100 fine for not wearing one). Foreigners will need an International Driving Permit (Convention 1949); this is the first thing police will ask you for if stopped. You should also carry your normal driving licence with you.
Fares: ₹4-6. Buses are an inexpensive and great way to travel and see the country. ₹10-15 will often get you a 30-40km ride.
Mahindra, Willys or Maruti Gypy makes are similar to the long wheel base version of the Suzuki Jimny. Some of these jeeps are open roof. Expect to pay around ₹1,000 - ₹1,200 a day.
Art & culture
Goa has a more than its fair share of museums, art galleries and libraries. You will find many government run museums in Panaji, including the Goa State museum, the Kala Academy, the Central Library and the Goa Science Centre. In Vasco Da Gama, you can find the Naval Aviation Museum, a great place to see vintage aircraft.
Old Goa is a great place to see examples of Christian religious art, and sometimes, secular art. There you can find the Christian Art Museum and also a modern art gallery containing the works of surrealist Dom Martin. In Mormugao, you can find the Religious Museum of the Blessed Joseph Vaz. The Xavier Centre of Historical Research at Bardez also has a gallery on Christian Art.
Attracted by Goa's bohemian life, many artists, painters and architects have made their home here. They too have proceeded to set up art galleries and museums. An example of this is Subodh Kerkar's art gallery in Candolim. Benaulim also has the Goa Chitra Museum, containing the largest collection of ethnographic artifacts ever assembled in one place.
Other museums of note are Gerard da Cunha's architectural museum Houses of Goa in Benaulim, Big Foot(aka Ancestral Goa) at Loutolim, Salcette, an attempt to illustrate and recreate Goa's traditional past. There's even a vintage-cars collection of sorts -- Ashvek Vintage World, in Nuvem, Salcette
Goa is famous for its beaches, ancient temples and churches, and the Goan carnival.
Churches and Cathedrals
Global items come in amazing diversity specially at the night markets of North Goa. In Panjim, the 18th June Road is faster emerging as a lure for shoppers and tourists. Mapusa, while hosting a traditional market each Friday, attracts a number of tourists, specially foreigners. Goa's talented goldsmiths are neatly located in a line at Mapusa's market, and in parts of Margao and Panjim. Check out traditional Goan lacquer-ware toys (available at the Aparant emporia).
Every major hotel has its own bookshop, of varying quality. Books tend to be priced amazingly inexpensively in India, including in Goa. For the best collection of books related to 'alternative India' and the environment, visit the almost hidden Other India Bookstore. It sits atop the old Mapusa Clinic, at Mapusa's Feira Alta locality. Entrance from the behind.
Broadways Book Centre at 18th June Road (near Caculo Traffic Island); Confidant's Golden Heart Emproium in Margao (2732450); Mandovi Square near Cine Nacional (2234241); and Varsha Book Stall (2425832) near the Bank of India and Azad Maidan. The last two focus on newspapers and magazines coming in from the rest of the country and abroad.
Reading Habit, at Campal on the way to Miramar Beach, has a wide variety of books.
One Goan unique product is that of hand-painted ceramics.
Foreign tourists increasingly go "shopping" for medical services. There are a number of outlets that offer a form of 'health tourism'. These include centers like Dr Pimenta's Dental Practice  at Romano Chambers (near the Old Petrol Pump in Calangute) and Lake Plaza near Nehru Stadium in Margao.
Want to shop Goan? One good value-for-money place is the Aparant network of outlets managed by the State-run Goa Handicrafts network. In their ten outlets across Goa you could expect to find an interesting range of handicrafts from Goa. And reasonably priced too. Items range from shell-work to clay, bamboo, paper mache, coconut-items and fiber. "If visitors have a problem with carrying back some the (more fragile) handicrafts home, then fibre is a good option. These outlets are, besides four in Panjim, located at Vasco da Gama (on Swatantra Path, at the Vasco Residency) and at the local GTDC-run "residency" hotels in Margao, Mapusa, Calangute, the Bicholim Pottery Production Centre at the Industrial Estate, and at Loutolim's Big Foot.
In Panjim, the other outlets of Aparant are located at the Udyog Bhavan (opposite the Goa Police Headquarter, near the Ferry Jetty); at the main Kadamba bus-terminus; and at the Crafts Complex office of the Goa Handicrafts in Neugi Nagar (Rua de Ourem). The largest number of items are available at the last location, about 2.5 kms off the center of town.
Most of the Aparant outlets are open between 9:30 or 10AM to 6 or 7PM, depending on their location.
Products of dry coconuts and coconut-shells are carved and often designed to fit on a wooden base. Items produced here include table lamps, flower pots, table clocks, different religious statues and decorative items.
Cotton thread is transformed in an artistic way with the crochet steel hook, rendering it in beautiful designs and shapes. Likewise, sea-shells that were once discarded by the beach get transformed by artisans. Traditional clay art -- in the form of pots, ash-trays, flower pots, images of gods -- is a skill that has been built up across generations in Goa. Ditto for the case of bamboo products.
A few of these items are produced in-house at the Goa Handicrafts' center in Bicholim. Others come from artisans across the state. This network has done a fair job in highlighting the skills of geographically-scattered local artisans, and also finding them the market they so-badly need to sustain their rich talent.
The Goan staple diet consists of rice and fish curry along with pickles and fried fish. This can be found on many of the beach shacks. The Goan cuisine is a blend of Portuguese and local flavours. Many dishes such as prawn balchao and Kingfish in Garlic have distinct Portuguese flavour.
Dishes such as Vindaloo and Xacuti (pronounced Cha'cuti), Cafreal will be familiar from Indian restaurant menus, and are originally Goan dishes.
Most beaches have shacks that serve surprisingly delicious meals, specially sea-food and they'll usually consult you to see how you like your food. Don't miss the shack eating experience. You'll want to go back and do it again. Most fancy hotels and restaurants serve terrible food, it is best to eat at local places, ask a taxi driver where these would be and don't let him take you to any fancy restaurants as they receive commission.
Some really good restaurants not to be missed are 1. Britto's Bar & Restaurant,Off Baga/Calangute, North Goa 2. Souza Lobo Bar & Restaurant,Off Calangute, North Goa 3. O Coqueiro ,Porvorim, Goa 4. Florentine's
There are two local brews long made and drunk in Goa -- cashew feni and coconut feni. One comes from the cashew apple, and the other from the sap of the coconut tree. Goa's feni-making has been much focussed on.
Feni-brewing skills have been honed by Goa's former Portuguese rulers. Strange but true: the cashew was brought in by the Portuguese themselves, and today it seems like a closely integrated part of Goa. Cashew-apples go to waste in neighbouring states, and in the fruiting season, one could get a strong smell of semi-fermenting apples being transported specially from Maharashtra into Goa, at locales close to the border.
Feni has come to become synonymous with Goa. "Indigenous alcoholic drinks include coconut palm toddy from south and eastern India and the Goan liquor 'feni' based on coconut palm juice or cashew nut," explains the website of the Indian Embassy in Russia.
Needless to say, feni has its own strong taste. Some like it, some don't. At one of the liquor outlets in Panjim, you can run into bus-loads of tourists picking up their 'souvenir' of feni.
Of course, there are a range of other options too. Local wines are priced at between Rs 40 to Rs 150 per bottle (of 750 ml).
In recent years, Goa has been hosting what it calls the "Grape Escape", a festival of wines, around the start of each year (held in mid-February 2007 and May 2006, for instance).
In Panjim, new ventures are also bringing in new products. A Nau ("The Ship" in Portuguese, unfortunately since closed down, as of October 2008) brings in a range of wines and other commodities from Portugal.
Global Spirits and Foods, which operates out of the Pilerne Industrial Estate some 10 kms from Panjim, wholesales a wide range of products from across the globe -- champagne and cognac from France; wines from Argentina and Chile, Australia and New Zealand; vodka from Poland; single malt from Scotland; and even the most popular distilled alcoholic beverage of Brazil Cachaca. (Cachaça is the product of the distillation of fermented sugarcane juice, with its alcohol strength between 38% and 51% by volume. It is often said to differ from rum in that it is made from sugarcane juice while rum is made from molasses.)
In terms of local products, Madame Rosa has also been diversifying into coffee and other liqueur. Flavours include mango, anise, almond and chocolate mint. PVV (Pedro Vincent Vaz), another prominent brand, comes out with its cashew and palm products (in sizes of 750 ml, 180 ml and 60 ml). Other brands have names like Dom Pedro, Goan Treasure, Cashew Inside, Fruit Shape, among others.
Goa is one of the more expensive states in India to stay in. During the peak season, which lasts from November to late March, the prices are very high. Especially in December, 5-star hotel rates rates range from around ₹20,000 - ₹35,000 per night. All tourist spots charge more in the peak season.
Huts/Shacks are an economical and fun option to consider. These can be found in small/little Vagator which is up the road from Anjuna beach , prices range from 400-600 rupees and you get a whole hut with a double bed, lock , towels and an attached bathroom with toilet. These shacks are closed during the monsoon.
The last week of the year, between Christmas and New Year the place is usually completely packed. Try to avoid that overhyped week and you will get a better deal without the added pressures.
Goa has a large network of banks, some of which will change currency. In the tourist pockets and urban areas, one comes across such services easily. Reserve Bank of India's Foreign Exchange Department is at 3A/B Sesa Ghor, Patto in Panjim (Ph 2438656, 2438659, fax 2438657) though one need not go specifically here.
Leading hotels, shops and travel agents will also offer foreign currency exchanges.
At the time of writing, Goa's telephone directory hasn't been published for at least four years. In a state with among the highest teledensities (phones per hundred users) across India, this is a serious handicap. Old telephone directories have segregated phone subscribers on the basis of the many small phone exchanges in the State. (Previously, it needed a trunk-call to call from one exchange to the other, but at least this is not the case now.) So it can be very confusing to locate a particular phone number. However if you do have a phone number for the BSNL Co., then getting the address is easy by dialing 197.
Add to this the reality that the telephone network in Goa is frequently growing, and that telephone numbers have grown from four-digits to the current seven in not too many years, finding the right number you need can be tough.
Goa's main telecom ISP BSNL has this online telephone directory  which is partially useful.
The Government of Goa's Department of Information and Publicity (located at Udyog Bhavan, near Azad Maidan and the Goa Police Headquarters in the heart of Panjim) comes out fairly regularly with an under-priced -- but not easily available -- pocketbook of phone numbers. This focuses largely on politicians, government officials and media persons. Some useful fax numbers, email addresses and websites mentioned here. But don't expect officials to reply to your e-mail!
Yellow pages are also available. To inquire about local businesses contact Hello 2412121 (0832-2412121), The Talking Yellowpages Of Goa and Online Enquiry Hello Yellowpages Goa . Both these services from Hello Group Goa  offer information on a range of businesses in Goa.
Mobile services have grown fast in Goa.
It is fairly easy to get a Prepaid mobile SIM card. It will cost around 100Rs, just take a copy of your passport (visa page, entry stamp and photo page) and two passport photos to a phone shop and away you go. It is worth thinking about cost and coverage if you are travelling around India as once you leave Goa and travel to anoher state you then pay roaming charges for all calls. It is still cheap though. A single text to the UK from Goa costs ₹10 and calls cost about ₹12 a minute.
Internet cafes can be found in Goa's urban areas, tourist spots and hotels. It is not difficult to find an internet centre in a state known for its large expat and tourist population. ID has to be presented and foreigners will need to present their passport before being allowed to use the internet.
Consulates and High Commissions
Goa is an ideal holiday destination for travelers, but tourists should bear in mind that India has its own set of safety issues.
Goa now has a number - 108 for medical emergencies. This service is run by the GVK EMRI (Emergency Management and Research Institute) and is based out of Goa Medical College (Bambolim) and has ambulances posted at various parts of Goa. These ambulances are fully equipped and have trained paramedics.
Fire service The number to Fire Service is 191.