Goa has been ruled by various dynasties, including those of Hindu and Muslim origin, but the Portuguese who ruled from 1510 to 1961 left the greatest impression of all. 450 years of their domination has given Goa a unique blend of East and West that is exotic, enchanting and yet at times slightly familiar.
After Vasco Da Gama landed in 1498 at Malabar Coast, the Portuguese gained power of Goa and retained it right until Nehru drove them out in the middle of this century. Besides becoming a vital link for Portugal's colonial trade in the Indian Ocean, the state became a prime base for missionary work, with the most famous patron Saint of Goa, Francis Xavier arriving in Goa in 1542.
Goa is approximately 600 kms South of Bombay and is one of India's smallest states, being 100 kms long and 50 kms at the widest points. The Arabian Sea laps the shores on the western coast of Goa.
The state is most famous for tourism, but has other important means of aiding the economy, including the mining of Iron, bauxite ore and manganese from the hill range that runs through the state. The main agricultural products of Goa are rice, cashew nuts and coconuts.
Less known are the fruits which were introduced during the Portuguese years. These include bananas, nectarines, limes, breadfruit, jackfruit, tamarind, melon and papaya. The most famous Goan fruit is the Mango which is in season during the months of April and May. Do not despair though, if your holiday falls outside of these months because jams, juices and chutneys are produced year round by the locals.
Another famous aspect of the state is its thriving fishing community who you will no doubt come across on a daily basis selling that mornings catch on the roadside.
Goa truly is a beautiful place that has so much to offer for everyone who visits these magical shores. The erratic driving is combined with the cows, pigs and goats, who all roam along the roads. The lazy, relaxed atmosphere, and often laissez faire attitude of the locals, all add up to the charm that has entranced many a traveller before you and is the reason why many people keep on returning year after year.
GOA IN A NUTSHELL
Area: 3702 sq. kms.
Districts: Two (North & South Goa)
Languages: Konkani, Marathi, English, Hindi, Portuguese
Tourist Season: October to May
Major Airport: Dabolim, Vasco.
Major Seaport: Mormugoa
Important Beaches:Palolem, Colva, Calangute, Baga, Anjuna / Vagator.
Food: Generally Spicy, cuisines from all Indian states as well as international fare are available in Goa's numerous restaurants and beach shacks.
The name Panjim is a mixture of Konkani and Portuguese and means 'Land that can never be flooded'. The modern day capital of Goa can trace its history to the 12th century A.D. when it was known as Pahanajanikhali by the Kadamba king, Vijayadita. (Khali means creek and Padajani Khali, from which the name was derived is the name that was given to the river Mandovi which still cuts its course through Panjim). Its name has been changed many times from Pahajani Khali to Nova Goa, Cidade De Goa, Pangim and finally Panjim until recently when it was officially changed to Panaji. The city lies on the left bank of the Mandovi River and is embellished with Government complexes in the current neo-classical style. Later, new constructions have mushroomed to alter the town's colonial appearance, but it can still boast the oldest municipal in India.
Goa's second largest town, and principal commercial and market centre for the Southern district of Salcette. Margao has a touch of real metropolitan character, though few buildings would be called modern in Europe. It has wide main streets and a yellow washed town hall occupying one end of a rectangular space, with richly planted gardens in the centre. A sight to behold is the bustling every day fruit and veg market for the locals.
Mapusa is Goa's major northern town, where the famous Friday market can be experienced. Traders come from all over India to sell their wares varying from spices, livestock and mountain bikes. Mapusa, capital of the northern district Bardez, became a fully fledged municipality in 1842. In the 20th century it has flourished as through the import of grain, cereals and general provisions and brought across the ghats in their droves. Being ideally located in the centre of the north it still commands the business and importance of being a prime mercantile town, particularly because of its Friday market.
This is one of Goa’s largest industrial and commercial cities located about 39kms southwest of Panjim. It is named after the legendary Portuguese explorer and Goa's former Viceroy, Dom Vasco da Gama. It lies on the western tip of the Mormugao peninsula overlooking the mouth of the Zuari River. This area came under Portuguese rule in 1543 and for a long time was a very busy port. It was even considered for being Goa's capital city until Panjim became it, after Old Goa was abandoned. Today the port of Mormugao, one of India's few natural harbors, is the export terminus for Goa’s mining industry. It is also connected by rail to Margao and the rest of India. Goa's only commercial airport is located at Dabolim, about 4kms southeast from the city. The city is cosmopolitan and industrial with a significant population of migrants from Goa’s neighbouring states
FOOD & DRINK
When it comes to variety of food, you are spoilt for choice in Goa - there is an overwhelming amount of culinary delights for you to feast on throughout your holiday. Your only problem is where to start. Indian, Goan, Portuguese, Chinese, Italian, Mexican, Tibetan and the list goes on. For those of you who are new to the delights of Goa here are a few pointers to some Goan dishes as to what's what, but this is by no means definitive.
FISH CURRY RICE is Goa's national dish. This consists of dried fish or prawns flavouring a red chili, gravy (the locals refer to curried sauce as this) served with plain rice and pickle. The rice which served in most restaurants is BASMATI or of a similar type, however this is too expensive for the locals and villagers so they eat local rice what is known as a 'brown boiled rice', which is a short grain.
PORK VINDALOO is another famous Goan dish, usually medium to hot and with a hint of sweet and sour. This dish originated from the Portuguese Pork Stew that was seasoned with vinegar and garlic. Goans also add palm sap (toddy) vinegar as well as some other spices.
POMFRET is a flat fish that is used in many Goan and Indian dishes or on the BBQ.
BEBINCA is a very sweet Goan cake, which is layered and made from eggs, coconut, milk and sugar. It looks like a mountain of pancakes lying on top of each other.
These are just a taste to give you an idea of some of the delights that are on offer, but half the fun sometimes is simply ordering blindly and enjoying whatever is served to you. Guaranteed if you try as many local dishes as possible, your love for Goa will flourish and you will be back for more.
FENI - This is really Goa's unofficial national drink. Catholic missionaries first distilled it over 400 years ago. Feni comes in two very powerful varieties, coconut and cashew.
BEER is the most readily available bottled beer in Goa. Although quite a pleasant beer it sometimes has a strange aftertaste, which is the glycerin that is in each bottle to help preserve the fizz. This can be removed by getting a glass of water and tipping the bottle upside down into the glass very quickly. Ensuring that the water line in the glass is above the beer line in the bottle, simply hold it there for a couple of minutes and watch the glycerin pour out.
PORT WINE is another of Goa's national drinks. This is a very sweet heavy red wine and is more like a port than a wine.
MAAD is fermented toddy, which is boiled up and then strained through cotton, often flavoured with cumin or ginger.
MASALA TEA is a regular tea, which is infused with a variety of mild herbs and spices, all blended together with milk and sugar.
LASSI - A mixture of cold curd and water, which is downed with salt and sugar and can be flavoured with fruits.
TENDER COCONUTS - Drink the milk and then eat the flesh. Best consumed whilst marooned on a beach.