Goa, India

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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 kilometres with a population of approximately 1.8 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 expatriate 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.

Understand

Goa is visibly different from the rest of India, owing to Portuguese rule which isolated it from the rest of India for 451 years. The Goan population is a mixture of Hindus and Roman Catholics, the distribution being approximately 65% Hindu and 24% Christian. There is also a smaller Muslim population. Despite this, communal violence has been virtually non-existent and Goa is regarded as one of the most peaceful states in India.

Culture

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.

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, expatriate 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 real estate agents).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 neighbouring areas along with the idols representing their Hindu deities.

Travel season

The best time of the year to visit Goa is mid-November to mid-February when the weather is comfortable, dry and pleasant.

Holidays

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 20:00) each evening, and shops here could have a fairly longish siesta break (from around 13:30 until about 15:30). Goan shop owners take this siesta break seriously, and no business is conducted during this time. Bars, restaurants and other shopping centres 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.

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