Those who haven’t visited Goa tend to imagine it as some kind of Indian Costa Brava but with more cosmic karma and, thanks to this image, many people vow never to set foot there. However, Goa, like everywhere in India, is never quite what you expect. In places the infamous hash-fuelled days of Goa’s golden hippy years are still alive and kicking, especially around Vagator & Chopora, while in others, like Calangute & Baga, the all-inclusive package holiday is king. But these are two very narrow sides of the Goan experience and anyone who spends much time here will discover that Goa contains more variety and vitality than almost anywhere else in India. Head into Panaji (Panjim), one of India’s smallest and most likeable state capitals, and, instead of self-contained tourist resorts and trinket-selling dreadlocks, you’ll discover a Portuguese pantry of flaking architectural delicacies spiced up with Indian exuberance. Inland, you can stand in greener-than-green fields picking vanilla pods, bathe with elephants or visit market towns like Mapusa.
The main draws of Goa are the beaches, such as Anjuna, which are every bit as cliché-beautiful as they’re supposed to be, but just as much of an attraction is its intriguing fusion of colonial Portugal and modern India. There is almost nowhere else in India where the influence of the former colonial overlords remains as strong as it does in Goa and it’s not at all unusual to find crucifixes hanging on walls next to posters of Shiva and groups of elderly Goan men conversing in Portuguese. Wander the majestic, time-worn cathedrals and basilicas of Old Goa, for a fascinating insight into this colonial legacy. Goa may not be as cool as it once was but it’s certainly just as magical.