GOA: Where beaches, nature and culture blend into a harmonious melody


Did you think Goa’s leitmotif is its beaches and rave parties? Well, think again. The sheer range of history, nature and culture that Goa offers, can potentially cast a shadow on its beaches and famed bohemian tourist scene. Get acquainted with another side of Goa, where culture meets nationalism, temples meet churches, and waterfalls and wildlife sanctuaries offer balm to the soul.

Text photos by: Manu Shrivastava

Goa, the smallest state in India, is also one of the most favourite tourist destinations in the country for Indian and foreign tourists. The very mention of Goa fetches to one’s mind images of beaches, churches, bohemian tourists, alcohol and rave parties. However, there is much more to Goa that never makes to the front page of travel magazines, trip advisories, ‘things to do in Goa’ articles, or even official portals for tourist information.

The Brahma Karmali temple, which has interesting folklore

Not many are aware that Goa has a majority Hindu population, a significant 66% as per 2011 Census, as opposed to 25% Christians. Still, the tourist itineraries spill over with places and structures by Portuguese ‘invaders’, and almost neglect the older and significant history of Goa – a Goa that is obscured from public view and hidden away amidst the ruined structures and faceless towns.

Goa holds, surprisingly, a significant place in Indian history and Hindu mythology. And, it comes as no surprise that within the tiny state of Goa, like almost every other colony, the Portuguese destroyed everything that existed or was constructed before they arrived. You may find it surprising to note that Goa is mentioned in the Hindu epic poem Mahabharat, dated back to 1,000 BC-500 BC, as Gomanta or Gomantak – a ‘pure’ land piece created by Lord Parashuram. This patch of land was created specifically to perform sacrificial rituals by the sixth incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

Goa is not only blessed with a rich history, but also a culture and natural heritage that makes it a traveller’s paradise. The state is home to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world, oldest temples, the most exquisite churches, national parks, petroglyphs, forts and settlements, replete with history and legends.

Ancient temples
The Portuguese conquest was followed by the systematic destruction of Hindu temples. Ancient temples built in wood or stone and in traditional mould were completely lost after destruction as the rebuilding, over the years, led to a mix of contemporary architectural styles, ruining the ethnic historicity of the structures. One of the oldest temples in Goa, the Brahma temple, houses a tall and exquisitely-carved idol believed to be created in the 12th century Kadamba period. The temple is situated in a remote village of Nagargao in Valpoi, and the Brahma idol was carved intricately out of a single black stone. In the 16th century, fearing the predictable destruction from the Portuguese, Brahma devotees escaped with the idol from its original location at Karmali village, and after several halts, rendered dangerous owing to increased Portuguese control, finally rested it in the dense jungles of Nagargao. The village is now known as Brahma Karmali, the term derived from its original location.

The Dudhsagar Falls form a thrilling background to this train journey

Another beautiful temple entrenched in the serene greenery is the Mahadev Temple located at Tambdi Surla, approximately 65 km from Panjim, considered to be the oldest Goan temple that survived the Portuguese influence. The Kadamba dynasty built this ‘small’ temple within a dense forest near river Surla, carved out of grey-black basalt rock. The temple houses statues of a headless Nandi and a Shiv linga accompanied by a legendary King Cobra inside the temple. The otherwise dimly-lit temple comes to life during ‘Mahashivratri’, which is celebrated with pomp and fervour.

Nature’s child, Goa
Few may be aware of the fact that Goa is home to six wildlife sanctuaries and one national park, namely, Mollem National Park, Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary, Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary, Chorao Island (Dr. Salim Ali) Wildlife Sanctuary, Cotigaon Wildlife Sanctuary, Madei Wildlife Sanctuary, and Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary.

Mollem National Park, earlier called Mollem Game Sanctuary, is spread over 240 sqkms of Western Ghats in the Sanguemtaluka in South Goa. This area is not only rich in natural heritage, but is also home to famous temples of the Kadamba dynasty, the glorious Dudhsagar Waterfalls, Mormugao-Londa railway line, etc. A variety of birds such as Golden Oriole, Great Indian Hornbill, Drongo, Three-toed Kingfisher, and many more can be seen in the park along with several rare species of butterflies and snakes.

Dudhsagar Waterfalls, the ‘sea of milk’
One of the most famous waterfalls in the country is in Goa, the breath-taking Dudhsagar Waterfalls. Dudhsagar translates to ‘sea of milk’, and provides tourists a sight of a lifetime. And, Bollywood surely couldn’t have missed it. In the blockbuster movie Chennai Express, a train scene between Deepika Padukone and Shahrukh Khan has been shot at the spectacular Dudhsagar Falls.

Located inside Bhagwan Mahavir Sanctuary (Mollem National Park) near Karnataka, the waterfalls are frequented by tourists from all over the world. Locally, the four-tiered falls are also known as Vajra Sakala Falls or Tambdi Surla Falls. The wonderous view of trains chugging on the bridge with the milky-white water falling down more than a thousand feet in the background, provides memories of a lifetime and surpasses the beauty of some of the most landscape-rich regions.

Fontainhas, the Old Latin Quarters in Panjim

Old Patto Bridge
When the Portuguese invaded Goa, they not only destroyed what existed before but also constructed settlements, churches and structures of their own. The Old Patto Bridge in Panjim, for one, has also been captured in several Bollywood movies. The walk along the bridge, particularly during nights is an experience worth cherishing. The ambience offers the most romantic and picturesque setting for tourists. Built in laterite stone between the years 1632-35, the 3.2 km long Old Patto Bridge, also known as ‘Ponte Conde de Linhares’, is a fine architectural piece inspired by Roman designs. The then Viceroy of Portuguese India had ordered the construction of the bridge for movement of horse-drawn carriages. Now at nights, it is frequented by local fishermen angling for their daily catch.

Fontainhas, the Latin settlement
The Old Latin Quarters in Panjim, also known as Fontainhas is a piece of Latin settlement marked by bright colour-painted quarters constructed in Portuguese style. The area maintains its heavy colonial influence – narrow lanes, winding streets, colourful houses with quintessential balconies, and even more colourful flowering plants hanging from the balconies. The old villas are painted in bright tones of green, blue, yellow, and are a huge draw for history and art lovers. The zone’s colours can be derived from the fact that in the days of yore, the colour white was reserved for the Church, leaving the other hues available for residential structures. The quarters are flagged by the Ourem Creek on the east, and Altinho Hill on the west.

Casinos of Goa
It’s here, in Goa, that gambling is legal, and that is a great draw for tourists not just from India, but all over the world. So, in Panjim along the Mandovi River can be seen casinos on boats anchored even a few onshore in some upmarket hotels. A lot of action happens on the floating casinos, a huge hit with local tourists, who are known to visit the tiny state only for this piece of entertainment. According to Goan law, the legendary betting takes place on floating casinos, while online casinos can only sport electronic games.

The Deltin Group has classy casinos with hefty entry fees as they attract a specific group of revellers, mostly foreigners, keen on popular games of their choice. The other player, the Pride Group, has lower entry fees catering to masses and the Indian market.

Beaches of Goa
Goa is synonymous with beaches. Some of the most famous ones include Baga, Calangute, Colva, Arambol, Anjuna and many more. Baga beach was made famous by the hippies during the late sixties, but even now it remains among the most visited beaches in Goa. Located in North Goa, Baga is located 16km from Panjim and is flanked by Calangute and Anjuna beaches, also very popular. The most famous features of these places are the shallow beaches, plenty of sun, flea markets, restaurants and cafes, exciting nightlife and water sports. Nightlife in Baga and the surrounding beaches are sought after by tourists who can be seen strolling along the ever-crowded zones hopping bars and ‘shacks’. Some of the most famous rave parties happen at these beaches accompanied by options for great food, live bands, markets, shopping outlets and more!

The popular Calangute beach

Shopping at Goa
Shopping for a visitor in Goa is unique. The Baga beach market, Anjuna flea market, and Ingo market of Arpora are a few known to charm regular tourists, who bargain hard for clothes, handicrafts, trinkets, jewellery, etc., and frequent tattoo-making, hair-styling, tarot card readers and palmist shops too. And, of course, for those who are accompanied by their children, the beaches offer para-sailing, water surfing, jet-ski and other water and adventure sports opportunities.

Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
The famous ‘white church’ that we see in almost every movie shot in Goa is the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panjim. Also known as the Crown of the City, the church yet has the famous bell that was retrieved from the ruins of Church of Our Lady of Grace, supposed to be the second-largest in Goa, after the Se Cathedral’s Golden Bell. In the year 1541, this structure was a chapel for sailors to offer prayers before heading out into the sea.

A few years later in 1619 the structure was rebuilt as a church with mixed architectural styles – that of Goan and Portuguese-Baroque styles. The façade of the church has two towers and a bell tower in between, arched above the two. The church, in full white, sports a series of steps where tourists and locals can be seen sitting through the day to seek peace or, simply, soak in the beauty and serenity of the church built in 1871.

Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church, the ‘white church’, was built in 1871

Terekhol or Tiracol Fort
The northern tip of Goa is marked by a beautiful 17th century fort called the Terekhol Fort. The breath taking views of Keri or Querim beach and the overlooking Tiracol River are a travellers’ delight. Built by Maharaja Khem Sawant Bhonsle of Sawantwadi, the fort was rebuilt after the Portuguese invasion and capture in 1764. The fort also houses a 100-year-old church inside. The fort has been a witness to important landmarks in Goan history. In 1788, it was legally incorporated in Goa. The failed rebellion against the Portuguese by Bernando Peres sa Silva, first Viceroy born in Goa, happened here. The fort also witnessed its share of violence when, in 1954, Goans trying to hoist an Indian flag at the fort to announce freedom from Portuguese control, were killed.

Dona Paula
Dona Paula was a philanthropist known to have helped local villagers in that area. The site, named after her, is a famous tourist destination in the suburbs of Panjim. The road going to Dona Paula takes you to a completely different world, to a small structure in the middle of the sea. The woman, whose original name was Paula Amaral Antonio de Souto Maior lived in the area called Oddavell, and an important figure in Portuguese history, was the daughter of the Portuguese Viceroy of Jaffnapatnam in Sri Lanka, who arrived in Goa in 1644. The iconic movie Ek Duje Ke Liye made Dona Paula even more famous, and a place to go for those romantically inclined.

Dona Paula is a huge tourist attraction

Old Goa also known as Velha Goa
A fascinating example of Goa’s Portuguese history is Old Goa, the once-spectacular capital of Portuguese Goa. The city was constructed by the Bijapur Sultanate in the 15th century and served as the Portuguese capital from 16th century till the 18th century, when it was finally abandoned owing to plague. The remains of the city are a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site is home to some of Asia’s largest churches and cathedrals such as the 1521-built Convent and Church of St. Francis of Assisi, Basilica of Bom Jesus, that has the preserved remains of the body of St. Francis Xavier, the patron saint of Goa. The body of this revered missionary is shown to public every 10 years, the last time being in the year 2015.

The Basilica of Bom Jesus, that has the preserved remains of St. Francis Xavier

The Church of St. Augustine
If there is one image that has become an icon of Goa, it is the Church of St. Augustine built in 1573 by twelve Augustinians. The grand complex, which is now in ruins is that of a church with a convent beside it. The entire complex that lies in Old Goa was later deserted and what remains now is a massive bell tower standing 46 metres high. This complex is one of the most visited sites in Goa. The church originally had eight chapels and four altars, but now only the ruined altars can be seen along with some cells of the convent.

Spice plantations
Goa is also known for its spice plantations, particularly in Ponda area, where tourists could pluck and taste a range of spices like pepper, periperi, and other farm spices. A visit to a spice plantation is touted as the next best thing to do in Goa, besides the beaches.

Manu Shrivastava

Manu Shrivastava is a Media Legal Researcher with DraftCraft International, and co-convener of ‘The Woman Survivor’ initiative that documents abuse of women and children within families.