When most people think of Goa, they think of all-night psychedelic dance parties on the beach. They think of a strange hippie-hedonistic pocket of India; sweaty, sunny, and a little bit salacious. Tales of these parties have spread far and wide, since the hippie expats first came to Goa in the 1960′s, but the region has changed quite a bit since those days. As a guest of Goa Tourism in March, I was able to explore quite a bit of Goa, and I found a whole lot more than just hippie beach parties.
The first thing you need to know when planning a trip to Goa is that it is a state, not a city. Goa is made up of a network of cities and villages and little beach towns, all connected with a charmingly confusing network of winding roads. The best way to get around is to rent a motorcycle or a scooter and do some exploring. It’s endlessly fun to get lost and stop to ask directions from the locals, who will wave you off in a general direction towards your destination.
I’d say that there are 3 things you should do in Goa: Visit Old Goa, Party on the Beach, and Go to a Temple.
In Old Goa, you’ll find the very interesting cultural and architectural remnants of the Portuguese. In 1510, the Portuguese defeated the ruling sultan, settled in Old Goa, and ruled until the 1960′s. These days, there is some interesting architecture and lots of churches to explore (if you’re into that kind of thing), including the Bom Jesus Basilica. Eve if old churches aren’t your thing, the art, and architecture are beautiful, and it’s strange to see baroque architecture in India. The St Augustine Church make for an interesting wander as well. The place was huge, but it’s half demolished, and you can walk among the rubble, the crumbling pillars and arches.
Goa’s Beach Party Towns
If you’re going to party on the beach, there are almost too many options to consider. Goa has miles of beautiful beaches, and destinations that range from sleepy beachside villages, to tourist-heavy hot spots. It really depends on what kind of party you’re looking for. I’m more of a cold beer in a hammock kind of guy, than a shutter shades and Redbull-vodka, all-day-all-night kind of guy, at least in my old age. But that’s the great part about Goa, there are beach towns for everyone!
I had the most fun in Anjuna Beach. This area was the hippie headquarters back in the 60′s and 70′s. These days, it has become a much more mainstream destination, but it still holds on to a bit of the psychedelic hippie vibe. My favorite place in Anjuna was Curlie’s, a bar and restaurant right on the beach. There is a good mix of locals, expats, and travelers, the beer is cold, and the view upstairs is fantastic. I sat for hours, chatting with friends, drinking beer, and watching the paragliders land on the beach. There was talk of a late night beach rave a few nights before, so apparently the psytrance beach party lifestyle is still alive and well in Anjuna Beach.
Arambol Beach is a bit quieter, but an up and coming destination, Morjim Beach can be expensive, and is very popular with Russian babes (and the men who follow them everywhere), and Candolim Beach is a nice one in North Goa. Calangute Beach is also very popular, and is home to some of the best night clubs in Goa, but it can get very crowded!
Shri Mangeshi Temple
The Shri Mangeshi Temple is dedicated to Bhagavan Manguesh, an incarnation of Shiva. When I arrived, there was a line of devotees filing into the temple grounds. Everyone pauses in front o f the entrance to remove their shoes and socks, an ancient tradition, made modern with the addition of signs reminding you to silence your mobile phone.
Inside,candles and incense burned in every corner and at least 10 chandeliers hung from the ceiling. It was quiet inside, only a few hushed voices and the shuffling of bare feet on the cool marble floors. One of the walls is made entirely from silver with embossed images of gods and serpents. A doorway in the silver wall leads to another room with a gold and silver shrine to Shiva in the form of Bhagavan Manguesh.
If you go to a temple, you’ll be offered to receive a blessing from the Poojari, or Hindu Priest. He will pour some water into your hands, and you are supposed to sip a small amount of the water, then pour the rest on on your head, running your hands back through my hair. This may sound silly, but just watch the others and follow their lead.
Visiting a temple is a refreshing and interesting experience, and I highly recommend it. You can read more about my experience at Shri Mangeshi Temple here.
Goa is a unique part of India with a lot to offer every tourist. From motorcycle adventures on the winding backroads, to unique Portuguese architecture, to beautiful beaches (sometime with legendary parties), and of course, beautiful, spiritual temples.