If you ignored my advice and still booked a ticket for Goa, at least try and have a good time while you are here. If you are a regular reader of this blog, I expect that you are different from the average tourist to the Sunshine State. If all you plan to do is sit on the beach (be warned: it’s 38 degrees C today), eating, drinking and complaining that there’s nothing to do, then here are a few recommendations to make your holiday a memorable one :
1. Soak in some culture : Goa’s cultural offerings go beyond the ghastly evening cruises on the Mandovi. The idea of the cruises is a good one, but the execution poor. With no sign of traditional Goan music (Bollywood’s interpretations of what Goans sing and dance do not count), don’t get conned into hurting your ear-drums with the latest Hindi theme songs (current hot favourite is the title song of Golmaal II – or whatever it’s called).
Instead, look up the local paper for listings of events that you won’t get elsewhere. Take in a tiatr performance (traditional Konkani/ English theatre) at the Kala Academy, Panaji or listen to a classical (Indian/Western) music concert (also at the Kala, often free).
2. Go Museum hopping: Whether you are a history buff or not, take some time out to visit one or many of Goa’s fascinating museums. From the highly recommended ship-shaped Houses of Goa museum, the Goa State Museum to the Museum of Christian Art, there’s something for everyone.
3. Sample the local cuisine : Goan food is world famous for its spicy coconut curries, extensive fish menus and mouth-watering Hindu and Christian Goan cooking. Leave the Dal Makhani behind on your next trip and sample some Xacuti (try the Mushroom Xacuti if you prefer a vegetarian option), Cafreal or good ol’ prawn-curry rice. You’ll not reach for the palak paneer again, promise.
While you’re at it, don’t ignore the signs of evident signs of destruction around you. Remember that the barges floating down the river make a pretty snapshot, but they take with them endless refills of Goan soil bound for foreign shores, leaving a denuded land behind. That lovely holiday home you’re staying in was probably built in violation of CRZ regulations, on forest land or on land forcibly grabbed from unsuspecting villagers. And if you see a snake or another reptile, please don’t beat it to death. Call one of these numbers and they’ll take care of it for free.
Lastly, no matter what you do, please take your garbage home with you. The state is grappling with a major problem and literally drowning in garbage. Buy a lovely Goa cloth carry bag and use it for all your purchases, if you must, but say no to plastic. And when you’re done with your water bottles, don’t chuck them on the beach. Get them to a bin – there will be one in your hotel, if not elsewhere.
So, go on, get that sunscreen and put on that silly tourist hat. Catch that train or bus (flights are a bit unpredictable these days – you might not have cabin crew on board) and head south. Make the most of your trip and when you go back home, remind yourself of how lucky we are to have such natural beauty in India. And how little of it is left for us to enjoy.