While India is commonly known for its ancient history, incomparable culture, its heaving cities filled to the breaking point with people, and the noise, pollution and chaos that goes along with that, there are places on the subcontinent where travelers can get away from it all.
Goa, a state with towns that do not exceed 100,000 in population, is situated within the tropical portion of India more than 400 kilometres to the south of Mumbai. This is where Indians and foreigners alike go to let the stress of daily life in this country melt away into the background, with plenty of diversions available to achieve this end.
Those seeking a little cultural exploration will not come away disappointed either, as this section of India contains many relics of the past, owing to its past heritage as a Portuguese possession in colonial times. They left behind traces of their religion and their architecture, making for interesting days away from the beach.
So, if the grind of putting up with the dust, incessant touts, and heavy traffic exhaust of Indian megacities has worn you down, Goa is the perfect place to recharge your travel batteries.
When the beach has started to get old after a few days, step away from the seashore and see the cultural highlights of this sedate Indian state. The first attraction you should make time for should be the Christian Art Museum. One of the only museums of its kind in all of Asia, this institution contains paintings, sculptures, silverware, and other forms of artistic expression related to the Christian faith. In an interesting quirk, some of the artifacts on display were crafted by local Hindu artisans over 400 years ago, giving the pieces an exotic twist versus what one would usually expect from Christian art.
For a country where Christians are a tiny minority, the churches here in Goa contain a great deal of religious significance. Se Cathedral ranks among the largest cathedrals in Asia, Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception has a bell that is the 2nd largest in the world, while the Bom Jesus Basilica contains the mostly preserved remains of St. Francis Xavier. His body was preserved after it was noted that his body had hardly decomposed at all two years after his death, a fact which was cited as proof of a miracle when he was up for canonization by the Catholic Church.
As far as Hindu religious shrines are concerned, Shree Manguesh Shantadurgai Prasanna Temple is the one that is held in highest regard within Goa State. This temple worships the Lord Shiva, and was moved from its original location to a domain that was better protected by a Hindu prince, as the region was under imminent threat of attack by the Portuguese roughly a half a millennia ago. Sadly, due to disrespectful behaviour and dress by foreign tourists, entry has been banned for non-Indians, but it is still a beautiful sight to see from the outside!
By far the biggest draw to Goa, hippie culture, yoga, and ashrams aside, are the fabulous beaches that line the coast of Goa state in an almost unbroken chain. The most popular of these seaside getaways in the past was Anjuna Beach, which still is quite popular for those still seeking the accoutrements of alternative lifestyles.
Those seeking a beach with more upscale standards and scenery that is easy on the eyes should check out Palolem Beach. Its excellent eateries and the absence of the masses that inhabit other beaches in the state make this place the one you should try to stay at if not being crowded out on your vacation in Goa is your main priority.
If being part of the traveler/party scene is what you crave, then Calangute Beach is where you’ll want to hang your hat. While touts are a problem, and everybody and their dog appears to have the same idea you do, this place has all the tourist service you’ll need, plus a few more you’ll want to make use of (tailors that can spin up an item of clothing from an example you bring, or even with a photo for inspiration).
Finally, those looking for some cheap buys while in Goa would do well to check out the Anjuna flea market. With over 500 stalls, it carries everything from souvenirs to tourist essentials and even goods that locals/expats need in their everyday lives here. Be prepared to haggle for a good price, as is commonly expected by the merchant culture here.