Goa is known as the most popular beachfront state in India lying along the Arabian Sea bounded by Maharashtra to the north and Karnataka to the east and south. Its biggest draw is undoubtedly its virtually uninterrupted string of white-sand beaches each beach having its own personality from tropical retreat to backpacker haven to hippie bliss.
Over 450 years of Portuguese rule and the influence of the Portuguese culture presents visitors to Goa a cultural environment that is not found elsewhere in India. Goa is often described as a fusion between Eastern and Western culture with Portuguese culture having a dominant position in the state be it in its architectural, cultural or social settings.
Goa is visited by large numbers of international and domestic tourists each winter season given its top world ranking nightlife and beaches. But I chose to visit Goa in the monsoon season (July through September) when the foliage turns lush green from the rains. Beauty abounds while the tourist population recedes.
I stayed for four wonderful days at the new Planet Hollywood. Well-appointed and comfortable along clean and quiet Utorda Beach with a most welcoming and hospitable staff. So many surprises awaited from day one, including a beautiful and very tasty greeting cake, an upgraded luxurious suite room and a handwritten personal welcome note from the GM. Each room is individually designed according to a Hollywood theme featuring creature comforts like massage chair, mood lighting, goose down pillows, plush towels, satin sheets, and designer toiletries. Rooms either overlook the Arabian Sea or feature a lush garden view.
As to meals while in residence, I was offered a menu but instead asked that the chef select all my meals choosing from local favorites like pork vindaloo, chicken xacuti, balchão, pomfret curry… all prepared to my taste using a mouth-watering array of Goan spices. I was never disappointed. What a fantastic culinary experience!
The second day I enjoyed a bicycle breakfast picnic to Three Kings Church, a famous ‘haunted church’ once attended by three Portuguese kings… one poisoned the other two and then committed suicide. Dicey heritage, cool place for enjoying a picturesque view in a most serene setting. I dined on fresh fruit, fresh baked breads and muffins, an omelet, some Indian delicacies and of course all washed down with delightful local coffee and tea.
On the way back, we detoured through local rice fields, small villages and took a long photo-stop, as I was excitedly prepared to ‘shoot’ every unique beauty coming my way from ruined churches among the coconut trees, to the farmers in the field and the butterflies. I spent the day at leisure along the beach watching beachgoers and cricket matches along the Sea as fisherman brought in their ‘treasures of the deep’. My day ended still at the beach embraced by the patina of a golden sunset through the clouds and into the Arabian Sea.
The third day we toured many of Goa’s famous historical religious sites. Goa has a rich spiritual history where east meet west, Hindu meets Christianity. First stop was the Basilica de Bom Jesus housing the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, a UNESCO world heritage site. Dating to 1605, the basilica is an outstanding example of baroque architecture… one of the most important destinations for Christian pilgrims from all over the world. Then on to the Se Cathedral which is the cathedral of the Latin Rite Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Goa and Daman as well as the seat of the Patriarch of the East Indies. Next, I visited the church of St. Francis of Assisi built in 1660 by the Portuguese as a chapel later gaining status as a church. Then on to the church of St. Augustine completed in 1602 and now a famous ruin with the only remaining structure being a 46-meter bell tower constructed of laterite. Last but not least on the list was Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church built in 1541 and featuring the second largest bell in Goa. I enjoyed a fish fry thali for lunch at the famous Ritz Classic.
Given my diverse religious background (a prodigy of both Hinduism and Chritianity) I visited several Hindu temples each surrounded by flower vendors stringing garlands and making beautiful floral arrangements to place in the temples. I visited Shantadurga Temple, a Hindu temple dedicated to the goddess who served as a messenger between Shiva and Vishnu. Formerly a small laterite mud shrine with a small idol during Portuguese times it is now converted into a beautiful full-scale place of spiritual enlightenment featuring a blend of Indian and Portuguese design. Next was the 400-year-old Mangeshi Temple founded during 16thcentury dedicated to Bhagavan Manguesh a incarnation of Lord Shiva.
Robin is the founder of Serene Journeys, a gay travel company based in Delhi and a freelance travel photographer, exploring the beauty of India, Nepal, Bhutan and Southeast Asia.
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