Since its Liberation on 19th December 1961, Goa which has received an extra ordinary amount of exposure has found a place in the imagination of the nation and also the global scene. Yet, there is much misconception about this beautiful state, the culture, the way of life and in recent times has been in the media glare for the wrong reasons. Tourists drawn here for its matchless coastline and the verdant luxuriance of environment.
For the majority of those locals who have lived here most of their lives here, the village is still the center of life. Tourism, though essential to the economy, is often perceived as an intrusion into their community life. This is never more so than when Goa is projected in the media as a hedonistic paradise where policing is minimal and crime though reported goes unpunished. Locals here once lived an amphibian existence- traveled by canoe and then across dense forests and rough terrain inland. Never more than 55 km from the sea, the ghats form a well-defined eastern border. All of its rivers rise here and wind their way westwards to the Arabian Sea which adjoins the Indian Ocean. With a total area of 3701 sq km, it is one of the smallest state of the Indian union- a narrow strip of earth, 105 sq km long and 65 sq km wide of panoramic beauty still palpable despite urban sprawl and industrial growth.
The Mugals called Surat their ‘blessed port’ when they were not calling it ‘the door to the house of Goa. For the localities the house of Goa is in the mud of their homeland, and in its waters. And from these flow music. Indeed, its land does not have an existence independent of its waters. Its ripples and waves conceal as much as reveal the layers of historic enriched encounters by encounters with the great religions of the world. However, bold classification on the basis of religion does not do justice to the complex and multi-layered identity seen here: layers of caste, education, language, history, yearnings, dreams and aspirations. The local culture is truly witnessed in its villages, its air and the soil, its rivers, forests, birds, trees and stones which embody the spirit of the place. It is personified in the deities, in the prayer rooms and altars in homes, sacred groves and shrines, the tulsi in the garden and the roadside cross, in churches and temples. These have sustained and perpetuated this land through a series of empires, the most traumatic and searing being the early and final stages of the Portuguese rule.
The state features among one of the fast growing states in the country. The GDP per capita is nearly Rs. 58,667 which in comparison is about two and halftimes more that the rest of the country. The world is a visitor here, many for a vacation and plenty for destination weddings, but behind the facade is an economy built with hardworking residents that rely on the visiting tourist for the growth of their economy.
Towards the western coast the state is bordered by the Arabian Sea and towards the north it neighbors Maharastra and Karnataka towards the south. This tiny state on the map can be found at a latitude of 28 degrees 38’N and at a longitude of 72 degrees 12’E. The state’s population according to the 2001 census is around 1.3444 million. Konkani is the official language spoken here, however the use of English and Marathi is wide. Majority of the population consists of Hindus which forms nearly 65% of the population followed by Christians at 27% along with Muslims at 5%. The rest includes a blend of small tribes and communities. Locals build the mosaic of a very diverse state, also India’s smallest. Coming from a range of ethnic groups, they live for the most part in surprising peace and impressive tolerance. This is one of India’s most tension-free social environment. In a not-so-fast changing region, local lives have long been woven around traditional occupations that include agriculture, fishing, pottery and traditional bakeries.
Tourism is undoubtedly a strong component of the state’s economy that is known to contribute as high as 30% of the GDP here. On an average around 25,00,000 tourists visit this part of the world each year for it beautiful beaches, amazing weather and to explore its historical churches and temples. In addition to this annually there are over 20 lakh domestic tourists that flock to its shores and the remainder 5 lakhs comprises of a variety of nationalities that include Russia, Germany, United Kingdom, Portugal, Israel and Switzerland. In order to cater to the ever increasing number of tourists visiting each year there are over 30,000 vacation rooms available across 83 resorts and counting resorts which fall in several starred categories accounted for in 2009. These starred resorts witness an occupancy rate of at least 85% during the months of November to April and during the months of May to October it declines to just 40%. The Government of Goa is highly active in ensuring tourists are safe here. There are Public Private Partnerships established to improve the experience of vacationers, tourist areas are also provided with better road infrastructure and better connectivity, qualified and trained tourist police and strict commercial laws for business establishments.
Situated on India’s western sea face, has its coast as its most famous face. For centuries, this tiny little region has been South Asia’s window to the outside world. Its coast stretches for 120 kms nearly two-thirds of it being it beaches. Its coastline boasts of an excellent port and welcoming river inlets. It bought in Arab traders since the eleventh century, if not earlier, going by records on stone and copper plates. Then came the European merchants hungry from spices and profits and Christianity which left a strong impact on the region. This was followed by the hippy quest for the spiritual search in the 1960’s. More recently the state has also become an attractive destination for those seeking to have a destination wedding away from home.
The beauty of the state sails in tandem with sandy beaches. Tourism came to here in its waves. The Northern belt around Calangute was where the hippies first descended a generation ago is even today a highly sort after vacation spot. From there, they shifted further north to Anjuna, to Arambol in Pernem and nearby. Tourism picked up in Salcette in the early eighties. In Pernem and Canacona lying in the north and south extremes tourism picked up in the early nineties. Today beaches such as Baga and Calangute are a hub of charter tourism that has excellent night life, beach shacks, exotic food, water-sports and entertainment. Slow paced and exotic food, that is the mix offered by the newer and smaller beaches making it to the local tourism scenario. An example of this is at Palollem Beach at the southern tip where tourists can explore rustic coconut-huts, built as their name suggests, from its many ubiquitous coconut trees.
The state is not only about beaches. Its heart resides in its nearly 350 year old villages, often ready to surprise you at the end of many a hidden road. The rural areas wear a multi-hued diversity. It is made up of a sharp mix of affluent expat villages, dusty mining ones, beach villages and fishing villages. In contrast to other villages in the country the village life here isn’t too remote and many still that still retain their own rustic character and charm. Outside influences have brought in new trends in areas such as architecture along with a rich local bio-diversity. The Portuguese influence, writ large in some aspects that still enchants visitors.
Nurtured everywhere, the coconut tree is widely used and has numerous applications. It’s kernel foes into curries and sweets. Vinegar made from it is used in plenty in the local cuisine. Another by-product is the coconut Feni. Popular sweet from the coconut trees includes the use of jaggery as well.
Even those who have not yet visited this picturesque state on India’s western coast, Goa’s very name evokes sunshine reflected off the Arabian Sea as it tumbles to rest on over 100 kms of fine sandy beaches; cheerful, unperturbed villages silent through the afternoon siesta; and the sound of church bells that have tolled away the time over four centuries.
From the ancient times, this tiny state has caught the imagination of many and the sight is captivating: villages scattered along the banks of the river, with islets floating as it were on the surface of the water, with vegetation luxuriantly growing around and the Westerns Ghats fading from the view in the distance- these form a picture of the most diversified and pleasing character. This enchantment has even survived into the 21st century. The cragged promontory of the northern border of the state with Maharastra, marked by a Portuguese fort and the meandering Tiracol river flowing into the Arabian sea; long wide beaches; land that slopes upwards into paddy fields embedded in streams and lakes.
And yet there is so much more to this beautiful land than meets the eye. The origin of it very name is subject to speculation, some of it ‘more ingenious than correct’ such as the theory that Goa derives from the Buddha who some believed that lived here. In terms of the terrain, too, it may surprise many visitors who expect only sand and sea. Parts of the state forms a hilly country, its distinguishing feature being the Western Ghats which rise to heights of over 1,150 meters that form the eastern border to Karnataka. They are also the source of many rivers, criss-crossing their way to the Arabian Sea and dividing the land into ‘islands’ in their wake. The two of the longest rivers flowing into the state are the Mandovi and the Zuari, flow about 63 kms each and firm the two anchorages of the harbour, at Aguada and Mormugao. In its historical and cultural life they have played as important a role as the sea – then, as now, teeming with ships and cargo; a flurry of activity forever on their banks.
The Mauryan emperor, Ashoka, spread Buddhism to the furthers corners of his domain and beyond. Goa was no exception. Dharmarakshita was the monk sent by Ashoka to the Konkan region; and some scholars have even argued that a disciple of Buddha himself Punna, meditated here. The earliest archaeological find, however, is dated to the 2nd century BC. The sculpture of Buddha in the dhyana-mudra posture was discovered in 1930 by Fr. Henry Heras, in Colvale village of Bardez taluka. Two other sculptures, in bronze and stone, were discovered in Panaji and Rivina village of Sanguem taluka; dated to the 4th and 7th centuries. It is this great bustling pace that has characterized the state through the centuries. Locals are now known for their laid-back ease, has experienced at first hand some grand historical epochs; lived at the very apex of affluence and luxury, and survived tragic nadirs of adornment and decline, through a narrative that encompasses sweeping changes of pace and trajectory, yet maintain continuous, tenuous links with ages past.
Fast track forward to 17th September 1510, where Afonso de Albuquerque sailed his troops into Goa’s harbour and assumed Governorship of the territory. This history of Portuguese rule over the state contrasts sharply with the comparatively sedate and mercantile colonialism that characterized the British rule, at the time over 200 years distant. When the liberation arrived , on 18 December 1961, it took less than 48 hours and 50 casualties. Goa returned to India with as little violence as it has first passed to Albuquerque, and regained it place in the world as a beautiful, seductive land to which travellers flock from all parts, drawn by its splendid coast, delicious cuisine – and the gloriously tragic, cathartic history that has formed its character.
Fun, Sand And Surf
This rich historical influence is charm that draws many to visit the land, however it the beaches that are definitely its mainstay. Today these beaches are extremely popular for holiday and vacations. Since birth in the legend of Parashurma, the 105 km long coastline has exerted an almost magical spell over the imaginations of all those who have tied the knot along its fine and white sand or have bathed in its warm blue waters. The Arabian Sea gently laps on the 40 odd beaches that form along the shore all of which are ideal for having a beach wedding. Though each beach has a distinct character of its own, the popular distinction between the beaches of north of Panaji and those south of Margao remains valid; the beaches of the Northern coast are, on the while more populated, both with tourists and restaurants, nightclubs, hotels and other facilities; while the softer, whiter sands of Southern coast have retained such of their secluded charm , despite growing popularity among tourists in the past few years. Keep this mind, the southern coast makes a semi-private if nor not private setting for a beach ceremony and is definitely recommended over the northern coast. Though some visitors may be fortunate enough to exactly find the one beach for their entire stay, other might like to hire a taxi or one or the many ubiquitous scooters, and drive around to explore the coast.
In the north region, the beaches of Bardez begin at Sinquerim, just after fort Aguada, and ending below the Charpora fort at Vagator, are mainly responsible for the reputation that Northern coastal belt enjoys. Among the beaches in the north of the state these beaches are ideal for a beach wedding as compared to others along the coast. It is here that those who seek will find stretched of wide coasts with considerably low tourists visiting. It is also here that most first time visitors to the state arrive; accommodation and transport are easily available, a range of cuisine is on offer alongside a number facilities with plenty of hotels and shacks around the area- the days simply melt into the soft breeze. Just north of Aguada fort, 13 kms from Panaji , Sinquirim beach is known for its watersports, which include water-skiing, para-sailing and scuba diving. A fort here dated to the 17th century, is now used as a prison. It is possible to walk further north, all the way from Sinquerim to Baga via Candolim which also offers many such sport facilities.
One of the longest beaches here, also known as the Queen of Beaches, Calangute is a 15 kms drive from Panaji and measures a full 7 kms, after which is merges with Baga. Together, these two stretches of sand form the tourist hub- sprawling stretch of densely packed hotels that offer numerous facilities to attract destination wedding tourism. Lost in the colourful mass of shops and eating joint are churches, temples, and solitary crosses – discreet reminded of its deeply valued culture and history.
Almost legendary among aficionados, Anjuna and Vagator are two beaches mosr closely associated with the party and rave scene. Located 18-22 kms from Panaji, these beautifully shaped beaches were virtually ‘discovered’ by the hippies, and have witnessed innumerable all-night, open air parties over the decades. Anjuna is characterized by small cliffs of black rock overlooking fine sand and shaded by tall , shapely palm trees while Vagator resembles a crescent as it meets the Chapora estuary. In terms of planning a wedding here Vagator is more isolated and has the added attraction of the Chapora Fort nearby. Anjuna, meanwhile, draws great crowds especially on Wednesdays, when the week Anjuna market is open. Instituted as a second-hand bazaar by departing tourists, the market is now run by Indian and Tibetian merchants and offers good bargain on handicrafts.
Morjim, Ashwen, Mandrem, Arambol and Querim
Morjim, Ashwen, Mandrem, Arambol and Querim are beaches found in the Pernem Taluka, belie the general impression about the Northern coastle belt. ‘Delightly primitive’ and untouched they lie across the Charpora river. The accommodation available here is less sophisticated than in Bardez and are priced a whole lot lower. For those looking for planning a destination wedding here on the budget you are very likely to find a venue of your liking and price point.
South Coastal Region
Though South of Goa is usually heralded for its isolated beaches – stretches of white sand and deep sea uninterrupted by either shops or shacks and music made only by the froth waves falling on the shore and sea breeze rushing though the forest of palm tress – in fact, the southern beaches do have their fair share of holiday resorts and make an excellent location for a getting married. This coast offers a pleasant mix of seclusion and conviviality which is the main reason of being a popular location for couples to tie the knot here.
Bogmallo & Majorda
Bogmalo is some distance north of Margao, but only 4 kms south of Dabolim airport, is a somewhat exclusive beach with a few budget hotels ideal for a intimate wedding ceremony with just a few guests. The closest beach to Bogmalo is Majorda which is known as much for its bakers as its beach, Majorda is the first of the ‘real’ South Goa beaches. It is here that the early Jesuit missionaries introduced the idea of leavening bread with the sap from the coconut tree. It’s local bakeries are considered the best in the state. These are numerous beach resorts here as well that are competitively priced and make beautiful venues for a beach wedding celebration.
Colva is the next beach along this coast with a lush 20 kms in length, it is one of the most popular and developed beaches seen in the Southern coastline. As beloved by many for a beach wedding the beach matches the bustling stretches of Baga and Calangute with a number of hotels, restaurants, nightclubs and wedding venues.
Benaulim,Varca, Fatarde, Cavelossim, Mobor and Betul
Barely 2 kms south of Colva is Benaulim beach that is far more secluded than the other neighboring beaches and has a very ancient origins. Other popular beaches along this coast include Varca, Fatarde, Cavelossim, Mobor and Betul. This southernmost clutch of beaches in Salcette taluka are both quiet and well equipped with hotels that cater to destination wedding guests. Of these, the most secluded is Betul.
Agonda, Palolem and Polem
Agonda, Palolem and Polem are some of the most unheard of locations that make top notch venues for a small group of destination wedding guests. Agonda is a long, silent, palm fringed beach in Canacona taluka is never thronged by visitors, despite it great charm. Palolem is a magnificent beach hidden across a bay, hidden away between two headlands. Finally Polem is the last beach at the southern tip of the Canacona taluka which is also now a naval base and popularly known as the ‘island of love.’