Goa is famous for its beautiful beaches and westerners have been flocking to them since early 60’s but the burgeoning tourism industry has replaced the palm skyline of Goan beaches with concrete structures of all sorts. As the tourist inflow has constantly increased manifold over the years, converting almost every renowned beach into a place like fish market. Our policy makers of tourism development seem to have missed the point of preserving the natural scene of the beaches while allowing for the growth of nearly endless queues of restaurants and hotels along the seashore. The disharmony between structures and nature ends up as an eyesore for one who wants to be one with nature.
Goa has around 26 prominent beaches that offer a variety of fun and frolick and possibly a great holiday. Deciding which beach to head for depends on how much action you are after. Now Arambol in the north and Palolem in the south are the places to head for a peaceful sojourn. Colva, Banaulim, Verca, Cavelossim, Velsao, Bogmolo beaches in the south remain crowded and lively. Candolim, Calangute, Baga, Anjuna and lately Vagator beaches in the north are most sought after. For water sports, Dona Paula beach is a must for everyone. A big fleet of water scooters, speedboats and small motor boats are always ready here for your entertainment and fun. The viewing point close to the statues of Dona, Paula- the immortal lovers, is favourite for taking scenic pictures.
The unforgettable majestic sight of silvery Dhudsagar waterfall that we saw as the train entered Goa from the west, is now a sweet memory to be cherished only. The inauguration of new Konkan railway has created the new entry points in the north and south far away from scenic waterfalls. One has to specially go there now to enjoy as they are located on the extreme eastern edge of Goa. Besides airway, the Konkan railway is the best means for overnight journey to get into Goa from Mumbai. As the train enters Goa at Pernam, the endless green palms swaying in the western winds greet you. Thivim (pronounced as Tivim) and Mayem are the stations to get down for those heading for the northern beaches while others had to go upto Margao for southern beaches.
Verim beach near the border with Maharashtra is the far north beach while others stretch over 30 kms to Sinquerim, the beach below the Aguada fort at the mouth of Mandovi. Fort Aguada built atop a hill by the Portuguese in 1612 to defend its prized possession- Goa, offers enchanting views of natural beauty from its moated ruins. As some Goan beaches, particularly Anjuna, became notorious in 70’s with a sizeable presence of foreign drug addicts, the Aguada jail housed most of them serving long term sentences for drug offences. I was told the jail inmates are allowed only one visit a month. The Taj group has three five star luxury hotels here. With the Taj Holiday Village operating water sports including jet skies and parasailing.
Vagator and Chapora are one of the most beautiful and interesting beaches. Situated on a hilltop at the mouth of Chapora river, an old Portuguese fort offers excellent views from its rampart. Secluded, sandy coves are found towards its northern side. Nowadays Vagator has more a scene than Anjuna. Most of the restaurants have live music and an elaborate menu to choose from a range of continental, Italian, Chinese, burgers and seafood. The vagator beach in its pristine best and absolutely virgin was favourite with me as I spent hours and hours together on the beach. Only four- five small shacks catered to the very few sea and sunbathers relaxing on golden sand. But now things have changed beyond recognition. Lot of shacks, shops, hotels and restaurants and PCOs have sprung up on the shore while the beach remains crowded as never before.
Recently, Calangute and Baga beaches are swarmed by Kashmiris trying to cash in on the booming tourism. Selling an array of Kashmiri carpets, embroideries and papier mache boxes, these vendors begin overpricing ridiculously high. One has to bargain hard by offering a price far below their suggested price. Genuine as well as reproductions of Rajasthani and Tibetan arts are also available with them in large numbers to choose from.
Anjuna is now famous for its Wednesday flea market. Apart from the blissed out 60’s style hippies, the colourful Gujarati tribal women, Kashmiri and Tibetian vendors present a wonderful blend of things to pick up. Available with hundreds of stalls are T-shirts, carvings, spices, antique jewellery, sorangs, old paperbacks and anything you can think of. Of course, to buy for a price you have to bargain hard. Though it starts in the morning but hots up only in afternoon and continues until late in the evening. Anjuna and its flea market is described as the ‘Goa experience in a concentrated form’- syrup of hippies, raver, handicrafts, hardsell and plenty of sunshine and nature at its best. Perched on an ideal spot overlooking the beach, Paraiso de Anjuna is the latest hotspot, as it remains open till early hours blaring out house music.
One of Goa’s most remote beaches is Arambol in the north but drawing plenty of people. The main beach is good place to swim. There are some chalets on the hillside. A small freshwater pool behind a bay is pleasant place to lie about and relax. Not only paragliding facilities are available here you can also do a four-day certified course of the same.
In south Goa, Colva and Benaulilm which had only a couple of cottages and palm-leaf shelters, tranquility of paradise, are now a cluster of air-conditioned resorts, close packed cottages, trinket and drink stalls. Motorized trawlers stand anchored in a line offshore replacing the traditional fish catching boats. The siring of open-air, wooden restaurants lining the beach offers standard meals including seafood.
The long Varca and Cavelossim, the pristine beaches now house numerous luxury hotels and has become Goa’s upmarket resort beach. Further down south, Palolem is perhaps Goa’s most beautiful idyllic beach. Westerners hang out for days, weeks, and even for months chilling out in the open. A shady rim of palms fringes the sweeping crescent of white sand and the whole beach is hemmed in at either end by rocky crags. Thankfully, it has very few modern guesthouses as the simple rickety beach huts made of palm thatch or bamboo and village homes provide the accommodation.
As I walk down on the Vagator beach I come across a body massage in progress oblivious of the world around. Looking around I spot some of my countrymen going waist-deep into the sea albeit with jeans and shirt on. With feelings of fear of being drowned and cautiously putting forward the foot a young couple bares the oncoming huge wave. The frightened couple pulls back hastily as the wave, some six feet high, converts itself into surf. While majority of foreigners are either playing with balls or enjoying the Arabian seabath, a strong whistle diverts my attention. As I turn around I witness the ‘Baywatch effect’ on the Goan beach. The lifeguards in grey dress are positioned at all the main beaches to warn the swimmers from potential dangers and to help them out in case of accident. ‘Thanks Baywatch’! a popular TV serial for making the safety concerns a priority here.
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