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Goa: An enclave of Europe on the Indian sub-continent

Mario Masciullo, special to eTN  Mar 08, 2016

The state of Goa is hard to spot on the Indian map. It is a tiny dot quite different from the rest of the large country. The street names of the old city recall its Portuguese historical personalities, and the architecture of the area is a constant reminder of Portugal. Shop signs and names of a good number of the people are non-Indian. "They are handed down through generations" say the elderly descendants, by the Portuguese settlers who have ruled Goa for 461 years.

Maritime Goa has been the center of economic exchanges for Mesopotamians, Etruscans, Greeks, Arabs, and others. But what makes Goa different from the rest of the country is the European footprint, the fervent Catholicism (Goa was the center of the entire Archdiocese of Asia) due to the missionaries that flocked there. And due to the many churches and cathedrals, it was named "Rome of the East." These historic monuments are now included in the UNESCO Heritage list and are complemented by those of other faiths.

Goa (pronounced Goo, means "cow") is the smallest state in India in terms of territory. It is located on the southwest coast of India in the region known as the Konkan, and is bordered by Maharashtra (Mumbai capital) to the north and Karnataka in the southeast. The state capital is Panaji, and Vasco da Gama (Vasco) is the most populated city. Margao, the economic capital and the ancient city preserves important traces of Portuguese colonization.

Reinstated in the territory of the Indian government since 1961, Goa lives today as an Indo-Latin culture with its sophisticated architecture, and the content and style of life of its inhabitants is higher than that of the rest of India. The modernization of the main cities in the environments is noticed in the upscale dining, entertainment, and recreational sites. The description of the facilities of all kind, for every occasion and for every time of day, evening and night: pubs, ethnic restaurants, taverns, bistros where the icon music Fado is played, would require a few pages to describe and not just a short vacation to visit them all.

Lifestyle for visitors

In a biodiversity reserve, it is fun to have breakfast surrounded by birds, butterflies, or snakes, as is The Chef's Market and a guided tour to the Mapusa Market where among spices and other products one can enjoy delicious local cuisine. A dinner on the sea at Souza Lobo, Calangute Beach, the oldest Portuguese restaurant, are suggested for relaxing moments.

Also available is Italian cuisine: for lunch at "Squid restaurant" at Dando Beach-Condolim, conducted by an Italian grown-up daughter of Indian immigrants in Italy who returned to Goa and started the activity with her husband, a former restaurant manager at the Taj in Mumbai. There is also "Basilico Restaurant," "Viva la Fenice," and “Ciao Bella." An ice cream shop, and a lady that produces gorgeous shawls – Akal - complete the small Italian community that meet occasionally at a local Italian club.

Celebrities and tourists enjoy the Cantarè Village life, and the Thalassa Greek Village, The Feni and Fado Casa Xetio at Panjim, the Portuguese restaurant at Cidade de Goa Hotel, and the elegant Casa Portuguesa - a 300-year-old colonial house - to enjoy Fado music, just one of among the many upscale places. Also not to miss is the tasting of the famous local liquor "Feni" obtained from the Cashew nut fruit originating from Brazil.

The hotel industry

The international 5-star luxury and deluxe hospitality includes colonial and modern villas in the cities and coastal areas, available fully equipped with cooks, waiters, housekeepers, and limousine service. They are patronized by Bollywood stars, wealthy entrepreneurs, and writers. And for the less needy, the boutique hotels, the home stay, or the chain of hotels operated by GOA Tourism Development Corporation offers splendid colonial-style facilities at controlled prices, located in the cities and along maritime centers, as well as 120 kilometers of public and private beaches that have in common white sand, clean sea, constant presence of law enforcement (24 hours around the clock), and lifeguards for safety.

Goa is the only Indian state where gambling is legal. The casinos are offshore on ships specially organized, and they attract crowds of gambling lovers coming from neighboring states, locals, and tourists. This tiny state of Incredible India ranks the 50th position among the destinations in Asia.

Up to few years ago, it was a kingdom of the hippies who flocked in from all sides. Goa today attracts mainly European tourism which accounts for 15% of the tourist turnover of India. Tourists can count on popular beaches, diving areas, nature reserves with turtles, with circuits for visiting cathedrals, temples, churches, spice plantations, mini cruises, yoga centers, and all of the spa treatment chains. Plus, there are countless leisure activities, from water sports to trekking, gyms, museums, day and night street markets, and the opportunity to participate in many folkloristic festivals or religious events.

Among these, the most recent was that of the celebration of 463rd anniversary of the death of Saint Francis Xavier, celebrated in December 2015 to coincide with the Holy Year of Mercy. The saint is venerated by the nickname “Goencho Saib.” His remains are kept in the Cathedral of Bom Jesus and shown to the faithful every ten years.

The friendliness of the people of Goa is expressed with welcoming smiles and the greeting "Deu Bore Coru" - God be with you.

Goa: An enclave of Europe on the Indian sub-continent

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