Familiar Feeling

In India, Goa offers clients a laidback blend of East and West

By: Michele Kayal

Skirts not saris, soccer not cricket, spongy buns not tortilla-like nan. All these things may make the tiny state of Goa on India’s western shore feel more familiar to many clients than the hyper-colored exoticism of the country’s other regions, and its long, tawny beaches offer a relaxing mid-journey escape.

Under Portuguese rule until 1961, Goa is an easily digestible blend of East and West, its candy-like Hindu temples mingle with grand whitewashed Catholic churches and European forts.

Discovered by American and European hippies in the 1960s, Goa is more laid back than Los Cabos, more authentic than Cancun and less expensive than either if clients play it right. More than a dozen beaches, divided roughly into north and south by the capital city Panaji, stretch 65 miles along the Arabian sea, bordered by Maharashtra state to the north and Karnataka on the east and south.

Each beach has its own personality: Anjuna, Chapora and Vagator are known for their raves and all-night parties, while Candolim and Arambol are quieter. Benaulim, in the south, is considered less touristy. But all beaches retain some of their hippie sensibility and occasionally, actual hippies.

We staked our claim on Candolim beach, a serene enclave of pinkish-brown sands and steel-blue water with an endless traffic jam of tankers on the horizon and some of the coast’s best “shacks,” restaurants in thatched beach huts that pop up each year like a city and then come down in June just before the monsoons.

A day at Candolim usually starts with breakfast (for people who have been in India a few weeks, the possibility of bacon and eggs is very enticing), and then it’s time to claim a thatched canopy. Apply sunscreen; lie down. Watch the hawkers sell ankle bracelets, sarongs and woven handbags that you’re not buying. Swim. Sleep. Repeat for eight hours. Break only for a lunch of fresh fish and beer.

I followed this plan for several days, then hopped on a moped when my sunscreen ran out. I tooled around the narrow roads of the neighborhood, climbing the steep hills past tiny, shaded churches and wash lines fluttering with the saffron habits of Hindu priests, to Fort Aguada, a fort as well as a watering station for Portuguese ships when it was built in 1612. I savored the view, which once helped Portuguese troops guard against seafaring invaders.

Days later, we set off in the other direction, exploring the coastline to the north, just a few miles short of the Maharashtra border. We swerved around cows in the road, passed men in Ghandi-esque dhoti walking the narrow ridges of rice paddies and stopped to crawl around the ramparts of Fort Vagator, yet another crumbling remnant left by the Portuguese. We drove over more hills to Morjim beach, where turtles sun themselves in the shallows from September to February, and through the fishing village of Arambol, where dozens of men in ancient-looking boats returned from work.

“You like fresh fish?” asked a shack proprietor as we waited for a ferry to take us to Terekhol, the site of another fort, this one converted into a hotel.

He was still there when we returned, waiting with a platter of freshly caught fish. We selected our dinner and waited with a Kingfisher, an Indian beer, while he disappeared to cook it. Indian music squealed out of nearby speakers and an hour later, our stomachs were full, our thirst quenched.

Just the fuel we needed for another action-packed day in Goa.


Clients can stay at one of the small guesthouses that dot the beaches or rent a room from one of the shacks, which often include meal, but the appointments are meager. A better choice for most clients will be a full-fledged hotel. Taj Hotels offers several properties in Goa.

Fort Aguada Beach Resort: Built on the ramparts of a 16th-century fortress on Sinquerim Beach, the hotel has 145 rooms, including 42 cottages and 15 villas. Doubles from $180.

Taj Holiday Village: A mixture of 140 standard hotel rooms, terracotta-roofed cottages and villas, the property is close to Ft. Aguada. Doubles from $155.
Taj Exotica: Perched over Benaulim Beach on 56 acres of gardens in Goa’s southwest corner, this property offers spacious deluxe rooms and two- or four-bedroom villas. Doubles from $270.

Commission: 10 percent www.tajhotels.com

Rentals cost about $3.50 (150 rupees) per day, plus a liter or two of fuel at $1.15 (50 rupees) per liter.