A Travellerspoint blog

GOA (India)

There was something truly intoxicating about Goa with its swaying palm trees and open fields

rain 24 °C


There comes a time when even old souls like me that are so structured in their existence that they get a jolt like I did with my trip to Goa. There was something truly intoxicating about the red earth of Goa, the theme of many a poem, folk song and pious incantation. Red mud paths dissect the vibrant green of paddy fields, the dense foliage of coconut, jackfruit, cashew, areca nut and bamboo plantations with its swaying palm trees that seem to mesh into huge rice fields. It simply took my breath away and infused a silent calmness to my aura.

Its exploration touched a deep passion in my soul – it peaked a new curiosity, stirred an intellect that strengthened my spirit tickling my senses and evoking at time the most incredible emotions.

Goa is a former Portuguese colony where my parents were born and where the rest of the family still resides. My last trip to Goa was 38 years ago when it was still a Portuguese colony with dirt roads,no electricity and out-houses existed in most of the villages. You are probably wondering why I waited so long and why I decided to visit this year. I wish I had a good Oprah reason but I don't. I think when I moved to the USA I was so busy trying to establish myself that the years just flew.

Close family friends made trips back and described the wonderful times but for some reason it did not peak my interest. After being slowly pushed into semi-early retirement and having more time on my hands we decided to celebrate a family birthday to rekindle family ties with all the wonderful relatives. Before I proceed a short history about Goa.

The first semblance of a Goan identity began to emerge with the Kadamba dynasty (with Goa as its capital) which ruled that region starting around the 10th century. "Goa", then primarily concentrated around the head of the Zuari river prospered as a result of a thriving sea trade with the Arabs.
In 1347, Goa fell under the Muslim kingdom of Bahamani. This resulted in the destruction of many Hindu temples and was a foretaste of things to come under Portuguese rule. By 1378, Goa was retaken by a another neighboring Hindu kingdom of Vijaynagar, only to lose it yet again to the Bahamanis in 1470. The Bahmanis were superseded by the kingdom of Bijapur (also Muslim), which under their leader Adil Shah established a thriving new port further north at the head of the Mandovi river.


Soon after that the Portuguese set sail and discovered Goa in 1510. Alfonso De Albuquerque conquered Goa in 1510. He ordered his men to marry the widows of the Muslim defenders. The basic idea was to convert the locals into Christians. Somehow the plan backfired and the Portuguese took to the Indian ways of living. The Portuguese built extensive churches with exquisite architecture and one can see the Portugal influence in the buildings of Goa even now.

Goa was influenced by the War of Independence and the French revolution and started revolts of its own to free itself from the Portuguese, though it was not very successful. The 19th century saw the birth of Goan telegraph and postal services, the railway network and some amount of journalism. It also saw the exploitation by the British. The 20th century saw India's independence from the British rule in August 1947. Shortly after this, Goa was able to free itself from the Portugal rule in December 1961. It was declared a union territory then, and after a constitutional amendment, Goa was declared an independent state in 1987.

Today Goa boasts of a rich historical legacy and one can see an amalgamation of the past in the present, beautifully merging into one another. Even today Christianity is one of the major religions being followed here in Goa apart from Hinduism.

Goa is legendary in India. Goa is a former Portuguese colony, also known as The Ganga Coast has seen westerners flocking to it since the 1960's. Yes, this is the place where you went to do the things that you'd be arrested for back in your own country. Every self-respecting hippie headed for Goa to enjoy the great weather where the drug flow is unchecked and the cost of living makes it very affordable.

Sun Village Resort Arpora, North Goa

We started our holidays by spending a number of days in one of the popular holiday resorts, that is near Baga beach. The coastline has hotel-high rises all over and do a good job from shielding the tourists who want to stay quarantine so they can soak the sun and sip cocktails without ever having to venture outside and see the reality that was once Goa. The sanitized tourist areas are typical of tour operators who with some chain hotels are doing a roaring business while taking advantage of the cheap labor force available . The tour packages from anywhere in Europe now flock to Goa during the months of October to April, just before the monsoon rains arrive. The packages are very reasonable and most tour companies fly directly to Goa.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that despite its chaotic building frenzy Goa has managed to retain most of its charm. The coconut trees on the beaches were great. In fact the whole area with its Portuguese heritage and beautiful green vegetation is what attracts the expatriates and the tourist.

Alba - Zita - Lavinia on the balcony at the Cotula Saligao rental flat

After a short stay at the Sun Village Resort we decided to rent a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom flat in Cotula Saligao near where my mother was born. This was a cozy location with access to the beaches in Calangute and to Mapuca (which I dearly refer to as the poor persons bazar) and on the other side to Betim from where we took a ferry ride to Panjim, a more upscale shopping area with some excellent local restaurants that did the pallet good at reasonable prices.

The ferry that carries you across to Panjim with the view of a fishing boat

Mapuca is a busy market very popular with the locals and after you get used to the crowds and smells you can buy fresh fish, fresh meat and vegetables grown in the near by fields. If you are expecting the right refrigeration and items neatly stacked, forget it !

It is a hive to which people from distant corners throng for their provisions — poultry, the best produce from field and grove, fresh fish and masses of the preserved stuff, every conceivable item a household may need. There is gossip, friendship, coquetry and wily bargain amid the whiff of condiments and pickles. The palm trees visible make the scene distinctively Goan.

Its a market where the prices vary with the warm winds which brings distinct smells over the crowds. Mapuca is also the connecting site for other areas of Goa so there are bus-stops with direct and non direct routes.

With the colorful umbrellas that hide the harsh rays of the sun, the pungent odor of the spices mixed with the smell of fish and meat all this was a bit much for my sister

From our flat we could walk across the fields to the local bus stop and pass grazing pigs and cows. We used public transport and along the way met with some interesting characters.

Passing pigs & other farm animals on the way to the bus-stop. Check out the stacked cow patties (a.k.a.cow dung) ! (Top right of picture) . Some families use cow patties to build living shacks

This was one of my favorite pictures of a gypsy woman on the bus to Mapuca to sell bananas, I remember her well as I later saw her squatting on the ground with her mobile phone, probably checking the going price of bananas !

The bus through the narrow streets from Saligao to Mapuca while my sister wonders how she landed on this bus !

The local pharmacy in Saligao - Cotula where our cousin Saviona works

The Carvalho House in Saligao

The family house is now closed but we were fortunate when some caretakers allowed us to view the grand old house.

The front of the Saligao House with its rich Veranda and Mosaic tiled floors

I have very few memories of this house where my grandparents raised seven children. As I saw it after a very long time a silent wind blew past the coconut trees as a slow chill entered my body. The house seemed to cry out to have someone save it from the clutches of our not so honorable relatives and retain it in the family so we can always celebrate its great heritage. As of now the house is closed as feuding family members stake their claim.


The inside of my Grandfathers Saligao house with the beautiful scattered furniture, the melody of the violin softly moves the ghosts of the past while they anxiously wait for someone to revive the energy of its past glory.

Wall of pictures at the house top (L-R)Grandfather, Grandmother,
bottom (L-R) Aunt Marizina and Uncle Anthon

A quick explanation of the never ending simmering family feuds in most households have existed as far as I can remember. Tearing families apart and thrusting a huge burden on the society that is very religious but rarely remembers or practices the basic principles of Catholicism. There are many Churches and chapels scattered over the beautiful landscape. Yet when you get around the country side it is hard to imagine these feuds have existed for decades creating huge rifts between parents, siblings and others. There is hardly a family in Goa who has not been affected by this and it does not discriminate by family status. I talked to people at the Church, Mapuca bazaar and the person who drove the local taxi, and everyone at some time has had some kind of ongoing feud regarding property.

My Grandparents bedroom with the intricate wooden furniture

The Borges House in Uccassium

We were also fortunate to visit the house where my father and his ancestors lived. The Union Bank of India occupies one half of it and that is a story for another time.

The Borges Family House proudly being shared by the Union Bank Of India. We all want an ATM machine in the house!

My father in his ultimate wisdom willed our house to a family that cared for his sisters. When my Aunts passed on the title of the house was to be transferred to them. At the time the idea did not appeal to me but meeting this family and honoring my father's wishes I felt entirely at peace that these people were entitled to the house and they would carry on the tradition of taking good care of it.

The Chapel across the street from the House where our family probably held many important religious events

We spent an afternoon with the family and had a great luncheon with some of the typical Goan cuisine that I have not sampled in ages. Meeting the family was a delightful experience and sharing the afternoon was indeed another highlight of my trip.

The happy family that now owns the House

I knew we had many cousins but the reality hit me when we had to get around to meeting them. We spent a lot of our precious time in places we could have easily skipped. My mother's sister lives in Margao which is about a two hour taxi drive from Saligao. I had heard that Margao was quite a happening city and was one of the few bastions left of Portuguese culture. I was not really impressed with Margao. Besides having some grand buildings and churches it was a typical city with flows of traffic trying to weave through the narrow streets and if you like city confusion then Margao is the place for you.

Aunt Sara's Miranda House in the central part of Margao

Margao, the capital and the chief town of South Goa, has a decidedly Portuguese flavour and an old world charm. Margao is also the commercial center of South Goa. The Math of the Vaishnavas was first established here. In 1564, the early period of Christianisation, the Jesuits built a church, which was destroyed by the Mohammedans in 1571.

The dancers follow the Hindu float on its way to the festival

Finally in 1675 the present Church of the Holy Spirit was raised. One of the most magnificent of Goa's churches, with a unique row of houses on either side of lavish architectural setup and mango tree lined rectangular square in front.

When we were visiting my Aunt we happened to be there for an annual Hindu festival that started at the Church in front of my aunt's house.

The festival organizers getting the people together in their colorful garb

A very colorful event with floats and each area of Goa has its individual float to display the culture and history of the area.

The swastika emblem was on many of the floats, but it does not seem to be connected with the sign that we all detest.

So along the way trying to see as much of Goa we managed to visit with some neighbors and relatives who were very gracious and took us to wonderful restaurants or invited us to their beautiful homes and prepared some great Goa cuisine, some old typical Portuguese dishes that I have not tasted in ages.

Cousins Maria & Franchette took us to this posh restaurant in Candolim near the beach, a favorite with the tourist

With Cousin Maria

The three cousins Lydia - Lavinia - Maria

Visiting my Aunty Zita and all the rest of the Nuns in Candolim at St Anthony's Home

With cousin Veronica, her husband, mother and cousin Vera at their house in Aldona

Old Goa

Old Goa, 9km east of Panjim on the bank of the Mandovi River, was once the capital of the Indian Portuguese territories. There is not much left of the old city. What remains are the interesting 16th and 17th century churches and cathedrals. Old Goa was granted World Heritage Status by UNESCO. Many Indian Christian pilgrims come here to see the tomb of St Francis Xavier, the famous 16th century missionary whose body was laid to rest in the Basilica of Bom Jesus.

Old Goa was founded as a port town by the Vijayanagar and Bahamani kings. It later became the second capital of Adil Shah, the ruler of Bijapur. At that time, it was surrounded by a wall and a moat and contained the Shah’s palace, mosques, and some temples. Nothing remains of these structures except part of the gateway to the palace.

In the 16th century, Old Goa became the capital of the Portuguese territories in India and grew to a population of about 200,000 despite the epidemic in 1543. Its streets were compared to Lisbon, and it was as large as London or Paris at one time.

Basilica of Bom Jesus where the body of St Francis lies in a tomb

St Francis Xavier

If you look you can see the outline of St Francis Xavier's body lying in the casket

The “Apostle of India,” Francis Xavier, was born of noble parents in the old kingdom of Navarre, now part of Spain, on April 7, 1506. He went to Paris in 1525 and received a master’s degree in theology and philosophy from the University of Paris. He then studied for the priesthood until 1535 and was ordained two years later in Venice on June 2, 1537. He was enlisted along with five other priests into the new “Society of Jesus,” founded by Ignatius Loyola. This society later became known as the Jesuits.

Francis Xavier was sent to India by Ignatius Loyola at the request of the Portuguese king, Dom Joao III (1521–57), after he heard of the loose behavior of the Portuguese in Goa. After a year’s journey, he arrived in India in May 1542 and took charge of the Goan diocese, which consisted of all the areas controlled by the Portuguese east of the Cape of Good Hope. He is said to have converted over 30,000 people to Christianity ( probably some of my ancestors), established many churches, raised the dead, and healed the sick by touching them with his beads. He traveled to Sri Lanka, China, Japan, and Malacca (Malaysia).

While traveling by boat to China, he got dysentery and died on the island of San Chuan (Sancian), off the Chinese coast on December 3, 1552 at the age of 46, ten years after his arrival in Goa. His body was buried in Sancian and later taken to Malacca. Even though the grave was filled with lime, the body was in perfect condition. Later, his body was again removed and taken to Goa on March 16, 1554. St Francis was canonized in 1622 by Pope Gregory XV. The body was then placed in the chapel in the Basilica of Bom Jesus.

Parts of Saint Francis’ body have been removed as relics. In 1554, a Portuguese woman is said to have bitten off one of his toes. In 1615, part of his right arm was taken to Rome and placed in the Church of Gesu. Part of the right hand was taken to Japan in 1916. Parts of the intestines were removed and distributed to various places in Southeast Asia. In 1890, one of his toes fell off. It is kept in a crystal case in the Sacristy of the Basilica of Bom Jesus.

At first, St Francis’ body was displayed to the public every year on the anniversary of his death. Then for thirty-six years, from 1707 to 1743, his body was not displayed. From 1744 to 1751, the body was only displayed to the governor. The first public display of Saint Francis’ body began again in 1752. Since then, more or less every ten years, Saint Francis’ body has been displayed to the public. During the 1994 Ceremony, over two million people attended. The body of St Francis Xavier was taken in a three-hour ceremony from the Basilica of Bom Jesus to the Sé Cathedral.

Dudhsagar Waterfall

Dudhsagar (sea of milk)Waterfalls Trivia : Fifth highest waterfall in India and ranks 227th in the world

Being the most well-known waterfall in Goa, Dudhsagar Falls is a prominent stop on tours conducted by the Goa Tourism Development

Set amidst a breathtaking landscape resplendent with the verdant greenery of the Western Ghats mountains, the Dudhsagar waterfall is a prime tourism destination in Goa. Literally meaning 'sea of milk' in native Konkani, the Dudhsagar Falls appears to be milky streaks cascading down the mountainside. At a height of 310m, Dudhsagar is the fifth highest waterfall in India and ranks 227th in the world.

The Dudhsagar waterfalls are created as the headwaters of the Mandovi River branches into three cascades to tumble down a near-vertical cliff. The falls has acquired the sobriquet "sea of milk" courtesy the clouds of milky foam which rises up at the bottom of the falls. Some credit the name to a local legend about a princess who covered her modesty by pouring a stream of milk in front of her.

The picturesque beauty all around has made the Dudhsagar falls a popular picnic site. The waterfall has created a couple of pools nearby that lure the tourists for a bath and frolicking in the waters. The Dudhsagar Waterfall is also known as a trekking destination and one can reach the falls by traversing serpentine mountain trails.

Temple Tambdi Surla of the Kadamba Period

Mahadev temple of Tambdi Surla on the banks of the River Ragada

When my sister and I played tourist we used the Goa Tourism tours and visited this exquisite soap-stone beauty of the Mahadev temple at Tambdi Surla which we heard comes alive in the monsoons. It is a visual treat to visit this small yet elegant masterpiece of the Kadamb workmanship.

The Tambdi Surla Mahadev temple belongs to the old school of Kadamb temple architecture. It could not be touched by the Portuguese as it was in the Sanguem Taluka, which came under the Portuguese as late as 1764. By then the Portuguese religious zeal for proselytization had died down and the temple was saved. The Mahadev temple of Tambdi Surla on the banks of the River Ragada a tributary of the Mahadei was built during the Kadamb Golden Age of Goa. King Shivchitt and Queen Kamaladevi ruled Goa between 1147 to 1180 AD.

The entrance of the Ajuna Market reminded me of the Haight Ashbury in the sixties

The place looked like psychedelic hell broke loose and the place was littered with young and seasoned die-hard veteran hippies who still roam about on their motorbikes, some looking like they're going to take part in a Grateful Dead video.

Some frolicked around nearly naked, to share free love and other recreational drugs giving very little care to the local Indians, some of whom I'm sure were cashing in on the spirit of things. You could easily buy every type of grass known to man, exhibit the most bizarre behavior and buy over priced tourist items while the outdoor concert had a French Singer drolling a French Ballad.

Fortunately I was told that things have calmed down a lot now and the police are very strict about drugs and nudity is banned. Anjuna, the Wednesday flea market was really touristy. It seems to be the place tourists from all around Goa congregate - it was far more interesting watching the tourists. The locals only ever wear their freaky clothes in order to make a sale in the market. Western fashion in third world countries really is a different ball game. Strangely enough, the locals push hard to sell it but wouldn't be caught dead wearing it.

On the subject of drugs, it really is a shame to see how many tourists do nothing else but get stoned in India. I travel to meet people, see places and experience new cultures. Many people we encountered travel to get wasted and that's about it. They are not at all interested in the local people and the environment and give foreign tourist a bad name.

There is about Goa a feeling of freedom...the freedom to rediscover the lost you in the timelessness of waiting and watching the setting sun, sipping sugar cane juice , while waiting for a spicy Goan masala dish. There is the freedom of walking bare feet on the sands, of wearing shorts for dinner, of leaving the world and its cares behind.

Goa exudes a tolerance and acceptance that comes with the many languages and different cultures that rub shoulders as they pass through its portals. There is a sense of history and antiquity in the old churches and forts and the delightful Portuguese architecture. The unhurried pace of living, the tradition of afternoon siestas, the friendly simplicity of the Goan culture is able to embrace all while retaining its own unique identity.

Finally, Goa is a flood of memories, of associations and of images. Long after I have returned back to San Jose, I can taste the salt on my lips, feel the sand between my toes, smell the Goan spices, hear the waves as they crash, see the footprints left behind and know the joy of living.

May be I will visit Goa…...and get in touch with myself again.

Posted by rolanb 07:46 Archived in India Tagged family_travel Comments (1)

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