Goa: India-light, with a colorful mix of Portuguese heritage and numerous fields of growing palm trees

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Living in Pune has some advantages over living in other Indian cities. To begin with: it is less polluted, less populated and less hot. Being at a height of 600 meters, only three hours from Mumbai, the weather conditions are pleasant; winters in Pune are cool and chilly, while summers are wet and green. And spring is damn hot. However, Pune is almost a cool haven if you compare the April- and May weather with Delhi or Mumbai. Delhi-temperatures could rise to 47 degrees Celsius. Combine these temperatures with the always excising layer of smog and you will get a recipe for disaster. Mumbai is cooler, with temperatures between 36-40 degrees Celsius, but the temperature is not the main issue. The troubling element in the economic heart of India is the extreme humidity. Seconds after you have taken a shower in Mumbai, you will start sweating and it will not stop unless you walk into a lobby of a fancy 5-star hotel or book a refreshing Uber ride to another part of the city.

Living in Pune has been very exciting for me! A key factor of the city is its location. Pune is located on a hill plateau. The weather conditions are less extreme than other cities in Maharashtra, like Nashik or Aurangabad. And the central location offers a lot of opportunities for day- or weekend trips. The local airport is definitely not fancy and luxurious, but it’s a good hub for some interesting weekend destinations. Almost all major cities could be reached from Pune, with a travel time between 50 minutes (Hyderabad, Goa, Mumbai etc) till about 1,5-2 hours (Delhi, Trivandrum, Cochin).

Goa has been on my bucket list for long. I traveled to Goa in ’99 and again in ’04. And I had put going to Goa on my ‘Things I want to do while I’m in India list’. The list however is getting longer and longer and I’ve added some unusual destinations on the list, like spending a weekend in Varanasi and hiking in the Himalaya’s. Goa is a safe bet on the list (almost a guarantee that it will be cool) and we finally materialized our dreams to go back. We stayed in Goa in mid-November, weeks before it all started to explode. Arriving in Goa feels as if you are entering another country. It’s cleaner, cars are not honking during every part of their ride and the living conditions for everyone is much better than in our state Maharashtra.

Surprising and very unfortunate for me to see was the connection between the other states within the Indian subcontinent. My Indian phone was working, the lifeline which was known to everyone was still intact. However, a lot of cool and interesting Indian or global services didn’t work in Goa. Uber: no service in Goa. Ola, Uber’s competitor: didn’t work either. And what about other very useful platforms? I have tried Practo, the brilliant medical application? Sorry, no service. Luckily Zomato, the restaurant reviewing site and one my most used applications, worked in Goa. Thanks to Zomato we had lunch at Fishermen’s Wharf in Panaji and in Cavalossum. Excellent fish soup, the best place in Goa for grilled fish.

What’s the reason behind the weird policy of not allowing Uber to launch in Goa? What’s behind it? The answer is simple: Goa is special, it’s different. India gained its independence from the British in 1947. Gandhi was one of the driving forces and Nehru was the first Prime Minister. However, Goa kept on being a Portuguese colony for long. It was decolonized in late 1961, after the Indian army took over. And until now things are still different in Goa. They don’t follow Modi’s National agenda. Instead, they run this very small state as an independent country with very progressive alcohol laws (cheap alcohol), a ban on various online services and a lot of other policies that differ from the rest of the country. Is India the largest country in the world, after China? No, it’s not true! India is a subcontinent, with different states with local laws. Some states are managed as separate countries.

Let’s get back to Goa. Almost all travelers enter this state by landing at Dabolim airport, a tiny airport situated near the coastal town of Vasco de Gama. The arrival procedure is simple and the people are friendly. And it’s easy to catch a cab that will bring you to your final destination. Our first stop in Goa: Panaji, the capital. We stayed at a very cozy Airbnb situated in the old center. Panaji is a sleepy but lively town with a lot of old Portuguese heritage buildings and a magnificent white church, which is one of the eye catchers of Goa. It’s fun to spend one or two days here. We even did a very entertaining cycling tour. Two very lovely Indian people had given up their corporate jobs to offer cycling tours in Panaji and I would strongly recommend people to book a tour with them.

We later moved to the southern part of Goa. Up until 15-20 years ago, Palolem used to be a traveler’s hangout, but it reinvented itself during the past years with a lot of tourists and  packed beaches as a result. We decided to skip Palolem and keep our warm and romantic memories of our time there. If we had visited Palolem, our memories would have been spoilt forever. Agonda however took over Palolem’s role as a relaxing beach for the open minded travelers. It has a long sandy beach, bordered by palm trees and a lot of low key eco-friendly resorts. If you’re on a tiny budget, it’s easy to find a good place here! You will find an occasional loungebed on the beach, but they are very rare. And the beach is not only populated with tattooed hippie girls, cows are also using it. The narrow streets behind the beach are full of massage parlours, restaurants and a lot of souvenirs shops. Unfortunately, almost all regular shops have shifted their operations to other parts of the town, but it still has its charm and the sales people aren’t pushy. Another thing: if you are looking for a posh place to stay, with sharp dressed waiters and fancy drinks? Don’t come to Agonda, because you will not find this there…

South-Goa is beautiful: it’s a green heaven with hilly areas that are covered with various palm trees. If you’re lucky (we were) you will see some monkey’s (Langur and Macaque are the most common one’s). And it’s easy to spot dolphins from the beach, you don’t need to book a ‘dolphin tour’. We’ve seen them almost every day. It’s fun to rent a scooter and drive around the area. They are for hire in almost every small town and it’s cheap: we paid 400 INR a day, but it was a new scooter, with very limited mileage. If you bargain you can get one for 250 INR a day.

Looking back at the trip, there were two other things that made me smile: the beautiful Portuguese houses & churches and the development of the people. The Portuguese had been ruling this state for decades and a lot of things within the state reminded me of that era. Old houses could be seen everywhere and you will also find a small or bigger white church in every small settlement or town, the architecture is amazing. Not so fortunate is the state of the buildings, maintaining heritage is a challenge across India. Before I close I want to share some thoughts about the people. Like in Kerala, people are friendly and a lot of them speak good English. The average GPD per capita is high in Goa and you will see the results in the streets; the living conditions are better than in most other Indian states. There are no or very less beggars on the streets. If you want to spend some time on a very cosy beach? Go to Goa, the ‘light India’ version with beautiful beaches in a green setting.

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