Beyond Bars and Beaches: The Portuguese heritage trail of Goa

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It was a Saturday morning in December when we steered our scooter in the direction of Margao, one of the largest cities within Goa. With some of the most popular beaches located in the near proximity and an old centre with some beautiful Portuguese houses, it didn’t take us long to encounter the first western tourists. After a long drive across thick forests and sleepy towns, we entered the town from the west side. Goa has been a popular holiday destination for western tourists for over decades,  and you can see the results very easily; restaurant menus have been translated into Russian, German and French and so have some of the road signs. These are mostly about hotels and restaurants, which are targeting this large groups of holiday seekers. A large part of the local population embraces the foreigners, bringing in a loads of rupees. Others are a bit more reserved. Colva, once a sleepy fishing town, has been transformed into a holiday destination town with only one purpose: catering to the needs of the western and Indian sunseekers.

Don’t get me wrong, the former Portuguese colony has a lot more to offer. Having some of the cleanest and pristine beaches in India, with delicious food and cheap drinks this has been a reason for many heading to Goa. But there is definitely more than that. There is something beyond the bars and beaches. During our recent visit, probably our fifth or sixth time over a span of 20 years, we focussed a bit more on the inlands. Although it was a bit tempting, we hadn’t gone to any of the beautiful beaches. Thus, we hadn’t visited Agonda, one of the Goan evergreens with a laid-back atmosphere in an awesome setting. And what happened? Did we feel sorry for not visiting the white stretched beaches? Not at all, we fell in love with Goa for the umpteenth time and we found a new area which should be on the top of everyone’s list, especially for those who enjoy exploring the Portuguese heritage of this former colony.

I need to relive up some really old memories while writing about my first visit to Goa. It was 1982 and I went to see an ashram with my father. I fell in love with this special country, a lot of the smells and sounds have been implanted in my memory never to go away. We took a train from Pune to Margao, to head to our final destination in Goa: Colva Beach. We were the only foreign tourists around, staying at a very basic hotel only a few steps away from a beach that was only in use by local fisherman and wannabe hippies.

It’s always a very odd sight to see at tourists wandering around, away from their beach resorts. Some of them are overly tanned, after lying on sun beds for weeks. I noticed a 60-plus man outside a general store, probably waiting for his wife to come outside. After a short walk in the town – we were looking for a good tea stall but were unable to find one – we came back; he was still waiting there. I needed to control myself from asking him ‘are you lost sir’? The day started when we woke up in a large bungalow on a stylish former Portuguese farm, surrounded by trees filled with monkeys. We didn’t want to spoil our newest memories and headed back after some shopping, which included some cheap rum and basic needs for our kitchen (we stayed at an Airbnb, without a complimentary breakfast).

Goa has been a Portuguese colony for decades and if you look at its history, the influences are inevitable. The Portuguese had ruled here for more the 450 years, only to return it back in 1961. There must still be people in Goa who were there during the Portuguese rule. If you stay in and around the beaches, there is little to remind you of the Portuguese era. You will probably see some churches and some of the hotel staff that will have different names; Goa is not a place for Sunil, Vishal or Ashwin…. More common names here are Christiano, Ruben and Paulo. However, if you want to explore more of the Portuguese Heritage one needs to travel…

The kind owner of the Airbnb offered us one of his scooters for only 300 INR a day (3,50 Euro), which made it easy for us to cover longer distances within the area. We mainly drove our scooter mainly through hilly and green areas between Raia and Loutolim, near the city of Margao. These areas made me fall in love with Goa again, this is ‘the other Goa’ that everyone who is interested to see beyond the bars and beaches should visit.

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