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Goa Cruises

Goa, India

About Goa (Mormugao), India

The state of Goa was the cultural center of Portuguese India for 450 years. This was the first region in India colonized by Europe, and the last to get its freedom. Nowhere in India is the colonial influence so prominent, and nowhere is there such an enticing blend of relaxed beach culture, fresh seafood and deep spirituality. About a third of Goans are Catholic and the colonial styles of the Old Town have earned it a place as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Among its magnificent cathedrals and monasteries, the Sé Cathedral and the Basilica of Bom Jesus are among the most notable. Hindu mosques and temples are also ubiquitous throughout the state.

In Goa’s early days, the region was ruled by a Buddhist empire; its monks planted seeds that would bloom into a strong Buddhist faith. Later, a feudal-like system took hold in which the state was divided into various kingdoms, many of which followed the tenets of Jainism, which embraces nonviolence and respect toward all living things. The sultanate of Delhi attempted to wrest control in the early 14th century, but its position was weak. A monarchy stepped in to rule for about a century, until a Muslim dynasty and, in 1510, the Portuguese took over. Goa gained full independence as an Indian state in 1987. Much of this drama is reflected among the atmospheric streets of Old Goa city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site located near the state capital of Panaji.

Goa Lifestyle and Culture

Goa’s Hindu and Catholic populations comprise a blend of native Indian, immigrant Portuguese and other people who have relocated to the state. Together, they have shaped a vibrant culture over the centuries. In many cases, Catholicism has been adopted by native Indians, though Hindu roots remain strong in local faith and traditions. It is not unusual, for instance, for members of the same family to practice different faiths and for Catholics to acknowledge the influence of Hindu deities in everyday life.

Life moves at an easy pace in the state of Goa; spiritual endeavors seem to infuse every street corner. After all, this was once a major pilgrimage stop for countercultural bohemians seeking nirvana. Today, locals and visiting practitioners greet the sun with tai chi on the beach, tap into the healing power of reiki and meditate wherever and whenever the spirit moves them. Healers and seekers of higher truths still come to Goa from all over the world for contemplative retreats and hands-on yoga conferences.

Goa Sights and Landmarks

Old Goa is home to many churches that have served the faithful throughout its long history. The Sé Cathedral is the most notable for its distinct Gothic appearance and link to the Portuguese colony. The venerable structure was not built strictly as a symbol of peace, but to celebrate Portugal’s victory over the Muslim ruler from whom they took the city in 1510. About 150 years later, the Church of St. Francis of Assisi was built as the needs of the colony grew. Its interior boasts murals depicting the saint’s life and his connections to nature. The Basilica of Bom Jesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is one of India’s finest examples of baroque architecture. The remains of St. Francis Xavier are entombed inside.

Memorials to Portuguese Catholicism aren’t the only houses of worship in the state of Goa. In the district of Ponda, Hindu temples were built by those who fled the pressures of colonization in the 17th and 18th centuries. Many of them remain, albeit as more modern iterations than the ancient structures found elsewhere in India. The Mahalsa Temple was deemed sublimely beautiful even by a Portuguese priest, and the Sri Manguesh Temple is admired for its mix of architectural styles that embody those found throughout the region.

Goa Entertainment and Activities

The state of Goa is a colorful canvas of busy farms, lush countryside and colorful culture. Witnessing the harvest of some of the region’s many spice farms, you’ll come to appreciate what drew the Portuguese to this fragrant corner of India. The state’s capital of Panaji, too, offers countless delights. Red-roofed houses adorn the cityscape while sunny squares and beautifully manicured gardens hug the banks of the wide Mandovi River. Leafy avenues lead to Portuguese-style houses and the Largo de Igreja, or Church Square, where the baroque Church of the Immaculate Conception once welcomed Portuguese sailors after their long voyage from Lisbon.

Panaji’s Latin Quarter is pure pleasure for roaming and exploring. Its narrow warrens lead past yellow houses trimmed in purples and blues, topped with terra-cotta roofs and adorned with picturesque wrought-iron balconies. For a more modern experience, head to the Goa Science Center and Planetarium, scenically set on Miramar Beach. After, you might linger on the beach itself, a palm-lined oasis of soft sand.

Goa Restaurants and Shopping

Goans love their cuisine, a flavorful variety of spiciness and fresh ingredients. From fish curry rice and bhali-pau (a curry-dipped roll) to the hot xacuti sauce, the local favorites send the taste buds singing.

Authentic dining experiences abound in Panaji, the state capital. Dishes to try include vindaloo, the region’s popular curry dish; thaali, a tray of rice, puris, daals and vegetables served in small bowls; and aloo-stuffed paratha, a flatbread stuffed with spiced potatoes.

Cashew nuts and Goan cashew liquor are prized items throughout Goa. Head to the Velha Goa Galeria to seek them out. At De Goa Ceramics, peruse a fine selection of hand-painted pieces. And you’ll find good buys on women’s clothing and jewelry at Sasha’s Shop.