Beach weddings take Goa by storm

Goa has always been a hot Honeymoon Destination but couples are suddenly deciding that it is also a great place to get married. And is there a more romantic setting to get married than at a Goan beach?

A spew of mega beach weddings are planned in Goa with already 10 beach weddings approved by the Goa Tourism department. Since beach weddings are considered “minor events” in Goa, all it takes to get permission is approval from the Goa Tourism Director and the payment of a fee of Rs. 5000 fee.

One of my close relatives got married in Goa recently and she was full of praise for the destination. While many people choose to get married in their home towns or cities, it has become quite the fashion to jet to Goa and get married there instead. Not just the couple and their families but relatives and friends make the trip too, often booking out the entire hotel.

That said, some couples prefer to stay at a different hotel than their friends and family. “We stayed at a small Homestay while our guests stayed at a big 5 star Hotel. We wanted to have our privacy and some time to ourselves” said the couple.

And it is not just the Goan beach that becoming a hot wedding destination but the Goan river as well. Goan ferry boats offer couples the once in a lifetime chance to get married on a boat. Larger than the usual ferry boats that transport locals across the Mandovi River and far more luxurious, these special ferry boats are big enough to hold between 50 to 100 people as well as a full fledged buffet and dance floor.

And as Goa becomes more and more popular as a wedding destination, you also have Wedding Planners who take care of the entire wedding hassle, leaving you free to enjoy your special day. All the girl has to do, it seems, is to get her man to pop the question!


Christmas in Goa – Reflections

My mother blogs from Goa…

This was to be my second Christmas in Goa. My nephew’s new Goan bride tells me its the best place in India to celebrate Christmas. My daughter asked me what I felt was so special about Christmas in Goa – she thought it was like Christmas everywhere, with houses decorated with stars and lights and Christmas trees and cribs.

But my husband pointed out that Christmas in unique in Goa, in the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas with its cluster of Heritage Homes (and Homestays such as The Mitaroy, Goa where I am staying) and where a lady can safely walk alone for midnight Mass. It is only in Fontainhas that you can have a 400 year old St Sebastian chapel puts chairs on the road for the service since all the houses surrounding it are Catholic and their owners keep their doors open and attend the Mass from their hall rooms! The service for the 500 people gathered together is made meaningful with a live enaction of the Nativity. The beautiful choir had a lovely soprano singing “Mary Did You Know” along with other traditional and new Carols.The short sermon stressed the light that Jesus brought into our lives!

After Mass while sharing the delicious plum cake and hot coffee (generously offered by the priest to foster communal harmony) to ward off the cold (yes, its the only time Goans enjoy a little cold weather) we meet and greet our neighbours -the tiny tots,the teens the adults and very old have all come decked in their Christmas best-one can see all the latest fashion in gowns and skirts. Our famous resident Goa’s famous architect Charles Correa has come with his wife all the way from the other side of the Mandovi because it feels so Christmassy in the old Latin Quarter of Fontainhas.

Almost every house is decorated with lights and stars (some after a fresh coat of paint) in the neighbourhood of Fontainhas with its majority of Catholic residents and for days one hears Carols playing loudly, giving the whole neighbourhood a festive air. “Zai re, maka Zai re, Santa munta maka zai re”- Santa’s season is celebrated with great pomp in Goa. Lunch tables are loaded with traditional fare like roast suckling pig and stuffed turkey. My friend Martha D’ Cunha has invited us for lunch with her extended family – the table groans with the weight of different delicacies like roast stuffed chicken, pork vindaloo, chicken xacutti, beef assad with sannas and Arrroz pulao. The food is accompanied by lots of red wine and sherry and ends with a delicious Christmas pudding and Christmas plum cake made lovingly by the entire family, along with the regular traditional Goan sweets of kuswar, doss, bebinca, nevrios, kulkuls and dodhol. It is okay to indulge this festive season, I tell myself.

The party continues and the festive spirit will last till Goans usher in the the New Year with their own typical bonhomie and camarderie.Yes Goans really do love to enjoy life to the full while welcoming the hordes of tourists who descend on Goa at this time – you dont feel odd to wish a stranger a Merry Christmas – its all one big family celebration!!

Soon it is time to return to Bangalore and to work but I cant help looking forward to another festive Christmas in Goa next year…

Following the footprints of the Portuguese in Goa

Goa Velha sounds like a name from a fado, the famous Portuguese songs of sadness and melancholy. And indeed the state of Old Goa’s precious heritage today only adds to the melancholy. Little remains of the golden era of Portuguese colonial history when Goa as referred to as ‘Ilha Illustrissima ” because of its immense riches.

In 1510, Portuguese soldiers under the leadership of Alfonso de Albuquerque conquered the city on the banks of the Mandovi River. The Portuguese army was supported fervently by the local Hindu citizens who had suffered under the then Muslim ruler Adil Shah and who were hoping for a better life under the Portuguese.

After conquering Old Goa, the Portuguese proceeded to build what would become their most important commercial and trading center outside of Portugal. And with the Portuguese soldiers came the Portuguese missionaries, who proceeded to convert as many natives to Christianity as possible. From 1540 onwards, almost all Hindu temples were destroyed and replaced by churches. In addition, Goa was also the scene of one of the most brutal Inquisitions in the Portuguese empire. 

When in 1565, the seat of the Portuguese viceroy was transferred from Fort Cochin (Kerala) to Goa, Old Goa reached its zenith. Old Goa had upto 300 000 residents and it was even said that “Whosoever has seen Goa, need not see Lissabon”. 

Fast forward to today and most witnesses to the great power of the Portuguese rulers is all but gone. All that remains are some very impressive churches and Basilica. Thanks to some careful restoration of these houses of worship, the ‘Churches and Convents of Old Goa’ is now an important UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is the mingling of the sari and the dress, the mingling of modern Indian reality and the old Baroque and Renaissance buildings that forms such a stark contrast and attracts thousands and thousands of tourists, either in bus loads as part of a half day tour or those with backpacks and Lonely Planet’s in their hands. The women in their bright saris contrast against the dark panelled wooden doors of the Basilica and make for a great photograph. 

Old Goa has a number of Portuguese churches including the Sé Cathedral, reportedly the largest in Asia, the Basilica of Bom Jesus and the Church of St Cajetan. Most famous of all though is the Basilica of Bom Jesus, also known as the Church of St Francis Xavier and home to the sarcophagus of St. Francisco Xavier, the co-founder of the Jesuit order. He arrived in 1542 from Portugal and having spent a large portion of his life in Goa, finally died in China. But his body was discovered in such perfect condition that it was possible to bring his body back to Goa where it now lies. 

 Despite all its wealth, Old Goa ultimately had to surrender to its downfall. After several severe cholera epidemics (1534, 1543, 1635) had decimated the population massively (sanitary conditions were not as advanced as they are today), the seat of the Viceroy was moved to New Goa or Panaji in 1835. Most of the Portuguese families moved to the neighbourhood or Bairros de Fontainhas (home to the only fresh water fountain in Panaji) and built impressive bungalows in Portuguese style.  The last religious orders were asked to leave Old Goa and many impoverished locals tore down their houses and sold the building stones to feed their families, thereby further accelerating the decline of Old Goa. 

Although 450 years had passed from the first conquest of Goa until Goa’s independence, the withdrawal of the Portuguese from India in 1961 took a mere 48 hours. Such was the resistance of the local populace that all the Portuguese statutes were demounted and brought to safety. Today, the statue of Alfonso de Albuquerque stands at the entrance of the archaeological museum in Goa Velha, an hommage to the glorious yet turbulent history of this region. 

Mandovi Cruise Boat Owners in Panaji unite

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While most foreign tourists from the UK and Europe prefer a tuk-tuk ride, Indian tourists to Goa simply must go on a Mandovi Cruise atleast once during their Goa holiday. 

The Mandovi Cruise Boat jetty is a 5 minute walk from my Mitaroy Heritage Homestay in Fontainhas, Panaji’s Latin Quarter, and I used to often take a walk in the evening to the jetty to watch the tourists as they waited eagerly to board the Mandovi Cruise Boats for their evening entertainment. 

However, as is often the case in areas with high tourist demand, touts – so called “agents” – were duping the innocent tourists and harassing them. 

In order to weed out these touts and make the experience more pleasant for tourists, Mandovi Cruise boat operators in Panaji have now decided to unite under one banner to streamline the Mandovi Cruise business that attracts over 3,000 tourists each day.

In one of the biggest changes to their business on the Mandovi river since they started out in 1984, the Mandovi cruise boat operators have decided to introduce single window system for ticketing as well as streamlining the entertainment services offered on their Mandovi Cruise Boats. The state-run Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC) has done great work in bringing all the Mandovi Cruise boat operators under one banner by doing away with their separate ticket counters and operating from a single window.

As a result, tourists will now be able to easily purchase tickets for the Mandovi Cruise Boats at one single window, thus reducing the commotion and confusion that usually ensued. I remember watching the mad rush by touts and Mandovi Cruise Boat operators alike.

Now that the boats will leave the jetty at regular intervals, thus cooperating and not competing against one another, the rush to attract tourists will also be a thing of the past. 

Any move to simplify the life of the Goan tourist can only be welcomed wholeheartedly. Tourism Minister Deepak Parulekar must be congratulated on his efforts to streamline and simplify the processes that tourists were faced with in purchasing tickets for the Mandovi Cruise Boats.

Have you purchased a ticket in the new single window ? Do let me know about your experience in the comments… 

Hike in Goa Monsoon Tourism

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The jury still seems to be out on whether a Goa Monsoon Holiday is a good idea or not. 

But as Goa Tourism Department statistics show, Goa registered a 6.5% growth in monsoon tourism from June 2012 to September 2012 as compared to the same period last year. While Goa welcomed 3.8 lakh visitors during the Goa Monsoon in 2011, this year Goa received 4.05 lakh tourists – an increase of over 24,000 tourists. Both these figures were for foreign and domestic tourists. But it was the foreign tourists that made the big difference. While  Goa had 5,938 foreign visitors in September 2011, it saw 16,141 foreign tourists visiting Goa in September 2012. That meant a whopping increase of nearly 60%. 

In the type of tourists, MICE tourists were fewer this monsoon season but were replaced by a sizeable increase in FITs (free and independent travelers), families and young couples.

To entice tourists to visit Goa in the monsoon, hoteliers offered special monsoon discounts and discounted monsoon packages that included accommodation as well as  other freebies including airport transfers, free half-day sightseeing tours to Old Goa including the UNESCO Heritage Zone of the Basilica of St Francis Xavier, boat cruises on the Mandovi river and other goodies. 

It is the nature of the monsoon in Goa that makes visiting Goa during this period such a difficult decision to make. The monsoon in Goa is much harsher than in other places, especially the UK and Europe. What the West calls rain is merely a light drizzle for a Goan. When the monsoon comes in all its fury, the rain lashes down for days and months on end. It rains down so hard that the pressure of the raindrops can be quite unnerving sometimes. Hence, for long, tourists avoided Goa in the monsoons like the plague. 

However, soon tourists (both Indian and foreign) realised that one could enjoy the monsoon in Goa if one came prepared. Strong umbrellas, shorts and slippers made the monsoon in Goa much easier to bear. Plus, smart tourists realised that they could get great deals from hotels in the monsoon. However, it was not just the price that attracted more and more tourists to Goa during the monsoon. 

Some tourists like the French had no other choice, with their holidays coinciding exactly with the Goan Monsoon. So they made the best of their time there, walking about coolly under their umbrellas. 

Others, like my Dad, loved the Goan Monsoon because it meant that Goa did not have as many tourists as the rest of the year. The tourists that did come were able to enjoy Goa to the fullest, without being rushed by the usual crowds that Goa sees. 

Another reason was of course, that apart from July and half of August, it did not rain the whole time in Goa. After the showers stopped, Goa showed itself in all its beauty with the green fields greener than ever and all nature basking in a washed, clean look that forced one to stop and watch in awe.