The North and South of India are very different. The North is crowded and chaotic, with cities overrun with monkeys and historic forts and palaces everywhere. The south is calmer, cleaner and has more natural beauty than historic buildings. Goa is in the south but is different again from the surrounding southern states.
We got the impression that there is a lot of disdain amongst Indians for this tiny southern state. It is known for being full of westerners who like to party hard and have different morals from most Indians. I think Goa also has a bit of a bad rep with some westerners too, for similar reasons to many Indians.
We spent almost 3 weeks in a beach town called Palolem and exploring the surrounding area. The Portugese ran Goa until the sixties and they have left behind big villas and a Christian following. As it was Christmas there were stars hanging outside houses and nativity scenes that had been lovingly created. Still, in the 30 plus degree heat it didn’t feel quite like Christmas for two Brits. The locals wear western style clothes and are not bothered by tourists flashing the flesh in bikinis and skimpy clothes. There are also more restaurants and bars catering to western tastes.
Although the place felt less indian the differences were enjoyable: being able to walk around in shorts and a vest in the heat was a welcome relief; after having curry every meal for 50 days straight I was ready for a full English with Heinz beans and HP sauce and the decorations hung outside our beach hut helped us with missing home at Christmas.
Goa has been in a state of flux recently due to the state clamping down on noise and beach parties. Now the de rigueur is for headphone parties / silent discos. Although there were a fair amount of young people there to party there were also families and older folk. The most outrageous pissed up behaviour we saw was from the hordes of young indian men on New Year’s Eve who were taking full advantage of the occasion to run up to western women to give them full body hugs. Other than that Palolem was quite tame and not somewhere to head if you’re solely looking to rave it up.
Albeit somewhat western due to the booze, beans and boobies you still know you are in India when a couple of cows slowly shuffle past you on the sand looking for some shade behind a fishing boat, or someone sets off a firework a few metres from a restaurant which inevitably goes wrong and explodes on the floor showering everyone in pretty little flames and when the fresh seafood options include fish tikka, tandoori whole fish and Goan prawn curry.
I should also mention that the beaches are stunning with golden sand, gentle waves and palm trees. Also we were extremely lucky to have a small gang of new friends with us – Zowie, Anthony, Russell and Tiffany – and the family from whom we rented the beach hut from were very generous and friendly e.g. cooking us dinner and taking us to a wedding. Needless to say we had an amazing time flip flopping about, chilling on the beach and eating some amazing seafood. Goa is now number one on our honeymoon destination shortlist!