So, you’re going on a Goa vacation. You’ve made an online booking in what may be the last of the decently priced hotels in Goa, have your flight tickets in your hand and are raring to go. Goa beach culture – here you come!
Good for you. I salute your prudence and good taste. To be sure, there aren’t many options that compare to a Goa vacation. You’ve made an excellent choice.
I love Goa, and recommend it highly over India’s other beach-based tourist destinations. Kerala’s Kovalam? Gimme a break. Mumbai’s Juhu? You’ve GOT to be kidding me. Lakshadweep? Hey, I thought you want to be where the ACTION is!
So, your plane lands at Dabolim Airport. Or your train pulls into Margao Station. Or your bus wheezes to a halt at Panjim. Or you’ve survived a self-driven car journey and are trying to figure out if this IS Panjim or just another of those towns with pseudo-Portuguese names that you’ve passed through.
Read the hoardings and see what area the joints they advertise are at. Don’t tell me you can’t see all those Dantesque monstrosities that vie for your attention.
Eat that lobster platter. Drink that beer. Take that pleasure cruise down the Mandovi River. Move into that Goa resort, because no other resort even comes NEAR in terms of ‘tropical ambience’, hospitality, facilities, cuisine (don’t bother looking for the room rates, though).
You’ve finally arrived at your hotel, dumped your baggage, taken a shower and are now ready to ‘do Goa’. Everyone has been very courteous and helpful.
The receptionist has handed you a list of the services available at the hotel and pointed out that the shopping arcade is just behind the bar. She has informed you that the hotel offers the best pleasure cruises down the River Mandovi in Goa.
Nothing unusual in all this. You, as an experienced globe-trotter, smile and nod in all the right places. You’ve checked out a zillion beach-towns before and Goa holds no surprises for you. Right? Wrong.
You ask the receptionist which way the beach is. She gives you directions. Okay, here’s where you need the survival guide. Scroll down if you’re in a tearing hurry to get at it, or hear me out first. I strongly recommend the latter course of action.
It doesn’t matter which particular Goa beach you’ve chosen to patronize on your vacation. It could be Calangute, Baga, Anjuna, Vagator, Colva, Cavelossim, Benaulim or any other – the fact is, it is a Goa beach and you are a tourist. In this rather vulnerable capacity, there are some things you should know of Goa and its people.
As a tourist, you belong to the tribe that made Goa, The Tourist Destination, happen. Before you and your kind did your number on this place, it was a quaint, sleepy fishing state that made and consumed the very excellent brew called ‘feni’.
The local populace caught fish, washed it down with feni, found a spot of shade for the afternoon siesta and was content and happy. These were (and still are) simple folks who never asked to be invaded by sweating, white-skinned aliens in Bermuda shorts, smelling of designer perfumes.
These simple folk never asked that their beaches be jammed with suntan lotion-slathered foreigners that jabbered at each other (and them) in unintelligible dialects as they marinated themselves into painful sunburns.
The point is – once this alien tribe DID descend, it changed Goa’s economic landscape forever. The tourist trade overshadowed the fishing industry, and even though the tourist season lasted for only four months a year, there were more bucks in the tourist trade than in fishing.
So fishing continued, but it was no longer the primary economic driver. Tourism was – and is. And that’s you. You’re Goa’s primary economic driver. Chew on that for a bit, alien in Bermuda shorts.
That salty sea-breeze you’re inhaling also carries a mercenary spirit with it. These simple folks whom you and your tribe have dislodged from their siesta have four months to make money out of the likes of you, and they are not – I repeat NOT – going to miss a trick.
So, here’s your Goa vacation survival guide and may it serve you well:
- Get used to the local water
Unless you have oodles of undeclared money stashed away in some bank at Zurich, get acclimatized to the local water. Mineral water costs only 20 Indian rupees outside your resort – inside, you’re paying service tax, VAT, luxury tax and whatever else one can possibly weigh down a bottle of water with. You’ll end up paying much more that way.
- Stay away from the feni
DON’T drink the feni, unless you know what to expect. Feni does not hit you from the front – it sneaks up on you from behind. You’re okay till you leave the bar; once you’re outside and the breeze hits you, you are WASTED.
No pleasant interim stage of tipsiness – you go from nothing at all straight to blotto and wake up with a prize-winning hangover. Stick to Scotch, gin, vodka or whatever else you’ve been killing yourself with before you came here.
- Avoid the local cuisine
Unless you’re an Indian tourist, don’t eat anywhere outside your hotel or resort, especially not the local dishes. Genuine Goan cuisine is meant for cast-iron stomachs.
Western innards pampered by hygiene, soufflés and light seasoning are no match for it. So – smile at the xacuti and nod approvingly at the vindaloo, but order the Chicken a La Kiev or Russian Salad.
- River cruise? Maybe not.
Before you opt for one of those river cruises, ask them what it entails. If it includes a stopover at some small island, run the other way. They’re going to make you their captive audience to a jazzed-up version of the local dances, and you will die of mortification (unless you’re into that sort of thing).
- Taxis are expensive
Get ready to pay through your nose for the taxis that are the main means of transport in Goa, which has a practically non-existent public transport system. You won’t find no Uber or Ola here, mister. It’s a mafia out there. Learn how to ask “How much to (your destination)” and get someone to interpret the answer.
- Don’t condescend
DON’T address a Goan waiter as ‘patrao’. You will hear the locals call each other that, and it has no insulting connotations. However, the typical Goan is fiercely partisan and will not allow an alien to presume that he’s privy to local familiarities.
- Don’t mess with the locals
DON’T get into a brawl (or even low-grade argument) with ANY local outside your hotel or resort. The staff at Goa hotels and resorts do not represent the typical, unadorned Goan. They’re trained at hospitality training centres and are probably too polite to get into your hair.
If you get aggressive with a local, on the other hand, he will emit a sharp, short whistle. Five seconds later, you will be set upon by a horde of his buddies who will pulp you first and ask questions later.
- Don’t go ‘antique’ shopping
DON’T enter any of the so-called ‘antique stores’ you’ll see near every popular beach. These shops would like you to believe that Goa dates back to the Middle Ages (it doesn’t) and that every local family has suddenly decided to sell off its family heirlooms (they haven’t).
Never mind the ‘certificates of authenticity’ some may offer you, or how genuine some of the stuff looks. For more dope on how such ‘antiquities’ are manufactured, ask any street kid in Mumbai’s Colaba area.
- There’s no work getting done here
DON’T go to Goa unless you have all urgent and pressing matters of business tightly wrapped up. Only an uninitiated imbecile hopes to find any business communication centre or courier open before ten in the morning.
They close again at 1.30 p.m. for the siesta and sometimes open briefly again after five. Even outside siesta timings, Goans spend most of their waking hours in a kind of stupor that barely supports metabolic life – sort of like those ascetics you read about in books by Lobsang Rampa.
DON’T expect to be able to mobilize any locals to help you meet emergencies of any kind. Emergencies do not exist on the Goan mindscape. While in Goa, you had better get used to the ‘susegad’ lifestyle – terminal lassitude raised to its infinite power.
- Don’t forget your liquor license
If you’re leaving Goa via road, make sure you have a license for every bottle of booze that you carry back. The police have flying squads that will intercept you at key points just beyond the border. It is NOT legal to take liquor out of Goa without these pieces of paper, no matter what anyone tells you.
Have you visited Goa? What was your experience? Let us know in the comments below.
All images are © Priya Florence Shah unless otherwise mentioned.