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Anjuna Flea Market
Once just a backpacker and hippie hangout selling kaftans and chillums, the Anjuna Flea Market is now more commercial, with a broad range of high-quality goods on sale. Traders from all over India come to sell their wares: Lamani women from Karnataka, dressed in their traditional garb, sell colourful, elaborately woven clothes; Kashmiri stalls display silver and papier-mâché boxes; and Tibetans preside over orderly rows of sundry Himalayan curios. You will be expected to bargain - often you will be given a price more than double what something is worth and rule of thumb is to try and haggle down to 50 percent of the original asking price - but the stall owners tend to be friendly and less pushy than in some other markets. Even if not planning to haggle for anything, the market is a great place to watch the world go by and mingle with bands of musicians, snake charmers, beggars and the inevitable juggling hippies. The place is colourful and vibrant, and conveniently located right on the beautiful coastline - once you have tired of shopping you can spend some time on the beach. It is a good idea to go early to avoid the crowds and midday heat. The market takes place every Wednesday.
For most visitors to India, Panaji is simply a busy bus terminal, offering connections between India's southern cities and the beautiful beaches of Goa. However, this most sedate of state capitals has plenty to offer tourists, and should rightly have a day or two devoted to it on any Indian travel itinerary. Situated on the southern banks of the Mandovi River, Panaji only became the capital of Goa in 1843, after the harbour at Old Goa silted up and disease had driven its inhabitants out. The best way to explore the town is on foot, wandering around the old cobbled alleyways, colonial villas, red-roofed houses, taverns and cafes, all of which has the look and feel of any small Portuguese town. There are some wonderful old government buildings, dating back to before colonisation, and some elegant Catholic churches. Most memorable is the Church of the Immaculate Conception: built in 1541, it's topped with a huge bell that sits between two delicate Baroque-style towers, and has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Panaji is a delightful place to explore and has an extremely laid-back atmosphere and small town feel unusual for a state capital.
Old Goa was the state's capital city until 1843, when it was moved down river to Panaji. Once a byword for splendour, with a population of several hundred thousand, Old Goa was virtually abandoned from the 17th century, as the river silted up and a series of malaria and cholera epidemics drove out the inhabitants. It takes some imagination to picture the once-great capital as it used to be. The maze of twisting streets, piazzas and grand Portuguese villas have long gone: all that remains are a score of extraordinarily grandiose churches and convents. Old Goa has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and today is the state's main cultural attraction. Tourists take a break from the beach resorts to come and admire the massive facades and beautiful interiors of the city's well-preserved churches. The Tuscan St Catherine's Cathedral is the largest church in India and took eighty years to build, finally being consecrated in 1640. The scale and detail of the Corinthian-style interior is overwhelming: huge pillars divide the central nave from the side aisles, and no less than fifteen altars are arranged around the walls. An altar to St Anne treasures the relics of the Blessed Martyrs of Cuncolim, whose failed mission to convert the Moghul emperor Akbar culminated in their murder; while a chapel behind a highly detailed screen holds the Miraculous Cross, which stood in a Goan village until a vision of Christ appeared on it. Reported to heal the sick, it is now kept in a box; a small opening on the side allows devotees to touch it. Other sights worth seeing include the Arch of the Viceroys, built in 1597 to commemorate Vasco da Gama's arrival in India, and the distinctive, domed Church of St Cajetan (1651), modelled on St Peter's in Rome. Old Goa is a major site for Christian pilgrims from all over India who come to visit the tomb of St Francis Xavier, the renowned 16th-century missionary whose remains are enshrined in the Basilica of Bom Jesus.
Goa has some amazing beaches. In the north, Anjuna Beach once played host to hordes of hippies, but is now home to a number of trendy beach bars as well as the famous Wednesday Market. The new hippie haven is Arambol beach, also good for dolphin-viewing and paragliding. With its white-sand beaches, Vagator is gaining in popularity; however, the sea is not safe for swimming there because of rip tides. The busiest, most commercial beach is Calangutell; while neighbouring Baga Beach has great nightlife spots including Tito's and Café Mambo, with its hip-hop and salsa-themed nights. In the south, Agonda is a quiet stretch of beach with a few souvenir stalls and restaurants, while Benaulim Beach, south of Colva, is known for its fishing and laid-back atmosphere. In recent years, Benaulim has become popular with tourists wanting to get away from Goa's party reputation and just lay back, jog along the long stretch of beach and indulge in the city's fresh and healthy culinary fare. The shady palm trees and soft sands of Palolem Beach, also known as Paradise Beach, are backpacker territory; however, it's also a great place for a dolphin cruise or picturesque sundowner at one of the many beach bars lining the water. Nearby Patnem has some lovely beach huts available to rent. There are a couple of great beaches to take the kids to in Goa. The fishing village of Benaulim, near Colva, has a few quiet spots with soft sand and beautiful clean water. A firm family favourite is the Mandrem beach area, which offers shallow waters for kids to play in, and beach beds for parents to relax on. Between the beach at Mandrem and the dunes, there's a little wooden bridge crossing a river that kids love to play on.
A great outing in Goa is a trip to the Dudhsagar Waterfall, which is one of the most popular natural attractions in the area. The falls are located in a tropical jungle near the Goa-Karnataka border, and are surrounded by a network of gently flowing streams and pools. Swimming, hiking and picnicking are popular pastimes at the falls and the deep pool beneath the falls is a favorite nature spot. The waterfalls are among the 100 highest in the world, and visitors who take the difficult climb to the top will be rewarded with breathtaking views of the Western Ghats' wooded mountains. There are usually monkeys to be found in the jungle and around the falls and they tend to be very tame because tourists often feed them; feeding the monkeys is prohibited because they quickly become a nuisance when they associate people with easy food. They are fun to watch and interact with but be cautious with your food and possessions as they may try to take something. The most common way to get to the falls is to take a fun 30-minute Jeep ride from the entrance to the jungle, but some intrepid travellers choose to walk along the train rails from Castle Rock Station. The hike is beautiful but it is over eight miles (14km) and should only be attempted by the fit.
Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary
The Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is home to around 400 species of birds, both local and migratory. Here visitors can expect to see kingfishers, pintails, coots and egrets, as well as a few crocodiles, jackals and foxes inhabiting the mangroves. Although this is one of the smallest bird sanctuaries in Goa, it is among the most famous in India. The time that you visit is important: the best time to see the migratory birds is after the monsoon season, from October to March; and bird and animal sightings are likely to be better early in the morning. The sanctuary is not a zoo and the animals are in no way enclosed so experiences vary hugely with regard to how much people see. The mangroves themselves are interesting and beautiful and for many nature lovers a boat ride through this unusual landscape is reason enough to visit the sanctuary. If you prefer to explore on foot, guided walks through the mangroves are also available. Bear in mind that you are exploring a swamp and that there will be mosquitoes - insect repellant and long-sleeved clothing are in order. Photography is welcomed but there is a small extra fee for cameras.
Famed as a hippie hangout since the 70s, the main source of Anjuna's enduring popularity as a holiday destination is its superb beach. Fringed by palm trees, the curve of soft white sand conforms more closely to the archetypal vision of paradise than any other beach on the north coast. The quieter southern end is protected by rocky outcrops, while to the north the beach widens and stretches for almost a mile past groups of bars, cafés and handicraft stalls. Revellers from the UK and all over India come to Anjuna on holiday, lured by the club scene and the promise of big beach parties (particularly over Christmas and New Year). Outside this peak season the resort normalises to a simple, relaxed atmosphere; except on Wednesdays, when locals and tourists flock from all around to shop at the famous Flea Market and drink sundowners at one of the many restaurants and bars that stretch along the beach. Shore Bar is a great place to relax and watch the sun go down. They serve a range of Indian dishes and delicious cooling cocktails, just perfect after a long day at the beach. Shore Bar also makes a mean espresso. Sea Breeze is the best place to end a day of hard bargaining and great shopping at the Anjuna Wednesday Market. This restaurant attracts a mixed crowd and serves ice-cold beers and some great bar snacks. The best place to spend a night out in Anjuna is the same place you would probably have spent your day...the beach. Stopping in at any of the beach-front bars and restaurants for a cold beer can lead to a night of fun, with the bar owners dispensing great advice about the latest impromptu party.
The Baga Beach holiday resort is a few miles south of Anjuna, and is basically an extension of Calangute. Lying in the lee of a rocky, wooded headland, the only difference between this far northern end of the beach and its more congested centre is that the scenery here is marginally more varied and picturesque, and the beach less crowded. It is a good swimming beach but there are no promising breaks for surfers. There are lots of other water sports on offer though, and it is an active, fun beach where there is usually a lot going on. Hawkers can be an irritation but no more than on most other popular stretches of sand in Goa; a firm no usually does the trick. Baga Beach has the best range of restaurants and liveliest nightlife in the area. St Anthony's, situated near the river at Baga Beach, is a seaside restaurant with a great range of fish dishes. Diners should definitely try their tuna steak while watching the sun set over the Arabian Sea. Sublime and Karma Sutra, both located just up Baga Road, also get great reviews. Tito's and Mambo's are the places to be once you've finished your sundowners at one of the beach bars.
Once a peaceful fishing village - and then a haven for hedonistic hippies - Calangute is now Goa's busiest and most commercialised holiday resort, a 45-minute bus ride north of the capital, Panaji. The road from the town to the beach is lined with Kashmiri-run handicraft boutiques and Tibetan stalls selling Himalayan curios and jewellery. The quality of the goods - mainly Rajasthani, Gujarati and Karnatakan textiles - is generally high, but haggle hard and don't be afraid to walk away (the same stuff will crop up again and again). The Calangute beach is nothing special, but is more than large enough to accommodate the huge numbers of holiday visitors. To escape the hawkers, visitors should head fifteen minutes or so south of the main beachfront area, towards the rows of old wooden boats moored below the dunes. There, teams of villagers haul in their nets at high tide, and fishermen will be seen fixing their tack under bamboo shacks. Calangute's bars and restaurants are mainly grouped around the entrance to the beach, and along Baga Road. As with most Goan resorts, the accent is firmly on seafood, though many places also offer vegetarian dishes, and western breakfasts feature prominently. Thanks to repeated crackdowns by the Goan police on parties and loud music, Calangute's nightlife is surprisingly tame, with most bars closing by 10pm. A notable exception is Tito's at the Baga end of the beach, and Pete's Bar, a hippie hangout that offers affordable drinks, backgammon sets and relentless reggae until the early hours.
Colva is the oldest and most heavily-developed South Goan holiday resort. The town itself is dotted with colonial-style villas and ramshackle fishing huts, but the beachfront is crowded and blighted with unimaginative concrete hotels, snack bars and souvenir stalls. Indian tourists and local children mill around this central area and westerners are pestered by traders and beggars. However, it is easy to steer clear of this central area: within a few minutes' stroll from here the beach is spotless and relatively quiet. Benaulim is only a 30-minute walk to the south, still on Colva beach, and attracts a more upmarket clientele, including British and Indian visitors on holiday. There are many luxury resorts along the coastal stretch, and brightly-painted wooden fishing boats litter the beach. The hawkers and touts here are persistent, but in a good-humoured rather than aggressive way. To escape completely, visitors can hire a bicycle and ride further south along Colva beach, beyond Taj Exotica, which stretches for miles with the only possible interruption likely to be a stray cow wandering along the sand. Restaurants line the beachfront at both Colva and Benaulim, and in general the food is of an excellent standard, and the atmosphere is much better than at the hotel restaurants. For the freshest fish, aim for the more popular restaurants.
For years Palolem remained a secret holiday getaway to all but the most independent traveller. Situated towards the southern tip of Goa, twenty miles south of Margao, it has now been discovered - but thankfully, due to strict urban planning restraints, tourism is kept in check. Palolem's crescent-shaped bay is lined with a beautiful white sand beach and backed with groves of coconut palms. Either side of the bay is a rocky headland covered in thick black forest, and offshore, is a tiny island whose only permanent inhabitants are a colony of black-faced langur monkeys. Although there aren't really any watersports facilities on the beach - the vibe is more relaxed than active - you can take boat rides out into the bay to see the dolphins and maybe even swim with them. The beach is also lined with a selection of beach shacks and bar-cum-restaurants serving up the daily catch and lots of other kinds of meals and snacks. During December and January the beach swells with day-trippers, who come to escape the more commercial resorts. However, outside this peak season, Palolem returns to a breezy, sedate pace, and one of the reasons it is so special is because it is generally less crowded and much less commercial.