Decoding the DNA of Goa, India’s capital of coolth

Is it the pristine beaches and playful dolphins? Is it the high-octane parties? Is it the international libertarian vibe? Is it the affordable access to otherwise taboo things? Is it the spirit of anything can happen? We dig a little deeper to find out just why Goa is more than just a tourist magnet.

Goa, people say, is not just a place, it’s a state of mind. It also means many things to many people. To some, it represents freedom, to others, it’s a haven for family fun. For many, it’s all about the rocking party scene, while for some, it’s all about serenity.

But one thing is universal. If you ask anyone in India to recommend the best vacation spot, one that combines fun and peace, it will almost always be Goa. But what is it exactly about this state, which didn’t even belong to India until 1961, that makes it such a desirable destination?

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Beer in a bikini on the beach. Few places in India give women the space to be as Goa does. Image: Shutterstock/Peppy Graphics.
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Dr Aman Bhonsle travels to Goa every year.

According to psychotherapist and author Dr Aman Bhonsle, who has been going to Goa regularly since he was 18, the Portuguese presence in Goa until the 60s has given it a very strong European cultural influence compared to other Indian states. “Whether it’s dress code or conservatism, you don’t feel it controlled so much in Goa, in certain areas. That freedom creates what is referred to as a ‘vibe’ and people want to experience it, be a part of it,” he says.

If a place has fun in its genes, it’s Goa. The fact that it’s not as policed as other states, with a lot of establishments run into the wee hours of the morning, besides the hippie scene from the 70s, the trance parties, dancing, drinking, gambling… it does all make for a fun vibe, which helps build a certain reputation. Dr Bhonsle adds, “It’s picturesque, it’s affordable, it has this very laidback culture. Plus, the good weather and proximity to beaches give it a lot of appeal.”

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The only place in the country where casinos are legal gives it a bit of Vegas flair with the anything-can-happen air. Image: Shutterstock/Ashish_wassup6730.
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Goa blends the traditional with the modern, the Indian with the Portuguese beautifully. Image: Shutterstock/Lloyd Vas.

Be it siesta or fiesta, food or architecture, Goa has been influenced by the southern European ethos in many ways. You’ll find it in wistful fados sung by the sea or in the vibrant crowds of the annual carnival. And the way its grassroots communities segue with all of this just makes it all the more charming. You’ll find all this encapsulated in the unique cartoons of Goa and its people that the late artist Mario Miranda created.

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The romance of the Portuguese fado captured in this sketch of a typical Goan scene by Mario Miranda, who retired to his ancestral home in Loutolim. Products featuring the late artist’s work can be purchased at the Mario Miranda gallery in Panaji.
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A scene from the famous parade, which features floats and dancers, during the annual Carnival in Goa. Image: Shutterstock/GSK919.
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At 26, Forum Shah (@forum_thedowntownwoman) has 130k followers on Instagram.

Prolific content creator Forum Shah, who has a big fan base across several social media platforms, says, “There’s something about Goa that pulls me again and again. It’s got a charm of its own, no matter how crowded it gets year after year. Despite having gone there a zillion times, Goa gives me a unique vibe every time I am there. From quaint villages to nightclubs, you can choose what vibe you want to go for.”

Akhtar Fazel, better known by all on India’s party circuit as DJ Akhtar, agrees. “Goa has been not just the party destination but the number one tourist destination for everybody in India. Once things opened up, after the recent lockdown where people were forced to be in their homes for a year and a half, there was only one destination that people preferred and that was Goa. Where else will you go? Where else will you get nature, beach, sun, shacks, food, and more? Before the pandemic, Goa attracted a lot of foreigners, many from Eastern European countries. But since all the charters got cancelled, Indians started taking to Goa. If you see the influx, Goa is now sold-out year-round. There is no longer a season for Goa!” he exclaims.

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The over-the-top party scene is all set to resume as soon as the pandemic recedes. Image: Courtesy DJ Akhtar.

“The number of celebrations, the number of music festivals, the number of deejays, international acts, local acts… on a day-to-day basis, Goa has the most in the entire country,” he points out, saying, “When the lockdown opened last November, until March 2021, every week or at least every alternate week, I had a gig in Goa. And these were just the club events. Weddings have been huge too and I’m still doing those even now. In fact, I just got back from Goa, where I did a festival at Anjuna Beach, and am again going to be there for a wedding and then an event in Candolim next week.” The likes of mega festivals such as Sunburn and VH1 Supersonic may take some time to make a comeback post-Covid, but the party scene is clearly picking up already.

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British psytrance musician Simon ‘HallucinogenPosford wowing the crowd on the stage of HillTribe club in Goa in 2016. Image: Shutterstock/Mazur Travel.

Mapusa-based Conrad Braganza, manager at DesmondJi (they make craft spirits, liqueurs and cocktail mixes), who also brews small-batch kombucha with his CommuCha, observes, “Goa is a perennial tourism destination, and especially popular now with domestic tourists. The fact that alcohol is relatively affordable in this state compared to the rest of the country makes Goa an amazing test market and has caused it to be the epicentre of the craft alcohol industry of India.”

Which explains why there is such a cascade of labels coming out of the state in the last few years! From Paul John whisky to Makazai gold rum, Cabo coconut rum, Rahasya vodka to Stranger & Sons gin, it’s a far cry from the early days when King’s beer, feni and Vinicola’s port wine were the only things that people associated Goa with it. More than 3,000 micro-distilleries across the state which has label-friendly excise laws means that a craft revolution is fully underway.

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DJ Akhtar has so many gigs in Goa, he’s there almost every other week!

Such expansion extends across many spheres. “Now, you’ll see malls in Goa, you’ll see supermarkets, big brands, all the hotel chains are also here. For example, the Westin has just opened and three more international hotel chains besides the W and the Taj are coming soon too,” lists DJ Akhtar. The ever-rising demand for Goa has its effect, of course. He says, “Rooms that were going for ₹2.5k at three-star and four-star hotels now cost you ₹12-13k a night. Flight tickets that were once ₹2800, now cost ₹11,000 to ₹14000. The locals too have realised that the whole of India is coming here… let’s make money! Prices have changed over time. For example, you would get a bottle of Absolut vodka for ₹5000 in a night club. Now it will cost you ₹12,000 to ₹14,000. You used to get a beer for ₹120 in a shack, now it costs ₹400. A decent fish & chips was ₹300, now it will cost you double!”

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Senior PR professional Ashutosh Munshi’s home in Moira, Goa, where he can work effectively and enjoy a better quality of life.

But, according to Dr Bhonsle, Goa property rates are not yet as high as in other places, especially the metro cities, with a nice flat costing only around ₹70 lakh at the moment. This is one of the reasons that many are relocating here post-pandemic.

He says, “Cool, creative people who don’t want to be part of the urban machine find Goa to be cost-effective.” And now that there’s a community of like-minded people forming, even more will tend to find it appealing. “A location develops a reputation based on the type of people that come and live there and that creates a trend. It’s a forward trend, so to speak,” he explains.

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Alexandra Lattek from Germany knows the beaches of Goa better than many Indians do!

They may not all relocate, but people from all over the world find themselves returning to Goa again and again. Like Munich-based content creator and travel writer Alexandra Lattek, who has been often since her first time in 2006. “It is mainly the pristine beaches for me, as I love being close to the sea. It’s always my little escape because, when you travel for a long time through the more chaotic parts of India with a backpack, it can be very exhausting. I do enjoy the hippie vibes too, which you can still find in some places like Arambol in the north, or Mandrem, Palolem and Agonda in the south. I also did my yoga teacher training in Goa, staying in the south between Palolem and Patnem for weeks. But I learnt that Goa has a lot more to offer in terms of heritage, such as Old Goa, Portuguese-inspired mansions and the old town of Fontainhas in Panaji, which I really loved when I stayed there.”

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Sunrise Yoga in Goa draws spiritually-inclined seekers. Image: Shutterstock/oOhyperblaster.
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Details of a house in the colourful old town of Fontainhas in Panaji. Image: Shutterstock/Mahendra Kambli.

All these things that are quintessentially Goa apart, there’s been a shift in the way people perceive the place in recent times. Dr Bhonsle observes, “For the Indian traveller, frugality is a big concern. They want to get the maximum out of a location without spending too much money. Goa always gave them that, whether it’s the booze being so cheap, or casinos being legal. But every location while originally appealing, becomes irrelevant after a certain point, once it has become well known. It tends to need a bit of a face lift. So, this face lift of cool restaurants, the cocktail scene, artisanal coffee houses, new age bakeries, experimental cuisine, it’s all adding value to Goa today.”

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Even good ol’ Baga beach has had an upgrade with these beautiful sails. Image: Shutterstock/Alrandir.

More and more beaches are being explored (the crowds have now ‘discovered’ Ashwem and Morjim!). Gastronomically speaking, some of India’s top restaurateurs have chosen to open establishments here and even Sarah Todd, Masterchef Australia S6 finalist, picked Vagator for her first standalone restaurant Antares! And every day now, another alluring spot opens its doors.

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A beach restaurant that brings a Santorini feel to Anjuna. Images: Courtesy Purple Martini.

There are more adventure activities like kayaking through mangroves and sailing yachts, apart from the usual water sports. Cultural experiences include Moda Goa, a costume and design museum in a 450-year-old traditional villa in Colvale envisioned by the late fashion designer Wendell Rodricks. Or Sunaparanta in Panaji, which nurtures the arts in many ways.

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The beautiful setting that Sunaparanta is housed in. Image: Courtesy Sunaparanta.

Accommodation has grown to include some fabulous private villas and uber luxury stays. With this, the profile of the typical tourist visiting is also changing. And we won’t be surprised if they too decide to stay back for good!

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Forum Shah advocates slow travel to truly soak in the susegad Goa vibe.

Forum Shah recommends

  • Go to Cola Beach for a leisurely experience watching the lagoon and the sea together.
  • Go back in time when you visit the colourful streets of Fontainhas, popping in at churches, treat yourself to a Goan meal at Fat Fish.
  • If you fancy Yoga, Ashwem, Agonda & Arambol have a lot of classes to offer.
  • How about a healthy meal in a cafe that is quite secluded and can’t be reached without Google maps? Head over to Mojigao.
  • Want a spine-chilling experience? Visit the Three King’s Church.

All these things aside, talk to the locals, find out more than the average tourist would. Also, I believe you get the real vibe of the place by allowing yourself to absorb its beauty. Spending more time at one place rather than hopping on to finish all the places in your itinerary. That’s when you’ll truly enjoy the vibe of Goa. And you’ll be pulled back for more. You can’t really get tired of Goa.

Read more.

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