|Population: 1.2 million|
Languages: Konkani, Marathi
The four hundred and fifty year Portuguese presence in Goa, accentuated by this area's inaccessibility by land from the rest of India, has left it with a culturally distinct flavour: a heavy fish-and-meat cuisine, more skirts than saris, as well as a high consumption of alcohol (including their trademark feni, made from cashew fruit). Bars dot the streets, as do churches with their characteristic Portuguese style facades frequented by Goa's 40 per cent Christian population. There is a certain relaxed ambiance as well as a lack of reticence on the part of Goan women that feels almost European.
A hundred kilometres of palm fringed white sand beaches make tourism Goa's main industry. The first two decades of Goa's popularity as a tourist destination left it with a reputation as a hangout for debauched, drug-using, nude-bathing hippiedom. Now, however, less circumspect tourists collect in the far northern or far southern remoter beaches, leaving the main areas for European tourists coming on two week charters, backpackers, Bombayites looking to escape the city, as well as ex-pats and Indians from other parts of the country looking for rest and relaxation. Accommodation ranges from beach huts to five star hotels, able to suit every taste and pocket book.
Inland from the beaches, Goa is humidly lush with paddy fields and coconut groves interspersed with rolling tree covered hills. Narrow roads lead from community to community past white-washed churches and the occasional temple, with substantial bridges spanning the major rivers that indent the coastline. Monsoons drench the area from June through till August. During these months there is barely a single tourist, the air is almost chilly and emerald green moss begins to cover every damp concrete surface.
Destruction of temples and mosques in the days of the Portuguese rule has meant that most of the relatively few existing ones are recently built. In Old Goa many church, convent and monastery buildings remain from the colonial era, some still in active use, others converted to museums. Among these are the Se Cathedral, built for the Dominican order in the latter half of the 1500s, the Church and Convent of St. Francis of Assisi from the mid-1600s, and, most famous of all, the Basilica of Bom Jesus, completed in 1605, which houses the greatly revered remains of St. Francis Xavier.
A series of forts dot Goa's coastline, Chapora being the most interesting and well preserved. Several, including Terekhol and Aguada, have been converted into hotels.
With convenient flights into Vasco da Gama airport, and with the Konkan railway winding down the entire coast from Bombay to Mangalore through Goa, as well as newly established passenger trains between Panaji and Londa, in Karnataka, this state promises to continue to take advantage of it's naturally beautiful coastline and wonderful climate to further develop its tourist industry.
When the Portuguese arrived in what is now called Old Goa, nine kilometres from Panaji, it was already a thriving community. Adil Shahi of Bijapur had established his second capitol there and the city had prospered. Under the Portuguese dominion mosques and temples were destroyed and numerous monasteries, convents and churches were established by the various religious orders. The city rivaled Lisbon, with a population larger than many of Europe's capitols.
Portugal's heyday did not last, however, and less than a hundred years after the capture of Panaji by Alfonso of Albuquerque in 1510, the other European powers had come to dominate the seas and came close to taking over Goa. However, a treaty with the British allowed Portugal to continue in the area, and they stayed through till 1961 when finally they were expelled by the Indian government.
In the hundred years before the Portuguese arrival the area experienced a turbulent period during which it fell under the successive control of the Vijayanagars, the Bahamani Muslims and finally Adil Shahi of Bijapur. Prior to this unstable century, the area had been for a thousand years under the control of the Kadamba kings.
Goa's most famous saint, St. Francis Xavier, whose remains are kept and periodically displayed at the Bom Jesus Basilica, arrived in Goa in 1552 to christianize Portugal's colonial subjects. He stayed for several years, which coincided with the Inquisition during which the rights of Goans to practice other religions were severely curtailed. Finally he sailed for Indonesia and later Japan to continue proselytizing. He died on a return journey from Japan and his body was taken to the Church of Our Lady of the Mount in Malacca, Indonesia. When his tomb was opened after four months and his body found to be without decay it was sent to Goa, and after canonization in 1615 the body was transferred to the Basilica. Once per decade (next in 2004) the body is displayed for public veneration. A certain amount of wear and tear has occurred over the centuries. Kept in a too small grave in Indonesia, the neck was broken, and in 1554 one of the toes was bitten off by a fervent worshipper in the grips of ecstasy. In the early 1600s part of the right hand was cut off and sent to Rome where it is still venerated. A few years later the rest of the hand was sent to the Jesuits in Japan, and even portions of the viscera have periodically been removed and sent here and there in the Catholic world.
After Independence the national government put considerable pressure on Portugal to hand over its Goan territory to India, including suspending diplomatic relations with Portugal and cutting off trade and rail transportation to Goa. Stubbornly refusing India what it desired, Portuguese Goa attempted instead to increase its self-sufficiency and develop ties with neighbouring countries. Finally India sent in the army, Portugal surrendered, and Goa became a Union Territory with limited autonomy.