If it wasn’t for the hot weather and blue sky, this could be a British seaside report like Blackpool. Europeans on package holidays hang out at beach shacks named ‘Weather Spoons’, ‘Sam’s Bar’ and the like. They go straight for the full English breakfasts on the menu, washed down with a nice chilled beer. Nearby at endless rows of shops you can buy the usual seaside resort tat.
But before you start thinking I’m on the Spanish Costas, I will tell you I’m in Goa in India. Indians work in the bars and restaurants and there are plenty of Indian food options on the menus, but it’s the ‘Continental’ options that everyone seems to be ordering. True, in Goa there are still some unspoiled beaches on the coast, but here on the stretch that features the resorts of Baga, Calangute and Candolim (which seem to merge into each other) it’s far from quiet.
Despite all the British brashness, I’m quiet enjoying here, especially with the typical ‘Goan’ touches. For example, it’s quite amusing (from the relative safety of beachside shacks!) seeing small herds of cows gathering next to Europeans on the sun beds. You also have ringside seats for the various entertainment features that pop up in different spots on the sands – like trapeze artists walking the tightrope. In the evening many of the beach shack bars put on BBQs and firework displays.
Many Indians also come on holiday here (there’s a particular area in the Baga, Calangute and Candolim stretch that’s currently pretty much exclusively given over to domestic tourists – they’ve got some cheap deals given it’s nearing the end of the season). But the majority of Indians that you see provide the services for the tourists. Many live in terrible conditions in very primitive ‘camps’, often right next to luxury tourist resorts. Finding a gap in the high fence, I can see one such abode – home to the locals in little more than shacks.
It just goes to show that not everyone around here has money to spend on luxuries like beer and pizzas. You have people watching Premiership football in loud pubs alongside Indians living in far more simple life, where pigs roam the muddy lanes.
The Brits and Germans dominate in these parts, but following the area’s history would logically make you think it should be mostly Portuguese on holiday. For from the 1500s to 1961 Goa was administered by Lisbon. There is a brutal story to tell here, as the local population was murdered in in droves and Hindu heritage destroyed in the name of Christianity.
Save for the odd white-washed Catholic church on the coast and colonial fort, you need to travel inland to find the Portuguese influences. As you pass the villages you witness lovely European-style villas that look like they’ve been imported straight from the Algarve.
The best examples of Portuguese history can be found in what is now termed Old Goa, a World Heritage Site and the original colonial capital. Here visitors are greeted by an abundance of churches, including Asia’s largest church, Se cathedral – at over 76m long and 55m wide. Just across the road there’s the equally grand Basilica of Bom Jesus which contains the tomb and mortal remains of St Francis Xavier, the so-called Apostle of the Indies.
Christianity was central to the colonisation of Goa by Portugal. Afonso de Aluquque who established early forts (he first attacked Goa in 1510) had a real hatred for Muslims. After some early battles, as the second Viceroy he ordered for Muslims to be killed. Later on the Portuguese became even less tolerant – Hindu temples were destroyed, only the baptised could retain land and heretics were burned at the stake.
Of course, the Portuguese had also come for Goa’s spices – they had wanted to find a sea route to compete with the Arab’s overland monopoly in spices for some time. It was profits from the spice levies that financed the building boom in Old Goa (and also the many schools and hospitals that were built by missionaries).
Today, despite being a major tourist draw there is little to see of Old Goa apart from the churches and a grand archway called the Viceroy’s arch – erected by Vasco de Gama’s grandson in 1597. One inscription shows a European women wielding a sword at an Indian, showing who was boss at the time. But apart from these imposing structures you just have to imagine the grand houses that are where grassy fields now stand. The population was wiped out by Cholera epidemics from the 1600s and the wealthy moved to the current capital of Goa, Panjim (it officially became the capital in 1845, although many moved much earlier than that.)
European rivals like Britain and the Dutch became more powerful from the end of the 1500s, but Portugal held onto to Goa (although it did require concessions like giving the British free access to the ports). Portugal crushed uprisings calling for independence. But then in 1961 India sent the military in and captured Goa.
Soon the tourist trade in Goa was born, first with the hippies in the 1960s (tourist attractions in their own right, considered many) and later travelers searching for a little more luxury. It’s the Brits and other Europeans that holiday here today – but as the east becomes more powerful at the expense of the west, who knows who the holidaymakers of tomorrow will be?