Insiders' guide to...Goa
What is the weather like at the moment?
What is the weather like at the moment?
Imagine a blissful, cloudless summer's day on the Atlantic coast of south-west France, and then imagine another, and another... Maximum temperatures average from 28C to 31C in February. Balmy on-shore breezes from the Arabian Sea are strong enough to ruffle the coconut palms, but not the soft sand.
What are the locals complaining about?
The venality and bare-faced corruption of local politicians has even the most sossegarde ("laid-back") Goans seething. Twelve shaky, opportunistic governments have come and gone in the past nine years, reducing elections to charades of deal-cutting and score-settling. Unfinished bridges, hopelessly ill-equipped hospitals and lavish ministerial residences are the legacy of a system now rotten to the core. In the villages of Anjuna and Vagator, the behaviour of young Israeli ravers is a source of much consternation. On a short fuse after three years of military service, the Tel Aviv contingent party harder, take more drugs and drive bigger Enfields than any other group. Sadly, many of them also treat the locals with aggressive contempt, show no respect for other people's sleep, and readily display their unarmed combat skills to anyone who complains.
Who or what is the talk of the town?
Last June, a clapped-out iron-ore transporter, the MV River Princess, ran aground on one of Goa's main beaches. A discharge of oil was cleared up, but the vessel is still there, lurching ominously in the tide. While its owner, a multi-millionaire mining and shipping magnate, argues with insurers and the government over who should pick up the tab for salvaging it, the scandal and its potential consequences are causing sleepless nights for hundreds of hoteliers and fishermen. Another big topic, in a community where politicians are held in low regard, is the tribulations of the British Minister for Europe, Keith Vaz, whose family hail from Goa.
What's the cool drink?
Prohibitively high import duties on foreign wine have at last spawned a respectable range of Indian reds, the best of them produced in the Grover Vineyards, Bangalore. The sound of popping Grover corks still turns heads among the air-kissing clique of Goa's ritzier restaurants. Lager-quaffing Brits, on the other hand, prefer San Miguel to the cheaper local brew, Kingfisher.
What are people eating?
"Fusion Cuisine" is the buzz term these days around Baga, epicentre of the state's recent gastronomic revolution. Groovy young foodies, designers and DJs from Bombay have got together with a handful of expat Euro-chefs to open arty garden restaurants with menus blending the best of East and West. Billing itself as a "lounge groove space", Axirwaad (just inland from Baga at Assagoa) is the trendiest of them, but Fiesta, run by a couple of very glam ex-models, pulls the biggest crowds.
What is the latest outrageous stuff on TV?
Indians love their "mythologicals", dramatised versions of the great Hindu epics, and the latest, Jai Ganesha! has been this year's huge hit. The story of the elephant-headed god of prosperity and good beginnings, Ganesh, it is watched by Hindus, Christians and Muslims alike. On Sunday afternoons, families crowd into darkened rooms to soak up 90 minutes of breathless melodrama, candy-coloured costumes and deliciously low- budget special effects.
Where wouldn't the locals dream of going?
No respectable Goan would be seen dead at The Nine Bar in Ozran, Vagator. This is precisely the kind of place pilloried by the puritanical local press as epitomising the ills of Western society: sun-tanned young foreigners in skimpy "fluoro" outfits, tattoos and piercings watching the sunset to a backdrop of thumping trance music. Imagine Glastonbury Festival being held on a tropical clifftop and you begin to get the picture.
Where are the locals going that tourists don't know about?
Most Goans' ideal Sunday afternoon involves a noisy sardine barbecue, followed by an even noisier game of cricket on some unfrequented stretch of beach. One such picnic spot lies just west of Betalbatim village, which also happens to be the site of a superb Goan restaurant, Martin's Corner, where the middle classes of nearby Margao come to savour definitive shark vindaloo, kingfish caldin and clam shak shak, rounded off with a long glass of cashew feni, a powerful, quintessentially Goan concoction distilled from the juice of local cashew fruit.
Where are the chic people doing their shopping?
Partygoers get togged out with the latest Goa rave gear - tiny, hand-knitted Day-Glo bikinis and calf-length cotton combat trousers from Kathmandu - at the Anjuna flea market, South Asia's funkiest open-air bazaar. Further down the coast in the capital, Panjim, Goan designer Wendell Rodricks's boutique caters for the state's smart set, with floppy cotton Mutiny on the Bounty-style shirts and flimsy dresses. Anyone who can afford it, however, hops across the Arabian Sea to Dubai for their luxury goods, gold and consumer durables.
What's the trendy place to escape to for the weekend?
Since the completion of the new Konkan Railway, connecting Bombay with Kerala in the far south of India, Goa has become a favourite bolthole for well-heeled Mumbaikars (Bombay-ites). Few Goans, however, would consider returning the compliment. Wealthy locals tend to hang out on the verandas of their own gorgeous Portuguese era palacios or, if they are out to impress, in the air-conditioned comfort of the five-star resort complexes that stud the coast.
David Abram is author of the 'Rough Guide to Goa' (£9.99).
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