India's own Portugal

Plane to paradise? In the first of a series giving the travel essentials for popular destinations, Simon Calder suggests a visit to Goa - on or off season

Summer, in the eyes of many British travellers, is the very worst time to visit the Indian state of Goa. Yet thousands of Middle Eastern tourists disagree. They are flooding in for the floods - or, at least, the rains, held to be the best in the world by precipitation-starved visitors from the Gulf states. British tourists tend to be more impressed by the fine beaches, fading colonial character and rural idylls inland.

The former Portuguese colony found itself unwittingly at the end of a branch line of the hippie trail. All manner of interesting characters washed up at here in the Seventies and Eighties, creating a community where doing not very much with the assistance of some soft drugs became the norm. The Westerners have been indulged by the friendly local people ever since, and have themselves become something of a tourist attraction for thousands of Indian holiday-makers.

The next touristic invasion was not so benign. Goa was put on to the package holiday map a decade ago by a small, Bristol-based company called Inspirations East, which took the brave step of chartering a small MD80 jet and sending it to India with pioneering holiday-makers. They hit upon the essential combination of sun, sea, sand and low prices.

Inevitably, entrepreneurs in Goa and Britain saw the potential for profit and have been building beachside hotels at a fearful rate, often to the detriment of community amenities - though high-rises have yet to blot the horizon. The eccentric behaviour of some foreign visitors, such as heavy drinking and topless sunbathing, runs utterly counter to the conservative, Roman Catholic people of Goa. Some stretches of beach are extremely popular with men from Mumbai (Bombay) and northern India, who arrive en masse to witness (and photograph) Western women sunbathing topless.

There is also a growing rave culture among young Western visitors, with Ecstasy increasingly available. And some Goanese worry that when the broad- gauge rail line from Mumbai is completed, the character of the state will be diluted by an influx of yet more domestic visitors. Yet, as those people who venture inland discover, tourism has barely impacted upon the rich mix of lush farmland, splendid mountain scenery and deeply rooted culturen

Perfect timing

If you are not a rain buff, then avoid the next few months. Goa gets drier from October, and moderate temperatures and rainfall continue through our winter. The latest sensible time to go is April.

A passage to India

Several charter airlines operate from Britain, mostly from Gatwick and Manchester. Tour operators selling inclusive holidays and flight seats include Thomson, Inspirations, First Choice and Somak. Most charter flights stop to refuel in the Gulf. Bookings for next winter are already heavy, especially over Christmas. Prices lead in at about pounds 400 room-only for a week for travel in October, rising to more than pounds 1,200 for an all-inclusive fortnight over Christmas and New Year.

Goa is tricky to reach on scheduled airlines: you have to fly to Mumbai (Bombay), clear immigration and customs, transfer to the domestic terminal and catch one of the three or four daily flights to Goa. Alternatively, you could catch the fast ferry that takes seven hours between Mumbai and Goa. Rail travel is impossible at present, while the narrow-gauge line is being converted to broad gauge.

Finding your feet

The airport is at Dabolim, some way south of both the state capital, Panaji, and the main resort areas. Bus transfers take about an hour to most beach hotels. If you are travelling on a flight-only arrangement, negotiate a reasonable rate for a taxi to Panaji. If you settle on 250 rupees (about pounds 6), you will be paying only slightly over the odds.

Nice enough to eat

Culinary mediocrity is easy to find in Goa, with dismal hotel buffets and restaurants catering for what they fondly believe to be Western tastes. But good Goanese cuisine - much of it fish-based, as in Portugal, but spicier - is easy to find in the places where local people eat. The beach shacks at Baga, subject of a campaign by the local authority to close them down, are good value, with excellent vegetarian dishes. Meat, where available, is likely to be goat or lamb. One exception is the vindaloo, which is a Goan dish of pork marinated in chillies, garlic and vinegar - nothing like the imposters found abroad.

Till you drop

Walking in sunshine

Whatever you do, don't ...

Indian Government Tourist Office, 7 Cork Street, London W1X 2LN (0171- 437 3677).

What's the best way to ...

Travel from Manchester to Heathrow? You could fly, of course - British Airways has 11 flights a day. But to halve BA's lowest fare, to a more modest pounds 33, take the new, five-times-a-day Flightline bus, through National Express (0990 808080). Better still, Virgin Trains (0345 222333) has a pounds 17.50 fare to London Euston if you book before 2pm the day before; the Underground adds pounds 6.40 to the return fare.

Spend nine days with 200 writers? Attend the annual Ways With Words festival at Dartington Hall in south Devon, beginning on 11 July. On the first day alone, John Mortimer, Mary Wesley and the Ukrainian writer Vitali Vitaliev will be speaking. The festival is supported by the Independent on Sunday, whose literary editor, Jan Dalley, will be chairing many of the events. Friday, 18 July is supported by The Independent, whose literary editor, Boyd Tonkin, will be interviewing the Booker prizewinner Ben Okri. Enquiries and bookings to 01803 867311.

Travel anywhere in Europe for a month? If your vision of Europe is defined by 21 cities, the outermost of which are London, Madrid, Rome, Warsaw and Copenhagen, then a Eurolines bus pass could be the answer. Under-27s and over 60s pay pounds 159 during low season (until mid-June and from mid-September); other adults pay pounds 229, high season.

Trace the progress of the Civil War around Washington DC, or take a peaceful bike ride through the English Midlands? Read the travel pages of the Long Weekend, with The Independent next Saturday, 7 June.

Suggested Topics
News
The surrealist comedian at the Q Awards in 2010
people
News
Russell Brand arriving for the book launch in East London
peopleRussell Brand cancels his book launch debate due to concerns about the make-up of the panel
Sport
Christiano Ronaldo enjoys his opening goal
champions leagueLiverpool 0 Real Madrid 3: Ronaldo and Benzema run Reds ragged to avenge thrashing from their last visit to Anfield
Arts and Entertainment
Awesome foursome: Sam Smith shows off his awards
music22-year-old confirms he is 2014’s breakout British music success
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Six of the 76 Goats' cheese samples contained a significant amount of sheep's cheese
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Contestants during this summer's Celebrity Big Brother grand finale
tvBroadcaster attempts to change its image following sale to American media group
Extras
indybest
News
Wilko Johnson is currently on his farewell tour
people
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Dales attempts to sell British Breeze in the luxury scent task
tvReview: 'Apprentice' candidate on the verge of tears as they were ejected from the boardroom
News
Call me Superman: one of many unusual names chosen by Chinese students
newsChinese state TV offers advice for citizens picking a Western moniker
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Voices
New look: Zellweger at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
voicesRenée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity, says Amanda Hess
News
Let’s pretend: KidZania in Tokyo
educationKidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day
Life and Style
CHARGE BOOSTER: Aeroplane mode doesn't sound very exciting, but it can be a (phone) hacker's friend. Turning on the option while charging your mobile will increase the speed at which your phone battery charges
techNew book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone
Arts and Entertainment
Julianne Moore and Ellen Page are starring together in civil rights drama Freeheld
film
Voices
'Irritatingly Disneyfied': fashion vlogger Zoella
voicesVicky Chandler: Zoella shows us that feminism can come in all forms
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?