It maybe a teeny-weeny, match-boxlike Indian State, but Goa has quite some history behind it. The earliest known fact is that it was once under Mauryan rule in 3rd century B.C, and over the centuries came under the rule of various dynasties. Goa finally fell to the Muslims in early 14th century but not for too long. Towards the end of the 14th century, the Vijayanagara kingdom came to power and ruled till the end of the 15th century before Adil Shah set foot and captured Goa.
Goa's wide rivers and natural harbours, booming trade in horses and spices were the main attractions for the seafaring Portuguese to land there under the command of Alfonso de Albuquerque in 1510. Adil Shah thwarted their first attempt, but the Portuguese regrouped and overthrew the Muslim ruler and took a firm grip of Goa. Gradually, they expanded their territorial control and the Portuguese, despite losing control to the Marathas and the British, hung on till 1961.
Goa's fight for liberty had commenced much before India's fight for Independence. Eventually, India was free when the British left in 1947, but not Goa, where the defiant Portuguese still ruled. The Indian rulers tried their best in diplomacy with the global community but were unsuccessful in convincing the then Premier, Dr. Antonio de Salazar to leave Indian shores.
Things were hotting up and the adamant stand of the Portuguese left the Indian government with no choice but to launch an attack and set right this "accident of history". India's victorious freedom struggle was fresh on their minds and no way were they going to allow another foreign power control any part of Indian Territory. And so, "Operation Vijay" was put in place. The naval operation commenced on 18th December 1961 and ended at 6 pm the next day.
Goa was free.
All Aboard! All Aboard!
Which is the best way to see Goa? Lot depends on how adventurous you are. If you like exploring and probing around on your own, then hire a 2-wheeler. This concept has been in existence in Goa for years. Way back in 1975, Rajdoot Motorcycles were available on hire. Now, you have the auto-start Kinetic Hondas and extremely popular with foreigners, who can be seen zipping around the streets and roads of Goa.
Other options are of course; the pretty convenient, reasonably comfortable and highly economical bus tours offered by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation (GTDC. Why don't they just call it 'Goa Tourism'?). They have various packages and your choice would depend how much time you have on hand. But the most popular are the 'North Goa Specials' and the 'South Goa Specials' starting from the Goa Tourism Development Corporation office in Panjim. These tours (taken on 2 different days) pretty much cover most of what one needs to see in Goa.
There's the "don't miss" River Cruise on the luxury launch, Santa Monica run by the GTDC. There's Goan cultural entertainment on board and one wishes there was Feni and Fish, like the wine and cheese on the canal cruises in Amsterdam. Nonetheless, it's a good tour to take. Choose between the Sunset Cruise and the Sundown Cruise, on the River Mandovi.
North Goa Tour
The bus isn't too bad to look at and yet it isn't something you'll fall head over heels in love with. Once you are on board and as the bus weans its way around the not-so-heavy Goa traffic, there's that all-familiar rattling sound of creaky windows and loose bus-body fittings. The pushback seat lever works and that's good. The upholstery, though wearing out isn't in tatters as one finds in buses at other places. It's a common malady, this business of tourist bus maintenance by state-run government tourism departments. They are comfortable, but never plush.
The tour guide, with streaks of sweat trickling down his cheeks (and its just 9.30 in the morning) introduces himself to those on board and rattles off in understandable English on certain ground rules. One of which is that at each place of halt the stoppage time will be announced and all are requested to strictly adhere to that. Latecomers will be left behind. Normally, no one takes these instructions seriously. But this guide meant what he said. At one halt, when some passengers didn't get back on time he just left, much to the annoyance of those passengers who had to find their way to the next halting place and meet up with the rest. We think the guide did right. After all, they do promise to bring you back at a designated time after finishing the tour. How can they keep up to this schedule if passengers drag themselves around like snails? Besides, why don't we take instructions seriously?
We pick up a few passengers at a hotel on the way and our first halt is Vithalwadi Temple, Sanquelim, 40-odd kilometers from Panjim. Vitthal is the ancestral God of 'Ranes' and the history of the Ranes of Goa is well known for their formidable resistance to Portuguese rule. The temple serves as a reminder to the valiant Ranes. The halt is for 20 minutes and everyone is back in the bus in time, since there's really nothing much to see in the temple. Our next stop is the Mayem Lake, considered as the state's most popular picnic spot. Almost all tourist buses - and there are scores of them operating each day - converge here around lunchtime. Some prefer to just take pictures of the natural lake and some others hire a pedal boat and go around the lake. It's just past mid-day and hot. Amidst all the garbage and litter in and around the lake, there are these roadside vendors doing brisk business quenching your thirst by selling iced fresh lime soda at 10 bucks. Refreshing, no doubt, but nonetheless a rip-off. Tender coconut is also sold at 10 bucks and that's rip-off No. 2. The same tender coconut is available at Panjim for 5 bucks. Soft drinks, cold drinks, mineral water, eats, snacks, etc - all are sold at three times or above their normal price. And if you are a foreigner then be prepared to pay even more. One can understand paying a premium for these much needed thirst-quenchers on a hot, humid day but outright fleecing is beyond comprehension. "It happens everywhere", someone will tell you, but no one is able to explain, "why?"
Just a 5-minute drive to the other side of the lake is a restaurant, where we stopover for lunch. Since there are many buses zooming in at this place almost at the same time, we make a dash for the nearest vacant table. The tour guide gives us a maximum of 30 minutes for lunch. Which means, we've got to hurry. One is always hopeful that the service will be quick and we won't have to rush through lunch. It is, but not before we promised the waiter a good tip. Money makes so much of difference. Food is Goan Fish Curry and plain, white rice and it's yummy. We finish our lunch and head for the bus. It's a good 10 minutes before the other co-passengers come trickling in and the guide tells us that they are now 15 minutes behind schedule. To make up some lost time we unanimously agree to skip one of the smaller beaches (or was it because it wasn't that popular) and instead, head for the most preferred Calangute Beach.