Goa Barbara Kingstone March 19, 2011 Asia, India Think of Goa and visions of beaches come to mind. However, like everything else in India, nothing is ever quite what you expect. Goa is the smallest State in terms of area and has the fourth smallest population. This western area of India is located on a strip between the Western Ghat Mountains and the Arabian Sea, the coastal belt known as Konkan which offers a cornucopia of diversity. Over the centuries various dynasties have rules but the most famous was the Portuguese whose influence is still visible. From the 16th century for 450 years the conquering Portuguese ruled until the area was annexed by India in 1961. In 1987 Goa became the 25th State of India. The capital, Panaji, a friendly slow paced city with a few surviving churches and monasteries, is worthy of a couple hours of sightseeing. And after an early morning of activity, the traveler could look forward to the still maintained siesta from 2PM to 4PM. However, Margao, the second largest town is the city that still manifests the influence of the Portuguese. Margao is the drama arts cultural centre. Instead of colorful saris the women wear pretty puffed sleeves dresses and against Indian tradition, widows opt to wear European black and not Hindu white. Look up at some of the balcaos (porches) and in all probability you’ll see the women crocheting. Color is everywhere. Houses are painted blue, yellow, red and windows have clear white framing them. So imbedded with Portuguese tradition is this State, even the cuisine is a mixture of Portuguese and Indian and believe it or not, the Indian wine is very acceptable but not enough for export. As for sports, every field has kids and adults playing soccer, not cricket, a left over from another era. Ah, the renowned beaches. Dotted along the 125 coast line are wonderful beaches from bustling, people watching, water active types to simple quiet oasis. For those who need more activity, there is flaking Indo Portuguese style architecture, unfortunately, many in a dilapidated state and World Heritage sites. Put up you feet, read a book, take a walk on the fine dark sand and swim in the azure blue waters where the sky and the sea are difficult to distinguish from each other. The impressive literary rate is 82%, and although Konkani is the official language, English is widely spoken An unexpected surprise and one of the best means of transportation is the reasonably new Konkan Railway which opened in 1997 and provides north south transportation. It has changed the lifes of the coastal people but also for travelers who want the train experience instead of the hair raising car drives. The train offers a good meal, a night’s sleep, window sightseeing and if Mumbai (Bombay) is your next destination, by early the next day, you’ll be there with the memories of the fine time in Goa.