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Monday
Mar292010

Goa – My Overview

I am no-where near finished with Tata Indicom yet, but I am letting that one brew until it gets a really good head of steam, and then I shall discuss the issue in some depth. In the meantime, I thought I would try and have a look at Goa and attempt to summarise its real flavour.

Choice of tourist beach shacks Calengute, Goa

My friend, John, who is in the midst of a SERIOUS tour of India, changed his schedule and came to visit me for five days in Goa. We have known each other for a very long time (35 years) and we both tend to have quite strong (we think ‘thought-through’) views on a wide range of topics. Thus, we rarely short of things to talk about, and it was a very enjoyable five days.

However, John did not like Goa and, on reflection, I can understand that it would not appeal to a serious ‘Indiaophile’ or whatever an India appreciator is called. It is not that Goa is any different from the rest of India, it has just marketed itself as a holiday destination for Europeans, and Russians, and has made a number of changes to accommodate their needs. Then, of course, there are the large hoards of visitors themselves.

Goa, unlike many other parts of India, has a very relaxed attitude to alcohol – to include very low tax rates – and there are many bars selling cheap beer, wine, and spirits. Obviously this will be a factor in attracting tourism. Similarly, many of the hotels have become somewhat westernised. You don’t have to ask for a towel and loo paper. There will be hot water, and the sheets will be changed daily, as will the towels. However, the real problem will be found in the quality, and attitudes, of a minority of the tourist visitors. You get them everywhere, they used to be called the ‘Kiss me quick’ hat brigade. They refuse to compromise their westernism, and tend to concentrate on the small number of things that are wrong with where they visit, rather than the many things that are right. The problem is that they tend to have very loud voices, that grate, and there is always a small selection wherever you go.  I am a supporter of Goa, I believe that it offers the open-minded a magnificent introduction to India – a kind of half-way house, from which some will go on to explore further, at whatever level.

I will illustrate the points I have made by giving a quick review of my favourite Goan hotel.

I really like the Osborne Resort, Calengute. In my view it is the perfect base for a holiday in Goa. Outside of the packages, it is not particularly cheap, but it does what it does – catering to the tourist trade – with some panache. It is very well run by Manager Joe Da Silva, and his staff. The gardens within the grounds are genuine gardens, and the place is kept looking clean and fresh. A wide range of food is available from 7.00am in the morning, till 10.00pm at night, with bars remaining open for those that want them, till midnight. The hotel is split into three blocks, or phases, each of which are relatively self contained with their own pools and bar/restaurants. The exception being breakfast, which is served in the main restaurant in Phase 2 from 7.00am till 10.00am.

The breakfast terrace - Osborne Resorts

Rooms are functionally comfortable and are serviced daily with clean sheets, towels, and floors are mopped through. There is plenty of hot water and there are (further cost) options that can include air-con, and a satellite tv. There are safe deposit boxes available in reception, as well as money changing facilities. You can also, (if you don’t mind a 4% surcharge) change money, and pay bills, with a European credit card. Most of the staff speak good English, make a point of being friendly, and will invariably remember your name. The walls can be a little thin, so you have to hope that you are not placed in a room next to a husband-beater. In my first week, I was next door to a delightful couple who indulged in the occasional brief bout of noisy copulation, fortunately the operative word in that description was ‘brief’ so disturbance was minimal.

My room at the Osborne

It is important to remember that Calengute/Candolim/Baga are probably the epicentre of the Goan tourist trade, and the better hotels there have gone a considerable way towards meeting mass market needs. It can be irritating therefore to overhear people, who have never been anywhere else within India, talking as though they have some expertise about the country. My own is somewhat limited, but as a suggestion, try checking into a hotel in Mammalapuram at 4.00am in the morning, hot and sweaty, after a long journey from England. Achieve this without waking up too many of the dozen people sleeping on the floor in reception, and without setting off too many of the local dogs. And then find, after they have all gone back to sleep again, that your room has no hot water, no loo paper, and no towel.  (Try then asking, Mr ‘Kiss me Quick’, as you were overheard in Goa, for a fish finger sandwich). And yet still regard the whole Mammalapuram experience as exiting, and rewarding. Then appreciate that Goa is a tourist area that has suspended many of the norms of accepted Indian practices, traditions, and culture, in order to cater to the western tourist market. I like Goa very much, as a holiday destination, but as John would say, it no-way represents ‘real India’. In reality, it is a taster, a unique mix of actual and ‘Disney-India’. For that reason, I believe it deserves its success, and I will visit Goa again. And also, Mammalapuram.  And Havelock.

'Scorpion' arrangement of clean towels at the Osborne