Today, as the world celebrates World Tourism Day, Goa the smallest state of India, known for its unique identity, is yet again looking forward to welcome tourists to the new season.
For centuries, this little place in the East has been a much-loved destination for domestic as well as foreign tourists.
The touristy story of Goa began with travellers from the West who discovered this paradise --- let us take you back to the era of hippies, who found solace in Goa and also took it to the world.
Over the year's it positioned itself as a 365 days holiday destination, a wedding destination, a destination for startups, and in recent times, a workstation and heritage tourism destination. It is also slowly moving to a spiritual tourism destination.
These changes have brought drastic change in its growth and development. As we focus on 'rethinking tourism' on World Tourism Day, let's try and see what went wrong and what could be done to keep the essence of Goa alive.
Adventure tourism business is at nascent stage, needs firm direction
The adventure tourism business is at a nascent stage in Goa, but at the same time, it is gradually coming into the reckoning.
The State government will have to ensure that the business remains with the local stakeholders and does not go entirely into the hands of outsiders. It will have to empower locals in Goa's hinterlands to become the custodians of the adventure activities in their respective villages.
The reason is: Locals are more aware of their surroundings and are emotionally connected to them, which may not be the case with operators who are not from Goa.
However, CEO of Adventure Breaks, Kim Sabir, who has been based in Goa for the last 25 years, begs to differ, "There is no doubt, natural resources have to be protected at all costs and in this endeavour, the involvement of locals is a must. However, allowing locals to operate adventure tourism businesses will never work because they don't have the expertise."
He says, "In Goa, the adventure tourism business has the potential, but right now, it is directionless. A concrete policy framework at the government level is the need of the hour. But at the same time, the government will have to see that it has less control and only plays the role of a parent who corrects his children when mistakes are made."
Adventure tourism also brings about the need for conducting your business in a responsible manner. This aspect is lost in the minds of many tourists, and even locals, who flock to Goa for a dose of adventure.
Says Vijay Gawade, a local guide who operates in Kumthal, Sattari, "I tell groups of tourists who trek to waterfalls with me not to leave their bad footprints behind in the form of plastics and other wastes."
However, he rues, the problem is the local boys from surrounding villages and other parts of Goa, who flock to the many waterfalls dotting this area. We have been collecting plastic waste and beer bottles left behind mostly by locals, he adds.
There’s a lot more to Goa than beaches, babes and booze!
With the monsoon on the verge of retreat and winter just about beginning to show its presence, domestic and overseas tourists will soon be visiting Goa in droves. Goa, the “Rome of East”, is rich in its scenic, historic and cultural heritage. Its susegad, peace-loving people have but one expectation of tourists – that they respect Goa’s culture and maintain the serenity of this beautiful state.
Goa suffers from a crisis of identity, as it is depicted to tourists, who come for the beaches and nightlife of the state, rather than exploring its rich cultural heritage. The Government of Goa has been pushing hinterland tourism in Goa for the last couple of years. The opportunity to discover this aspect of Goa will elevate the status of tourism and perhaps attract more upscale tourists. However, it is essential to assure that visitors touring the hinterland of Goa, do so responsibly, without disturbing its uniqueness, beauty and the people of the land.
In the northern district of Goa, there are magnificent temples, representing fascinating Goan heritage and religious values. In the interior of the state, the villages of Pernem, Sattari, Bicholim, Bardez, Tiswadi, and Ponda talukas are home to forts and other historic monuments. Islands like Divar, Chorao, have ensconced within them a number of undiscovered Goan-Portuguese houses.
Apart from historic edifices, we have the natural history of Goa to uncover. There are various adventure tour companies, such as Konkan Explorers and Terra Conscious, which follow required eco-tourism guidelines while taking tourists tracking, hiking, bird-watching and sight-seeing on natural trails in the interior parts of Goa.
In South Goa, there are picturesque tourist attractions, ideal for hinterland tourism, such as Budbudyachi Tali, Datta Gufa and Siddha Parvat. Apart from these, there are waterfalls, strawberry and sugarcane plantations, and spice farm found in the interiors of Neturlim in Sanguem taluka.
In Quepem, there are the temples of Chandreshwar Bhutnath, Goddess Shantadurga, not forgetting the Palácio do Deão and Rivona Buddhist caves. Pre-historic rock carvings at Usgalimol have made it to UNESCO’s world heritage site list. Canacona has the temples of Lord Parshurama and Shri Mallikarjun, which have intricate carvings.
Wanted: Discerning epicurean tourists
Most travellers to Goa have this perception that Vindaloo and Cafreal are the mainstays of Goan gourmet. And, even when they do go to restaurants on the tourist belt, usually the cheaper variety, they are treated to an incredibly watered-down version of these dishes, closer to the generic ‘Indian cuisine’ served in their own countries or states.
It is only the discerning tourist who does his research before travelling and picks the right places to eat at, sometimes happily stumbling upon authentic home-cooked Goan Xitt-Kodi and fried fish, and bhaji made with vegetables endemic to Goa.
It is an unfortunate fact that many tourists, especially the Indian ones, do not explore tastes beyond their own cultural fare. It is rather annoying when you have people coming to Goa only to order at a McDonald’s or KFC in an attempt to appear Westernised.
Sometimes they travel with their own food and cook on location, seemingly to save money, but creating a nuisance to the locals by leaving their rubbish strewn all over the place.
Food is an important part of any culture, and partaking in authentic local cuisine is one of the best ways to soak up the ambience of a region. We have the same Goan food that is cooked differently by Hindus, Muslims and Christians. Therefore, providing a larger menu to choose from.
Then you have dishes that are prepared particularly by people of each religion, such as the Goa-Portuguese drink Orchata, which was served at weddings in the old days, made with almond syrup and milk or water; and Bolo Sans Rival, which is a dessert dish made with layers of cashew nut meringue and vanilla buttercream.
But it is only the considerate tourist, eager to absorb other cultures, who truly cares for and respects the culture and environs of the place he or she visits. This appears to be something that needs to be enforced, perhaps stringently, to establish a system of responsible tourism in Goa.
For God’s sake, ‘susegad’ does not mean ‘lazy’!
It is no secret that Goa’s culture and lifestyle are different and unique from the rest of India. Unfortunately, that is the very thing that is all too often misunderstood and misinterpreted, much to the chagrin of the Goan people. If you’ve ever watched a movie, filmed in Goa, negative elements such as drugs, booze, flesh trade, etc. are at the centre of the plot. In the bargain, the real Goa, the true essence of its culture and people, is completely and hopelessly lost.
The people of Goa are warm and hospitable. This absolutely does not mean that all Goan girls spend their lives in nightclubs, or drink 24x7, or are loose women. Some tourists come here with preconceived notions about Goa, which is very depressing. Visitors must remember that by and large Goans are hospitable, so before coming here, toss those pre-conceived notions in the bin.
Atithi Devo Bhava, which means guest is akin to God, but the tourists also have to ensure they behave in a responsible manner while exploring this land.
One word that comes to mind when one thinks of Goa is susegad, which is not only underrated and used ad nauseam, but is also misunderstood. Susegad basically means striking a balance in life, and Goans know how to do it, and have been doing it for ages, without getting caught up in the rat race that much of the world has gotten accustomed to.
After a hard work day, they know that evening is the time for family, friends and just chilling out in the tranquil scenic beauty of the land around them.
Alas, nowadays, this very mantra has been twisted beyond recognition and has now come to be synonymous with ‘lazy’! Quite often, it is cited as the reason why Goans are denied job opportunities and more as they are labeled as susegad, and therefore ‘lazy’ and even ‘incompetent.’
With lack of employment avenues and even unequal pay, Goan youth are left with little option, but to bid goodbye to their motherland and seek greener pastures on foreign shores. But, truth be told, the average Goan knows how to balance work and life, and is scarcely tempted to be sucked into the rat race of much of the world.
A tip for visitors on the go: Don’t come to Goa with social media photos and a GPRS map alone. Take things slow, travel at a leisurely pace and let the culture of this place sink in. Learn its past, admire its architecture that has traces of its past, learn how Goa came into being, and of course, don’t forget to connect with a local. And, you will discover that the experiences will make a wonderful insta-worthy story.
(Inputs from Franky Gracias, Dhiraj Harmalkar, Iris Gomes and Venita Gomes)