The former Portuguese colony of Goa is one of India’s favoured tourist destinations, with a reputation for parties, music, dancing and a laid-back approach to life.
Although there have been suggestions that the area has lost much of its magic since becoming a huge tourist attraction, it’s still possible to escape the crowds and find peace and quiet, not least by hiring a motorbike and touring the countryside.
Two weeks isn’t much time in a country as vast as India, so it is recommended that visitors confine themselves to a certain area and get a true taste of what India has to offer.
One route to follow is a straight trek south from Mumbai to the coastal area around Goa, where some of the most beautiful beaches in the world are to be found.
A good place to head for is Margao, Goa’s second largest and busiest town. Night trains run from Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus, from where travellers can hop on a bus south and then take a short taxi trip to the pristine stretch of beach at Agonda.
While the beach isn’t the most ideal place for swimming, it still retains a friendly small—village feeling and also boasts a range of accommodations to suit all budgets and tastes.
Scooters and motorbikes can be rented, for instance to explore the coast to the north, passing by water buffalo, rice fields and the ruins of the Cabo da Rama Fort before reaching Chandor.
This village is situated on the banks of the river Kushavati and was once was the site of ancient Chandrapura, capital of the Kadamba dynasty, which ruled Goa in the 1300s.
The Braganza house dominates the village square. The 17th century colonial mansion still houses much of the family furniture, along with Chinese porcelain from Macau, a collection of family portraits and a relic of St Francis Xavier.
The provincial capital of Panaji (Panjim) can be reached by a three-hour bus journey further north. The oldest district is Fontainha, where Neoclassical houses can be viewed. Sao Tome, situated to the north of Fontainhas, is also worth a visit.
Panaji is an ideal base for a trip to Anjuna and Se Cathedral in Old Goa. Dedicated to Catherine of Alexandria, the Catholic church is one of the oldest religious buildings in Goa and is one of the largest churches in Asia.
A couple of days are also needed for a visit to the archaeological sites at Ajanta and Ellora, where man-made temples have been cut into a massive granite hillside by generations of monks.
Buddhist, Hindu and Jain monks have all worshipped in the caves, which are home to statues, pillars and meditation rooms.
All that then remains is the 300-kilometre trip back to the hectic city of Mumbai, a frantic assortment of India’s extremes.