Goa stands out in India for its Portuguese colonial architecture and heritage, while Mumbai boasts the finest Victorian-era colonial architecture in India. From beach bounty, spice plantations to wildlife encounters and cultural and spiritual experiences, Goa and Mumbai offer a lot to the traveller. Here are the top 14 experiences for both the places combined.
1. Panaji (Panjim)
Slung along the banks of the broad Mandovi River, Panaji is an easy-going city with the delightful old Portuguese districts of Fontainhas and Sao Tomé the perfect setting for a lazy afternoon of wandering. Sip firewater feni with locals in a hole-in-the-wall bar, gamble the night away on a floating luxury casino or poke about in boutiques and book shops.
2. Historic Goa
The 17th-century Portuguese capital of Old Goa once rivalled Lisbon and London in size and importance and was widely known as the ‘Rome of the East’. Today all that remains of the oncegreat city is a handful of amazingly wellpreserved churches and cathedrals – but what a sight! The Basilica de Bom Jesus contains the grizzly ‘incorrupt’ body of St Francis Xavier, while Se Cathedral is the largest in Asia. Stop by for Mass on a Sunday morning, marvel at the intricately carved altars, and imagine religious life here four centuries ago.
Also Read: Going local, for the locals
3. Mumbai to Goa by Train
The Konkan Railway, linking Mumbai with Mangaluru (Mangalore) and passing right through Goa, is one of India’s great railway journeys. Today the rails cross rivers and valleys, with some 2000 bridges and more than 90 tunnels. Make sure you sit near the window to watch the best show in town roll past.
4. Dudhsagar Falls
Frothy Dudhsagar– the name translates as ‘Sea of Milk’ – is the second highest waterfall in India (after Jog Falls in Karnataka) and is a great day-trip adventure. Located deep in the Western Ghats on Goa’s central border with Karnataka, the 300m-high tiered waterfall can be reached from Colem by a bumpy 4WD ride through stunning jungle scenery.
5. Palolem Beach
A blissful crescent of golden sand, balmy seas, gently swaying palm trees, good food, beach huts galore and a colourful backpacker-oriented beach bar scene make Palolem a favourite. Palolem’s distance from the northern beaches keeps it off many travellers’ radars.
6. Mellow Mandrem
Downward-dog the days away in lovely, laid-back Mandrem, where an early morning yoga class, followed by a refreshing swim, an afternoon on a sun lounge with a good book and perhaps an ayurvedic massage are perfect for your spiritual soul.
7. Mumbai’s Colonial Architecture
Mumbai’s magnificent Victorian-era Gothic and Indo-Saracenic architecture is typified by the gloriously imposing Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus – the city’s central train station – and the equally spectacular Taj Mahal Palace, Mumbai’s most famous landmark and one of India’s most iconic hotels. Head down to Mumbai’s harbour at Colaba to see the latter, with its fairy-tale blend of Islamic and Renaissance styles, all facing the grand Gateway of India.
8. Anjuna Market
Whether you’re in the market for some serious souvenirs or simply looking for an injection of local life, Goa’s many markets are a must. The most famous is Anjuna’s flea market, held every Wednesday in season since the 1970s. It’s a curious blend of traders and stalls from all over India, backpackers, day trippers and the odd dreadlocked hippie, but it’s not to be missed.
9. Biking the Byways
Cruising Goa’s back lanes and beach villages on two-wheels is practically de rigueur in Goa. For just a few bucks a day you can hire a moped or a thumping Royal Enfield motorbike at any of Goa’s beach resorts, and head out into the hinterland to experience a slower, pastoral pace of life in the countryside.
10. Fabulous Festivals
Goans love a good festival and the calendar here is packed with cultural events, religious feasts, street parades and music festivals. Among the biggest Catholic festivals are Panaji’s Carnival, the Feast of St Francis Xavier in Old Goa and the Feast of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Panaji.
11. Partying in Goa
Goa has long been a place for partying, from the Portuguese sailors to the hippie freaks of the 1960s to the modern-day trance clubs and techno scene. Finding the right party is a matter of luck and talking to locals, travellers and taxi drivers. Head to Curlies in Anjuna, Hilltop in Vagator and almost anywhere in Morjim for a party fix.
12. Elephanta Island
Take a harbour boat from Mumbai’s Gateway of India to the Unesco World Heritage– listed rock-cut temples on Gharapuri, better known as Elephanta Island. Representing some of India’s finest temple carving, the cave temples date to AD 450. The main Shiva temple contains a 6m-tall statue of Sadhashiva, depicting a three-faced Shiva. The hour-long boat trip gives a good harbour-view of southern Mumbai.
13. Spice Farms
South Indian spices – black pepper, cloves, cardamom, tamarind – were a major attraction for the seafaring Portuguese and today a fun day trip away from the beach is to one of the several commercial spice plantations orbiting around Ponda or down south at the Tanshikar Spice Farm. Most offer a delicious buffet thali lunch served up on a banana leaf, and sell spices and other plantation produce.
14. Watching Wildlife
Goa’s forests and wildlife reserves offer plenty for nature lovers, though most large animals are elusive. Birdwatchers will enjoy Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary or Goa’s many other prime locations. Goa’s most easily accessible wildlife watching is at Cotigao Wildlife Sanctuary, about 9km southeast of Palolem, where you can stay overnight and rise early to spot various species of monkeys, deer and, if you’re lucky, a leopard. Goa’s rivers provide another highlight: spot dolphins playing off shore or mugger crocodiles basking in the estuaries.