Vasco Da Gama
Industrial Vasco da Gama is a busy port town, and was once a major transport hub for travellers until its train station was eclipsed by Margao’s. Situated at the base of the isthmus leading to Mormugao Harbour, Vasco sports both an oil refinery and Goa’s biggest red-light district, at Baina, where there’s a steady influx of sailors and truck drivers.
For nearly 250 years after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1510, Ponda taluka (district) remained under the control of Muslim or Hindu rulers, and many of its temples came into existence when Hindus were forced to escape Portuguese persecution by fleeing across its district border, bringing their sacred temple deities with them as centuries-old edifices were destroyed by the.
Though it’s hard to believe it today, the little village of Goa Velha – nowadays just a blur of roadside buildings on a trip south towards Margao along the national highway NH17 – was once home to Govepuri, a grand international port and capital city, attracting Arab traders who settled the surrounding area, rich from the spoils of the spice trade.
Only 4km from the Dabolim Airport, Bogmalo is a thin crescent of sand with a scruffy village and a slightly isolated air, given there are no other beaches around it. One end of the bay is marred by the monstrous ’70s-style Bogmalo Beach Resort, which somehow evaded the restriction requiring all hotels to be built at least 500m from the high-tide line.
Approached through pleasant, leafy Majorda village, Majorda Beach is a smarter, more-organised option than neighbouring Utorda. Here, a pleasant stream separates the laneways from the beach, forded by rickety bamboo bridges. The beach itself has about half-a-dozen Russian-oriented beach shacks, all serving up the standard beach fare with menu boards chalked up in Cyrillic.
The small village Chandor, about 15km east of Margao, is an important stop for its collection of once-grand Portuguese mansions, exemplified by the wonderful Braganza House. It’s a photogenic place with fading but still grand facades and gables – many topped with typically Portuguese carved wooden roosters – and the looming white Nossa Senhora de Belem church.
Molem & Around
If you’re keen to visit Goa’s largest protected wildlife area, the state’s oldest temple, or the second-largest waterfalls in India, then make tracks for Molem, a dusty village on the main road east into Karnataka state. Molem’s sole and upscale accommodation option, Dudhsagar Spa Resort is a relatively slick series of bungalows and luxury tents, set up around a garden.
Inland Bardez & Bicholim
There’s not as much to explore in North Goa’s interior as there is in the central and southern parts of the state, but with your own wheels you can leave the beach behind for a day or two and head east into the district of Bardez. There are some fine old churches, sleepy villages, forts and a part of the Goan countryside that relatively few tourists see.