Liberated in December 1961 after 451 years of Portuguese rule, Goa is all of two districts - North Goa and South Goa - with Panjim as its capital city and covering a total of 3700 sq. kilometers. Goa is located on the western coast of the Indian Peninsula and separated from Maharashtra by the Terekhol River in the North. The State of Karnataka is on its Southern side, the Western Ghats in the east and Arabian Sea in the west. The entire Union Territory of Goa has a population of 12 lakhs plus. The climate is tropical throughout the year, with just the period of June to September being monsoon months.
The major towns of Goa comprise of Panaji (Panjim), Margao, Mapusa, Ponda and Vasco-da-Gama. They are all scattered across the state and with distances of not more than 40 kilometres from Panjim. Each of these towns has its own importance.
Panjim is Goa's bustling capital situated on the banks of the famous Mandovi River. Panjim is perhaps the one Goan city that has preserved its Portuguese heritage. You can still find narrow, winding lanes and ancient houses with red-tiled roofs. And being the capital town, government and administrative offices are located here. So, you can imagine the state of activity throughout the year. In fact, the Secretariat building at Panjim was the former palace of Sultan Adil Shah of Bijapur during his brief rule of Goa in the 15th century and was later to become the residence of Portuguese Viceroys, after the Sultan was overthrown.
If you plan on making Panjim your base during your holiday (we think you should because everything happens out of here) you'll never have to go too far looking for Internet parlours, bars or restaurants.
Margao is a fairly large town though not as large as Panjim is. Yet, it's an important hub and its latest claim to fame is the opening of the Konkan Railway. That's what makes it the busiest Railway Station in Goa. Margao has other reasons for being popular with tourists, travelers and for just about anybody. It has some fine beaches to boast, including the popular Colva Beach. Besides these, there are some interesting temples and churches one can get to visit.
Mapusa, closer to Panjim than Margao, is well known for the easy access it provides to famous beaches like Calangute, Vagator, Anjuna and Baga (literally an extension of Calangute Beach). But Mapusa has another interesting facet few know about - the weekly bazaar or better known as Goa's Flea market. Tourists, especially foreigners flock to Mapusa each week during the season and try their hand at bargaining for interesting curios, handicrafts or perhaps a 'Bleeding Madras' shirt. Tourists, who find accommodation expensive or just not available at Calangute beach, invariably head for Mapusa as an alternative. Not that hotel rooms are cheap or easy to come by, but certainly less expensive in comparison.
The town of Vasco-da-Gama isn't named because the famed voyager was the first to step foot on Goan soil in his quest to find a sea route into India. In fact, Vasco-da-Gama landed in Calicut in 1498 on the West Coast several hundred miles south of Goa. So, why is it called 'Vasoc-da-Gama'? Well, it was perhaps a symbolic gesture by Alfonso de Albuquerque in commemoration of Vasco-da-Gama's discovery of India?
Vasco-da-Gama is famous for the Mormugao Harbour (just 4 kilometres from the town) run by the Mormagao Port Trust and is certified as an ISO 9002 Port. It is one of the finest anchorages on the west coast of India and the center of intense maritime activity, with halts by passenger and cargo ships from all over the world.
The Ponda district administrative headquarters is a town called Ponda and most famous for the Safa Masjid, the mosque built by Sultan Adil Shah, the biggest amongst the 27 mosques in Ponda.
Goa is green, not dry and parched. The terrain is hilly, rain-drenched forests, mango, coconut, cashew groves and lush green paddy fields. The long coastlines of Goan beaches are palm-fringed, white and sandy. You may not find peace and tranquility at all beaches; there's still a lot to explore. To describe Goan culture, it would suffice to say that it's a unique blend of Latin and Oriental.