Shake the sand from your flip-flops and head inland to discover why this former Portuguese colony is a world apart from the rest of India
Even Richard F Burton, the indomitable Victorian explorer and writer who once made the hajj to Mecca disguised as a Pashtun pilgrim, was dazzled by Goa. ‘Most beautiful was the hazy tone of colour all around’, waxed Burton on a visit from neighbouring ‘Hindoo’ India, before going on to describe ‘huge masses of masonry – some standing out from the cloudless sky, others lining the edge of the creek – ruins of very picturesque form, and churches of most unpicturesque hue.’
Nowadays Goa is better known for its beach holidays. So what did Burton, in his 1851 travelogue Goa and the Blue Mountains, have to say about the sun-kissed coastline? Zilch. Rather, he travelled down from British-ruled Bombay (now Mumbai) because he was ‘rudely roused by curiosity’ about the Portuguese colony on the Indian subcontinent, which, at that time, had been governed from Lisbon for the past three centuries.
Like Burton before me, it wasn’t Goa’s white sands that stirred my interest. The colonial era maybe behind it, but I was expecting some areas to still be closer in spirit to the Mediterranean than the rest of the subcontinent. So I set out to discover what lay beyond the famed beaches of India’s smallest state, sniffing out its hinterlands and echoes of its 400-year-long colonial era, which only ended in 1961 when then-Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru ordered the Portuguese to be ejected by force. I was in search of a country within a country.