Something old …. & a lot more New Goa

As Goa reopens for tourists once again, it would be naïve to assume that the past two years haven’t changed anything. It’s a new Goa, one which is bolder, more ready to experiment than ever before and one which is providing a chance for people from across the country to restart their lives when there was little breathing space elsewhere. Shobhika Jaju explores this new, changed, and yet familiar Goa..

All one needs to do to see the changed, new face of the post-pandemic Goa, is take a drive around the North Goa belt. As you cross the overarching “Atal Setu” bridge, you enter a Goa waiting to lure you into all things bright, sparkling and new; lined up are a bunch of restaurants serving all possible cuisines from the country and around the world, and shops, recreation, & entertainment options to loosen those purse strings which have been held tight over the past two years.

To say that Goa is just reopening for the tourists and for the festive season, would be entirely wrong. Instead, Goa is revamping itself in interesting ways, which were only seen as possibilities before but are happening for sure now. For instance, for those of us who have been calling Goa home since the past decade or more, have for sure noticed the drastic (& even that sounds like an understatement) improvement in the internet connectivity across the state; there are perhaps very few “remote” areas left where there is absolutely no cell network anymore.

Let’s look at some of the key areas where Goa is noticing a significant change as it gears up for a new season and a life beyond the pandemic.

Bicycle

Beyond the Beach

Well, it would suffice to say that in spite of all the efforts by local groups to revive the inland-heritage-village tourism in Goa, it took a pandemic for people to actually look beyond the beaches and start associating Goa with so much more. With countless bloggers, vloggers, Instagrammers and more from this tribe visiting Goa every time the travel restrictions lifted, suddenly everyone across the country, who had only dreamt of the pristine Goa beaches and the beer (among other things associated with the beach), knew a side of Goa which only a few were familiar with. Maybe it was the desire to showcase a lesser-known side of Goa, or get more hits & likes, or really explore something new, we do have oodles to thank this online tribe for.

Today, an average tourist to Goa is asking for and making space for activities like e-bike tours, temple trails, village visits, treks and swims, island walks, bird watching, mangrove walks, etc, etc, on their visit to Goa, and none of these involve the beach. The glamour & the escape which the beach life provides certainly cannot be taken away, but it’s heartening to see those not dependent on the beach directly, also getting a chance to make a livelihood. There is countless curated hiking, trekking and groups which organize exploratory trails for tourists to explore this other, lesser-known side of Goa. Goa’s hinterlands have always exuded an ethereal charm and are now finally taking centerstage on tourists’ & locals’ itineraries.

Another emerging aspect of this beyond the beach narrative is Goa being viewed as the destination in the country for wellness tourism. Well, Goa did actually always have one of the best medical facilities & a highly qualified crème of medical staff across specializations, but the pandemic life has touted it to be a holistic space for wellness, both physical and mental. While the Ayurvedic treatment centres and spas were always there, a new space of wellness retreats has been slowly cropping up. Wellness retreats are essentially offered at establishments, either a standalone one or one which is part of a hotel or resort property, where programs that focus on the overall health of the individual are offered. These programs can be for a week or more, and typically offer spa treatments, diet plans, exercise routines, etc. with an aim to retune the body to a consistently healthy lifestyle.

A New Home

One of the most dominant changes noticed during the pandemic was a need by people to shift their home base from choked up metro cities to less populated livable areas, and Goa certainly emerged as one of the most popular remote work destinations. With improved internet connectivity, ease of switching between work hours and leisure time, easy accessibility to quality medical care and all the benefits of urban life in a relaxed atmosphere where the air is not toxic to breathe, everyone in the corporate world descended upon Goa to live the dream life. Goa emerged as a friendly space for children, pets and the elderly with little or no restrictions on the freedom of movement during the pandemic months when even a whiff of fresh air was impossible in most parts of the country. 

Over the past few months, Goa certainly proved to be more than welcoming toward the many who chose to call it their home, either permanently or for a short while. Many are even giving up their home cities entirely and getting their documentations done locally, with the intent of settling down here. There is a Goa for every type of traveller and for every kind of budget. Right from apartments, modest to lavish Air BnB accommodations, villa stays, homestays, long-term hotel stays, every kind of booking was sought after during the peak of the WFH time & still in demand. Even among the incoming tourists, who are purely coming here for leisure with the onset of the tourist season, there is a preference for private rental stays and less commercial properties.  

A whole new Gastronomic Affair

Typically, restaurants open and then they close; another one opens at its place with usually the same staff, same owner and the story continues with a new name. But this time around, things have changed. Goa actually does have a whole new restaurant scene, not repackaged but freshly launched. Name the cuisine and you have it here. Owned, managed and often cooked for by an extremely young group of new age chefs-cum-owners. A quick chat with this bunch often reveals the many passionate reasons for wanting to relocate to Goa, and start their own restaurants, cafes, bakeries, etc, and the need to walk away from the saturated spaces of the big cities. With so much to explore in the culinary scene of Goa, this new and excited bunch is surely allowing us locals to savour every bite with the hope for more to come.

We sure love this new version of Goa… what about you?!

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