When to travel - If you are not going to be visiting the far north such as Kashmir or the Himalayan foothills then the best time to travel in India is from about October to the end of February as this avoids the Monsoons, ridiculous humidity and heat. It can however get a little cold in Delhi and Agra so be prepared.
The poverty - I am still not used to this aspect and I don’t want to dissuade anyone from going to India, but it is an upsetting and unavoidable scene, and it will shock you. You can’t give out all of your money every time you see a beggar or every time you are hassled by street urchins; gauge the situation and act accordingly. In one village in Rajasthan all the children begged for pens instead, so I went to a stationary shop and bought 100 pens, made the children line up, and handed them out.
Language- Depending on where you are going this can be a problem. Different areas of India have their own language or dialect with huge variation. In the major cities and more touristy areas, such as Goa, pretty much everyone speaks English as their second language. In more remote places, however, it is sometimes the case that no one speaks English or even Hindi. In these situations it is best to have your travel plans and accommodation well organised so that you don’t need to ask anyone for help.
The prices I will give will be in Rupees and the current exchange rate is ₹ 98 = £1, so simply divide by 100.
South Goa provides a relaxed beachy holiday with sun, sand, yoga and western amenities. If you are “searching for the authentic” this is not the place to look; however, you will still have an amazing time.
I first went to Goa with my family when I was 7 years old and my parents (both avid Indo-philes) chose Goa because of its very relaxed, easy, hassle free atmosphere, making it an appropriate place to bring two small children. By this I don’t mean that the place is swarming with annoying youngsters (quite the contrary in fact) but that Goa provides a gentle door into India for the first time traveler.
Getting to South Goa is a pretty easy affair. Flights from Heathrow can go direct to Goa’s Dabolim Airport or if these aren’t available, the domestic flights in India are almost like buses and connecting flights from Mumbai or Delhi depart on the hour. From the airport get a prepaid taxi, or if you have already booked your hotel, organize for them to pick you up. This will avoid being taken advantage of and being charged far more than you should be. The drive is about 2 hours south and if you don’t mind a slightly longer but far more beautiful, less polluted and quiet journey you can ask your driver to take the scenic coastal route
Where to stay:
When I first stayed at Agonda there was only one hotel, now there are countless all down the beach with a huge range of price and style. From the cheaper end of the scale, costing around ₹500 a night (£5), you can have a small detached bungalow situated in a local family's back garden, including a guard dog, small bathroom and a few friendly geckos. Moving up, a straw hut on stilts right on the beach might be your scene, costing around ₹1000 a night. The place we always stay at which I would highly recommend is the Palm Beach Lifestyle Resort. Set back from the beach and road, quiet individual rooms with en suite bathrooms and a private balcony are staggered up the hill and at ₹1500 a night this is well worth it. If you are really willing to splash out then the Dunhill is the place to stay. The hotel is air conditioned, with oak and glass paneled individual rooms, surrounded by trees and foliage ,and positioned on the beach. WIth an 8 month waiting list and rooms at ₹10000 a night this place a comparatively lavish. The Dunhill also as has very good restaurant which is far more reasonably priced and I would definitely recommend dining here.
Fatima’s is THE place to eat. This very small family run cafe provides delicious veg and Goan fish thalis that are enjoyed by both the locals and the tourists alike, and at ₹70 (70p) a head, what's not to like. There’s another little cafe (whose name I can’t remember) across the road from Fatima’s, and this place sells the freshest curd in small terracotta pots and the best samosas. If you are missing home, however, do not fret as there are so many places along the beach that cook everything from pasta to fish and chips. Beer and chocolate pancakes are also readily available. Whilst in Goa really make the most of the abundance of fresh local fruit which is available in all the restaurants as fruit salads and juices but also from small stalls along the road, which supports the local farmers.
First of all, hire a moped. This is by far the best way to travel as you wont be going to far anyway. It gives you so much freedom, only costs ₹300 a day and is such fun.
North and South of Agonda are a few other beaches, and each offers something different. Pallolem is the biggest and busiest beach, and is the place to go to purchase those ever so necessary Alibarbar pants and that King Fisher wife beater your friend requested. Remember to bargain. Kola Beach is a small secluded beach that you have to moped and then walk to (ask for directions). The beach is stunning, with a small river opening out into the sea. Canaguinim is also worth a quick visit with its idyllic isolated setting and hidden beaches.
Margao, an hour and a half trip from Agonda, is a city that offers a busy and lively break from the palms and beaches. Take a day trip either by bus (hot and crowded but cheap) or organize a taxi to drive, and to wait, for about Rs 1500. The Saturday market is seriously good, with a hugely extensive covered network of passages selling everything from spices and vegetables to glass bangles. Again, remember to bargain. There are various places in the market to eat with the usual samosas and puri bhajis, but for that much needed escape from the hot and hectic labyrinth ask for directions to Longuinho’s which has an Old Goan colonial quaint charm and excellent iced coffees.
Buy a boogie board - The surf on Agonda beach can be pretty descent.
Marwari horses - There is a Rajasthani man living in Agonda who owns three white Marwari horses: a native Indian breed with beautiful long legs and inward turning ears. The man rides every evening along the beach and if you ask, you can arrange for a small price, to ride them also.
Yoga - For many people, a huge part of their Goa vacation is the Yoga. There are so many opportunities and classes so, even if you've never done it before, get sucked in and embrace it. Theres nothing more serene than balancing your inner chakras on an empty beach at sunrise.