Bahamas, Jamaica and all those pretty mamas, take a break. Up-market retro-bars, hip clubs, a growing art scene, Indo-Portuguese architectural wonders, laid-back, quaint Latin quarters, a melting pot of cross-cultures, traditions and a vibrant retail showcase of East meets West leisure-spa-sport fashion awaits the global citizen.
Goa boasts picture-perfect images enough to seduce you for a mock-up Caribbean holiday. As you step out of the aircraft and into the humid warmth of the sunny State - Cuban straw hat perched on a blond streaked edgy blunt bob - visions of languid lapping waters, a chilled `Mojito' within arm shot and a six-pack masseur kneading those stressed out shoulders assail the brain. You have arrived!
If you're hitting the beach, don't fret those tourists ogling at your sun-tanned curves. Instead, ignore the attention, grit your teeth, and swear under your breath even if you wish you were in Hawaii sipping a Mimosa, undisturbed. In Goa, you learn to grin, pose and bear. Ask Gautam Singhania, Malini Ramani even Dr Vijay Mallya - new inhabitants of the old social order - on how they deal with `sucegado.' They flash a mega watt, throw up their hands in submission, come rain, electricity cuts or a bad photo op for the fashionista.
For a true blue shopper, this paradise is a perfect example on how to be your own stylist. Fashion follows no break-your-neck rules over a social boo-boo, besides evoking the occasional raised eyebrow. Instead, Goa continues to live in her past even as it looks forward, traditional dress fighting attention with well-heeled fashion victims and connoisseurs. The growth of the fashionable class is making its presence felt with the booming of the Indian fashion industry. Naturally so, if you're intent on shopping and giving your wardrobe a make-over, you head straight towards Candolim, North Goa - the mecca of tourist action, Goa's party zone, phirang country and brand haven, throbbing with night clubs, beer pubs, coffee shops, foreign exchange hawkers, ubiquitous shopping arcades, high brand lifestyle stores with a dime-a-dozen taxi drivers to take you there. Locals jostle for space even as land fights for construction space and more motels. This is also abode of the hybrid generation of local-meets-phirang complete with sun-tan and British accents thriving on making a living off the tourist and their craving for exoticism.
There's enough action for the shopaholic looking for a life-altering experience in North Goa. From street shopping to designer beach wear, couture co-exists with kitsch, junk jewellery with exquisite hand-crafted silver and semi-precious Tibetan one-of-a-piece jewellery markets along Baga and the Flea Market at Anjuna (every Wednesdays). For the hard-core shopper, Candolim along Fort Aguada Road, has re-christened itself as the new destination for brand conscious retail stores.
Buyers are many, and a hot favourite with Russians, prices wary according to the season (high-season begins from Sept – Dec) and a good bargain is possible though the staff would have you believe in fixed prices. Tourist mark-ups are often a reality, so sharpen those bargaining skills. Says a storekeeper at Benetton, Candolim, "Our clientele are mostly foreigners who find the prices competitive as compared to their own countries. Women's wear is most popular in Goa." Speaks why most of them are so well turned out.
Affording leisure shopping under one roof is the Goan lifestyle store Acron Arcade, spread over 25,000 sq. ft. in a low–rise, Indo-Iberian architectural style with front lawns and gardens. The pace spells `chill,' for no rush shopping as you take in the floors, browse for perfect buys and hidden discounts. The Arcade boasts an art gallery, a bookshop called Upper-Story, and a 120 cover bistro-bar Cinnabar, alongside with 160 premium brands including garments, accessories, lingerie, fragrances, footwear, personal care, home-furnishings, artifacts and handicrafts. The humongous multi-label, multi-brand arcade for men and women prompted even designer Ritu Kumar to flex her creative muscle with a collective showcase of her summer wear. From popular women's brands Gurlz, Mila, Canary Blue along with a smattering of local women designers promoting evening wear and party bags, a good buy waits to be discovered. Must see is Hidesign with a lovely collection of leather, just perfect for those arm candy occasions and an ecletic shoe designer well crafted with the gift of turning heads, B Higgins. Some real classic footwear there.
Down Candolim road and heading towards Calangute, the store-chain of Fab India and Glimpses of India play hosts to ethnic hunters looking for a change of pace in styling, sensibility and texture. Shoppers of Indian designer wear couldn't have it better with self-styled brands keeping pace with leisure fashion emphasizing colour, mood and comfort all along this road. Designer Malini Ramani's flagship store on the Candolim-Calangute highway takes the cue with blitz, glitz, fancy window and many footfalls drawing eager squeals of pleasure from local as well as foreign shoppers. Accessories, sequin evening bags, party wear, beach wear, shoes and a newly introduced spa collection gives eclectic a brand new address. As does the `Bikini Shop' for sports-beach wear at Baga.
Cutting across the Mandovi, the nerve centre of government and business, the capital city of Panjim perhaps is feast for the senses in more ways than one. Mecca of the upper middle class, Portuguese architectural monuments, churches, art and cultural centres, open gardens, riverside promenades, fashion and lifestyle stores dot the city. The busy intersection of M G Road serves as the cosy cove for casual brand wear with Weekender occupying prime space and attention. Maneuvering traffic across the main traffic arterial of Panjim city, the Azad Maidan square gives sports buffs a major shot in the arm with Reebok, Nike, La Costa, Wrangler, Adidas, Benetton, Wills Lifestyle Store and men's wear brands retailing to major tourist trade. The city square affords pedestrian shopping with tiled pavements lining all across the city, so don't be put off with bumper-to-bumper traffic along the one km 18th June Road which seriously caters to the middle class pocket and taste. Bangkok returned pick-me-now casual wear stores, massage salons, Indian restaurants, lifestyle stores, supermarkets nestle between grand Portuguese residential villas. Retail gurus Bombay Bazar and Baron rule the shopping boulevard with Indian wear, casual-party wear, jewellery, shoes and take-home souvenirs. Chock-a-block with eager shoppers, the store draws people from all over the country and travelers looking for a quick buy. Across the street and encased between the hustle-bustle of buying and browsing is Very, a store more known for its lingerie, funk jewellery and party-wear for the young, followed by Simply Happening. Sosa's. Syne, Velha Goa along the Latin quarters of Fontainhas and Rua de Ourem creek, plays host to high street lovers of Indian couture and kitsch. Goa's first address to designer wear, Sosa's draws fashion buyers from all over the world with designers Savio Jon, Harmony, Sabina Singh, Drashta Sarvaiya, Malini Ramani, Sandeep giving leisure and couture a hot chase to the bank. Tasteful interiors, seasonal summer-spring collections and festive apparels with bags and jewellery seldom stay on the racks long enough for a second thought. Also, no shopper would care to leave Goa without a dekko at the Wendell Rodricks Design Space at Campal and the Goa Marriott Resort. Hot with leisure-spa wear, the guru of minimalism has them coming in all shapes and sizes for a must-add-to-the-wardrobe pieces. Still loaded? Hitch a cab to Caranzalem along the Miramar-Dona Paula highway and browse for a summer-pick-me-up tee from Philu Martins or formals from Verma.
Struggling to keep pace with its northern counterpart, the South Goa experience perhaps can be best summed up with Big G (now open in Panjim as well). A neat no fuss five-floor mall that meets brand needs of women and men. Casual wear, wedding ensembles, corporate brands offer a choice of cool style, only to chill down at the 5 th floor restaurant/café when too much shopping has been had. Little by-lanes reminiscent of old Portuguese Goa with her grand villas and churches wind through the main shopping arterial life of Margao city, feeding consumer needs of South Goa villages, tourists and her laid-back people. Aromas of cooking food, sausages drying in the hot air, exotic spices, chillies, mangoes, coffee and fabric hawkers beckon memories of a city holding on to its yesteryears, refusing to succumb to the vagaries of modernity.
Further down South Goa, shopping arcades at major five star resorts do entice with a good pick and a great dent to the credit card. However, un-spoilt beaches overcome the senses as expanses of charming village life and quaint markets let you appreciate the experience of popping a chill pill far having assured that you will now be paying for excess baggage on your flight home. Definitely, Goa affords more than a shopping experience. It affords a lifetime of memories of happy home-comings.
Ethel Da Costa is an acknowledged lifestyle journalist, columnist, writer, media and entertainment professional, public-relations and concept consultant based in Goa, having worked high profile projects/organisations like the International Film Festival of India (IFFI), Cinema for Peace , Femina , OHerald Publications, Tarun Bharat Daily, Ambassador Daniel Pearl World Music Days (USA) and author of `Eve’s Revenge: Stories of Nemesis’.