In Delhi, it is a relief to drive at a good pace in the night because the roads are deliciously empty. In North Goa, during the run up to the New Year, it is just the opposite. Partygoers cram the streets all night, and driving during the day is when you feel you are beating the system. The innumerable clubs, beach parties, restaurants, shacks and hedonistic lifestyle begets a swarming of epic proportions around Christmas and the New Year. Sunburn, a music super fest, had the nights abuzz with young Indians who parachuted in from all over the country to the epicentre of fun.
There's a lot that lures us to Goa, not least of all running into old friends unexpectedly. Then there are the favourite haunts; the lively Mapusa market on Fridays, where the locals bring their produce from the hinterland; the charming neighbourhoods of Fontainhas, Saligao and Asagao, and the small shacks and restaurants that serve the most compelling home-style Goan cuisine.
The Portuguese word, soussegade, is often used in Goa to depict the relaxed, chilled lifestyle enjoyed by the locals. Goa's famous cartoonist and chronicler of the local landscape and lifestyle Mario Miranda's cartoons portray scenes of fishermen sharing a bottle of feni at the end of a day, Romeos serenading girls with their guitars in hand, and afternoon naps in hammocks swaying in the breeze. Goa truly must have been a paradise a decade or two ago, before the outsiders discovered it, enjoyed it and moved in. Conversation changed from village affairs and babinka pudding to how many lakhs per acre. Tulsi shrines and coconut stalls were taken over by Kashmir emporiums and now there are road signs in Cyrillic to aid the Russians. The endearing houses with permanent benches at the entrance porch welcoming visitors are being shredded fast to give way to numbingly generic high-rise flats, second homes for Dilliwalas and Mumbaikars.
This time in Goa, while everything was in place for visitors -- catamaran rides sailed out to the Arabian Sea, jet skis and para sails zig-zagged on the beachside and hibiscus flowers decorated chilled coconut water -- there was a discernible sadness in the locals' eyes. These are folks who are particularly proud of their unique heritage and it pains them to see it dwindle and drain and alloy with unfamiliar elements. Nothing pains them more than the changing look and feel of their precious Goa.
A major highway is being resisted that could sear their heartland. Even the children, who traditionally make effigies of "old man" to be burnt on the last night of the year (symbolising the death of the old year and rebirth of the new), had painted tears and frowns on their old man's face. Saudade, another Portuguese word is understood well in Goa. It means nostalgia tinged with pain, and the pain is being felt deeply by the Goans. Miranda died recently in his sleep. He was 85. Perhaps it was best he went before the Goa he knew and loved changed beyond recognition.
Goa fact file
When to go: Goa is most comfortable in winter months. However, it is a year-round destination with special discounts during the Monsoon-viewing season.
North or South Goa?: North to party, South to relax.
Where to stay: Top end -- The Sol boutique hotel in Nerul, Seolim House, Poussada Tomas, Hermitage at the Taj Vivanta.
Affordable style -- There are legions of small hotels, guest houses and bed and breakfast locations near Candolim, Calangute, Baga and Anjuna beaches with easy access to restaurants and local transport.
Eat at: Fiesta for atmosphere and excellent Mediterranean cuisine, CafÃ© Vinit, Mum's Kitchen and Panjim Inn for delicious Goan fare. Bomras has excellent Burmese cuisine.
Explore: Goan heritage in Old Goa, the neighbourhoods (Fontainhas in Panjim, Saligao and Asagao) and the local markets (Mapusa, Arpora and Anjuna).