We all know that Goa is famous for its glorious sandy beaches, but there is much more to the Indian state than its coastline. I think taking a backwaters cruise is a great way to learn more about this region of the country and really get under the skin of its culture.
You might be surprised to learn that there are six major rivers that flow through Goa – the Mandovi (which runs alongside the capital Panaji), the Chapora, the Tiracol, the Zuari, the Sal and the Talpon.
Of course, there are also numerous tributaries that stem from these, and it is this collection of waterways that form Goa’s backwaters. While there is plenty to explore inland, the state is also home to areas of coastal backwaters, many of which are crossed by ferries as there are few bridges.
So, let’s get down to business – what you’ll see and experience if you go for a backwaters cruise during your cheap holiday in Goa (I know a cruise would be on my itinerary if I was travelling to this part of India).
Discover new scenery
The rivers in Goa are lined by vast mangrove swamps, which presents quite a contrast to the open spaces and golden beaches you’ll find around most of the touristy areas. This is also a fascinating eco-system that is home to a variety of creatures (more about that in a minute).
In addition to the mangroves, you’ll pass sections of jungle and even spice plantations as you cruise, giving you the opportunity to experience Goa’s diverse landscapes for yourself.
See amazing animals
As I’ve already mentioned, there are quite a few animals that call the mangroves – and also the jungle – home. One of the most impressive is undoubtedly the crocodile and you may well catch sight of one of these large reptiles sunning itself on the banks of the river in the afternoon.
If your cruise takes you past the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, you’ll have a good chance of spotting a host of fascinating creatures, including mudskipper fish and crabs that live on the banks and among the roots of the mangrove trees.
There is also a wide range of birds that live in and around the rivers, with kingfishers, egrets, herons, eagles and drongos among the species you may see either soaring overhead or searching for food in the water.
Experience the local culture
While many of Goa’s coastal regions are centred on the tourism industry, this is not the case when you travel further inland. There will be docks where shipments of iron ore are loaded on to large barges to be transported around the state.
By contrast, you’ll also see small canoes moored up at various intervals along the rivers. You should also look out for the fishing nets that are typically placed between two wooden posts, allowing fishermen to set their nets in the morning and return to haul in their catch later in the day.
Simply by setting foot on one of the vessels normally used to offer backwaters cruises, you’ll be engaging with the local culture, as most of the boats that transport tourists are former rice barges that have been converted.
Even though they have a few more home comforts than they would have done when they were in use in the rice industry, their basic structure has remained unchanged, so you can get an insight into how people live and work on the waterways.
If you’ve been on a backwaters cruise in Goa, what did you think? Is there any route you’d particularly recommend to fellow travellers?