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Goa, the go-to destination...

In a postscript to his 'Passage to India' feature (Choice, June), Clive Nicholls experiences a new dimension of this remarkable country with a visit to magical Goa.

It's still dark when my train rumbles into Hospet Station. It's running late but that's normal- timetables are flexible here.

I'm really excited as I get on board, not because the train is he height of luxury- it isn't- but because I'm travelling with the locals for a few hundred miles, and can watch real life unfold as we rumble through tons, villages and open countryside on my way to Madgoan (Goa) in the west coast of India.

As soon as it's light, I go to sit in the carriage doorway; the doors are kept open and I sit on the steps to take in the sights and sounds of the towns waking up, and the kids smiling and waving as the train bumps and rattles its way along the tracks. I know that health and safety UK would want to give me a dressing down, but it's a wonderful experience as we pass close by families getting their day into gear. Everyone has time to give us a wave and it's a good feeling to be welcomed in that way.

I'm on the last couple of days of what has been a magical Explore! holiday, starting in Hyderabad and working our way across to Hospet before his last leg taking me to Goa.

At our first stop a few passengers swap over but it's the freight cars that see the most action as round bundles of baggage are rolled across the platform and taken on board. We run a bit late all day but it doesn't matter and we pull into Madgoan later in the afternoon. I was expecting Goa to be different and it certainly is. The road from the station to Panjim is good, and the influence of tourists and 400 years of Portuguese rule is all around, There's a more modern and slightly more western feel to the city.

In the evening I walk down to Church Square as the lights on the church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception flicker on. It's a big name and it's a big church. Dating back to the early 1600s, it was built on the site of an earlier chapel much used by the Portuguese sailors. Now, with later modifications, it's a magnificent landmark that dominates the city.

The centre here is more modern but the old town retains its colonial charm. A pedestrian bridge over Ourem Creek is having a makeover: the scaffolding looks amazing- a few bamboo poles suck into the riverbed and tied together with rope serves as a platform for the workers. It looks a bit wobbly but I don't think they've lost anyone yet.

In the morning I'm heading for the beach. Goa is perhaps best known for is its miles of sandy beaches and cafes. The Arabian Sea is warm and offers all the water sports and sunbeds that you need, but, as I'm not a beach type of person, I look beyond the sand to the river estuary.

Here the local fishermen are sorting their catch ready for the market. Boatmen are working on their craft and in the space of a few hundred yards it's back to real life away from the tourists. Sure, it' a bit scruffy in places, but fascinating all the same. I do succumb to the beach in the evening, enjoying a rum punch as I watch the sun go down.

It's a great experience in the bars and restaurants; most people seem to want to party on. For me, though, it's an early night, as I'm flying out in the morning.

As I wheel my case out to the bus, a ginger cat that had been sleeping under a Royal Enfield motorbike gives me the eye. Royal Enfield was a successful Midlands manufacturer in the UK (I always waned a Continental GT) but they are now made in India and seem o be thriving from the numbers I've seen here.

Explore! has put together a wonderful India package and the short visit to Goa adds a new dimension to the sights that I've seen earlier (Choice, June). India was amazing and I'd go back again in an instant.

Have you ever been to Goa? What did you think to it? 

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