Soiled on the beach
In a few weeks from now, the sun will be setting on the high season of tourism in Goa, leaving in its wake mounds of garbage pock-marking the silvery beaches. What a pity that India’s best-known destination suffers from complete neglect in basic sanitation and cleanliness. Who is to be blamed for this? Surely, it’s the state government. Goa in peak-season looks like an urban slum. Plastic bags, rotting food waste and empty alcohol bottles dot the picturesque landscape. Sea-shells is what you go looking for, but alas what you are most likely to find are cigarette butts and beer bottle crowns.
See how the paradox plays out in the year’s most happening week. It’s December 27-29, 2013. A festival of electronic dance music, the Sunburn Goa festival, Season 7, is on. The gizmos: sampler, synthesiser, sequencer. The genre: digital hardcore, dub techno, ghetto tech.... The DJs: Andrew Rayel, Apster, Afrojack.... The paraphernalia: seven stages and the game-changing 4-Arrey sound system.... The turnout: many thousands from across continents. Effervescent India head-banged in a heady psychedelic circus of purple-pink haze, much like they do the globe over, whether in Ibiza, Berlin or Chicago. And it all happened right here in a BJP-ruled corner of Bharat, at the Vagator hills in north Goa. The nightmare, however, begins once the festival is over—the pristine hills, vandalised and violated, are weighed down by revelry leftovers. Even a week after the festival’s close, half-dismantled scaffoldings and plywood scrap hit the eyes all along the five-acre festival area. Despoilment could have been the last act of the festival. The Sunburners have finally left the party.
The way we were
What Ibiza is to the Mediterranean Sea, Goa is to the Arabian. Around three decades back, the sleepy villages of Calangute, Baga and Anjuna became a commune-like hangout for the flower-power generation of the swinging ’60s. The hippies found Goan villages the ideal place to chill—after an arduous, winding road trip through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. The ones who took the aerial route to our spiritual land, having done the Naga sadhus, Juna akhara and the dreadlock number, invariably landed up in Goa to regroup with their flock. Those were the years of virgin beaches, silver sands and lots of nude bodies sunning themselves. The hippies lived with bare essentials, mostly boarding with the villagers or in their caravans. One old-timer still around in the Goa circuit—famously known as the Last Hippie Standing—is the Californian, Gilbert Levy, better known as DJ Goa Gil, the guru of electronic music.
The mid-’90s saw a big influx of young Israeli tourists in Goa, coming down to India to unwind after their stint of compulsory military training in the home country. Their numbers have dwindled greatly now. Rightly or wrongly, the Israeli tourists were accused of being “huddlers”, rarely allowing anyone else to break in into their group. Presently, the Russian long-stay tourists share that inglorious distinction. A lot of credit for Goa’s lively partying circuit should go to the European community that migrates here between the months of November and March.
Les grande vacances for this mini-Eurozone that stretches across Anjuna, Chapora, Arambol and Ashwem are quite different to that of their predecessors from the ’70s. An economic slowdown in their respective welfare states have somewhat restricted the hair of the neo-hippies (or the Freaks, as they are now called) from being fully let down. Many run small eateries or junk jewellery shops to sustain themselves, their main source of engagement/income being the two weekly bazaars in north Goa—the Tuesday flea market in Anjuna and the Saturday market of Arpora. However, there are three western ladies who have achieved great entrepreneurial success in putting two Goan restaurants and a boutique on the world map: these being the French restaurant La Plage, arguably India’s best in the genre; the Greek restaurant Thalesa; and Mick Jagger’s daughter Jade’s design shop, Jade Jagger. The partying is still as hectic. Tuesday nights at the shack, Shiva Valley, in Anjuna, next to Curlies—infamous for the drowning of the British schoolgirl Scarlett Keeling in 2008 (of an alleged drug overdose)—is quite the place to be. Twenty-four hours of electro, midnight to midnight, if you’re up to it.
There isn’t a single litter bin to be seen anywhere across the touristy regions of Goa. Instead, a huge, puzzling concrete structure is coming up in the middle of a rice field in Anjuna. Apparently, it’s an ornamental fountain, part of a beautification drive!
News events Outlook missed while we had our annual leave: the Kandahar hijack (1999), the ’04 tsunami, the ’06 Benazir assassination, and in 2013, the Kejriwal swearing-in.
The author is executive editor, Outlook; E-mail your diarist: bishmoitra AT outlookindia.com