Asia | India | Goa | Benaulim – Goin’ On In Goa
One of India’s low fare airliners sweeps over an endless parade of sun drenched beaches. Touching down, the door opens, letting in sea air that is a refreshing change from the insidious pollution of Mumbai. Coconut and banana palms waver a little in the light breeze. Here at the airport, very small mini vans serve as taxis, ready to speed most tourists to their beach and nearby town lodgings.
Goa has become an international beach destination, and probably most of India’s three million annual tourists will make time to lounge on the sand, savour tandoori seafood, or dance an entire night and day along with hundreds of others at one of the Christmas season parties hosted by renowned DJ’s from around the world. But like India itself, there seems to be more than one Goa. Thinking of India, one might the consider the bustling, chaotic, noisy cities and even idyllic Goa has it’s share of them, complete with traffic snarled markets. Mostly, this former Portuguese colony is a land of sun, surf, and sand.
North Goa attracts the lion’s share of visitors, has entertaining markets and the aforementioned party scene. The beaches are chock-a-block full of lounge beach chairs with umbrellas, so much so that theres only a ten-meter wide stretch of sand for the endless promenade of tourists.
South Goa is home to smaller generously spaced guesthouses, a short stretch of up-market hotels, a beach hut backpacker oasis, and wide expanses of open beachfront where fishermen do what theyve been doing for generations. When the tide is in, all along the beaches, pairs of men in teams of twelve are slowly pulling in their heavy nets with the catch of the day. After clearing the nets of fish, its time for drying, cleaning, and repairing before loading the nets back in the boats to do it all again tomorrow. In the early morning, another group of fishermen arrive in fishing boats that have been at sea throughout the night. Hurrying back and forth from the seashore to the roadway, baskets piled four and five high on their heads, are loaded on trucks and rushed to market. Later in the day, much of the seafood will make it onto the dinner plates of diners up and down the 80 kms of coastline.
Goa is a heavily Christian area of India, and its not uncommon to meet people named Maria, Diego, Angelina, or Fernandes. St. Francis Xavier lives in Goa, (or at least his body does), and every ten years, they bring him out for a month and a half of public viewing. Pilgrims file past the one armed, seven-toed corpse, pausing to say the briefest of prayers. Nuns press against the glass coffin, hoping that touching it will bring them closer in their faith. Its said that four years after his death, the body was examined and found to still contain fresh blood. St. Francis is missing a few parts that were chopped off for placement in other churches, or perhaps sold as relics of a saint.
As a result of the large Christian population, Christmastime brings carolers roaming up and down the beaches. Like the children in Nepal who sing during the Tihar Festival of light, the singers in Goa are mostly a miserable sounding lot who can barely carry a tune, and hardly ever seem to sing the same words at the same time. In Nepal, I would hold out five or ten rupees and say, Please stop torturing me! Here in Goa, after the guy dressed as Santa wanders through the room shaking hands, the money guy comes along. Ive taken to asking him if the group could just possibly sing any song where they actually sing it in tune AND sing all of the words together. If so, I would give some money. This usually resulted in the young moneyman calling the group over and saying something to them in the local Konkani language. Amazingly, they were able to sing something together and more or less in tune. It cost a few rupees, but it was a lot easier on the ears.
MY beach is Sernabatim, near South Colva, just a short walk from Benaulim. Its a quiet and peaceful place to watch eagles fly into the jungle with prey clutched in their claws, or just stare at an endless sea where every night, the sun sets gloriously into the Arabian waves. Theres nothin goin on here, and thats just the way I like it. When Im looking for something to do, I can ride a motorbike up to North Goas Anjuna beach flea market or the Saturday Night Bazaar near Baga Beach.
The Anjuna flea market was originally a place where the hippies sold their backpacks, guitars, or whatever they had so they could stay a few more weeks, or perhaps pick up some hash if they were running low on supplies. On the day I visited, there were three guys selling their Enfield motorcycles for around $300 each. The rest of the 300 or so vendors were selling tourist souvenirs more and more of the same shirts, pants, sarongs, necklaces, blankets, and bracelets except for one booth. It was raising money for the El Shaddai Street Child Rescue Program. I spent some time talking with the founders of the program about the schools, homes, shelters, and slum medical outreach programs. El Shaddai is definitely a good thing going on. After the flea market theres time for a visit to an Anjuna beachside bar where a live band is kicking it up in the afternoon sun. The bar is crowded and its almost impossible to find a place to either sit or stand. Eventually, I find a place at the bar, striking up a conversation with some local ex-pats, living here for half the year. They have good reviews of the Saturday Night Bazaar.
The Saturday Night Bazaar has a lot of booths featuring one-of-a-kind crafts staffed by the people who make them. The quality of the workmanship in most cases is superior, and the prices are a bit higher as well. Over 80 food vendors sell everything from English Pies to Turkish Wraps, and the entertainment stage becomes the focal point for a few drink outlets. On this particular Saturday night in high season, there are three synchronized fire dancing troupes, almost seven bands, including a hip hop group from England, a local Jazz fusion band, and a made up last-minute fill-in band that made the event feel a little like a wedding reception gone all wrong. Their set list started off with I will survive, Cocaine, and Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Polka Dot Bikini, possibly proving that something is still goin on in North Goa.
Overall the beaches of Goa, and for me the beaches in the south, are relaxing places to eat some fresh fruit, swim in the sea, and chart the progress of slowly fading henna tattoos.