Beyond the Sun, is a Dark Goa Becoming More and More Like Thailand

How my trip to Goa convinced me that it’s much darker and deeper than just music festivals, sun and sand.

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The Sunburn festival in Goa is one its biggest attractions. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/SunburnFestival/photos_stream">Facebook/Sunburn</a>)

Sometimes you need to be away from the maddening crowd to see something different.

Maybe it was just me but Goa looked more like a packed Paharganj than an idyllic beach holiday this new year. It seemed more like a race to not be left out.

In that sea of humanity, it is easy to miss things.

Like when the cab driver at the airport looked pointedly at my children and asked if they were mine. “Hold on to them tight” he cautioned. I realised it was a lot like the warnings plastered over Bangkok airport advising us to keep a strict watch on our children.

Several times during my trip, I was convinced that Goa was gradually beginning to resemble Thailand. (Photo Courtesy: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)
Several times during my trip, I was convinced that Goa was gradually beginning to resemble Thailand. (Photo Courtesy: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

Several times during my trip, I was convinced that Goa was gradually beginning to resemble Thailand.

Not for the soft sands or the stunning sunsets. But for its sleaze.

Is There More to the Joy Than Meets the Eye?

Drugs and Goa have always had a long association. Maybe the man from the shack who takes our food order no longer supplies them as openly as he used to but one has to wonder if Sunburn and Supersonic, the two electronic dance music festivals that play for four days straight are just about the music?

(While the music festivals were taking place, the police were trying to solve the mysterious death of a businessman’s son. Harshib Baweja from Nagpur was found dead in the same jungle where four people posing as yogis were arrested for dealing in drugs.)

One has to wonder if Sunburn is all about the music. (Photo Courtesy: <a href="https://www.facebook.com/SunburnFestival/photos_stream">Facebook/Sunburn</a>)
One has to wonder if Sunburn is all about the music. (Photo Courtesy: Facebook/Sunburn)

The festivals anyway haven’t been music to everyone’s ears.

Locals allege the sound of beats resonate with the involvement of big money despite environmental damages to the coast. This year, visitors from 50 countries reportedly attended the two events – with Sunburn now considered Asia’s biggest music festival. Then, of course there is the inconvenience.

If you thought Delhi traffic is a nightmare, try reaching anywhere in north Goa at this time.

The state is also increasingly becoming notorious for sex rackets. 500 pimps are believed to be operating in just the popular Calangute area. I am not a comfortable loner in the dark, but I encountered a number of leering men, even in the day, attempting to chat up without encouragement.

Russia is a Large Part of the Goan Essence

Away from the Baga-Candolim-Calangute stretch (arguably the most tourist-infested stretch in Goa), are serene beaches and soft sands. (Photo Courtesy: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)
Away from the Baga-Candolim-Calangute stretch (arguably the most tourist-infested stretch in Goa), are serene beaches and soft sands. (Photo Courtesy: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

If ever I felt a strong foreign presence on native land, it was this year, in Goa. The Russians, for instance, are clearly here to stay. The menus are in their native language – as are the road signs. (This year, a DJ insisted on playing a Russian song as a countdown to 2016.) About 560 chartered flights flew from Russia to Goa – with many choosing to stay back and buy small guesthouses.

This isn’t new – but the sheer numbers were suddenly overwhelming.

Away from the Baga-Candolim-Calangute stretch (arguably the most tourist-infested stretch in Goa), are serene beaches and soft sands. Some areas in the South are hidden gems! But it seems Goa is catering to the north Indian and his love for the commercial because everywhere other than that stretch, one will find boats so ramshackled and piers so decrepit that one would think twice before taking a ride.

A menu in Goa, written in Russian. (Photo Courtesy: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)
A menu in Goa, written in Russian. (Photo Courtesy: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

It’s a pity because this is where Goa’s real beauty lies.

There’s a New Kind of Customer in Town

A ride on the Sal river in South Goa took us through several villages till the river merged into the Arabian Sea. There were dense mangroves and sightings of rare migratory birds – before the smell became overpowering.

Garbage dumped into the river, builders disposing their waste and medical sewage are forcing the water to become stagnant. While on the surface it still looks beautiful, it may one day become what the Yamuna is in Delhi. Tourism is paying its price.

Goa is now humming more with budget travellers, serving up a slice of superficial beauty. (Photo Courtesy: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)
Goa is now humming more with budget travellers, serving up a slice of superficial beauty. (Photo Courtesy: Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava)

The ‘value customer’ has begun to shift his loyalties to other destinations; clearly he doesn’t like what he sees either. Instead, Goa is now humming more with budget travellers, serving up a slice of superficial beauty.

Nothing ruins the holiday mood as promptly as Dabolim airport, which although an international one, can barely cater to domestic tourists at this time of the year. While illegal constructions and encroachments are a priority concern, the planning of the airport is simply baffling. Going two flights up just to come down and board has to be one of the more complex designs.

But before I left, there was already something gnawing at my better sense. On the last evening of my holiday – as I watched the sun go down into the Arabian Sea – it was hard not to wonder if one day, not too far into the future, the sun will also set on the glory of Goa.

(Jyotsna Mohan Bhargava is a former journalist who now divides her time between blogging and being a full time mother. Tweet to her @jyotsnamohan)

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