A Goan’s guide to Goa


#1 Dec 16th, 2017, 22:11
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#1

Traditional Goan architecture of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

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Dark clouds of foreboding begin to gather in the Goan imagination precisely when India’s smallest state emerges from its overcast monsoon blanket. For a few precious weeks, everyone has enjoyed near-total respite from the pounding basslines and neon-lit throngs of the tourist season. That is when locals get to savour some of the original virtues of this famously beautiful and relaxed sliver of the Konkan coastline. It is a season of languid drives on rain-slicked roads winding postcard perfect to the liquid horizon, of rivers glistening silver and drenched paddy fields, and extended family get-togethers replete with laughter and song.

But then the fun comes to an end. Unshakeable dread furrows collective brows at the thought that roads and beaches will soon become jammed with countless hordes.

Judging by the mayhem that ensues each year, it is clear the heartburn is justified. Each successive tourist season, it becomes more painfully obvious that the hospitality sector of this once-optimally blessed “sunshine state”—which consistently ranked amongst India’s most successful global brands—has lost much of its shine.

Until recently, Goa held considerable allure for a marvellously mixed clientele from around India and the world. But that is no longer the case. According to the latest study conducted by the market research division of the Union ministry of tourism, this formerly fabled destination ranks a lowly ninth in the country in terms of popularity with foreigners visiting India. More ominously, it failed to register in the top 10 favourites amongst domestic travellers as well.

But this drop in rankings has not reflected in a corresponding drop in the number of visitors. In fact, that number has only continued to explode. According to state authorities, there was 30% growth, from roughly three million tourists to four million, from 2013 to 2014. In 2015, the total ticked to five million, and last year it surged well past six. These are massively impactful “footfalls” for a state with less than two million in permanent population, especially because the increase comes exclusively from bargain-seeking budget travellers.

Much of this number comprises domestic tourists who spend considerably less than foreign visitors. According to the state’s own statistics, the average visitor from abroad spends four times as much as the average Indian, despite the fact that some foreign visitors travel on shoestring budgets. But those figures do not include huge numbers of tour-bus passengers who cook on the roadside, use the fields as toilets, and often sleep in their vehicles. Industry stakeholders say the realistic proportion of foreigner expenditure compared to domestic travellers is closer to 10 to one.

Since no attempt is made to sensitize the growing number of visitors to the state, Goa’s environment reels from a wholly unsustainable onslaught. All this is brought home to me like a daily punch in the gut, on the broad sands of Miramar beach, right outside my family’s apartment in Panaji, the pocket-sized state capital.

Hit this urban beach right after dawn, and you can be fooled into believing all is well in paradise. A remarkable natural bonanza is largely intact: There are kilometres of living dunes backed by healthy stands of casuarina trees. The early morning scene can be utterly charming, with older couples walking courteously together and eager footballers running through their paces, while flocks of migratory waterbirds wheel above the waves.

All this is admittedly idyllic, and powerful affirmation of my family’s decision to live at this spot. But Miramar dreams quickly turn sour if you retrace the same steps in the evening hours. Then every available space is packed with large crowds. A few scattered families are in a distinct minority; mostly, there are clumps of men, often passing around bottles of alcohol.

Much of this contingent proceeds to strip to Y-fronts, then wallows dangerously in the surf. Everywhere, garbage is strewn and piled up, attracting stray dogs and lots of cattle. Cow dung splashes on the dunes. Not to be outdone, the boozing men urinate in the open. A chaotic shambolic atmosphere reigns.
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#2 Dec 21st, 2017, 21:47
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Interesting article.

I just returned yesterday and I LOVED Goa. Loved my week in Panjim where the Serendipity Arts Fest was going on. Frankly, I can't wait to return to Goa.

"the boozing men urinate in the open" -- so that's any different from any other place in India?
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#3 Dec 29th, 2017, 00:13
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Looks like everyone is using Ken Rockwell camera settings!

AndyD 8-)
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