Whatever you believed about India, whether through documentaries, your own travels, or just hearsay, you’re probably right. There’s a bit of everything happening here – the rubbish mountains that put Everest to shame, or the numerous successful efforts to clean up India’s natural wonders; the shoeless slum kids playing beside the sewage, or the loin-cloth-clad babas who have chosen to renounce all material possessions; the sexually repressed men who ogle at the white tourist while hoping to get a grope on the dark psytrance dance floor, or the sexually liberated Indian women who have chosen to reclaim their freedom and lives.
This ancient civilisation has been doing things in its own unique way even before Buddha walked the planet, and with the introduction to capitalism, it’s easy to see the crippling effects of a country struggling to cope with the pursuit of affluence, contrasted with the significant improvements in public health, equality, and living standards. India teaches us that there are many sides to a coin, and all too often, it is impossible to judge something as good or bad – it just is.
And it is this wondrous land I have chosen to once again dive into, for the third time in my life, across a span of eight years. I came here for the first time in 2010 being the cliché hippie trying to “find myself”, but what I found out here in India was that there was nothing to find, we just are. And this time, I decided to spend my time in the birthplace of psychedelic trance and where the seeds to the world’s most amazing festivals were first planted.
Welcome to Goa.
In the 60s when the hippies first arrived, Goa was wild. Lush, green forests stretching for miles and miles, local fishing villages scattered across the coast, and white, sandy beaches that meet the gentle waves of the blue-green ocean. I heard there weren’t any billboards, guesthouses, or touristy shops selling souvenirs and Goa-looking clothes. Our pioneers slept in simple huts, walked around mostly naked, and lived in perfect freedom.
As you can see, today, it’s a totally different story. The hippies have now settled down, starting their own restaurants and guesthouses, anticipating the waves of foreigners in search of themselves, or Indian tourists searching for the next bottle of cheap Kingfisher beer, while reminiscing about the “good old times” where hippies were real and the love revolution actually had a hope of changing the world.
Now the different beaches are packed full of guesthouses with rather “creative” names such as Om Shanti, Shiva Garden, Ganesha Palace, and Lotus Garden. The restaurant names are exactly the same, just replace the word “Guesthouse” with “Restaurant” and there you go, a completely unique restaurant name.
The psytrance parties have now become commercial, not to say they aren’t good. But to find the good parties, you got to know the right crowd. Yes, they all wear the same clothes – black netted stuff, adorned with sacred geometry or the Shiva trident, leather vests with more sacred geometry, and dreadlocks. I personally wear too many colours to be really seen as part of this tribe, but hey, who doesn’t like rainbows?
Goa is sort of divided into a few main groups:
a) the party people who also sell super cool jewellery, clothes, and accessories at the different street and beach markets. They generally don’t like bright colours and prefer Hi-tech, Forest, or Dark psytrance.
b) the super serious yoga people who don’t drink alcohol, don’t take drugs, and sit around in their lotus position judging others for not finding their souls. They listen mainly to Indian mantras sung by white people.
c) the rich Indian tourists who come here once a year to completely let loose, get drunk, take drugs they’ve bought from strangers, and go to every party in Anjuna to dance eight hours at a stretch, only stopping to take photos with random white travellers.
d) the Russians, who have successfully turned a few beaches into their own private paradise. Signs are in Russian, menus are in Russian, even the locals speak Russian to get their business. They usually don’t speak to people of other nationalities.
e) other people who don’t fit into the above groups but somehow move comfortably amongst them
But of course, like all stereotypes, they are based on a small fragment of truth and do not accurately represent all humans in Goa. So don’t get defensive, we’re not talking about you.
Oh wait, hold on, let me buy a barbecued corn cob from this lady by the beach. Yes, she has this tiny charcoal pit on wheels, with a homemade wire mesh, which she pushes to this spot every sunset. “Auntie, one corn, lime and little bit chilli.” It’s the perfect combination, trust me. Prices vary from customer to customer, but 50 rupees (65 Euro cents), is a pretty standard price. Oh, you want one too? Ok. “Auntie, one more please.”
Tasty, isn’t it? See, that’s the beauty about India. Everyone’s found a way to survive, like this Auntie here. She buys raw corn from the market, creates her own grill, and boom, there you go, she’s now a small business owner. She doesn’t need a CV, no interview, no office clothes – just a will to do something for herself and her family. You see that guy walking around by the sun chairs? Yes, he’s selling stickers and laser pointers. That’s his life, and he has survived a few decades doing only this. And you’re here worrying about when you gonna get your next promotion? Come on, you’ll be fine. We’ve come from generations of survivors, and you’re gonna live to a ripe old age if you don’t do anything too stupid.
Oh, look there, the famous sunset hippie drum circle. This is a circus, and we’re all clowns. There’s the hang drum guy who has no sense of rhythm, the sweaty drum guy that goes into a trance every time he’s banging on his bongo, the dreadlocked blond girl in the white flowing dress twirling to the drum beats, and ah, over there, we see a fine exhibit of one of the Russian Barbie dolls taking portfolio-style selfies in sexy poses with a borrowed surf board.
Let’s go sit somewhere and get something to drink, shall we? Er… let’s go to Laughing Buddha? And ignore this pile of rubbish they’ve thrown here, the beach cows will eat them all up later (yes, there are currently efforts to clean up the trash piles all across India, but in my personal opinion, everyone needs to be educated on why they shouldn’t just empty their garbage on someone else’s backyard).
Now, come sit in the hammock next to mine. Make yourself comfortable, grab yourself something to drink, roll a joint, and listen to the waves. Never mind the weird Justin Bieber psytrance remix coming from the broken speakers of the other restaurant. The power cut will give us silence once again.
You really should try their signature Lemonana here. They claim that it’s the best one in Goa. It’s kinda like a lemonade slushy with mint; super refreshing on a warm day like this. Don’t order the beers here though, they’re never really cold. They’ll tell you that they’ll put it in the freezer and yes, in 15 minutes they’ll be handing you a completely frozen beer. Indian-style super ice cold beer. Stick to the Lemonana.