Shaktichakra, the wheel of energies

Culture and systems of knowledge, cultivation and food, population and consumption

Inside the deepest tourist murk of Goa

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What I will describe in the next few paragraphs has to do with a spot along the coast in Goa, the small state in coastal western India where I live. It’s called Calangute, and was once a village close to the sea. There’s a beach nearby. To the immediate north is Baga, to the immediate south is Candolim, and farther south is Sinquerim, and then the headland of Aguada and its Portuguese-era fort.

Facets of ugliness: insta-tattoos, beach shirts and behind them, a typical tourist lodging.

But it is Calangute about which I write. It has for some years now, and by that I mean certainly 15 years, come to mean all that is ugly about tourism in Goa. If it was ugly in 2005, its ugliness is simply off the scale, off any sort of chart, today. Its ugliness is breath-taking. The ugliness of what is absurdly called tourism in Calangute, Goa, is outright paralysing.

These photographs show you why I think so. There is a bus stand in Calangute, by which is meant an open plot into which buses from other states make their way and then halt. These buses arrive crammed with tourists from those states. (I will call them ‘tourists’, for now, only because to describe them more fully will surely require an essay.) The Calangute market zone, which extends for about half a kilometre, and perhaps a bit more, in all directions, is packed with small shops and all manner of hostelries, that is, places in which tourists can stay a few nights. There are hotels too, some style themselves as resorts. But for the most part, where tourists stay in Calangute are modest lodgings, what to the generation preceding my own were known as guest houses.

Bazaar by the beach: throwaway accessories, throwaway food.

The din in Calangute is deafening. There is in the first place the sounds of traffic. For non-Indian readers of this irregular journal (i dislike the neologism ‘blog’) who have not travelled in India, traffic in India is synonymous with the sound of horns, because you see, the Indian driver of a vehicle, any vehicle, simply cannot drive without tooting the horn every few seconds.

There is the constant rumble of tourist buses, which crawl through lanes that really shouldn’t accommodate more than a couple of bicycles. Every bus like this is trailed by several demon taxi drivers trying to pass the bus, and leaning on their horns in the belief that their horn blasts will magically dissolve the bus in their path. There is also nowadays the rumble of powerful SUVs, in which the more well-to-do tourists travel, shiny and ugly new vehicles which to me seem the size of small Goan houses. There are scooters and motorcycles, ridden either by kamikaze tourists or by semi-somnolent bell boys going home after their shift or by maniac delivery boys speeding chicken biryani to a room on the second floor of the Top A-1 Seashore Residency hotel.

Holiday mobility: this large-format jeep variant can pack in 10 people.

Right in front of what used to be quite simply, in the late 1970s, called the tourist hostel and cottages in Calangute (but which today sports some grandiose title) is a sort of quadrangle. The vehicular entrance to this quadrangle is marked off by not one but two small blocks of what in India are called Sulabh Shauchalaya, that is, public urinals and toilets. That these form modern Calangute’s landmarks tell one how far, how very far and how fast, this once idyllic seaside village has fallen.

The quadrangle is a large parking space, two rows in parallel on either side of a median. Why did they have it here? Perhaps to accommodate tourist buses, perhaps to accommodate the ever growing number of large private vehicles (jeeps and vans) in which groups of mostly men travel to Calangute. Whatever the muddled first reason, space in the cursed quadrangle is taken over by any vehicle can be driven in there and parked, at times for days on end. For a category of ‘tourist’ group that makes its way to Calangute, the vehicle becomes a sort of satellite camp. Plastic containers of water, bags and satchels, soiled clothes, are all stored in the vehicle, whose roof and bonnet are used to dry clothes washed at one of the Sulabh Shauchalayas.

Costumes a gogo: groups of touristing young men don their beachwear uniform before equipping themselves.

The sides of the quadrangle are lined, most of all, with liquor shops. These do a constant business and it is common to see groups of men in them, arguing about what sort of liqour and which brands they should collectively buy, what they should take back with them, and what beer to drink on the spot while these decisions are being taken. There are restaurants, all of them without exception rude and cheap, whose rough menus – overspiced, oversalted, overoiled – are intended only to fill deadened tourist stomachs in the shortest possible time.

There are vendors, who sell all that is tawdry and throwaway: floppy hats, sunglasses, absurd plastic trinkets for women, shorts and T-shirts, flip-flops. There are tattoo ‘parlours’, holes in the wall with two stools and internet trance channel music. There are rows of brightly painted scooters for the tourists to rent, some with A4-sized sheets of paper carrying only a name and mobile phone number, flapping in the breeze.

There are boarding houses and guest houses. These are truly, and not only here but on every road and side street of Calangute, and likewise in every alley and side-street all across the Sinquerim to Baga beach strip, the ugliness generator of Goa. Usually two storeys, at times one more, they have been cheaply built, iron rebar protruding, water pipes and electricity cables and internet wires snake in open confusion up external walls and through stairwells and around dusty verandahs and into rooms.

A glimpse of sand and sea: a new construction faces a higgledy-piggledy jumble of shops.

They sport any shade of paint that was available to their reckless owners at a discount, or was mooched from another site. They are festooned with boards and signs advertising themselves. External units of air-conditioners are jammed into masonry whever they fit, their rusty water drip making muddy puddles below. Lines of varicoloured ‘fairy’ LED lights are looped from one unfinished unpainted beam to another, behind ragged awnings and around long-empty flowerpots. Their staff are indifferent to the tourists (who are very likely more so to them), surly, unkempt, engrossed by the flicker of their mobile phones, uncaring and unmindful of anything outside their grimy walls.

Why do they still come, ever more, ever fickle, ever banal, an endless tide of human ephemera? Do they not see and feel the rampant ugliness, which stretches like a giant sore right over ten kilometres of the north Goa beach strip, with Calangute its howling, festering centre? Or are they in fact escaping a far gloomier, far darker, ugliness of the urban Indian rot from whence they travelled?

Scootermania: lines of them, all for a daily fee, choke the sandy pathways.

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Written by makanaka

November 11, 2022 at 21:31

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