"Love is an endless mystery, for it has nothing else to explain it" ~ Rabindranath Tagore


Goa: Reason to Return

Rajiv Butalia talks about Baga, his favourite beach in Goa, and a refreshing scuba experience at Sao George Island.

We first visited Goa in 1979. The armies of Flower Children were reportedly in retreat but you would not have believed it from the numbers that were still hanging around the beaches like they had grown roots there. The Calangute-Baga stretch was the place to be, with Calangute as the focal point of activity. It offered all that the generation desired: cheap places to stay, eat at and hang around. The local culture was almost swamped by the influx over the past decade. Places like Alex's Milk Bar would swing to the sound of Hendrix and banana shakes would do the rounds with the air reeking of marijuana.

The skimpily clad soul seekers would cavort at Calangute. As one walked towards Baga the amount of clothes they wore steadily decreased till one crossed over the hill to the nudist stretch of Anjuna.

More About Goa
An Overview


SCUBA Diving
An Introduction
Ocean of Joy

Adventure Activities
River Rafting
Rock Climbing

Cut to 20 years later on Christmas Eve before the new millennium. We walk down the road towards Calangute. The Government has been making an effort to attract higher paying travellers and Calangute seems to be the pivot around which their efforts rotate. The beach has been neatened up and made touristy. The stretch outside the Government Tourist Resort sports colourful sun umbrellas. Uniformed men patrolling the beaches are mildly absurd. The attempt to discourage nudity has encouraged hordes of 'family package holidays.' They wade into the water fully dressed, saris and lungis soon billowing.
We first visited Goa in 1979. The armies of Flower Children were reportedly in retreat but you would not have believed it from the numbers that were still hanging around the beaches like they had grown roots there. .

The leftover hippies, meanwhile, have moved over to Arambol and can be seen trading their worldly possessions at the weekly Flea Market at Anjuna. They intermingle with Rajasthani women selling cotton handicrafts. There are an odd assortment of wares and services on offer. Body massages, tattoos, mehndi on the palms, a haircut, ear cleaning and fortune telling - the pick is yours.

For the international back packers who have replaced yesteryear's flower children, the action has shifted to Baga. Chartered flights from London and Frankfurt deliver containerloads of budget travellers to beaches like Baga and Colva. The richer tourists, meanwhile, insulate themselves from the place they visit at fancy resorts that have sprung up, where they tan themselves over multi coloured cocktails, take mandatory dips in the swimming pool and don colourful Hawaiian shirts and mandatory beach wear.

For old times sake we drop in to see the action at Alex's. Not surprisingly, it is deserted and Bob Marley sounds a bit tired from belting out the same numbers for two decades from the ageing tape deck. We bow to the god of transience and walk on.


It's preferable to walk on the sands rather than take the noisy one lane motor road on which hotels have proliferated and one can't tell where Calangute ends and Baga begins. The waves lap at our feet and wash away our footprints and crabs scatter at our approach.. As one approaches Baga the palm trees increase and the hill on the North provides a cool contrast to the glittering waters and the shimmering sands.

Early next morning I look across the balcony of Hotel Cavala at Baga to the green of the paddy fields stretching into the horizon. Watches have been discarded and time is marked not by the hours but by the position of the sun. In Goa, it's either morning, afternoon or evening. All shops close for afternoon siesta. The atmosphere is "Sucegad." which is not to be mistaken for lazy. The tranquillity has within it a dormant state of activity. Thankfully the activity never hits the pace of the cities and if there is a Bohemian god above, it never will.

At St. Anthony's restaurant, the owner Michael breaks into joyous laughter when he sees us. His restaurant has not changed in 20 years. It consists of a semi permanent structure, which can never be improved upon due to coastal developmental regulations. We breakfast here on most mornings, as it is quieter than the other shacks that dish out techno music, which gets a bit much before breakfast. Michael updates us on the local news, which there is no way to miss as we make our way through the beaches. The fishing boats all have outboard motors now. The catch is diminishing. The authorities are allowing too many shacks to multiply. The ever-proliferating hotels are now quoting tariff inclusive of meals so business at the shacks is diminishing. But one still has to get up at 5 to get fresh vegetables and the best catch of lobsters, crabs and fish.

He asks us if we looking for a cottage to buy. We promise to go out for an afternoon house-hunting expedition as it will give us a chance to meet house owners and get their perspective on what impact unbridled tourism has had on their lives. Even the hotel owners agree that for some reason the number of tourists are disappointingly low despite expectations of millennium celebrations. Michael encourages us to round off the breakfast with the sinful Goan desert, Bebinca and ice cream. Holidays and the end of the year are a time for indulgences with New Year resolutions just around the corner. The wise know that they are made only to be broken.

We dive into the waves and by noon its time for the first beer of the day. We walk into "Drop Anchor" where Peter, the owner, is not to be spotted. We learn that that he has leased out the place for a year. Santana sings his new hit, " Maria".as we slug down the beer. We are glad that he is finally giving the beach shacks something newer to play than " Black magic woman". We notice that the budget tourist gets cleaner and healthier each year. The Beach holidays are now predictable. At the Baga of old you could run into the unexpected Rock star at an impromptu concert on the beach.

The day goes by in the Goan state of being, just short of activity. I look forward to the dive we have scheduled the next day. We want to examine a shipwreck at Sao George Island accessible from Dona Paula beach. Goa waters suffer from very poor visibility owing to the strip mining that contaminates the sea for miles. However, since one is already here it makes sense to get in a few pleasure dives with Venkat and Karen who run a wonderful outfit called Barracuda Diving. I call up Venkat who says, "Sure, we can fit you in. Meet us at 7 in the morning and we'll do 2 shallow dives before lunch." He promises a sight of the barracudas that have made the wreck their home.

The sky is absolutely clear the next morning as we head out. I do the dives for the sheer joy of being transported to the underwater world. The experience always begins when I deflate the buoyancy jacket and descend. The everyday world disappears as I am transported to an amazing realm. The only sound I hear is the unforgettable in and out release of air through the regulator. I am instantly transported to a state of harmony with the ocean. The next hour is spent in familiar activities. I love the neutral buoyancy, the weightlessness underwater. I am again inside looking out and not outside looking in. In the water I am graceful. And sure enough the barracuda are there.

Always, in the depths of the ocean my mind gets stilled and I find a harmony with the universe. I deposit my gear at the dive shop and walk through the 5 star Cidade Goa Hotel in a indescribable state of being. Outside, it is afternoon and not a soul stirs. There is only the shimmering haze and the feel of the sun. I spot a ramshackle teashop in the shadow of a tree. I sip the sickly sweet tea and watch a colony of ants march across the stone table to collect some biscuit crumbs. A couple of stray dogs lie nearby. A cat brushes past my feet and jumps on to a wall to hibernate. The air is still without a hint of breeze. Not a murmur can be heard and time stands still. I am one with the surroundings, my mind completely still.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.