Monday, 3 November 2008

Goa Goan Gone..

India 9: Goa - Paradise lost?

After a successful week's work in Mumbai, Steve headed home to the UK, and I took advantage of the paid flight to India to take a week's holiday.. beach time in Goa! I'd heard mixed things about Goa - from people saying that it wasn't "the real India" and best avoided, to people saying it's total paradise.

Well the good news is that nature-wise it's beautiful. On the way from the airport we passed fields, palm & rubber plantations, rainforest. Goa is a state on the west coast of India with 63 miles of west-facing coastline - which means beautiful beaches and amazing sunsets every night. I stayed in Palolem Beach in the far south of Goa - which is a sort of alternative/backpacker place like Byron Bay in Australia or Ko Phi Phi in Thailand. I've always preferred the laid back alternative scene than just going to get pissed in the sun somewhere! First impressions were great, a long bay with golden sands and overhanging palm trees. Not complete paradise, the sand is not as clean as it could be, and there just a few too many beach-front huts, bars and restaurants - but it comes pretty close!

I stayed in a very nice beach hut (actually a couple of different ones - the tourist season is just starting up here so it's starting to fill up, I had to move after the first night!)

After a few days I decided it was time to do some sightseeing, so I hired a car with driver for the day (about 25 GBP) and saw Panjim, Old Goa and Fort Aguada, all of which are fine remnants of the Portugese era which only ended in 1961. You can look at my set on Flickr to see some photos of that.

I also took a stop at Baga, which is the "party place" in Goa, and can I just say, it was horrible! North Indian lager louts wander around in their "Goa is Best" bests, drinking beers and hassling girls like some sort of parallel universe Ibiza. All the palm trees are gone and replaced by a never ending strip of bars and shops all aimed at extracting cash from tourists. People hand out flyers to bars that never close. You can't get even a small patch of sand to yourself without being hassled by traders. It was everything that is wrong with commercialism and tourism.

The really disturbing thing is that I saw a lot of development happening on Palolem Beach with businesses expanding to take more tourists. A bay just down the coast has been eaten up by a 5 star hotel resort complex. People say that the entire middle section of Goa's coast has been ruined like Baga - the only places with a bit of peace and charm left are Palolem in the far south and Arambol in the far north. You really get the sense of an unstoppable monster chomping up the beautiful beaches and spitting out Anywhere-On-Sea.

It really brought home to me the ugly side of tourism. I suppose in a way backpackers are like early-adopters of new tourist destinations - and over time as more and more people discover them the inevitable developments happen and the mainstream masses arrive. I wonder how much longer Palolem and Arambol have left before they lose their charm too. I've heard that Ko Phi Phi in Thailand has been ruined since "The Beach". I wonder where will be the next backpacker hotspot to bite the dust? I wonder if anything can be done?