pink india : stephen malkmus
click here or on the image below to listen
Did I tell you I was going to India? I think I did. I just got back today from a one-week work trip that included the weekend. In between meetings in Bombay and Delhi, I thought at first of going to Jaipur, also known as the Pink City, the capital of Rajasthan. However, I chickened out due to the temperature, which continues to be somewhere around 45 degrees C (about 115 degrees F). I didn't want to fry myself, so I decided to go to Goa instead. You might know the reputation of Goa as a former hippie haven in the 70s, now a commercialized strip of sand infested by dreadlocked trustafarians. Well, that only applies to the northern beaches. Going far south of the airport, you can still find tranquility in Palolem Beach, although this itself is lined with shacks now. One needs to cross the small and rocky Colomb Beach to its south to find the ultra-quiet Patnem Beach, which only has two restaurants and a couple of cottage resorts so far. I counted no more than five people swimming on the day I was there. Even beyond Patnem, separated by a hill and massive rocks, is Rajbag Beach which fronts the Intercontinental Hotel. Perhaps because the five-star property encompasses the entire beach, Rajbag boasts an atmosphere of exclusivity although it is open to everyone. The beach ends south to make way to a river, and crossing the narrow mouth of Rajbag River will take you to fishing villages that lead to Talpona and Galgibag beaches. Both are even more isolated, from tourists anyway, due to lack of infrastructure. So yes, peace and quiet can still be had in Goa. Pictures below, and while you're looking at them, listen to Pink India by Stephen Malkmus. No need to care what the song is about – it's filled with clichés and characters associated with the past – bit it's Malkmus of Pavement, and Pavement is über cool.
I stayed at an eco-lodge called Bhakti Kutir, where every material used to build the cottages was made with the hands of local villagers. Luxury is not the selling point of this property: it's back to basics, with mosquito nets, bucket showers and squat toilets (you read that right). Doors? Who needs them when curtains are enough to give you privacy? My Room 13 has a porch with a long lounge chair and a hammock.
This is Palolem Beach, which is not yet the concrete jungle the beaches to the north are, although it is certainly on its way there. How can you tell, apart from the mushrooming of lodges and beach shacks an arm's length from one another? Restaurants actually play Buddha Bar and Cafe del Mar CDs. Nonetheless, it is a good place to have a meal, given its variety of cheap restaurants ($3 will get you a generous meal with a drink) that are not available in the more southern beaches.
Indians easily outnumber foreigners in Palolem during the daytime, at least during this low-season month of May. The best time to visit Goa is during the cool months of November to March. The rest of the year is either hot – it was easily above 30 degrees last weekend – or sees consecutive days of heavy rain. But I can imagine liking to drive the stretch of Goa in the rain. Supposedly, you can drive its entire length in three hours. The two-lane highway crosses rivers and small towns, and overlooks the green tops of coconut trees and the sparkling aquamarine of the sea.
No dramatic sunsets in Palolem, which actually faces southwest. To get a view of the orange sun melting into the sea, you need to go to the northern tip of the beach and follow an uphill trail made unsavory by day-trippers who answer the call of nature in its bushes. The trail leads to angular boulders that fall steeply into the Arabian Sea. Lying on a flattish surface, I saw what looked like an eagle chasing another, swerving from underneath to lock its claws with those of its potential mate. They swirl down fast around three times before letting go. I guess there was no late-afternoon nookie for either of them. But it was about ten seconds of fascination for me, as I had never seen birds do that before.
The trail from Bhakti Kutir to Patnem. I counted four cows, one pig, and about five dogs along the way. Oh and one internet kiosk too. I also saw signs for yoga classes and Ayurvedic treatments. In fact these are also available in Bhakti Kutir, but only during peak season.
Patnem beach from the top of the hill that separates it from Rajbag.
A lonely fishing boat in Patnem.
In front of Sealand Restaurant in Patnem.
Rajbag beach in front of the Intercontinental, from the same hilltop I mentioned above.
I guess these are only for guests of the hotel.
His name is Dilkhush, a 30-year-old fisherman and father of three daughters aged 7, 5 and 2. Because his small boat needs a bit of repair, this is how he catches fish for the family's daily meals. During the monsoon and the latter months of the year, he says the river turns reddish in color and he can catch fish longer than his forearms. He lives on the banks of the Rajbag river outside the Intercontinental. He wants me to come back to Goa so he could take me on a cruise when his small wooden boat is fixed.