Goa; India Paradise or Totally Overrated?
When you think of India your thoughts are taken away to those big sprawling cities with millions of people, the heat and vibrant colours, its ancient history and famous temples. However, another place now also synonymous with India is Goa. Not only do travellers flock here, weary after months exploring the hustle and bustle of Uttar Pradesh or Rajasthan, but it is now also very much a one or two week holiday destination. With relatively cheap flights now running direct to Goa and it being extremely cheap on arrival it is really a no brainer holiday hotspot. That being said we had heard so much about Goa both before we arrived in India and from other travellers as we began our Indian journey. It is hailed as the ultimate traveller haven; paradise beaches, hippie markets, tax free alcohol, long sunny days, yoga, a big expat community from all over the world and although not tempting for us the readily available drugs and ensuing trance music culture. Being complete beach lovers and having spent months in big cities we were of course excited to get to Goa and soak up its heady tropical atmosphere.
But, having now experienced Goa first hand, we thought we would shed a little light on it from our own point of view and answer the question on everyone’s lips; Is Goa all its hyped up to be?
As i’m sure you can tell by the title of this article after arriving and spending a couple of days in Goa we were sadly a little disappointed. After all the hype that surrounds this place we were really expecting a lot more than what we found and a week later we are afraid to say that our initial impression of Goa hadn’t really changed all that much! Here’s why:
The Average Beaches
Now, unfortunately having been on and seen many exceptionally amazing beaches in the last 12 months its hard to compare Goa to any of them…yes we are fully fledged beach snobs! Even so, we think its fair to say that the beaches in Goa, although numerous and sprawling are not overly spectacular. The beaches we visited were largely dark brown or even black sand, dotted with massive piles of cow dung, did not have lovely crystal clear water and in places were lined with so many sun-loungers and plastic chairs that there was barely anywhere to lay down. We found it difficult to find a place where we could really relax all day and bask in the gorgeous breezy sunshine without being accosted by the bar workers who wanted us to sit in their bar or by beach touts selling their useless goods. They’re not the worst beaches we’ve been too but they are by no means near to the best.
Psy Trance and Parties
We don’t really know anything about Psy Trance and to be honest, it may sound boring but, we don’t really want to! Having sat in many of the cafe’s and beach bars in Goa’s Anjuna beach and listened to the ear bashing music they call Psy Trance I think its safe to say it was a little bit lost on us. Here within lies one of the biggest fundamental problems we found with Goa as a place to visit in INDIA…it’s trying to be anything BUT India. Crazed, drugged up, Indian guys sitting next to blaring speakers playing trance music at 11am isn’t our idea of relaxing on a beach and unfortunately all too often there was someone too eager to start the party before we, the beach, anyone or everyone (apart from the exceptions) wanted to. Now don’t get us wrong we love a party and have been to many a party island throughout our travels and some have been epic, some of course have not, but it seems Goa is trying to emulate those Thai party islands whether anyone actually wants it or not. Take Mandrem beach at 8pm; tables out, candles lit and couples or friends trying to enjoy a post-sunset beer or dinner with their toes in the sand but in the background heavy trance is playing – what ever happened to good old Bob Marley? We understand that everyone has different tastes and inevitably some people will love trance music and want to party and this is fine but surely there’s a time and a place? The party should come as and when the right crowd is there or as the night builds up not every day in every bar from 10am? It seemed weird to us that every single place was playing the same headache inducing music with absolutely no-one inside. We may be getting old but for us Goan beaches would be a lot more chilled and relaxing if the bars and restaurants that line them were. After all, isn’t India about coming to ‘find yourself’ and about reconnecting not getting smashed every night and waking up on the beach snuggled up next to a cow?
The Drug Culture
Probably very much connected to the music culture here and possibly the only way you can listen to trance music for more than ten minutes is by losing your mind on drugs. Sadly, this is now the sole reason why some people come to Goa and with drugs being readily available (you cant go a day without being offered something) the effects of drug use is often clear for all to see. It may sound funny but when a man is laying on the sand pretending to row himself along then psychotically dancing next to you and handing out statues of crucifixion whilst you’re trying to enjoy your afternoon mango smoothie it can actually be quite sad. We go to beaches to relax, to soak up the sun and hopefully meet some like-minded backpackers not to come face to face with dazed people, raving in the midday sun.
We cant complain too much about this as of course by visiting we are also tourists but when visiting any place you always want to see the authentic side to it too yet in Goa it seemed that this doesn’t exist anymore. Everything is aimed at tourists and it was rare to see any local people unless in their place of work at the bars, restaurants and shops all aimed at tourism. Compare this to Gokarna for example where the township is still very much an Indian town and although has touches of tourism within it people are still going about their daily lives.
Or Indian Paradise?
All that being said we don’t want to sound like complete British pessimists as of course Goa couldn’t be and is not all bad. In its own way Goa is an Indian paradise and here’s why;
Despite what we said above, a beach is still a beach and coming straight from the busy cities of Delhi, Jaipur and Mumbai it was still a relief to cast off the backpacks and laze in the sunshine. The beaches were by no means the best we’ve ever seen but then we are probably being a little harsh. In comparison to other beaches we have visited in India such as Kovalam, Varkala and Alleppey the beaches of Northern Goa are certainly the most idyllic. They still allowed for sleepy days, salty hair, fresh coconuts and a much needed dose of Vitamin B and really, what else do you need? With the cows roaming around and the unmistakable pink sun setting over the sea there is no doubt about the fact your in India and compared to the chaos of the cities this is a little slice of Indian paradise. The best beach we visited would have to be the small cove of Arambol which was actually a lot quieter than any of the others, a lot more underdeveloped and was even lined with palm trees as opposed to bars!
Despite the touristy nature of Goa we were actually very surprised to find that the food was still reasonably priced and in a lot of places still authentic and absolutely delicious. The curries we had tried throughout the north and were already in love with still tasted great and hadn’t been dumbed down in spice and flavour as they sometimes are in more touristy destinations. We could still dine every night on channa masala, malai kofta or dal fry and be totally in awe of the explosion of Indian flavour. This combined with the fact we could treat ourselves in the mornings to more westernised breakfasts such as eggs or shakshouka was secretly welcomed.
Take a step back from the beach and make sure you are there on a Wednesday night and there is no better place in Goa to shop than at the famous Anjuna Flea Market. This vast market selling everything from tapestries to shoe laces really caters for even the most picky of shoppers and will surely keep you occupied for at least a couple of hours. If, like us, one of you likes shopping more than the other (you guessed it, Josh hates shopping) there is a live performance space in the middle of the market which serves beer and throws out some funky Indian rock tunes…much better than shopping!!
So even though we don’t rate the beaches too highly you still cant knock being on a beach with a cool sea breeze and a warm ocean to float in. We visited in December and the temperature was perfect. Most days were in the mid 30’s which by the Indian standards we have come to expect is actually quite reasonable and it allowed us to hang out for the majority of the day actually in the sunshine! No more cowering in the shade for us!
When you dream about a paradise place no doubt little huts right on the beach which you can wake up in and open your door to the sound of the sea crashing feature somewhere. And, well Goa has plenty of these places. So,e fancy, others very basic, there is a beach hut choice for everyone and so life really isn’t that bad when you’re waking up already on the beach!
All in all we left Goa feeling pretty underwhelmed although we cant deny we still enjoyed our time there. It was a great place to spend a week escaping the busy cities, relaxing away from the crowds and watching the sunset with a cheep beer in hand. We had planned to go back and explore more of Goa but actually when it came to it we got stuck in the much sleepier beach side village of Gokarna. We most definitely preferred the relaxed vibes Gokarna holds and we hope it retains this and doesn’t morph into Goa. We hope this article doesn’t put you off, everyone has different tastes and you should always go to a place and try it for yourself. We just hope to be honest about our own experience, what we found and why Goa may not be all it seems!
C & J x