ANJUNA, the next sizeable village up the coast from Baga, was, until a few years back, the last bastion of alternative chic in Goa – where the state’s legendary full-moon parties were staged each season, and where the Beautiful Set would rent pretty red-tiled houses for six months at a time, make trance mixes and groovy dance clothes, paint the palm trees fluoro colours and spend months lazing on the beach. A small contingent of fashionably attired, middle-aged hippies still turn up, but thanks to a combination of the Y2K music ban and overwhelming growth in popularity of the flea market, Anjuna has seriously fallen out of fashion. Even the young Israeli hellraisers who inundated the village during the late 1990s – and were largely responsible for the government’s crackdown on parties – have stopped coming.
As a consequence, the scattered settlement of old Portuguese houses and whitewashed churches, nestled behind a long golden sandy beach, nowadays resembles the place it was before the party scene snowballed. There are, however, two downsides to staying here. One is an enduringly druggy atmosphere. Levels of substance abuse, both among visitors and locals, remain exceptional, and the village suffers more than its fair share of dodgy characters. Just how seedy the scene revolving around Anjuna’s shacks has grown became apparent in February 2008, after a British teenager, 15-year-old Scarlett Keeling, was raped and murdered.
The other negative thing about the village – at least, if you’re staying here – is the famous flea market. Every Wednesday, the beach and coconut groves at the south end of the beach get swamped with tourists and sellers from other resorts, forcing most of the resident tourist population north to neighbouring Vagator for the day.
The beach and flea market
The beach and flea market
The north end of Anjuna beach, just below where the buses pull in, is no great shakes by Goan standards, with a dodgy undertow and lots of even dodgier Kashmiris selling hash, as well as parties of whisky-filled daytrippers in constant attendance. The vibe is much nicer at the far, southern end, where a pretty and more sheltered cove accommodates a mostly twenty-something tourist crowd. A constant trance soundtrack thumps from the shacks behind it, cranking up to proper parties after dark, when Curlies and neighbouring Shiva Valley take turns to max their sound systems, hosting international DJs through the season. Chai ladies and food stall holders sit in wait on the sands, just like for the raves of old, but the party grinds to a halt at 10pm sharp.
The biggest crowds gather on Wednesdays, after Anjuna’s flea market, held in the coconut plantation behind the southern end of the beach, just north of Curlie’s. Along with the Saturday Night Market at Arpora, this is the place to indulge in a spot of souvenir shopping. Two decades ago, the weekly event was the exclusive preserve of backpackers and the area’s seasonal residents, who gathered here to smoke chillums and to buy and sell party clothes and jewellery. These days, however, everything is more organized and mainstream. Pitches are rented out by the metre, drugs are banned and the approach roads to the village are choked all day with a/c buses and Maruti taxis ferrying in tourists from resorts further down the coast. Even the beggars have to pay baksheesh to be here.
Each region of India is represented in the stalls. At one end, ever-diminishing ranks of Westerners congregate around racks of fluoro party gear and designer beachwear, while in the heart of the site, Tibetan jewellery sellers preside over orderly rows of turquoise bracelets and Himalayan curios. Most distinctive of all are the Lamani women from Karnataka, decked from head to toe in traditional tribal garb and selling elaborately woven multicoloured cloth, which they fashion into everything from jackets to money belts. Elsewhere, you’ll come across dazzling Rajasthani mirrorwork and block-printed bedspreads, Gujarati appliqué, Orissan palm-leaf manuscripts, pyramids of colourful spices and incense, sequined shoes and Ayurvedic cures for every conceivable ailment.
What you end up paying for this exotic merchandise largely depends on your ability to haggle. Prices are sky-high by Indian standards. Be persistent, though, and cautious, and you can usually pick things up for a reasonable rate, except from the Westerner designers, who are not so fond of haggling.
Even if you’re not spending, the flea market is a great place just to sit and watch the world go by. Mingling with the suntanned masses are bands of strolling musicians, mendicant sadhus and fortune-telling bulls. And if you happen to miss the show, rest assured that the whole cast reassembles every Saturday at Baga/Arpora’s night markets.
The dark side of the moon
The dark side of the moon
Lots of visitors come to Goa expecting to be able to party on the beach every night, and are dismayed when the only places to dance turn out to be mainstream clubs they probably wouldn’t look twice at back home. But the truth is that the full-on, elbows-in-the-air beach party of old, when tens of thousands of people would space out to huge techno sound systems under fluoro-painted palm trees, is well and truly a thing of the past in Goa – thanks largely to the stern attitude of the local government.
Goa’s coastal villages saw their first big parties back in the 1960s with the influx of hippies to Calangute and Baga. Much to the amazement of the locals, the preferred pastime of these wannabe sadhus was to cavort naked on the sands together on full-moon nights, amid a haze of chillum smoke and loud rock music. The villagers took little notice of these bizarre gatherings at first, but with each season the scene became better established, and by the late 1970s the Christmas and New Year parties, in particular, had become huge events, attracting travellers from all over the country.
In the late 1980s, the local party scene received a dramatic shot in the arm with the coming of Acid House and techno. Ecstasy became the preferred dance drug as the rock and dub-reggae scene gave way to rave culture, with ever-greater numbers of young clubbers pouring in for the season on charter flights. Goa soon spawned its own distinctive brand of psychedelic music, known as Goa Trance, cultivated by artists such as Goa Gill, Juno Reactor and Hallucinogen.
The golden era for Goa’s party scene, and Goa Trance, was in the early 1990s, when big raves were held two or three times a week in beautiful locations around Anjuna and Vagator. For a few years the authorities turned a blind eye to them. Then, quite suddenly, the plug was pulled: during the run up to the Y2K celebrations a ban on amplified-music was imposed between 10pm and 7am. A decade on, the curfew is still in place and the rave scene has virtually disappeared, limited to a couple of established, above-board clubs – notably the Nine Bar and Hilltop in Vagator and Paradiso and Curlie’s in Anjuna. The occasional party does from time to time escape the notice of the local police (notably up in Aswem, at or around Liquid Sky) but don’t come to Goa expecting Ko Pha Ngan or Ibiza-on-the-Arabian Sea.