India // Goa //

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.