Hippies in Arambol
I recently came across some Indian travel advice: “India is like a mirror, the more relaxed you are to India the more relaxed India is back to you; the more frustrated you are, the more frustrating India is back to you.” And maybe this is the way life always is, but India tends to magnify life in interesting and challenging ways.
When I first arrived in North Goa from the Surf Ashram I was stunned. After hours of train travel usually I’m excited to arrive in a new place. But I couldn’t imagine staying one day in Arambol, the well-known hippy town I’d chosen to visit. Throngs of people crowded the beach, which was lined with multi-cuisine restaurants and lounge chairs from end to end; loud music blared; tacky, tourist shops lined the streets; the hostel dorm was hot and stinky… My frustrations were multiplying and I wasn’t helping myself out.
Thankfully I recognized my negative thought process that evening. I could spend three days being frustrated or take a more relaxed approach and embrace the positive parts of Arambol. The next morning I woke up early, finding the streets and beaches barren. After a nice omlette at the German Bakery (a popular site to see in Goa) I strolled along the beach to find the Wala Surf School. The owner hooked me up with an interesting foam board with fiberglass nose and tail – you make do with what you can get in India! I caught some really fun waves, making the 500 rupee rental well worth it. Everyone out in the water was friendly and chatty. My stay in Arambol made a nice turnaround.
Through Trip Advisor I found a fun café called Garden of Dreams. Hidden away off the street, it should be called the Secret Garden as it’s not very well marked and you have to climb over a fence to find it. Inside a paradise awaits you: the tables are sheltered from the sun by big, leafy trees and a lush garden borders the seating area. Eating fresh, creative food in this tranquil oasis was the highlight of my afternoons in Arambol. Although the Goan prices shocked me at first – items can cost around 50% more than the rest of India – the prices are still cheap compared to the West.
Given the high seasonal population of hippies, travellers, and Russians, there’s a lot of yoga on offer in Arambol. Posters advertising all kinds of spiritual practices are plastered on telephone poles all over town. I found a nice Ashtanga teacher at Balu Yoga. He guided the full Primary series and was helpful in telling my how to modify the more advanced postures. I also took a good Iyengar clas, which is a much slower and precise practice than Ashtanga – something I really enjoyed.
After two days of surfing, eating, and yoga, I left Arambol with a much better perspective than when I arrived. Learning once again that there’s often more to a place (person or thing too) than it first seems. Although Arambol isn’t high on the list of places I’d like to visit again, it was interesting to be part of the crazy scene there for just a few days.
History in Panaji
Hopping on a couple local buses, I arrived in the capital city of Goa, Panaji (or Panjim) after a couple hours. Despite not being able to stay at the hostel I booked for the first night – there were some electrical problems and I had to pay a bit more to stay at the hotel that I booked for my remaining two nights – my first impressions of Panaji were good ones. I decided to come here after reading that it’s known as India’s most relaxed capital city and home to India’s only Latin Quarter, a remnant of Portuguese colonization. It was also nice to escape from the tourist hustle in North Goa.
Panaji is the current capital of Goa and was the main Portuguese settlement when they exerted their power for 450 years. The infusion of Portuguese heritage is still present in the architecture, names, religion, foods, and culture here. Although I enjoyed the more relaxed, European atmosphere, I didn’t realize how brutal the Portuguese rulers were until I visited the Goa State Museum. They were ruthless! Despite frequent revolts against their leadership, the Portuguese stubbornly stayed put until the newly independent India helped support Goa to oust the foreign powers.
Today Goan people own their unique heritage. I was lucky enough to arrive in Panaji when Carnival celebrations were happening. Introduced by the Portuguese, Carnival is meant to be a time of partying, feasting, and celebration before the 40 days of Lent. Now it’s more of an open community celebration of Goan culture.
On my first night in Panaji I followed the sounds of rock music to find the Carnival festivities in full swing. The atmosphere was spectacular! Trees were decorated with lights and artistic Mardi Gras-style masks. Families were out in full force and kids were having a blast playing amongst the dreamy wonderland. A funky band was playing all the good oldies. I got sucked into the contagious energy on the first night and even danced around to some of the goofy songs. Food and alcohol vendors were also set-up, busily feeding and lubricating the crowd. I went home that evening feeling very content to be in this unique place.
During my first day in Panaji I wandered around the old Latin Quarter, taking photos of the architecture and finding good food to eat. I felt very sophisticated gazing at artworks in the Gitanjali Galleries. Their Peoples Gallery exhibited a mixed-medium artist who made powerful statements about the impacts of patriarchy, capitalism and globalization in India, while showing hope in the Indian feminist movement.
After a rest during the heat of the day I walked up Anjali Hill, finding a wealthy neighbourhood and another art gallery at the Panjim Centre for the Arts. They had a thought provoking modern art exhibit titled “Lost in Search of Time.” Taking a moment to relax, I hung out in their lovely terrace café sipping iced tea. Not too bad of a day I’ll admit! I topped it off with a leisurely dinner sampling local cuisine at the Kokni Kanteen, where you can find Goan specialties like Chicken Xacuti.
On my second day I decided to check out the Goa State Museum. Although the museum is a bit run down, it’s still functional. There are a lot of historical artifacts on display and it was fun to see a big group of school children completing some intricate sketches of the items. My favourite exhibit showed traditional sarees from regions all across India. By far the most informative exhibit covered the Goan struggle for independence from the Portuguese. With some food for thought, I braved the scorching pavement to find some food for my belly at Patto Ritz Classic. I sampled the fish thali – it was an experience! Tiny, shrimp-like shells were in one of the dishes – a crunchy, but tasty sensation.
After three nights staying in the state capital I ventured further to South Goa, staying in Palolem for a couple days before starting my yoga teacher training at Trimurti Yoga. I’ll write a separate post all about my time at Trimurti and exploring the Canacona region of South Goa. Goa is a special place, completely different from the rest of India. With the party scene dominating in the North, a more chilled-out vibe in the South, and more normal Indian life in the middle – I’m glad I had the chance to do a bit of exploring in each of Goa’s regions.