Arambol – Our Favourite Spot in All of Goa!
Arambol is just a few miles up the road from Mandrem and a short local bus ride saw us in a rather different sort of village. The ‘hippies’ have been coming here for years and there is still partly a different crowd from what we’ve seen elsewhere on Goa’s beaches. The village is quite small and traditional, a mile or so inland from the large beach but it gets plenty of visitors because the only cash machine is there. Next to the beach, one road and a few lanes make up the tourist / backpacker zone. There are far more people our own age here compared to say, Benaulim or Candolim, there are a few live music venues with open mic nights and the place feels more relaxed walking around. There has not been any pressure from the stall holders imploring us (mostly me) to look in their shops (“Madam! Madam! You look in my shop, make me some good luck today” “you promise you will come later?” etc.) The other great thing about Arambol is that it is cheap; the rooms, food, alcohol and stalls are all less expensive than in the rest of Goa.
In the morning on the beach there are countless people doing yoga next to the fishermen sorting out their nets and in season every evening a part of the beach turns into a festival type location with drumming, (completely mad) dancing, hooping, frisbee, tai chi and juggling alongside groups of Indian men playing cricket in their underwear.
It is a lovely mix and we stayed for the first 2 weeks in an apartment. It was not quite as clean and shiny as the place we had in Benaulim for a month and there are no luxuries like TV or air con but we still loved it. Finding apartments is the way forward! Although they are slightly more expensive than a normal room I’m sure we save money overall because we can prepare meals and drinks for pennies rather than eating out.
Our first apartment was in a building belonging to a man who also owns four massive fighting bulls. Consequently, although we are just a 30 second walk from the main tourist zone, it felt (and sometimes smelt) like we were on a farm. There was always a bull or two in the yard outside the front door grazing or being washed and a man to scrape up the poo, take it around the back and dry it into cakes for fuel. Our neighbours there still draw water from their well everyday for their animals and beyond the drying poo cakes, the dusty field out the back is host to locals playing cricket every evening.
We have explored the area, as usual, on foot and normal village life really does exist in harmony with the visitors, more so than in other places we’ve visited. I think nowadays there are more vegan yogi visitors and young families than old fashioned hippies but there are still some with flowers in their hair. There are also many visitors from Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan etc that are really not welcomed by the Goan population at all. Without exception, the locals are, I think, extra friendly to us because we’re not Russian.
There is a town down the coast a little known to be the HQ of the Russian mafia in Goa, Morjim. I think the reports from there of sex trafficking and drug peddling along with the mafia having the powers that be of Goa on the payroll have coloured Goans against the Russians more than the actual visitors. But the usual complaints have been (but are in no way limited to) that they are rude and cannot speak English very well (most Goans can); they are loud, they shout orders at staff, go around in big groups, leave litter on the beach, drink too much and then go swimming or ride scooters and cause accidents and that they do not plan ahead. Most of these complaints have also been made about the Indian visitors from outside of Goa too! (minus the language issues and with more vehemence about the swimming as most Indians cannot swim and there are many Indian tourists that die in the water every year)
We have watched the tourist season go through several stages here. When we first arrived there were many young families with babies and toddlers, people here to do a yoga or reiki course, couples who have been traveling like ourselves, some package tourists arriving for 2 weeks of fun in the sun and people who basically split their time between India and the UK every year and avoid the UK winter for up to 6 months.
When To Visit Arambol
At the end of March it all started to get much less busy. Many of the travellers moved on and the courses finished and some shacks and beach huts started to come down. The stalls along the road started having end of season sales (I managed to grab a couple of bargains and send another parcel) and we were getting invited to closing down dos every few days.
April saw the number of Indian visitors increase dramatically. There are two main groups of Indian tourists: the families and the bachelor groups. The families stick to the very shallow waters generally with most of the women and children always fully dressed in the water. The bachelor groups are different and seem to be on holiday with the same sort of motive as any group of lads would have, except they are often doing things (like drinking Goa’s cheap alcohol) that they have never done before. And, there are no groups of Indian bachelorettes to chase after (that we have seen anyway). Despite there being a multitude of swimming trunks for sale along the beach, most Indian men (even the young ones with trendy sunglasses) still wear their pants for beach wear.
There was a little peak of new European visitors just before Easter. It was the sight of their fresh, pink, newly exposed skin that made me realise I actually did have a bit of a tan. Before their arrival I was often approached on the beach by sellers with the opening line of “Madam, you have just arrived?” “your skin is so white!” Once the new people, who were even more pale than me, arrived I was left alone much more.
Having lots of time here has meant that we have explored the place thoroughly and have been able to relax and not worry that we are missing anything. We have both been able to get on with plenty of work; Henry doing all the usual tasks associated with running a ‘location independent’ online business and I have been learning much more about adding to and maintaining this blog. You may have already seen that I have made the map and added a page for that, added a sidebar that includes a weather widget and a Twitter feed and I can finally reply to comments. I have to say that I’m really enjoying it too! The gallery linked to Picasa is also now online and I’m already compiling the next additions to that. This is one will feature in the gallery as well as this post!
Because we have settled down and basically lived here for more than 6 weeks we have got to know local shopkeepers and restaurant owners, the lady who sells us ‘recharge’ for our mobiles and even some of the beach sellers. We have stayed in more than 10 different rooms/apartments/guest houses/hotels and beach huts in the areas around Arambol beach and Kalacha beach and feel quite at home here now. This is not a bad view to have whist hanging out the washing!
I have been really enjoying experimenting with my camera and finally got around to reading the user manual and finding out what it can actually do. I have been learning more about exposure and ISO settings and I have got loads of photos as a result. This is one of my favourites:
Beach Girls and the Treatment of Women in India
Despite Goa having universal access to free education some parents from other states chose to send their daughters to work on the beach. So girls (the youngest I met was 9) have to live away from their families for 5 or 6 months of the year to add to the family income and do not get any formal education whatsoever. I have been more emotionally affected I think by the inequality between the sexes and the treatment of women in general than by the enormous amount of poverty we have seen. For example, the practise of throwing acid over women for the most minor things by their husbands, uninvestigated rapes, forced (sometimes at a very young age) marriages, suicides and most of all the illegal abortions and infanticide of female babies (still very common because boys are prized and it is assumed they will look after their parents in old age and girls are seen as an expense, mostly due to the cost of dowries and weddings.)
I’m sure it is changing and there are many many educated, liberated and happy women here. However, the incidents of exploitation are not decreasing and some crimes are even on the up. The most noticeable aspect of all this is the almost complete absence of women after about 7pm. The men are chatting, playing games, gambling, playing cricket, smoking and generally relaxing and having a good time but the women are at home, cooking and washing and cleaning.
All this has not been so noticeable for the last few months in Goa due to the massive numbers of tourists, both foreign and domestic. But with access to the media the issue is never far from my mind. We read a newspaper whenever we can and stories like this are far too common…
As well as work, Henry has been teaching himself how to play the drum (I just don’t have the patience) and getting a bit of a gaming fix from some android games on his phone. As an aside, I am completely blown away by the quality and details in the games he has been playing, on his screen (Sony Xperia Ray) they look amazing.
On March 8th I experienced the Indian festival of Holi. Holi is the Hindu festival of colours and is celebrated all over India, to mark the end of winter and the new start of spring and the triumph of good over evil. We had no idea it was that day and I had just popped out to get some eggs and was smeared with orange within moments of leaving the apartment. I went straight back to get Henry and who took one look at me and said I was on my own – there was no way he was getting that dirty! So, armed with my camera, I went back into the village and had a look at what was going on…
Everyone got colours all over them, whether they wanted them or not. Even cars were held by a human roadblock and decorated, nothing got through without a few splashes of colour.
There was a party atmosphere throughout the village and by the end of the day I looked like this, my arms and back were also covered…
The Dead Body Incident
One morning Henry was taking one of his early morning strolls on the beach and was confronted with the sight of a dead body. It was a white man perhaps in his forties and was alone apart from a man doing some yoga a few meters away. Henry came back and told me about it and it was still there when we went out for breakfast. The man doing yoga discovered the body at about 7am and immediately alerted the police. He had got bored waiting for them and had returned to his yoga. It took the police nearly 3 hours to arrive and remove the corpse. We later learnt that the man was a Russian who had gone swimming at night and drowned. It was quite shocking to see him just lying there on the beach, with no police or anything around. There was just a dog sniffing at it and some people getting out the sun loungers for the day.
Kalacha Beach and Sweet Water Lake
Kalacha beach is just north of Arambol and only accessible by foot. We stayed there twice for a couple of days each time as a little mini holiday from Arambol. It is an amazing place and is vying with Galgibaga
for the title of my favourite beach so far.
Just behind the beach is Sweet Water Lake, a lovely little freshwater lake which you can swim in. We stayed for one night in a hut, right on the edge of the lake and once night fell and the people who had come from Arambol for the day had returned it was one of the most peaceful places we have stayed in so far.
Behind the lake is an area of jungle which was a shady oasis of still pools and greenery. We trekked through the jungle to find the famous ‘Banyan Tree’, a meeting point for hippies for many years. As we went rather early in the morning all we found was a man sleeping there but we enjoyed the jungle and the company of a beach dog who stayed with us for a few hours and seemed to be showing us the way.
There are a few restaurants on Kalacha beach and everything they serve has to be brought in on foot everyday. It was always women doing the carrying.
We spent another night by the cliff just before the beach, our room being literally on the edge of the sea. There were loads of rocks around this area which made the music of the waves even more interesting to fall asleep to. (We were on the upper floor of the white building you can see perched on the edge.)
To end this mega long post I’m just going to add a few photos of some of the animals we met in Arambol and Kalacha. The kitten came to visit us for 4 days. He was very affectionate and obviously a well cared for pet and he adopted us, staying with us for whole days at a time. We also met many many dogs here, some of them following us back to our room and sleeping there for the day and joining us when we went out for meals. They stuck with us although we never gave them anything other than water. Finally, very near the end of our stay in Arambol, we treated ourselves to a room with air conditioning and a TV for a few days. Each morning at dawn and then throughout the day we were visited by this woodpecker who seemed to think his reflection in the glass needed to be thoroughly and loudly attacked.
Arambol and Kalacha Beach Goa: 28th February – 19th April 2012