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unless otherwise stated,
are Copyright © Priya Florence Shah
Goa’s Calangute Beach: A Vintage Snapshot
Copyright © Vulcanmind
Goa and I go back a long way – back to 1972, in
fact. That’s when we came over from Germany and settled in India.
My dad saw wisdom in easing the extreme culture shock for us by ferrying
us to Calangute within a week of touchdown. It was an inspired move.
I don’t know how many of you are old enough to
remember Calangute, Goa’s erstwhile Queen of Beaches, from way
back then. It was certainly different from the swarming tourist anthill
it is today. There were only a few shack shops at the plaza (Alex Cold
Drink House among them), and fewer tourists to patronize them. We had
standing bookings at the Calangute Tourist Resort over the years, until
it lost its rustic charm with renovations.
Vendors were still allowed do peddle their wares outside
the beach-approach strip in front of Mahalaxmi Udipi Hotel – and
there were some real steals to be had. This was still hardcore hippie
era in Goa, and many of the down-and-out foreigners – their money
blown on drugs and booze – sold everything from their music to
their clothes on this makeshift flea market. My mother picked up her
first Walkman there at an impossibly cheap price, and I still sport
a small tattoo done there that I paid a mere five rupees for on my upper
Calangute beach was the embodiment of tropical tranquillity.
Beach chairs and umbrellas were a relative novelty, but they existed.
The sand was clean and the water crystal clear. Nobody had ever heard
of water scooters, paragliding or banana boat rides back then. We swam,
used air mattresses for some half-assed wave riding, explored the shallow
depths with kiddie diving masks and snorkels, shrieked with delight
at the dolphins (are there still any around at Calangute?) and in anguish
when we made occasional contact with a jellyfish.
At night, we’d stand on our balconies and look
down on the darkened beach as chillums (rudimentary clay pipes) winked
like devil’s eyes in the night. In those days, the smell of marijuana
and hashish hung over Goan beaches like smog over a modern city today,
and nobody complained. It was as accepted in Goa’s beach culture
as feni and ‘urak’…
Calangute’s sister beach, Baga, featured only
one prominent hotel – Lomir. Nude sunbathing and swimming was
still allowed at Baga beach in the mid-seventies. Those foreigners with
a yen for this kind of thing gravitated there like flies to honey. Much
to the delight of the busfuls of unabashed South Indian gawkers that
were a norm even back then. On the average, there was one lungi-clad,
camera-sporting ebony skin for every death-white Norwegian one. The
bikini-clad ‘firang’ women considered this a necessary and
negligible evil and paid zero attention to them.
Calangute seems to have slipped off the list of preferred
Goan beaches since those innocent days. There certainly aren’t
any ‘full moon’ parties happening there anymore. Calangute
was quietly shunted to the sidelines as elaborate 5-star resorts began
to appear all over Goa’s other, less frequented beaches. But for
those who remember it from its purer days, Calangute – though
now dethroned by the likes of Benaulim and Cavelossim - is still the
ageing Queen of Goan beaches…