Paved Paradise – Growing Up Goan

Red dust clouds rise. Feet stomp and shuffle to a 180 bpm track. Speakers pound an enormous sound while fluorescent coconut trees sway in the gentle breeze. The moon caresses your skin and its light reflects off of the glistening sand. The sea dances with your soul as your body flows to the beats. When the sun rises, smiling faces acknowledge the beauty of love, music, dance, and esoteric existence decoded in psychedelic trance. Life in Goa is unique. It is an alternative, close-knit community that indulges in partying and living freely. The party lifestyle in Goa evolved from live gigs in the seventies, to reggae, then rock and then took a plunge into the electronic world in the late eighties. As Goa is now a top tourist destination, many travellers scoff at the idea of visiting. They would prefer to see the ‘real’ India and are not interested in commercial Goa. However, what they are not aware of is the unique underground heritage and history that made Goa what it is today. An original Goa kid tells Sensa Nostra the tale of the rise and fall of Goa, its environment, its people, its music, and the beautiful eccentric life on the Konkan coastal region of India.

Back in the day, Goa was a freak’s paradise. We called ourselves freaks because we chose to live outside the conformity of society. Though most people would label us as ‘hippies’, we refered to ourselves as freaks. It was a haven for the flower generation that wanted to live in freedom and peace, to rebel against society and its expectations. The first arrival of freaks was sometime in the sixties. At the time, Goa was fighting for independence from the colonial rule of the Portuguese. The first freaks settled on the pristine beaches and lived in huts. They formed a community based on mutual respect, freedom, peace, and love. As it was such a wonderful lifestyle, Goa rapidly gained an international reputation as a hippie’s paradise. After the Beatles visited India, it became a trend for people to travel to the country for its cultural diversity and fascinating spirituality. This trend helped establish the state’s reputation as a resting place from the chaotic world of India. Many people travelled to Goa before exploring the rest of the country, but it was so nice they just got stuck there.

In the seventies there was a bus that travelled from Amsterdam to Goa. This bus was filled with young, adventure-thirsty freaks looking for paradise. It was this generation that decided to settle down and live the life they dreamed of. As time passed, more and more people travelled and stayed. Slowly, a bigger community of Goa freaks emerged. There has always been international attraction to Goa. Although the first settlers were predominantly Californian, Goa attracted freaks from all over the world. I grew up hearing Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, and of course the native tongue, Konkani. The first settlers began to get together and make beautiful flower children. This was an ideal place for a kid to explore the first years of life. Long days on the beach, melting sunsets, jungles, motorbikes, awesome food, exotic fruits, and an eclectic group of kids with whom to play and be wild.

I was born in the early eighties on the second day of a three-day party. My father was dancing when my mother went into labour. He rushed back to our Portuguese-style house when he heard the news. A friend of my mum came to the party looking for the midwife. She was found tripping and dancing by the speakers. As she was the only midwife around at the time, they rushed to the house to prepare for my birth. The midwife told a helper what to do while she had a quick nap to refresh her mind. A few hours later, I was ready to greet the world. The midwife did a great job. I was delivered with no complications and welcomed into a most wonderful world. The news got out that I had arrived and people came to the house with offerings of candles and flowers. I was born into the world with so much love. The vibe must have been ecstatic.

Being a Goa kid was not all easy, however. Well, it was in a way. We grew up with a very alternative culture and we were raised eating very fresh, healthy foods. We did not know the meaning of racism. We learned to love the world and to appreciate life. We grew up knowing both riches and poverty. We were very sheltered from the evils of society. For me, this was the only aspect that made us less ‘grown-up’ compared to our fellow first-world kids. However, we were well-travelled, multilingual and well-versed in getting stoned. Much of society would frown upon the upbringing I’ve had, but I would not change it for anything in the world. The part that made being a Goa kid difficult was realising that the rest of the world disagreed with our lifestyle. And yes, drugs do play a part in our life. However, for us, drugs were normal in the same way that parents of first-world kids have friends over for a few social drinks. It did not make our parents love us less, mistreat us, or neglect us. (Well, there are always a few such cases in all types of communities.) There was so much love and mutual respect between kids and their parents. They also taught us how to take drugs responsibly when we came of age. Living in such an open environment made childhood quite pleasantwell, for me at least. It was beautiful.

I remember back in the early nineties, the beaches were clean. There wasn’t as much tourism apart from the odd traveller stopping by. When there was a party organised, it was free. Nowadays they make you pay and that just makes it ugly. It has become a business. Before it was about having a great time, uniting and dancing to the universal music. We kids would go to the party spot (in the jungle or on the beach) in the afternoon and paint the trees with fluoro colours. The older kids would do more intricate design using fluoro-coloured string. They would make geometric patterns with the string in between trees and hang up fluoro batik artworks. The sound guys would come and set up the speakers and make sure the generator would be working and ready to rock. The electricians would come and set up the black lights. We would all contribute to make the party happen. It was for free or donation-based.

At the first parties, there would be free drinks and food for everyone. They would dig holes in the sand and light them with candles. Mats were placed on the ground for those that wanted to chill under the starry night. As time moved on, the music progressed, as did the people. The new electronic music came from Berlin and played on the shores of Goa. Over time, Goa attracted all kinds of disk jockeys and Goa music progressed into what we know of as today’s psy-trance, Goa-trance, forest and dark psy.

In the mid-nineties, Goa was at its peak. The parties would attract tens of thousands of international ravers. There was an influx of Israelis, who came after finishing their military service. It was around this time that Goa was overrun with commercialization. There would be around seven parties per night. Some would continue non-stop for three days. This was when mafia and organised crime began to taint the beaches of Goa. As the popularity of party life grew, so did the concept of profit. The government resented the fact that Goa was now becoming a drug state and blamed the hippies. It did not stop the politicians from making profits. This was also when the locals began to cash in. The parties would always help out the locals, allowing them to sell chai, cigarettes, OCB papers, and snacks. Slowly, but surely, the scene just exploded into a money-making business and Goa was beginning to lose herself. And the ‘party’, which was once looked forward to, began to be feared by the locals themselves.

In 2013, we still have pretty awesome times, but the communal feeling is lost. Now, you have to pay an entry fee. Due to government regulations, these parties must be held in venues that have a licence to play loud music. The concept of a free party is lost. This really changes the vibe, and Goa is not what it used to be. To me it feels like Goa has been raped by domestic tourists, international chartered flights, and ignorant locals just looking for a profit rather than preserving the beauty and simplicity that is Goa. The beautiful essence of our land has been sold to greed. Developers from Delhi and Mumbai come and exploit Goa. They build horrible, badly-made hotels for a fast buck. This really saddens me. Even if the legacy of Goa has grown exponentially internationally and has inspired massive festivals such as Boom, Voov, Ozora and Sonica, Goa herself has been neglected. In a way, it’s fantastic that the whole world can experience a sample of what an old-time Goa party would have been like. That makes me proud and very happy. However, my heart resents that the beautiful beaches we grew up on are now exploited by the tourism industry, full of garbage, and frequented by people with bad vibes. As most of the old freaks are dying out or moving away, a group of posers have proclaimed Goa as their own, which is just sad.

What makes Goa so incredibly special is intangible. It cannot be described in words nor can it be depicted in art. It is something so magical and deeply rooted within every Goa kid. Our memories are golden. Nothing beats growing up in Goa. Even though today it is an entirely different story, Goa still has much to offer. Goa is still a wonderful place that has an incredible Konkan culture, diverse flora and fauna and a laid-back atmosphere. It is a must-see before it becomes a city. When visiting Goa, respect it and she will respect you. Go there to pay homage to the land of psychedelic trance before, as the old hippie song goes, they pave paradise to put up a parking lot.

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  • lorraine

    Wonderful Maggie 🙂 what a different angle to see things.
    We all grow with so many view points. wish the world opened up their minds more. i wish you a wonderful life journey ahead, in goa and every other place in this free universe

  • lossouarn

    moi aussi je regrette beaucoup cette époque Goa en 1980, mais comme partout tout change, trop vite même. Jai peur… Mais je suis retourné cette année en Inde et Goa aussi, evidemment, j’ai bien aimé quand_même et revu Chapora avec toujours ces clochards célestes et je suis allé à Arambol que je ne connaisais pas, j’ai bien aimé aussi et j’ai rêvé à ces hipis qui ont découvert cette place, _ ” comme j’aurai aimé être avec eux”. En ce moment j’écoute un groupe de cette époque; c’est Ten Years After, que de fêtes, que de shiloms, que d’amitiés et de rencontres, de filles si belles et perdues aussi… mais que sont-ils devenus mes amis ?

  • Nathan

    Such a beautiful article. As a local resident I didn’t quite experience the same childhood but lived in the same incredible land. And I vividly recollect the glorious sunsets and the wide open beach spaces. It saddens me that Goa has sold out out her charm for a few bucks, but I’m glad that there are few who remember and appreciate her for what she once was.

  • Hippy Boy

    Truly amazing view points … Wish could have seen those days … 🙂

  • Anthony Bisset

    When will it occur to governments that part of the natural landscape worth preserving is active culture… Just like national parks are established to preserve ecologies, a bureau of culture could be tasked with regulating the commercialization of standout human cultural developments. Commercialism doesn’t just clear-cut forests it clear-cuts culture and the mind. Slowing the pass of progress in order to preserve an emergent culture of importance would apply equally to gentrification in Berlin and San Francisco (etc) as it would to Goa.

    Please think on this idea and if you agree or can improve on it, carry it onwards.

  • dimitri

    it was wonderfoul back then.. .. so sad tthat things change..

  • nyima ohana

    Really well written…i by mistake voted thumbs down..but thts obviously not what i meant..glad to be a goa kid too..!! Xoxo

  • Greg Acuna

    Beautifully written and expressed. I’ve only been here 12 years, but the changes have been drastic and in many ways sad. Still I believe that there is a will to change. To rejuvenate and protect the beauty…though my feeling is that the commercialism will only become more dominate.

    Keep up the good work. Words like yours are part of the change that we dream about.

  • Sorry Your Not Goan

    the writer says We did not know the meaning of racism. they also forgot to say that they are white.

  • Bridget Cardinali

    I was there in the early 90’s, and it was just as you described. the parties were amazing, the vibe was wonderful. it was pure hedonism and rebellion from normal society. wonderful times, but many of my friends got stuck in the drugs lifestyle and died young.
    and i saw the special small community of international travellers grow to thousands of ravers… and then the lovely scene of freaks was gone…

  • sunny sandhu

    this summer i was the people who came in the bus from amsterdam , they are the freaks of ruigoord . THey have declared themselves independent , and urge other free communities to do the same …
    i understand their message and hereby wrote this
    Free Art Movement demands urgent steps to save the Goa Solar Spirit

    FREE ART MOVEMENT are free artists , doctors , healers etc of the world , who belong to no nation , no creed , no religion , recognize Goa as a haven where Solar Spirit has been nurtured. Solar Spirit is the collective consciousness Spirit of Mankind without which Human Beings cant evolve . Its the one that controls the Mind of Entire Human Race . It moves Human beings on the path of righteousness . For that very nature ,Free art movement has been recognized as critical to the human development across the world .
    The Mad run for money ,political nonsense, drug mafias and police high handedness is ruining the free art nature of Goa . The recent events with Nigerians are just the start . There is an underlying current of greed , hatred and violence which is making itself appear in all its dimensions . This shall be great undoing to free art movement . This has already brought bad name to Goa across the globe . Free artists stand against this decline .
    Goa Free Artists ask for a change in the following –
    – Give special Status to the free art movement
    – Create Free Art Zone in the state , where Arts can be done in free manner , without interference of police, politics and the drug mafia .
    – Legalisation of the drug trade – We can follow the Holland model of legalization . This is an urgent step , this shall create economic avenues for the state and also end the Drug Mafia ruckus . Free Artists have many doctors and healers in it , which can manage the Narcotics in a very professional manner , without the serious side effects .

    note: pls add ur inputs , we can create a petition , get online offline signatures , and give it to local authorities and state ..
    thanks for reading , share if u like
    dr sunny sandhu
    MBBS , AIIMS New Delhi
    singer/songwriter prem sena
    member Kheti virasat mission , Punjab

  • Alex Odd Rituals

    I love Goa, i was there the first time at about age of 20, my whole seeing on life changed and all i was able to think about was to get back again. 3 years later i went back and saw a big change.. Well some changes is good, but you cant change perfect to somthing beter.
    Now so many years after i dont know if i dare to come back to my special place.

  • MDT

    I am Goan. And I am not white. And even if I was, it doesn’t matter. My destiny is Goa. Kitte sangta ma re!