Pico Iyer once wrote, “One could almost define the things that mattered in life as the ones that came as suddenly as thunder.” Just as the eloquent travel writer noted, a chance stuck me suddenly catching my unawares on a whimsical trip – a chance to experience Arambol, the enigmatic side of Goa with a thoroughbred Goan on a day long rendezvous.
A film maker by profession with his roots in Goa, my companion-to-be was short with curly hair and a lean frame. He wore green T shirt with a pair of white shorts and rode his sister’s sleek red vespa scooter. We met for the first time at Panjim bus station and understanding that he took pride in knowing Goa well, I let him plan the day’s itinerary regardless of my own travel interests.
“Where are we heading and how far is it?” I inquired. “We are going to Arambol and it is not very far,” replied my companion. As we rode on, he narrated his ambition and ordeal in becoming a film director at the age of thirty. Since that is accomplished, he hoped to assist his father to run a budget hotel in the touristy part of North Goa.
“So that is it? No more film direction?” I questioned.
“It took me two years to finish the movie. I am done!” he said and abruptly stopped the scooter, parked and pointed to a bar cum restaurant across the road.
The modest restaurant was arranged with white, plastic tables and chairs, and had extended seating under a thatched roof in front, closer to the road. Two groups of men occupied two tables in the semi-dark corners of the restaurant with drinks and food laid out in front of them. Conscious of the multiple pairs of eyes fixated on me, I chose a table where sunlight found its way easily.
“It was like an experiment the last few days. I visited various parts of Goa to find restaurants that serve fresh, tasty fish fry” – saying this, my companion went on to order array of dishes to the man who came dressed in white shirt and dhoti.
We barely waited for ten minutes when came in a Thali plate that was neatly arranged with white rice, a bowl of fish curry, shell fish masala, a piece of bangada fish fry and a cup of solkadi. Soon after, another gigantic plate followed with equally gigantic pieces of rava fried prawns.
The flavorful thin fish curry mixed and eaten with rice proved chewing pointless; I flipped the fish fry thrice before tearing away any remaining meat from its delicate bones and trying not to be partial, I dug out the measly meat once in a while from the shells of shell fish, to sample it. In between mouthfuls, I devoured the crunchy two layered prawns and finished up the meal by gulping down a glassful of solkadi, a traditional drink from the coastal region of India. A beautiful surprise awaited us in the end: the total bill came to just 260 rupees! The best of seafood within the best of budget had already made my day.
Gratified with the lunch, I looked forward to the rest of the day.
“Have you ever been to Arambol?” asked my companion as he secured the vespa on a narrow lane few meters ahead of a street market.
“No,” I replied.
“Arambol is a place frequented by hippie communities since 1960s. Because of the welcoming and non-judgmental attitude of locals, many long-term travellers find a sense of openness here to be whoever they wish to be and live a pace that is suitable to them. Some of them especially from Russia have now made Arambol their home. They engage in community activities like drum circles, meditation, chakra healing and music circles, all under the banner of self-discovery and spiritualistic healing.”
“The locals even say that members of The Beatles music band during their rumored trip to India visited Arambol,” he said.
I looked around and noticed more foreigners than Indian tourists. They walked about in confident strides and lacked curiosity or fascination for their immediate surroundings – So I assumed they could be long-term travellers. Walking past me, each of them had some arresting element – it was either a tattoo or a strange hairstyle or clothes in psychedelic colors or in one case a face painting! Soon I realized, standing in one place, I was going in circles. With the added bohemian vibe rendered by the street market that sold everything from beaded to embellished, I was a child lost in the colors of a lively carnival.
It was here that quite a few locals spotted my companion and cheerfully greeted him. “They know me because of the film shooting that happened last year. The story was based in Goa and therefore I had recorded scenes of the movie in these areas of Arambol,” he explained.
A short walk through these streets gave out to the beach. Immediate attention was somehow not the beach rather a place called ‘Peace garden’. We climbed uphill and trod through the jungle before arriving at a gigantic Bodhi tree. It was ironic that Bodhi tree, considered a symbol of awake-ness should be found within this jungle and adapted as a “place of enlightenment.” Even more ironic was that a group of inquisitive travellers were seen intently listening to a Shaman who with little provocation uttered at those disinterested, “let the monkeys leave!”
While walking back, my companion pointed to a spot popular for mud-baths on a dried up river and disclosed that the place has been frequented by hippies for over many decades. “Whether the mud really has therapeutic properties is not yet understood,” he added. Looking through the dense foliage tracing the pointed out spot, I saw a woman dressed in a black top, loose pants, and untied hair, holding burning lamps one in each hand and swaying side wards with eyes closed as if she was in a trance. The same was being filmed by two men with heavy equipment. It was all part of Goa that I had never seen before.
With the dreamy, talkative Goan going on with his coherent monologue, I could sense there was much more to Arambol…