What is about to follow, should, by the time I am finished, amount to a massive post tracking my progress from Hyderabad on December 28th, to Anjuna Beach, Goa, for the New Year, to Mumbai, and then back to Hyderabad, where the Shi'ite event of Ashura is upon us. In tracing this journey, I hope to offer some insights on these specific destinations, and also, dovetail on my post about the "Strangeness of India," by rendering specific examples. Enjoy ;)
Anjuna Beach, Goa (December 28th - January 2nd)
Some of you might know about my involvement in Couchsurfing (CS); for those who don't, in summary, CS is a travel social networking site, on which you have a profile, much like facebook. The twist is that you can also indicate whether you're open to meeting other travelers for coffee/beer, and even hosting them in your own home. Since travelers can search for you by your city/country, they might request to stay on your couch/bed/floor for a few nights as they pass through your local digs.
Sound unsafe? Sure, it can be, if you forget all the good advice your mother's gave you. Basically, don't be stupid. Always check someone's profile when they request to meet you or search your couch. CS offers useful indicators of social capital, such as permanent references that others can leave on your profile. In turn, you can check the profiles of the people leaving the references, and their own references, so pretty soon, you can quickly gauge a person's basic tendency to serial killer-ness.
My own experience of CS has been nothing short of sparkling. I've been hosted by people twice, once by a 58 year old ex-lawyer in San Diego, and the other time by a 43 year old in North Carolina (however, most CSers tend to be 18-35); in turn I've hosted a couple people in Hyderabad, and have gone to countless meet-ups, where you don't host anyone, but get to meet all the CSers who are your area. Invariably, I find CSers to be of above-average intelligence, outgoing, interesting, interested, and generally, very free thinkers. In short, they're brilliant people.
My trip to Goa essentially started with CS. Kishore, a local Hyderabadi friend of mine (who incidentally, I first met through CS, though we had many mutual friends), and I both hosted Cies, a lovely guy from Holland. The three of us ended up forming a trio, as Cies stayed in Hyderabad for a month, having found a short-term job through our contacts! (CS even gets you jobs ;). When the New Year was approaching, we started thinking it might be fun to make a trip to Goa together. The trip literally fell together 24 hours before anyone left, and so it came to pass that we all headed to Goa for New Years. Cies and Kishore headed to Goa on a Friday, and I followed the Tuesday after. We opted to head to Anjuna Beach to celebrate the New Year, as Anjuna is the epi-center of Goan Hippiedom.
My own trip started with me almost missing my bus, as I went to the wrong pick-up point, and had to be driven across town on a scooter by the travel agency's manager (he wasn't too pleased with me). 12 sleepless hours later (the bus was horrible, and every part of my seat, I was to learn, was thoroughly broken), I found myself in Mappusa, a small town close to North Goa's beaches. From Mappusa, I made my way to Anjuna, and joined Cies and Kishore. We enjoyed a leisurely, open air breakfast wrapped in liquid sunlight and equally liquid Goan trance (a genre of electronic music unique to Goa). And the morning became only more techno-color, as my friend Cies rolled several large spliffs, and passed them around the table, not only amongst our own small trio, but sharing them with an accompanying set of rich Delhi-ites as well. It was a perfect morning....
From there, Kishore and I headed to get me a scooter (they already had one), and a separate room, as Pawan, an old college friend of mine, would be joining us later that afternoon (by pure serendipity actually; Pawan joined in the trip 24 hours after we ourselves chose to go). The scooter we ended up renting would ultimately turn out to be the bane of my existence, and I might have guessed from simply looking at it; it was a rusty piece of sh-t that made me wonder if my tetanus shots were up to date. I was skeptical, but the rental guy assured me it was reliable. Sure enough, within 2o minutes of giving "Bike Shambu," 3 days of rental money, the scooter broke down. Thankfully, "Bike Shambu," or more appropriately, BS, was close at hand, and I was (slowly) on my way again.
After getting a room for myself and Pawan, I joined the guys and we headed to some random beach (Calangute, I think?), where we ogled the natural beauty of the place, and smoked ourselves into an even more elevated stupor. Only with night approaching did we make our way back to Cies and Kishore's place (which had a lovely garden seating area adjacent to their room, and hence formed the "adda" or central hangout of the trip). Upon getting back, I was privileged to be part of a miraculous college reunion, and saw not only Pawan, but Madhav, Manoj, Auyon, and Vivek (all of them South Asian students who atteneded Macalester with me); I actually hadn't known that all of these guys were coming, so it was an unexpected treat.
That night, we headed out to Curlies, a beach side club, to partake in a mini-rave that heralds back to the giant beach parties of the 1990's. The scooter ride was half the fun; by this point, our automatic gear scooter had become trapped between 3rd and 4th gear. So if we started from a standstill, we started in third gear...which meant we didn't start....which in turn meant we had to start the bike Flinstone style (you know, running your feet along the ground below your vehicle)....EVERY time we stopped. Add to this the fact that we were all blazed beyond recognition, it made for a buzzy, frenetic ride that set the pace for our whole trip. After winding our way through meandering, moonlit village roads, we parked our faithfully unreliable scooter amid a veritable thicket of two-wheelers, and followed a shady, shady path to what was a shanti-shanti party. As soon I stepped foot in Curlies, the vibe was hippy, trippy good fun. The party population ranged from three foot dreadlocks and Neanderthalesque dress to Bombay elite lounge suits, and designer hair-cuts....but it didn't matter, everyone was on E, acid, coke, weed, whatever, and everyone was there to have a good time. Loping through the crowd, which resembled a seabed garden of undulating kelp (the only way I can describe the way people dance to the expansive rhythms of Goa trance), we staked out our corner of the dance floor, and so remained, till the wee hours. Stumbling home hours later, we spent 20 minutes searching for our bike (which incidentally resembled almost exactly the other ~500 bikes parked in the dark), and made our loopy way home, to sweet, sweet sleep.
The next morning, rising sluggishly, we eventually made our way to Morjim beach. I had stayed their on my last trip to Goa, and I wanted my friends to experience the panoramic vistas, the Russian mobsters, and the leggy beauties that stalked the beach. After run-starting my bike, Cies, Pawan and I were off (sans Kishore, who would end up sleeping the entire day, and even part of New Year's eve...loser). Apart from Cies' bike running out of gas within spitting distance of the beach, we made it their ok, immensely enjoying the liberation of the thirty minute ride to Morjim (we took in backwaters, oceanside, farmland, and townships on the journey).
We spent the day at Morjim, lazing about a uber-hippy beach hangout like fat Cheshire felines. We occasionally summoned the reserves to go for a leisurely swim or walk, but it was mostly a stony, still day.
In the evening we met up with my college buddies again, and headed back to Curlies, to enjoy more of the same. Exhausted from the previous night, I made it to 2:30 AM, at which point, I blissfully passed out on a beach chair, where I slept largely undisturbed (a few druggies took liberties with hair, ears and nose, but no penetration mind you) till 6:30 AM. I was awoken by a relatively sober Pawan, who had been separated from me during the evening, and had only just sobered up enough to find me. Re-energized, we hit the dance floor again (which was still just as packed as 8 hours earlier), and enjoyed the fading hours of the celebration. I should take a moment to note that I have seen only once or twice before such a gathering of stunningly attractive hippy women. Mind you, these are not rail-thin, Victoria Secret catalogue wanna-be's, but shanti-shanti, wheat-grass infused, fair-trade, organic women, from every ethnicity, Indian, Asian, White, Black, Mixed, etc. The only thing they unanimously shared were their earthy good-looks (and the smelled good too!). I could go on for pages, but I'll stop now. In closing, it was a welcome relief after months in Hyderabad (which has beautiful women, but they're all locked up at home in cages, lest they accidentally speak to a boy before they get married).
After sleeping a few hours through the afternoon, and seeing Pawan off, we were at it again, this time, heading for the Hilltop Rave, a landmark of the Goa social scene that had been toned down because of terrorism threats (normally, Hilltop starts on New Year's eve, and continues for 72 hours straight, no stopping). Despite the abbreviation of the event (it was only 12 hours), it was still a winner, with an even hippier vibe the curlies (there was a group of people dressed like cavemen and women next to us, doing a tribal-ish circle dance the whole night...it was absolutely mental. Moreover, the undulating kelp bed of of trance-heads at Hilltop constantly focus on the DJ, who was enveloped in a giant, glowing DJ booth, flanked by a gauntlet of trippy blacklight poster; all in all, it made for a delightfully zombie-ish atmosphere. We ended up sharing a chillum with a sadu (Hindu holy man) on the dance floor, and remained at the rave till it ended at 10 PM (it had been going since 10 AM).
Thinking the night had just begun, we rambled out to hop on our scooters, and head for the next party.....except my scooter wasn't there. Where was it? Maybe somebody moved it....so we combed the surroundings. No luck. Someone towed it? Nope, the party organizers said no one had been towing that night. What could've happened to it? "Well" say the party organizers, searching the ground at their feet, and shrugging as they continue "it was probably stolen, it happens all the time." Sounds plausible, but wait...there are over 1000 bikes parked outside...why would the thief choose what was undoubtedly (I'm not exaggerating), the most useless piece of shit, pathetic excuse for working transportation in the lot. Regardless, I'm certain justice was delivered before the crime was even completed, as the criminal realized the sheer folly of his choice as he tried to make a speedy getaway (the bike had a top speed of 40k, going downhill; uphill, you were lucky if it went at all, and it was all uphill to get out of Hilltop's parking lot).
However, we chose to test conventional means of justice as well, and ambled over to the cops, who promptly interrogated us about our own purposes in Goa, rather than the bikes. Clearly, that was a poor option. What to do? We needed to clear our minds, and think this through. So we went back, settled down to figure out a plan, and ended up smoking ourselves silly. It ended up being the antidote. We woke in the morning, decided to simply skip town without consulting Bike Shambu, and wire him some compensation later, and sure enough, that's what we did.