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The land of Bollywood, curry and Gandhi, India offers an array of majestic adventures to embark upon. With tourism booming in India, visitors are enticed to discover the excitement and wonder that emanates from this incredible land. With the weakening of the Pound against the Euro, British holidaymakers are attracted by the prospect of comfort and pleasure at low, affordable prices further afield. Every year roughly 3,000,000 tourists from Britain visit India for both business as well as leisure. With these figures increasing annually, India has become the fastest growing Asia -Pacific market for the International tourist spending. Package holidays allow tourists to admire the scenery and soak in luxury for cheaper prices while basking in the colourful Indian culture. For me, the prospect of sun and sea during the cold, miserable month of January was too exciting an opportunity to miss. So I hopped on a plane along with many other pale English hopefuls and jetted off to embrace the sun!
Upon arrival, a long bus journey transported us through the magic of Indian life, during which I unfortunately learnt that spitting and packing people like sardines were the transport norms. Despite the squashed atmosphere, the view was astonishing and provided a microcosm of the dichotomy between the rich and the poor locals in Goa. I was surprised to see homeless, unsheltered families residing directly beside the lavish and colourful houses that occupied the richer locals. Ironically it was the happy, gleaming faces of the poor children that emphasised that the reaction to poverty here was different to the homeless man I experience outside Kings Cross station! The sun, laughter and sights of a diverse culture embrace you as soon as you arrive and enthral tourists to discover more of this developing subcontinent.
After the hectic journey, we finally arrived in Palolem, a southern beach in the state of Goa. Landing on the picturesque beach in Goa was pure paradise. The palm trees, hot weather and loyal hippies and backpackers who sustain the local profit in the town create a calming and serene ambience. Goa is home to an exhilarating dream image of idyllic beaches and a peaceful atmosphere, influenced by its Portuguese culture that differs from the customs in the rest of India.
Tourists frequent these picture-perfect beaches with the hope of relaxation away from their hectic lives at home. However, I quickly realised that searching for relaxation is very optimistic as a tourist. You become the gold dust of the local’s finances and they will not leave you alone until they make some form of gains. Before I had even set foot on the beach, an onslaught of taxi drivers, market sellers, boat owners, beggars and hostel workers swarm in to offer you their ‘best price’. I felt like some prized meat at a cattle market. What was happening to my paradise? Had Shilpa Shetty set foot on Palolem beach, or has the tourist gathered the same attention from the locals? My precious notion of a picture-perfect Palolem paradise was slowly being washed away by a swarm of these “tourist traffickers” surrounding the innocent tourists. I must admit, my Western politeness often made way to frustration and annoyance with the constant harassment of beggars and sellers while trying to relax. Observing the postcards of Goa’s peaceful beaches now seemed like a distant memory, one that had been shred to pieces.
Despite this stain in my ideal holiday image, the beautiful scenery remains preserved. You become a human camera, capturing the beauty each angle you observe- up until another sellers approaches offering the same items as the seller before, and the seller after. With an untouched beauty and natural surroundings, tourists fall hostage to the colours and wonder. An array of spices, smells and sounds send your senses wild and deeper into India’s chaotic nature. However, the food is very different to the local Indian takeout joint down the road. The homeland of vindaloo and naan bread, you better ensure you take some pills with you for the infamous ‘Delhi belly’ that follows!!
This colourful vibrancy lights up the country with an enticing energy that draw tourists to even the dirtiest back alleys of Indian life. However, amongst the gleaming delights, tourists are shielded from the brutal realities of the poor. With the wave of tourists arriving in Goa, it has become a hotbed for the poorer citizens of India who wish to profit in the supposed rich tourist’s finances. I felt like I saw Slumdog Millionaire’s children manning the beachfront everywhere I looked. I now understood why physical deformities defined the majority of these beggars. Sadly, these children highlight the truth behind Danny Boyle’s tale. However, winning millions, getting the girl and ending with a dance are not realistic destinies for many of these poor youngsters. I can’t help but wonder whether there is any hope for these poverty-stricken children or whether tourism is helping to perpetuate their over whelming presence.
The reality of poverty is essentially understood by these sellers and beggars who provide a glimpse of India’s culture away from the tourist-designed hotspots in Goa. A young girl on Palolem beach approached and recited tales of her eminent arranged marriage and deviant plans to run away from home if she does not approve of her suitor. I felt like I had embarked upon a character in a Jane Austen novel. I accepted her request to view her “cheap shit” purely out of guilt and impressing marketing tactics and purchased a bracelet for 50INR (70p). She prayed and embracingly thanked me for helping to flourish her business. It’s unfortunate, but the credit crunch has created a downward spiral and affected even the poorest sellers on the beaches in Goa. The economic situation is crunching the pockets of even the richer tourists who are not willing to purchase the array of items that these tourist-traffickers have been able to sell in the last five years. With not much profit, I can only hope that the young girl will find her Mr. Darcy, lest her life be infected by a disastrous marriage with no means to escape.
This place of hungry hearts, India’s desire to develop is palpable in the streets of Goa. Men have abandoned traditional garments for a more Western look while women can be seen drinking beer on the beaches of Baga. More upmarket and designed for the tourist, Baga has emerged as a template for Indian development. Influenced by the frequent tourists, the town has been shaped by their western expectations. However, looking around at the bars and clubs that line the beachfront, I wonder whether India has interpreted development as a means of neglecting the essence of Indian culture. Sitting in a cafe, playing pool while the latest Rhianna song played, I felt like I was more in Spain than India!
I must admit, it’s fascinating to observe a culture whose attitudes and general demeanour are different from the West. A web of chaos and confusion defines the coordination of the country and personally left me absolutely baffled. With one-hand sided car mirrors creating a cloud of constant beeping to allow for overtaking on extremely narrow roads, it’s amazing that Indians have not all died from road accidents! Cows are given free rein on the beaches while police forces line the front awaiting the next intake of Bagshish (bribes) that are used to supplement their salary. This all occurs around the daily power cuts that blacken out the cities and impede life in the towns. I was in complete awe by what seems like an unstructured web of chaos. When asking locals simply why these things are done, the general response was constantly, ‘its India’, as if that was a sufficient and obvious answer to my puzzlement. Fair enough.
– Shara Hikmet