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Keep Off the Beach
... why one should not spend Xmas in Goa
"The Mauritius Natural History Handbook lists 174 rare species. Last summer, a visitor spotted Brigitte Bardot.' Thus read an inspiring travel ad that enticed the Indian tourist with peace and tranquillity in idyllic surroundings. It went on to capture the imagery of sun-kissed isles of largely unexplored beauty where you could vacation without running headlong into people who are virtually your next-door neighbours.
Brilliantly crafted prose apart, what really shone was the makings of an inviting holiday destination. In holiday speak, it elucidated a simple vacation truth that says, 'A popular tourist destination may not necessarily be your idea of a holiday'.
But the sad truth of every holiday season seems to be, 'whatever was good for my merry neighbour must be good for my merriment'. Or so I'm made to believe going by the legion of over-stressed execs who make a beeline to the most celebrated Xmas getaway under the Indian sun: Goa.
Agreed, Goa tempts you silly during Yuletide, what with its Mediterranean-like weather, the rollicking street dances that go into the wee hours of the morning and the rave parties that have our phirangi brethren jetting down for a few hours of nirvana. But the trouble is Goa during Christmas resembles an informal United Nations conference with a strictly 'dressed down' dress code.
The Goan jamboree is perhaps a must for just about every exec who's toiling all the year round for his millions. Just stroll down Calangute beach all the way up to Baga, during Xmas time, and you'll see familiar faces sporting life-couldn't-be-better smiles. Now repeat the breezy walkathon for at least two successive years, and you'll discover the sea of desperately-seeking-a-tan bodies hasn't changed much. Perhaps the only difference being the new additions in the odd beach bum's family.
Now, you'd ask, if the view of the bay is too familiar to be true, why do I undertake this ritual ? Well, I'm a non-resident Goan who sneaks from the backdoor to reach on the dot for the Xmas supper that has the full family in attendance. Now, having partaken the most fulfilling meal of the year, there's precious little time to soak in the festivities. So I dash off to Baga, the nearest view of the Arabian Sea, for beach therapy in a trice because it's time to meet deadlines at work in a couple of days.
Now, if you're brought up on good ol' family values, you'll understand why it's so imperative to be at that supper, and following which, press the flesh at every Xmas do. But what beats me is why the unanimous Xmas holiday destination inevitably has all roads leading to Goa. A wag in the census department moans that the Goan population literally doubles during the tourist season, thereby burdening the basic amenities of living. The locals crib that the price of fish, staple diet for many a Goan, is difficult to stomach.
So who's complaining?
Definitely not the Xmas tourist who's feeling very much at home in a shack at some unearthly hour, singing praises of both his tequila and the spectacular play of moonlight on the placid waters. Joining in the revelry are assorted tourists he's run into all along the beach stretch. But whine, he won't.
Ask the Xmas reveller, he'll give you an impassioned sermon on why Xmas spells Goa for him. Conventional holiday wisdom says that the Goan weather is reason enough for people with a sunny disposition to flock to Goa. Then, there are the shacks that make you feel you're in the Caribbean, what with the infectious party-till-you-drop feeling in the air. So what if the Xmas reveller meets his very own cocktail-circuit pals in shack after shack ? It's a done thing you see, this Xmas thingey.
Don't get me wrong, Goa is a heavenly getaway but attaining cerebral bliss needs some exploring. So if you've packed your g-string and other holiday accessories, I'll let you in with some tips to celebrate your Xmas in Goa.
Tip #1: Take refuge on the beaches down south. They aren't quite disturbed by civilisation since it requires effort to get there by roads pock-marked with craters that look straight out of Mars. Trust me you'll be thanking the treacherous roads for lazing in solitary splendour on miles of beach deserted enough to allow you go skinny-dipping with your fellow travellers.
Tip #2: Hire a bike and explore the southern coast. There are some gorgeous beaches with azure waters unlike the Chowpatty-brown beach stretches up north.
Tip #3: Get a taste of the village life. The rustic atmosphere of villages is really intoxicating, and it's not the tavernas I'm alluding to. I can bet the village charm will tempt you to either prolong your holiday or take permanent residence in some quaint village nook. And lest I forget, drop by the village taverna. Fraternise with the locals to know where you get the smoothest feni in the world.
Tip #4: Attend the Xmas ball of any village parish. It won't be as hyped up as the street dances in the towns, but it's still good value for your travel money.
I don't know how holiday-starved souls go about planning a vacation but the more my mind wanders planning one, the more I'm reminded about a simple fun rule of vacationing: organise your travel schedule to commune with the nature of your holiday spot not with the people holidaying there. Ignore this principle and you run the risk of spotting, "Uncle Desai, Aunt Agatha and oh my God isn't that Krish from accounts ?"
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