The heart still beckons even as the glory fades
Love her or loathe her - you can’t quite ignore her. At least not yet; Goa still grapples at the heartstrings of many a traveller. While we rue the fact that her old charm is on the wane, she still retains her inherent beauty with her rivers, forests and serene, quiet character that will always pull those that claim her heart.
It wasn’t very long ago when an article in The Guardian by Deepti Kapoor stated quite candidly her reasons to end her love affair with Goa. “The beautiful laid-back Goa of old is disappearing amid pollution, over-development and fears over personal safety. It’s time to leave,” she had declared. This article raised a maelstrom of reactions and as is expected of most cowardly indignant responses, the blame was put squarely on the writer advising her to do just that - leave! And I presume she did. Like her, many have found the idyllic being replaced by the ‘idiotic’ in all aspects that govern Goa yet the die hard fans of the state find it hard to shake off the tenuous links that bind them to this bit of paradise. One can spot the Goa terminal at any airport without having to read the board. Those waiting at the terminal have a resigned sense of calm. The clothes are a dead giveaway, with most of them shedding their attire and inhibitions even as they wait to board a flight to Goa. That, in itself makes Goa unique since our morality and conservative streak gets the better of us in every other tourist state in India. Yogesh Jagam, a Pune resident and a frequent visitor to Goa uses the oft repeated cliche to express his sentiment. “Goa is not a place but a state of mind,” he says and adds, “We can’t make an impromptu road trip plan to any other place in India other than Goa. A lot of has certainly changed. For one, it has become expensive and commercialised which wasn’t the case earlier. I have witnessed a change in attitude with local Indians being treated differently in comparison to foreigners.” Talking about Goa’s facelift, Jagam thoughtfully adds, “The Atal Setu bridge is good but the construction kills the landscape. Earlier the skyline was visible and that’s the beauty that brought in tourists to the state. Now, it’s getting too ‘developed’.” 2018 registered a decline in tourist numbers to Goa and a drop in charters. It was reported that of the 54.8 lakh visitors, while six lakh were foreign tourists the remaining 48.7 lakh were domestic tourists. Anees Cementwala, who has been coming to Goa for the last 15 years amusingly adds, “Earlier, we Indians tried to escape to Goa for an ‘international’ feel in our own country and to escape our own lot. Sadly, now we only meet our lot! Domestic tourists have changed the feel of the place.” Despite the decline in numbers, Goa has always had its share of regular international travellers, for whom the sunshine state is an escape from the harsh weather and bland food in their own countries. UK resident Wendy McManus who has been a regular visitor to Goa for the last 17 years acknowledges, “ It is my second home. The influx of domestic tourists and the subsequent garbage generated has made it unsightly and in some cases quite dangerous with glass bottles on beaches. After all these years of coming here, we are still learning that each area is so different. We love the warm people, the food and the happy vibes.” After a pause, she adds, “It still is nice.” Destinations like Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Sri Lanka (before the blasts) have added to the exotic, rich flavourful broth that makes travel to these destinations perhaps more appealing than Goa. Lizzy Henderson however refutes this claim saying, “I have visited Thailand many times and although I loved it and it’s certainly more pristine, it can never live up to Goa....the magic for me lies in the colours, spices, spiritualness, easy going lovely people, the food, animals, nature, climate and affordability. I’m in love with Goa even with its faults.” What is clear though is that tourists and soul seekers will at some point call the bluff if stakeholders continue to think that all is well with the state. The government has always wanted to attract high end tourists. By all accounts, that doesn’t seem to reflect within the state. If those in power think that casinos and concretised development is the answer, they are in for a jolt since ecotourism is the focus world over. When tourism is sustainable, there is an implied permanence and a conservation of resources. Let’s learn from that rather than destroy the natural biodiversity and in its place create a modern version of Singapore which is not Goa’s character to begin with. The golden days of Goa’s tourism may be behind us but there is still hope to set things right. Goa has no love lost - yet!
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