Anjuna Beach, just before sunset: The party is starting, after the heat has become somewhat more bearable.
Soon the first lights will illuminate the stalls of the Anjuna Flea Market, which was born during the height of hippie lifestyle in the 1970s.
A mixture of rock music and Goa trance are accompanying the swaying palm trees which cast dancing shadows in the dusk, before the sun disappears into the ocean and the first stars come out.
Couples are holding hands on the Tantra Rock Cliff, while children are playing in the sand. More and more lights begin to sparkle in the dark as restaurants, bars and clubs turn on fairy lights and the charcoal of the hookah, an Indian water pipe, glows on the little tables along the beach.
The music often booms on late into the night. Sometimes the party even lasts until the early morning in Goa, once a place of pilgrimage for hippies on India’s west coast.
Hello, mass tourism
The Indian state of Goa was a Portuguese colony for 450 years, until Indian troops ousted the colonial power in 1961. Just a few years later, the first hippies arrived and found paradise on Earth.
During the 1980s, the state became a popular destination for package tourists from Europe, while Bollywood film stars and other rich folk began building prestigious villas with pools and ocean views on the lush green hills.
In the 21st century, pensioners from Munich (Germany), Rome (Italy), Sydney (Australia) and Chicago (the United States) have been discovering that this spot, 600km south of Mumbai, is the ideal place to flee from the cold winters in their native countries. Especially British senior citizens, who are often among those hibernating in Goa.
Between saris and punk fashion
The flea market in Anjuna, which takes place every Wednesday, is a multicultural experience. Vendors come from all parts of India, sometimes even from as far as Australia, the US or Spain.
They are often foreigners who have remained loyal to Goa over the years and continue living here on a meagre income, selling hand-made products.
The scent of cinnamon, curry, cardamom and cloves rises from open bags. Dozens of varieties of tea are on offer in large trays, to be purchased loosely and without additional packaging.
Vendors from Kashmir and Rajasthan are displaying crafts and clothes from their native northern states on colourful cloths.
Blouses, saris and robes are dangling in the wind, among them traditional Indian outfits, opulent tapestries and “Psychedelic Punk Fashion” in flashy colours.
Not everyone is buying, but there’s lots of other things to do as well: eat, drink, listen to the live music or just watch the action.
The Flower Power generation has grown up.
Dirk Hellmann still remembers the “flower people” and the regulars from the hippie heyday.
“I was here for the first time in 1983, probably during the last wave of hippies, and I was taken with it, ” the German traveller says. He kept coming back, went through life crises, found his salvation – and in the end he even wrote a book about his time in Goa.
Today, Hellmann is involved in helping children and young people and remains loyal to Anjuna.
Another place, another market
The Goa Collective Bazaar close to Vagator Beach, on a late Friday afternoon. Francesco Musico carefully arranges semi-precious stones and handcrafted jewellery on a folding table.
Picture a topless 73-year-old man with long grey hair and beard and a friendly nature. This Italian has been living in Goa for decades: “Call me a hippie if you like, ” he says.
“Everyone can find happiness, peace, love and a life without stress here, if you are open-minded and keep heart and eyes open.”
The stalls of the market are spread out underneath palm trees and enclosed by a fence. Compared to Anjuna, it draws fewer Indians and more foreign guests. The goods are partly more selected and a little more expensive too.
The Goa Collective Bazaar is both an open-air market and an event at the same time. Snack bars serve cocktails and food from all over the world. People are singing, dancing, chattering and drinking in front of the stage and on the dance floor late into the night.
And the party continues nearby in Arpora on Saturday afternoon – where live bands also play deep into the night. This market has a particularly broad selection of spices, fabrics and clothes.
It doesn’t get easier when it comes to food: choices include barbecue and curry chicken, exquisitely seasoned Chicken Marsala, pizza, dahl, burgers, soups, ice cream and baked goods.
Nowadays tourists in Goa are not only Brits looking to get a tan and escape the lousy weather at home. The lively beaches and affordable shopping places have long since attracted a myriad of package tourists from Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.
“Most charter flights come to us from Russia, but unfortunately none from Germany for a few years now, ” says Jagdeep Thombare of India Tourism Goa at his office in Panaji.
Yoga and Ayurveda treatments are also high in demand among Goa’s visitors, while it has grown quiet around the Krishna movement, a Hindi organisation founded in the US and based on the Bengali bhakti (“devotional”) yoga tradition, which was once highly popular among hippies.
Dark side of paradise
Local residents as well as regional politicians complain that the former holiday paradise Goa has turned into a kind of melting pot for illegal beach parties, prostitution and drugs in some areas. They demand more police checks, which are a rare sight, however.
Goa is also an attractive holiday destination for many Indians, especially from Bihar, Gujarat and Nagaland, because the state permits the sale of alcohol.
However, while the former hippie destination continues to preserve its charm, several tourists have now discovered the south of India’s west coast.
Here, the state of Kerala lures with great beaches and rides on a romantic houseboat through its widely ramified canals – and without mass tourism, as of yet. – dpa
The hippie trail began sometime in the mid-1950s and lasted for a little over two decades. It’s a journey taken by... well, hippies, a subculture of free spirited folks who advocate peace and love, and choose to live a simple and unconventional life. They are commonly described as having long hair and wearing colourful hand-me-down clothing (like a tie-dyed shirt), and are often said to take hallucinogenic drugs.
The hippie trail is akin to a pilgrimage, where peace-loving folk travel to find spiritual enlightenment and freedom, among others. It usually starts in major European capitals like London and Amsterdam, and continues through the same continent before coming into the Middle East. The journey from there moves towards South Asia, namely India and Nepal, where it normally ends.
The people who go on the hippie trail typically try to spend as little money as they can along the way, as the journey usually takes many months to complete. They travel by bus, train or caravan; some even walk to save money.
Enlightenment is not so cheap, after all.
This kind of alternative tourism may have been beneficial for local communities and businesses at first, but as more hippies turn up, things began to change, especially in regions where opium poppies and wild cannabis plants are easily found.
The hippie trail essentially ended when political instability in several countries in West Asia took place, namely the Iranian Revolution (1978) and the Soviet-Afghan War (1979 to 1989). Many routes were closed to foreign travellers, and a handful of cities and towns were no longer safe to visit.
Some hardcore believers looked for alternative trails, and even successfully reached their final destination, but these routes somehow were not attractive enough for the larger hippie communiy.
Today, these alternative trails still exist, though they bypass conflict areas like Iraq and Afghanistan. They are offered by travel agencies, who usually promote them as part of a Silk Road trip or a Euro-Asia tour.
Not sure if you’d find love or spiritual enlightenment by the end of those trips though. – Melody L. Goh