2008-03-18 11:04:41 UTC
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Anjuna, Goa
Anjuna's beaches are most popular with foreigners
A sense of unease can be felt on India's most famous beach village
after news washed up that a teenage British girl was raped and left to
die in the sea last month.
Two local men have been arrested in connection with Scarlett Keeling's
death in Anjuna in Goa.
Anjuna, famous for its grubby shacks, crescent-shaped beaches, crowded
flea markets, drug-fuelled parties and ayurveda spas is in the news
again - for all the wrong reasons.
Turnout at the once-a-week 3,000-shop, 38-year-old flea market selling
anything from tribal jewellery to thongs has been thin. Shacks selling
food and alcohol have fewer guests and revellers. Even the live bands
with names like Kundalini Airport and Bindoo Babas have been turning
down the volume when night falls.
'Mind altering qualities'
"Scarlett's killing has affected tourism here, for sure. Suddenly
things are very quiet," says 61-year-old Manohar Singh, who was born
in India, brought up in Zanzibar and holds a British passport.
Anjuna was discovered by hippie travellers in the 1960s, a time when
there was "much interest in the mind-altering qualities of India,"
according to Arun Saldhana, who teaches geography at the University of
Minnesota and has written a book on the place.
"It was defined by its psychedelic culture and family-run guest
houses, a freak and backpackers hangout, rather than the [many]
charter tourist hangouts [of Goa]," he says.
Suddenly things are very quiet in Anjuna
The 13-sq km beach village hemmed in by lush hills is where, according
to another old-timer, foreign tourists went to "escape India".
Resting in a village in Anjuna during a visit in the mid-1960s, Graham
Greene "found it possible to forget the poverty of Bombay (now called
Mumbai), 400 miles away, the mutilated beggars, the lepers... "
Anjuna's palm-lined beaches gave birth to a homegrown electronic dance
music, called the Goa trance, before house and techno music grew roots
in the early 1990's.
The place was seen by many as a secluded, whites-only haven for
hippies, who according to Arun Saldhana, could "freely indulge in
drugs, nude sun bathing and all night full moon parties".
The early 1980s were possibly the high point in the beach's chequered
history - hippies, punks, artists, Rastafarians, devotees of new-age
gurus all hung out here, swapping drugs, music and sexual partners.
The Anjuna subculture saw tourists bending rules and bribing local officials.
Beach shack owner Francis Fernandes remembers the hippies taking over
parts of the beaches and putting up 'Indians are not allowed' signs to
keep away the locals.
The beach was discovered by hippies in the sixties
"Once some foreigners began a beach rave party on a Good Friday
without any permission. We stormed the party and smashed it up," he
says. A third of Goa's residents are Catholic Christians.
British novelist Deborah Moggach even spoke about what she called the
"touristic caste system" in Anjuna, alluding to the Indian caste
"The Brahmins (uppermost in India's caste hierarchy) are the old
hippies... They whizz around on old Enfields - how superior people
look on motorbikes!" she wrote.
"They have long ropes of hair, washboard stomachs and low slung
sarongs... At the lowest rank are package deal tourists".
Four decades after the foreigners arrived, Anjuna's hippy reputation
appears to be backfiring.
Its only hospital, a 20-bed private operation, treats an increasing
number of drug overdose cases. Seventeen of the 74 foreigners who have
died in Goa in the past two years were in Anjuna, and 11 of them are
suspected to be have died of drug abuse.
Tourist at Anjuna beach
The crowds have thinned since the murder of UK teenager Scarlett Keeling
"Drug abuse cases have risen here since I came here seven years ago,"
says Dr Pravin Tippat, who works at the hospital.
Anjuna even has a detox and rehab clinic, run by a NGO, which reports
high drug and alcohol abuse in the area.
"We get foreigners every month coming to help for drug abuse. People
are taking all kinds of drugs," says Pamela D' Costa, who works there.
Though the police talk about record drug seizures, successfully
banning nude sun bathing and cleaning up the place, it has not really
It is still easy to get drugs.
At the almost completely foreigners-only beach where Scarlett was
murdered, women sunbath topless on deckchairs with cows and stray dogs
Victim of success
In the end, Anjuna appears to have become a victim of its own warped
success - foreign tourists, scorned by many Goans as "white trash",
have lifted living standards of the locals, but material progress has
come at a high cost.
Leading Indian designer and Goa resident Wendell Rodricks describes
Anjuna as a "dark spot".
Grubby shacks dot the beach
"I don't go there. It is a place that is hung over from the 1960's,
but sadly with more potent drugs than hashish," he says.
"The government should restore the reputation of the village and the
dignity of its residents."
Clearly, the more innocent days of hippie lifestyle - full-moon
parties, psychedelic drugs, growing vegetables - which launched Anjuna
as a favourite destination are over.
These days, as a British writer said recently, the "place gives me the
creeps with its Western-driven drugs culture."