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Goa’s paradise lost

The scene on Goa’s Arambol beach. Photo Harsha Prabhu

Harsha Prabhu

Every morning on my walk to the beach to partake of my ritual swim I have to run the gauntlet of a smouldering heap of burning rubbish.

Today’s pile included plastic waste, a plastic soccer ball, plastic bottles and all kinds of plastic packaging.

Today I could even smell the burning plastic while swimming in the sea. And I trod on plastic bags near the water’s edge.

The waste is generated by the row of beach-side restaurants and cabins that line most of Arambol – a consequence of the tourism boom.

I have spoken to the men who burn the waste, informing them that burning plastic releases all kinds of carcinogenic chemicals into the atmosphere, chemicals they can’t see but that will nonetheless poison them, leading to all kinds of health issues down the years.

But they have expressed their helplessness. Arambol – like the rest of Goa – has a rudimentary garbage collection and waste disposal system. Some items – glass bottles, aluminium cans, cardboard – are collected by freelance garbage collectors and trucked to a holding centre. Most of the rubbish ends as landfill, like the one on the road between Siolim and Mapusa, which announces its presence a kilometre before you come upon it. Plastic rubbish bags, their contents strewn open, litter the road leading up to the dump.

However, plastic on the beaches in Goa and elsewhere is just the last link in a toxic chain that starts with fossil fuel extraction. Plastic is but a derivative of the fossil fuel industry, an industry that today holds the health of the planet in hostage.

The fossil fuel cabal includes companies like Adani. This company has already fowled the Gujarat coast via runoff from its factories and power plants. It’s now set to foul the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef in Australia, via the Abbot Point coal terminal, one of the largest coal projects in the southern hemisphere.

Adani’s environmental vandalism is encouraged via sweet deals from both the Indian and Australian governments.

Adani’s spectacular rise was facilitated by the BJP government of Narendra Modi, when he was chief minister of Gujarat, with public land being sold to Adani’s companies for a song.

And Adani has returned the favour by being one of the main backers of the Hindu fundamentalist government of Modi and the BJP that rules India today.

Fundamentalism and corporate capitalism make for a marriage of convenience, with the earth and her natural resources as the dowry.

Indeed, global capital has embedded itself in all governments and political parties the world over.

Meanwhile, the good burgers of Arambol – including the hundreds of local and foreign visitors (of whom I am one) – go about their biz of earning a living and/or searching for bliss, seemingly blissfully unmindful of the plastic burning under their noses as they go to the market to buy provisions, or skin their coconuts and cook their fish curry, or go to the office, or head for a swim, or do the downward dog.

Evening on Arambol beach. Photo Harsha Prabhu

Arambol is Yoga Central; workshops of every persuasion abound. You can get your chakras tuned, your kundalini raised, attend a cacao ceremony or at least have the eye of the goddess tattooed on your derrière. (One visitor from Oz said Arambol reminded her of Byron Bay). There’s even an Osho lookalike who walks the beach at evening in a white gown and cap.

There’s a drum circle on the beach at sunset, along with a small flea market; world music ensembles play music in the cafes; there are cutting-edge ballet troupes.

It’s hard to maintain any kind of perspective while dancing ecstatically, or sipping on a mojito on any given night, watching the lights of the Arambol coastline shining wantonly like jewels in the dark – a situation not helped by the bevy of beautiful women of every description and nationality who seem to have congregated here for the season.

And men. There’s even a nascent men’s circle to compliment the explosion of feminine energy blossoming on the beaches and love temples of Arambol.

But the ‘Arambubble’ is fragile: most visitors are birds of passage, flying where their money lasts longest. Some, like the Russians, for whom Goa has been a cheap and popular destination, have had to contend with falling exchange rates, leading to a fall in their numbers. The empty tables in the beachside cafes belie the glitter at night. Most locals complain that this season has been a bad one. So do the Banjara women from neighbouring Karnataka, their dark bodies swooping down on sunbathing touros, touting their costume jewellery and sarongs to a diminishing pool of customers. According to the local press, tourists are choosing to visit elsewhere, like Vietnam.

Low tourist numbers notwithstanding, Arambol is still a happening place. However, amidst all the season’s Dionysian mayhem and consciousness raising, it’s easy to forget that Goa is also the headquarters of the Sanathan Sanstha, a Hindu fundamentalist group accused of masterminding the assassination of intellectuals and bomb plots against popular cultural festivals in Goa.

And, while Hindu right-wing terrorists and their sponsors run free, the government goes after human rights advocates and Dalit scholars, ostensibly for being left wing.

And it’s easy to forget the fact that, at the behest of the mining lobby, both the BJP state government and many opposition MPs want to resume mining in Goa, a biz-as-usual policy barely held in check by fragile court judgements at the prompting of local environmental activists.

How to square up the search for inner fulfilment and meaning and the desire to live a simple life with the reality of religious fundamentalism and terrorism, rapacious resource extraction and its baby, burning plastic on the beaches?

Or have we abdicated from paradise, preferring to dance and sing, as Goa – along with much of the rest of the world – drowns in a whirlpool of poisonous plastic and toxic ideas, generated by corporate-driven fascism?


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12 responses to “Goa’s paradise lost”

  1. Tony doyle says:

    What al load of rubbish. Pardon the punt. Abbott point in Australia is 40 miles from reef. I fish there all the time. Come look for your self be for you comment.

    • John Lazarus says:

      Adani’s Abbott point terminal has already been prosecuted for pollution, that will reduce the number of fish. There will be far less fish if the Reef continues to die from carbon pollution. There will be no fish if the ocean continues to increase in acidity from carbon pollution and/or the increasing heat from carbon pollution sends krill, as the basis of the ocean food chain, into extinction.

    • Annette says:

      40 miles, eh. So that’s a long way is it, and whatever crap comes out there won’t be affected by tides and swells that can take it to the reef? Come on, get real. You, as a fisherman should understand how the ocean works. Once Adani is up and running (hopefully never) you won’t be fishing there much longer. And if Adani’s track record shows they don’t give a stuff how much they damage their home environment, what makes you think they’d give a stuff about a foreign environment. It’s rape and plunder and only about the dollars.

  2. stefan morris says:

    Tourism ruined Goa. I was there in 1995 for a two week holiday. What I noticed and was horrified by were the drifts of empty plastic water bottles underfoot that were originally sold to the thousands of tourists because the tap water is undrinkable. The beaches were crowded by disrespectful white hippies and trustifarians blasting out boring, tedious trance music at sunset after a day of cleaning out their ‘kundalinis’ and bonging on. The people who live there tolerate the white trash because they bring in money and unfortunately poorly designed and built hotel developments driving up the cost of living. Its a devil’s pact the quiet Goan’s had no choice in making. The only bright note is drugs are illegal and heavily punished. No it was never paradise once a few lazy hippies decided to live there and turn it into a tourist hotspot.

  3. The coal from Abbott’s Point has to be shipped through the Reef and in order to accomodate the draught of huge coal carriers dredging will be necessary causing increased water turbidity. According to the Australian Institute of Marine Science although the dredging is outside the Marine Park there is significant uncertainty over the drift of dredged material into the Park itself. Tony Doyle, if this massive coal port goes ahead your fish won’t be worth eating.

    • Rasa says:

      The coal port at Abbott Point, owned by Queensland (and currently leased to Adani via past acquisitions by Adani) has been around for decades. The reef does not get or need dredging. Most of Australia’s shipping trade comes down through the reef. Always has. Since Captain Cook as a mater of fact.

  4. Pauline Ranscombe says:

    So glad we visited Goa in 1971 while driving from Sydney to London. We still remember the kindness of the people who were not after the tourist dollar in those days. The policeman directed us to a beautiful spot on the beach next to a village beacuse, ” you aren’t hippies”, and the villagers will look after you.
    We were lucky to see so many countries like India, which were unspoilt and safe to trave in.
    People making a profit from development and tourism call it progress. They are so wrong. In the final analysis, nobody wins, and certqinly not the pristine environments that are trashed.

  5. Annette says:

    Tourism has stuffed up huge areas of the planet. Everyone wants to travel and fares are quite inexpensive, so off the hordes go, without a real thought of what their presence is actually doing to these places they find so irresistible. If you want to travel but don’t make an effort to find out what real impact your travels are having on the planet and the local communities, then don’t ever call yourself a true environmentalist. Consider the effect of your plane travel is having on global emissions too. Once you start to think about it hopefully you can see that the best and most environmentally sustainable type of travel is armchair travellling. Read and dream about it, but if you really care about it, don’t be selfish and feel you just “have to” see it for yourself.

  6. Rasa says:

    You can catch great fish at Abbott Point. The water around the terminal is as pristine as any waters up the east coast. You have got to think the rants against Adani are based on Racist views. Of the swag of mines opened up and down the east coast as well as the mines scheduled for Galillee Basin by the Chinese Gina Twiggy…? Not a peep.
    That Australia is providing the highest quality coal to bring electricity to the poor in India has got to be applauded.

  7. Rob Marshall says:

    Goa or Abbott Point, human impact and footprint is dire to the environment.
    Why destro the beauty of these special places for a quick buck.
    Once it is destroyed then people will be the biggest losers….

  8. Anthony Smith says:

    I have a good Kashmiri friend who has been in business in Baga Beach,Goa . I have stayed with him on and off since 1988. Yes,Goa has deteriorated so much .It’s a case of “killing the goose that layed the golden eggs “….. with invasions of British…Russians…and now home grown tourists. However,for the most part,the young Indian trend set from Bombay/Mumbai, absolutely trash the beach. Drinking at any time of day,on the beach,bottles are smashed for the fun of it …a nightmare for the normal beach goer. The sooner alcohol is banned from the beach ,the better . It is a no brainer!!!!…plus the risk of drowning increases several fold..under the influence of alcohol.
    The Goan Govt,like all other Indian departments have a very lot to answer for.

  9. Marion says:

    I believe Goa was, and still is, a Christian area fiollowing missionary work by St Francis Zaviour. It was Lieutenant James Cook who sailed up & very accurately mapped the East Coast of Australia (New Holland). He became Captain on a later expedition. Also the goose “laid” the golden egg. Adonis should not go ahead.

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