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Goa’s Calangute Beach: A Vintage Snapshot

Copyright © Vulcanmind

Goa and I go back a long way – back to 1972, in fact. That’s when we came over from Germany and settled in India. My dad saw wisdom in easing the extreme culture shock for us by ferrying us to Calangute within a week of touchdown. It was an inspired move.

I don’t know how many of you are old enough to remember Calangute, Goa’s erstwhile Queen of Beaches, from way back then. It was certainly different from the swarming tourist anthill it is today. There were only a few shack shops at the plaza (Alex Cold Drink House among them), and fewer tourists to patronize them. We had standing bookings at the Calangute Tourist Resort over the years, until it lost its rustic charm with renovations.

Vendors were still allowed do peddle their wares outside the beach-approach strip in front of Mahalaxmi Udipi Hotel – and there were some real steals to be had. This was still hardcore hippie era in Goa, and many of the down-and-out foreigners – their money blown on drugs and booze – sold everything from their music to their clothes on this makeshift flea market. My mother picked up her first Walkman there at an impossibly cheap price, and I still sport a small tattoo done there that I paid a mere five rupees for on my upper arm…

Calangute beach was the embodiment of tropical tranquillity. Beach chairs and umbrellas were a relative novelty, but they existed. The sand was clean and the water crystal clear. Nobody had ever heard of water scooters, paragliding or banana boat rides back then. We swam, used air mattresses for some half-assed wave riding, explored the shallow depths with kiddie diving masks and snorkels, shrieked with delight at the dolphins (are there still any around at Calangute?) and in anguish when we made occasional contact with a jellyfish.

At night, we’d stand on our balconies and look down on the darkened beach as chillums (rudimentary clay pipes) winked like devil’s eyes in the night. In those days, the smell of marijuana and hashish hung over Goan beaches like smog over a modern city today, and nobody complained. It was as accepted in Goa’s beach culture as feni and ‘urak’…

Calangute’s sister beach, Baga, featured only one prominent hotel – Lomir. Nude sunbathing and swimming was still allowed at Baga beach in the mid-seventies. Those foreigners with a yen for this kind of thing gravitated there like flies to honey. Much to the delight of the busfuls of unabashed South Indian gawkers that were a norm even back then. On the average, there was one lungi-clad, camera-sporting ebony skin for every death-white Norwegian one. The bikini-clad ‘firang’ women considered this a necessary and negligible evil and paid zero attention to them.

Beach umbrellas on Baga beach today

Calangute seems to have slipped off the list of preferred Goan beaches since those innocent days. There certainly aren’t any ‘full moon’ parties happening there anymore. Calangute was quietly shunted to the sidelines as elaborate 5-star resorts began to appear all over Goa’s other, less frequented beaches. But for those who remember it from its purer days, Calangute – though now dethroned by the likes of Benaulim and Cavelossim - is still the ageing Queen of Goan beaches…

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