Cleaning up their act in India

When people think of India’s Goa, images of a state full of sex, drugs, alcohol, partying and pristine beaches are no doubt often conjured.  Quite recently, amongst those on an Indian tour itinerary, a stigma has even seemed to have developed to traveling there, some opting to shun it in favour of a more genuine, wholesome Indian experience.

Contemplating my own journey there, I didn’t know what to expect.  But after a positive and diverse experience, I was shown another facet of India – something very unique in itself, and its (self-proclaimed) Un-Indian-ness – and given much food for thought in a place that was in times gone by, being chastised for its over-bearing tourist culture, but now benefiting from thoughtful reforms.

Goa on the whole, is a prosperous state, thriving on its ever-booming tourist industry.  In its capital, Panaji – away from the beaches that have burgeoned this boom – it still bubbles with the colour and life that its Portuguese predecessors left behind, also dotted with impressive white-washed churches, amongst the brightly coloured houses and buildings in the often narrow, European-esque streets.

But the beaches and their attractions are where it’s at for most who come to India’s smallest state, and also what has helped it prosper.  Traveling south from some of Goa’s northernmost beaches, you run the whole gamut of styles.  From untouched and undeveloped, to once loved and now neglected.  Deservingly, one of Goa’s most southern beaches – Palolem – gets much of the acclaim, and still attracts hoards of visitors that have seen it gain its reputation.  But it wasn’t always fun and games.

A few years back, Palolem was so over-run with shacks and stalls and people trying to cash in on the tourist trade, that it was beginning to represent an illegal camping ground, not only spewing waste and pollution river and ocean-wards, but also leaking controversial amounts of noise into its once stilled air.

When I arrived there, a recent closing and demolition of all unlicensed traders gave the beach a vastly different feel to its former day.  Although prices for accommodation and other tourist fare may have risen (in a slightly disproportionate fashion) the businesses that remained had a strong sense of community pride – no doubt borne out of their satisfaction of being amongst those still allowed to operate.

What remains at Palolem now, is a beach that is remarkably clean, with wildlife offshore; healthily competitive bars and restaurants, many serving excellent local and international dishes; a good spate of quality beachside accommodation, in creative, clean, communal and welcoming surrounds, all blanketed in an almost surreal and hedonistic, friendly community vibe.  And the parties are still there.  The people are still out to socialize.  And there’s still as much fun as you need to accidentally stay there, far longer than you first expected.

Perhaps it’s not really India, but what has happened in Palolem, ought to be a model for many communities and cities within the country.  – Palolem was one of the only beaches that was virtually litter free, and its surrounds continued its cleanliness – something of which was very few and far between.  What’s more, is that there were actually people assigned to enforce the change of rules, as well as maintain the high standards that are no doubt being stressed.

India is striving to be a player on the global stage.  Consumption and growth however, are seeing its massive population, clearly struggling with the ideas being inherited (or forced) upon their society by “the west”.  The amount of waste – and the methods of disposal – coupled with a lack of education as to the damage such neglect will cause, will soon destroy everything that was once sacred in this country of vast wonder.

Taking a leaf from Palolem’s book will not only help to create an attitude of preservation and cleanliness and environmental awareness that will benefit all (completely non-existent to some people, who simply drop litter where they finish with it) but it will surely help to employ a workforce needed to shift the population’s thinking.  The benefits for each individual community will only then proliferate.  Call me idealistic?  Spend some time in Palolem, and you’ll come to realize the possibilities – and the necessities – in a land of endless wonder.

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