Arambol: Drum circles, Russians and hippies, oh my!

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February 6th 2013
Published: February 7th 2013
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Our train to Arambol, a beach in northern Goa, departed at 7:00 a.m. from Mumbai’s CST Railway Station and was supposed to arrive to Pernhem Station, a thirty minute drive from the beach, at 5:00 p.m. but, naturally, the train was running on Indian time so we didn’t reach our destination until almost 8:00 p.m. We weren’t in a rush, and this was my first Indian train experience, so I sat back and enjoyed the scenery, after first indulging in a two hour nap. We’d bought second class sleeper tickets even though it was a day train since it was a long ride and we wanted the extra space. Scott and I each had upper berths, which was nice considering the triple-bunk-bed style set up of each cabin. On day trains, the middle bunk folds down to act as a back cushion, and people tend to gather and sit on the bottom bunks, so if you want to nap, you’re out of luck.

When I woke up, I found Scott sitting and chatting with our German cabin mate, who also happened to be going to Arambol. I bought some masala chai and samosas (kind of like a large fried dumpling filled with potatoes and spices) for breakfast from the train vendors who passed by frequently selling a variety of Indian specialties, coffee, tea and other beverages. We also were able to order lunch in the morning and have it delivered to our cabin in the afternoon. Scott and I both had vegetable biriyani (spicy rice with veggies) and a Slice, an Indian mango juice drink. We spent most of the lengthy ride reading, listening to music, and browsing our Rough Guide for sightseeing ideas while in Arambol.

When we finally reached our stop, we shared a cab with our cabin mate and another German woman and were dropped off at a guesthouse where we had hoped to find lodging. Unfortunately, it was full, as were (so we were told) many of the surrounding guesthouses. Not wanting to wander aimlessly with our packs on or prolong our hunger much longer, we called up a place listed in our guidebook called Ivon’s Guesthouse and were told that they had one bungalow available. We asked them to hold it for us and navigated through a few dark alleys and a maze-like neighborhood, getting directions along the way. When we got there, it looked like a very nice, modern hotel with no bungalows in sight, which confused us a bit. We expected to be led around the building and onto the beach, but instead were taken up to the roof, where three makeshift “bungalows” had been constructed. It wasn’t the Ritz, but it definitely had character, as well as a nice bathroom and a good fan. Also, since it wasn’t on the ground, we didn’t have to deal with any pesky critters.

Exhausted from traveling, we ate a quick dinner at Ivon’s restaurant and went straight to bed. I was greeted in the morning by a nasty cold (which has yet to go away), so we ventured into the little town to find a pharmacy, eat breakfast and look around. Since our guidebook described the beach as quiet and laid back, we were surprised to find its streets lined with shops selling overpriced goods from all over India and crowded with scantily clad, boisterous, and, forgive my generalization, rather rude neo-hippie Russians who not only sported the most hideous hairstyles we’d ever seen (picture a buzz cut with two or three long, ratty dreadlocks in the back…) but also showed no respect for Indian culture whatsoever. The beach itself was nice, but was home to a huge hippie culture, which we didn’t mind aside from the incessant smell of hash permeating the air and the spontaneous drum circles, whose participants engaged in strange, convulsive (seriously, one guy was convulsing non-stop, disregarding the beat, with his hands up in the air as if he were being slowly electrocuted, the entire time that we were observing), sexual dances, sometimes balancing sticks on their faces or prancing around half (or fully) naked playing flutes they’d bought in the market. Though this was admittedly entertaining, there’s only so much enjoyment I can get from watching stoned hippies dance and middle-aged men in thongs practice their yoga poses on the beach…

One day, we decided to hike through the jungle to see Arambol’s famous banyan tree. It was a beautiful hike, in spite of the extreme humidity, and the tree was extraordinary. There were, as our guide book promised, a crowd of hippies sitting in a circle passing joints and chillums to the background music of a guy beating a djembe. The atmosphere was far more relaxed than the antics on the beach, but we didn’t stay too long for fear of sweating to death.

During our time in Arambol, we had an interesting array of haggling experiences. The first was in a small, family owned clothing shop, where our saleswoman was very kind, joked around with us, introduced us to her brother and adorable nieces, and ultimately gave us a good price for a long wrap skirt, a pair of “ali baba” pants, and some lightweight pants and a shirt for Scott. It turned out that she was only 15 years old and had only completed a few grade levels of school before joining the family business, yet she was very mature for her age and could speak five languages! We had another good experience with the owner of a used book shop, who allowed us to trade in our Thailand Lonely Planet for a genuine copy of Shantaram, since I broke my Kindle when I had 5% of the book left to read. Many places will sell “bootleg” versions of books, which are basically scanned/copied from originals and are often missing pages or have the edges of the pages cut off. He charged us $2 since Shantaram is a huge book and he already had several Thailand Lonely Planets that hadn’t sold, but he had a great personality and talked to us for a long time.

Our less successful and enjoyable haggling experience occurred during our visit to the Mapusa Friday market. We got there via the most crowded public bus I have ever been on, but, once there, had a great time walking the aisles and seeing the variety of produce, heaps of spices, stands selling cured sausage, sweets, and other goods, and vendors selling art, tapestries, clothing and jewelry. While we were walking around, I was drawn to a display of anklets and other jewelry and was persuaded by the shopkeeper to sit and try some on. She was very nice at first and let me take my time browsing, but when I agreed to buy one and began bargaining, she refused to give me a price for the single anklet and wouldn’t stop trying to make deals that involved me buying multiple items for outrageous prices – she wanted to sell me 2 anklets, 1 bracelet, and 5 scarves for 3,200 rupees, which is close to $60! This stuff was not worth nearly that much. I really only wanted an anklet, but she began being rude and became irritated with me because I “made her unfold all the scarves” so that I could see them, when I never even asked for scarves. Fed up and annoyed, we finally agreed to buy 2 anklets, a bracelet and 2 scarves for $17, which was still too expensive and more than I planned on buying, but at least I really did like the items. However, next time someone tries to rip me off like that, I’ll know to just walk away!

That night, our last in Arambol, we ate a very late dinner at an authentic Italian place where we met some lively British folks who kept trying to draw us into their debate about the human condition. On our walk back to the “bungalow,” we witnessed a cow mosey right into a clothing store to do some shopping I suppose. The owner found this hysterical and ushered the cow outside, who then looked very confused and disappeared down an alley. When we finally got back to our room and got everything ready to go for our 7:30 a.m. departure to the train station, it was well after midnight. Somehow we managed to wake up in time and were en route south to the sacred town of Gokarna, where we would spend the next few days.

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24th February 2013

Olive Garden :)
I spend 8 days in Arambol this year (30.01-06.02) and we were almost every evning in Olive Garden :)))

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