“Goa” brings to mind myriad visions — colourful, and often contrasting: miles of sand and surf, ‘flower power’ hippies, small fishing villages, imposing colonial Portuguese churches, delicious Goan sausage and fish curries, and wild rave parties. Indeed Goa is all that — and much more besides — but the one thing that’s undeniable, is that it is changing.
(Above photo: Sunset over the Anjuna Beach, North Goa)
When you speak to long-term residents of the state, you'll hear phrases like “Oh, but it’s not like it was in the old days…” It seems, however, that everyone has a different take on the evolution of Goa. And while there seems to be an overall nostalgic desire for Goa to remain relatively untouched by the ways of the modern world, there are just as many voices complaining about the lack of a reliable internet connection, frustrating power outages, and undeniable infrastructure issues.
(Above photo:The imposing Portuguese Cathedral in Old Goa, Panjim)
Holding the advance of the modern world at bay is the Central Reservation Zone (CRZ), a law put in place by the government as far back as 1991, to protect Goa’s beaches from over development. This rule forbids the building of any permanent structure within 200 metres of the coast. Despite persistent lobbying from various parties with financially-motivated/vested interests, the government has so far held its ground and enforced the CRZ with some severity, including taking offenders to court and demolishing illegally constructed structures. It is largely down to this rule that the sight, which still greets us when we arrive at a typical Goan beach today, is that of the ubiquitous little beach shack (made from natural, easily dis-mountable materials), instead of the ugly sprawling cement hotels so often found scarring the beaches of Europe.
(Above photo: A South Goan beach, as yet unspoiled by development, makes for a pretty-as-postcard picture)
It appears that the changes felt by the hotel, café and shop owners in Goa are as individual as they are, with the exception of domestic tourism's effects, which have been felt by all. For example, Goan Agnello D’Costa, who has owned and run Cozy Nook (beautifully furnished high-end beach shacks) on Palolem Beach, South Goa, for 22 years, feels that while the type of visitors have changed, little else — apart from the issue of waste — has really altered life on Palolem. He has witnessed the first waves of European backpackers, which started to grow around 2000, followed increasingly by European families and couples around 2010, and then the influx of domestic tourists from 2012 onwards.
(Above photo: Locals play football on Palolem Beach, South Goa)
On the other hand, Moshe Inbar, the Israeli proprietor of Artjuna (a chilled out Mediterranean café and shop) in Anjuna, North Goa, has felt the changes in his part of Goa much more keenly. Many of the original ‘flower power’ freaks and hippies from as far afield as Europe, Japan, Israel and Australia, who had arrived in Goa in the 1960s and '70s were still around in Anjuna when Moshe first started coming to Goa in the early 1990s. It was they, along with the local fishermen, who characterised this place, with their alternative lifestyle, the drugs and the parties, and it was they, led by the infamous Eight Finger Eddy, who started the Wednesday Flea Market, originally just to help them make some extra money to fund their travels by selling their second-hand possessions.
(Above photo: A cow chills out on the sand, as tourists frolic on Palolem Beach, South Goa)
Slowly, over the next 25 years, the market grew into the beast it has become today with 3,000 stalls, run now mainly by sellers from all over India, and attracting up to 10,000 visitors at the peak of the season. Over this time, the lifestyle of those same "freaks" and hippies has become more mainstream, as they had families of their own, many moved back to their countries to resume a less alternative existence. In their place came hostels, which brought backpacker tourism with them. These premises provided cheap accommodation and a place for fellow travellers to meet others. From a handful of hostels just five years ago, there are now more than 30 hostels in Anjuna alone. The next wave was — you guessed it — domestic tourism, but Moshe feels that these changes are nothing but a natural progression of such a party place, anywhere in the world, inevitably moving from an extreme alternative lifestyle to a more mainstream one over time.
(Above photo: Agnello D’Costa, proprietor of Cozy Nook, Palolem Beach, South Goa, cooks dinner for his friends)
Katja Grew, a Danish designer and owner of Mermaids Boutique in Anjuna, has lived in Goa since 2005. She cites the advent of the smartphone as contributing the biggest change to the lifestyles of the party people of Anjuna. She says, “Prior to the smartphone, you had to physically drive around to the places where the party crowd met, such as Primrose, Nine Bar, Curlies, Mango Shade etc, to find out about what’s new on the social scene. The smartphone did away with the need for this personal exchange of information, letting people find out about the parties remotely.” She also mentions the increase of domestic tourism, saying that the advent of many creative individuals in Goa from Indian big cities, has contributed a great deal to the North Goa community.
(Above photo: Katja at her shop in Anjuna, North Goa)
The surge in domestic tourism over the last 5-10 years began with tourists with alternative lifestyles. However, it didn’t take long for Goa to hit the Indian mainstream. Now entire families, children in tow, sit down for breakfast in cafes like Artjuna, where once upon a time party animals and hippies were the only customers. The significant increase in domestic tourism has also brought a vast increase in four-wheeler traffic, since many domestic tourists drive to Goa instead of flying. This influx of big cars on Goan roads, instead of the smaller, more agile two-wheelers, has lead to the need for some major infrastructural changes, which are seen as essential to keep things running smoothly and avoid major traffic issues.
(Above photo: Outside Cozy Nook on Palolem Beach, South Goa)
One of the biggest infrastructural changes that are being put into action by the government is the widening of many Goan roads to make room for all this new traffic. By far the biggest of these widening projects is that of the NH66 highway running down from Mumbai through Goa, and down along the West Coast. This is a major overhaul upgrading the whole length to a four-lane (and in some places six-lane) highway with grade separation. The works by the Goan border began in 2014, though it remains unclear exactly when they will be completed, with many reasons being cited by the relevant government bodies, including land acquisition issues, local protests and monsoon weather delays.
(Above photo: Construction in progress for the widening of the NH66 highway, near Verna, Goa)
Necessary bypass works have already begun in various parts of Goa, including the long-awaited Panjim flyover. A ‘100% Make in India’ project, once completed, it will make it possible for visitors to Goa to pass over Panjim instead of having to drive through it, significantly speeding up the Mumbai to Goa commuting times. It'll bring in more tourists, but also allow Panjim roads and residents to breathe easier.
(Above photo: Construction of one of the bypass flyovers along NH66, near Cortalim, Goa)
As part of this flyover, a number of bridges are also currently under construction, most notably the four-lane cable-stayed bridge over the Mandovi River. Once completed, it promises to be the third longest cable-stayed bridge in India. Here again, the works began in 2014, the completion deadline has already been missed three times, and the latest from the Goa State Infrastructure Development Corporation (GSIDC) states that “The bridge was 91 percent complete and would be opened for traffic in the first or second week of January 2019” — which would be exactly two years later than originally scheduled.
(Above photo: Construction of the four-lane cable-stayed bridge over the Madovi river)
Another major change, which will take even longer to materialise, but has the potential to have a huge impact on the movement of people and goods across the State of Goa, is the construction of a new airport in Mopa in North of Goa. The only way to fly into Goa currently is through its airport at Dabolim, which is a military airport. This means that both civilian and military operations share a common runway, which results in severe airside congestion, and deters long-term growth of commercial flight volumes. The government had given its theoretical approval for a second airport in the state of Goa as far back as 2000, but the project has been stuck on the shelf due to land acquisition issues and local litigation. Clearance was finally given by the Union Home Ministry for the construction to go ahead in October 2018, and the Goa International Airport Limited (GGIAL) expects operations to commence in 2020.
(Above photo: Artjuna café and shop in Anjuna, North Goa)
Clearly, for Goa as much as for anywhere else, as the old truism goes: “the only constant is change”.
(Above photo: A Tibetan seller at the Wednesday Market, Anjuna, North Goa)
Polina Schapova is a Delhi-based Russian-British photographer. Follow her work on Instagram or on her website.