Savio poured me my umpteenth beer as I lazily swatted a fly trying to pilfer my Chicken Rocheido. I took a swig and scanned the buzzing Baga beach through the yellow tint of my mug of beer. Fat couples in various states of undress lounged on their sun-beds like beached whales flipping through pulp paperbacks. The same hawkers pestered the same old firangs with the same old precious stones, postcards of Indian gods, massages, peeled fruits and free sun-bed with drink. It was the same old scene. Mambo. Tito’s. Disco Valley. Anjuna flea market. Axl, the tattoo-maker. Caju Feni & Sorpotel. Midnight raves. The Basilica of Bom Jesus with the largest bell in the world. I had scanned most of the beaches from Morjim in the north to Mobor in the south as I wondered if there was anything in Goa to be discovered. As usual, I asked my man Friday Savio for assistance.
Savio smiled his usual weak smile. He laughs only when discussing women and drugs. He rarely talked. I have a feeling he was either a reincarnated Trappist Monk or was born when the Lumiere Brothers were still shooting ‘Train leaving Station’. Then, like a philosophical poser, a crossword clue or some arcane Zen mantra, he uttered the magical word – Arambol?! Before I could even say ‘Aram-What’ Savio had scribbled a rough map and I was following the trail on my hired Bullet.
So for a beach that boasts a 16-km-long coastline, where do you begin? You begin at Baga, get lost after Anjuna and Vagator, re-track to cross a bridge, and after many winding loops ride past ‘The Restaurant At The Edge of the Universe’ to roll into Arambol. Glimpses of white sand showed through thickets of palm engaging me in a constant peepshow. Soon, the beach was out of view and I was on a dirt track with shops lining both sides. It wasn’t your usual riot of colours; it was anarchy in RGB! An empty space to the right under a canopy of trees served as a temporary parking lot. At most it could accommodate 10 cars, with the tenth having to park on the incline. It spoke volumes about Arambol’s expectations.
Till recent times the entry used to be a hole hewn through some thickets. I was presented with my first close view of Arambol. ‘A vast radiant beach. And a cool jewelled moon. Couples, naked, race down by its quiet side. And we laugh like soft, mad children. Smug in the wooly cotton brains of infancy’. Late evening in Arambol, Jim Morrison revisited. Tired of the jaded sex-drugs-rock n roll hedonism of Anjuna, it was the hippie community’s need for a new innocent haven that gave birth to Arambol. It was to be a sweet sixteen-year-old angelic Gloria with orchids in her hair; a virgin sanctuary tucked away from the humdrum of Goa, sympathetic to nudists and nonconformists alike. Arambol, an obscure fishing village north of Chapora with primitive conditions became a reluctant choice. Originally named Harmal after Veer Harhar Mahal, a local ruler who performed a sacrifice in the 12th century to mark his victory over his enemies, it became Arambol under the Portuguese. The only sacrifice you have to make here is 5-star comfort.
Most of the beach lodges are to the right of the main entrance. After a short stretch of rocky terrain, the trail hits the beach again and takes you further north past some coves and bays right up to Tiracol Fort. But that’s if you can get past the virgin beach. The ace up Arambol’s sleeve is the freshwater lake just off the beach set against a thick forest patch. Fed by springs, the water is supposedly sweet. But having read an episode in the Mahabharata about the Pandavas’ fatal experience with a lake, I desisted from experimenting. YOU can drink the water and send me a postcard, thank you very much. What I did try was the sulphurous mud lining the lake. The resident hippies smear it over the body because it’s good for the skin. I was responsible for chasing away a chaste Indian family.
After enough mindless banter, in a moment of rare clarity, I discovered The Eyes of the Buddha, easily the pick of the beachside shacks in Arambol. It had a beautiful sea-facing sit-out, heavenly seafood and breezy cottages stacked up against the bayside. The sun gently slid into the waters and in a village dominated by foreigners, it was the locals returning with the catch that seemed like outsiders. The idea seemed quaint. Over time, Arambol had shaken off the tag of being the most economically backward village in Goa though its few hundred locals were still grappling with the tide of progress lapping on Arambol’s shore.
Hire a bike (works out cheaper) or a taxi, which usually takes a to-and-fro charge, if not a flat rate. Earlier there was a ferry crossing at Siolim but thanks to the new bridge, Arambol is at best 1 and a half hours ride north from Baga.
There are relatively few shacks for the amount of people that go there, so rates just double in the tourist season (November-Feb). Eyes of the Buddha, Sea Rock, Ganesh were some of the shacks last season though they tend to change their garb, names and owners from time to time. A double room costs anything between Rs.300-450. If staying for more than a couple of days, you can work out a home-stay rate with the locals.
The forest patch behind the freshwater lake has some good intense forest treks. The cliff to your proper right is a vantage point for paragliding and usually there is some chap offering adventure activities. The Arambol flea-market is not as great as Anjuna, so there’s always the weekly boat-ride to Anjuna. And to atone for your hedonism, you can always visit the temple in Arambol. Further north, Tiracol marks Goa ‘s northern extreme. It has a nice fort and a church that you can explore.
Author: Anurag Mallick. This article appeared in Man’s World magazine in 2003.