Thursday, January 20, 2011

New Year's Eve – A time to let Go(a)

People come to Goa with a sense of abandon, locking tiresome jobs and failing relationships firmly in closets back home. Year-long teetotalers may be found passed-out,faces in the sand, while eternal introverts discover hidden social sparks. The Goan philosophy of susegad, which professes being relaxed and happy, is a way of life here, for locals and travelers alike.

Although Goa, like Ibiza, is a party destination by definition, there's something more that attracts tens of thousands of tourists to celebrate the new year here. Perhaps it's because Goa embraces all who set foot on its sunny shores. There's something for everyone, irrespective of nationality, stature, and most importantly, budget. From hole-in-the-wall lodges to five-star hotels, sea-side shacks to fine-dining restaurants, underground rave parties to discotheques, Goa ensures everyone has a good time.

Although India's smallest state gets overbearingly crowded with tourists at the year-end, people just don't seem to want to go elsewhere. Charlotte Conway, a cartoonist from Newcastle, enjoys the freedom it offers. “You can just do what you like here, it's so chilled out”, she says, warming her hands by a bonfire outside a shack at Anjuna beach, her head bobbing to the music in the background, “and Goa has the best psychedelic trance music scene in the world, so it's the most obvious choice for me.” Others have simpler reasons. “I come here for the sun,”, says Alexei from Russia, pointing to the sky to re-affirm himself“too cold back home.”

Goa started to establish itself as India's “Party State” in the late-1960s, when musicians and hippies from America hitchhiked across the globe along the 'Hippie Trail' and found Goa's untouched beaches and Portuguese architecture the perfect environment to settle down, and set up flea markets, restaurants and yoga centers. The hippie revolution has since evolved into a deep-rooted trance music culture in Goa, which draws people from far corners of the globe to congregate at the beaches for the annual Sunburn Festival - a non-stop, three-day long party with live performances from the world's most famous trance music artists. Sunburn takes place at the end of each year, with the New Year’s Eve celebration providing a fitting after-party.

However, trance music and outdoor rave parties are merely appetizers on Goa’s menu. Small Portuguese casas line quaint streets that are almost desolated through the year, but burst to life during the festive season. Shacks, restaurants, pubs, and colourful flea markets nudge each other for space. Live musicians strum Spanish guitars, as sun-tanned (and sun-burnt) tourists sit at beach-side shacks, sipping chilled beer to counter spicy Goan curries, while their chairs sink slowly into the sand. More enthusiastic visitors whiz across the sea on jet-skis or boats in the distance. The shacks are innumerable and line all of Goa's beaches, most notably Calangute, Baga, and Candolim. Disappointment at finding a colourful little Irish pub full is soon quelled by the discovery of an alluring cafe a few metres away. Cheap alcohol and good food are found in large quantities and are a large part of Goa's appeal.

The number of party locations to choose from for New Year’s Eve borders on the absurd. It is no exaggeration to say that there are parties everywhere, and very few require an invitation or prior booking. For dancing the night away to mainstream house music Club Cubana, with its poolside bars and dance floors, is perfect, as is Nine Bar or Tito's. Others interested in the trance culture end up at Anjuna's rave parties, with laserlights and chemical imbalance taking centre stage, amidst people trading their sanity to unite with the music. Every beach has a buzz about it, with live musicians and DJs spinning tracks over seas of flowery shirts, dresses, and shorts, and a general aura of inebriated happiness all around. Fireworks at the stroke of midnight make the night-sky as colourful as the shores below. Just being at one place isn't quite enough for everyone, though. “There are so many places to go to for New Year’s Eve. My friends and I generally get out on bikes and hop from one party to another until sunrise”, says Prochie, a student from Mumbai who visits Goa several times a year. While party-hopping is a good idea, the midnight traffic jam it causes on New Year's Eve can spoil the fun.

While beaches are the most popular places in Goa, Panjim City has its own appeal. It's casinos are the main attraction. Most are on massive yachts; amusingly this allows them to exploit a loophole in the law that forbids cards being dealt on “Indian soil.” Indian tourists tend to flock to them in hordes to waltz with lady luck, and drink away the highs and lows of gambling. The city's numerous restaurants and pubs are decked with bright lights and brim with boisterous patrons having a good time.

No matter how crowded or commercial it gets , Goa holds a special place in the hearts of party-goers from the world over , as a place to indulge, break free and lose themselves, uninhibited. As Goa-lovers often declare: It's more than just a place; it's a state of mind.

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