Besides being famous for Portuguese churches, Goa made its mark on the world in the 80’s and 90’s when hordes of seekers headed there to soak up the sun and surf, bringing with them the newly emerging dance and rave culture. By the end of the 90’s, it had become a destination in its own right for those seeking some fun, transcendence, and a good party. The locals were more than willing to accommodate the hordes of blissed out ravers, which would nearly double the population for the few months of near perfect weather. We hadn’t gone there to seek a party, indeed, we were too early for ‘the season’ by several months. Nonetheless, we had heard the tales of where it all went down, Anjuna beach.
What intrigued us more about Anjuna was the legendary market. A vast sprawling outdoor venue with the best of all goods from all over India, it seemed like a good enough reason alone to be in Goa. The market reportedly didn’t open until the end of October, which was a source of great disappointment to us. The other markets we had been to were a series of tacky tourist trap shops, with little wares of true value. Cheap knockoff Nikes and bags by the bushel interspersed with the odd gem had left us longing for the incredible diversity of authentic treasures we had regularly stumbled upon in Thailand. But was it worth staying in India for two more weeks just to experience a market?
As it turned out, we didn’t have to wait at all. Riding out on a whim one day, we headed toward Anjuna, and discovered that it was a closely guarded secret, hidden by signs that continually led to the same four-corner intersection. It felt a bit like being in an episode of Keystone Cops, as we would head down a road, take some unexplored turn and find ourselves right back where we started. Deciding that our best bet was to get hopelessly lost, we ignored all the signs and headed out toward what looked like the end of the road. Feeling dejected at not finding what we were looking for, we stopped at a roadside burger shack. But this was no ordinary burger shack. They had the best Vegan burgers I’ve had in my life. And they also knew the way to Anjuna beach. And they also knew that the market was indeed running, despite what everyone we had talked to back in town had told us. It was as though everyone was trying to keep an open secret.
Anjuna did not let us down. Despite every other vendor seemingly selling cd’s of electronic and trance music, we had hit on the mother lode of authentic India. We had found the India we had come seeking, a blend of the real and the benign, with magic lurking in the corners, if you only dared to look. It gave us a taste of what was to come in the following months, and yet birthed in us the feeling that our time in India was indeed coming to a close, that we had satiated our lust for something real and gritty.