One morning of January 1987 I arrived in Goa for the very first time. I had been travelling in south India for 4 months. I wanted to crisscross the southern states as much as possible and rarely spent more than a couple nights in one place. I had a very low budget of 50 rupees a day for accommodation, food, and transport. This is the only time I ever travelled with a guitar, which is quite difficult to believe considering that I hardly knew how to play and that I was so very uncomfortable with my voice; but I did! I knew about 5 songs and that was enough to play the hippy game. I had a small bag with all my possessions and that was it. I had spent those months moving from what was then Madras, to all the main temple towns of Tamil Nadu, to the hill stations, to the southernmost beaches, to Kannya Kumari at the very bottom of India, where I managed to arrive on a full moon night and see the Moon rise over the Bay of Bengal while the sun was setting over the Arabian sea; then I came up Kerala on the backwaters, a boat trip of indescribable beauty and peace that has remained carved in my cells ever since.
I had just now travelled a long night on a local bus from Hospet, the little town used as a stepping stone to Hampi where I had spent a few magical days. The only places to stay in Hampi then were all windowless boxes without beds and I still remember those sleepless nights in such stark contrast with the outstanding days spent by the river and the austere yet grandiose ruins of what once was the capital of the Vijayanagara Empire.
After a cup of tea in the buzzing market town of Mapsa where I waited for another bus to the ferry in Siolim, after crossing the river to the northern part of Goa and another bus, I arrived in Arambol.
Arambol was a small fisherman’s village with just a few houses and one little guest house with 4 rooms. The owner and his family had their own house nearby where they could accommodate one more guest if needed. His name was Shankar, and during the winter months, he built a shack on the beach made mostly of bamboos and palm leaves. “Om Shankar” was the only shack in Arambol, and there we could get basic Indian food, but also chips and amazing super fresh local fish, usually Kingfish! There were 2 or three tables. It was wild and completely paradisiac.
And yet the unique and special attraction of Arambol was the sweet water lake, and it is where I headed to with my bag and my guitar. From the main beach, it was a half hour walk over rocks. There wasn’t a path and it was steep and rugged, especially at night when we would walk with a candle inside an open coconut to light the way. The sweet water lake was a unique, magical, completely untouched natural happening. Outstanding in beauty, surrounded by so much greenery, it was created by a little river that came straight down from the jungle above.
Between the lake and the mighty sea there were no more than 50 meters at the most, and sometimes during the full moon the two would meet and merge their waters.
A few hippies were already settled there as I arrived, and it looked like everyone had chosen a tree near the lake and made a home. Spring water was available a 20 minutes’ walk upstream, basic food could be cooked on wood, and of course we could always walk back to the main beach and eat at “Om Shankar”.
I found a flat spot under a coconut tree on the left side of the lake and made myself home. I hid my guitar and my few valuable possessions under a big palm as I went out, but there was hardly anyone around and the place felt safe. Indeed I ended up spending 3 weeks in that spot and never lost anything.
At sunset, the whole hippy community came out and gathered together on the white stretch of sand right between the sea and the lake. We were about 25 and we would form a circle. Chillums would go around. And around. And around.
It was all so wild, so untouched, so extremely beautiful. We would take healing mud baths on the far end of the lake and swim naked in those waters. I felt in the hands of the divine.
Later on, as it was dark already, we would usually walk to “Om Shankar” and hang out there, eating fish and rice and curry. We would smoke more chillums as we listened to the crashing waves and counted the stars.
On the other side of Arambol was a very long stretch of beach passing the little fisherman’s villages of Mandrem and Ashwem, and ending at the mighty river in Morjim where the Olive Ridley Turtles came to nest in massive numbers once a year. It was a beautiful wild beach and for almost 10 km you would hardly meet anyone. I loved to spend the whole day walking all the way to the Morjim river, naked, singing, in complete harmony with nature. There was only one other shack on the way and it was called “end of the world” and there again I could get some food.
Sleeping around the lake was peaceful and profound; I felt in the hands of nature, taken care in a way I had never been before. I felt cocooned between the depth of the starry sky, the silence of the sweet water lake and the wildness of the ocean.
The mornings were a unique delight. As the first light rose and the crows filled the air with their melodies, we were woken up by Rahul, a young boy who came down from the jungle with a big tray on his head and a large pot of hot chai around his shoulder. “Boom Shankar” he would shout again and again. And he would make his way from tree to tree where all the hippies were slowly waking up. Nature was dense around the lake, and unless you knew where people were hiding it was not obvious. Fresh coconuts, bananas, pineapples, bread rolls, boiled eggs, butter, and even honey… Rahul had it all. The chai was always very sweet, which I loved. I remember drinking a cup of tea while he was serving me breakfast, and getting another cup for later. Of course, I had no cup or bowl, but just a spoon and a coconut that I had taken days to cut and polish into a perfect enough mug.
I had my first chillum of the day with Rahul, and I always wondered how he managed to go up the hill after serving breakfast to all of us. It reminded me of the postman in my childhood who in the villages could hardly refuse to come in, have a coffee with the shot of Calvados, before delivering the mail to the other neighbours.
One day around the end of January, Shankar told me that the season was now over and that his guest house was empty. We had become good friends and he offered me a room in his family home.
And so I left my haven of peace by the lake and moved to a room with the comfort of a bed and a mosquito net. Village life was intense and I loved the new stimulus on my senses. The sounds were particularly exciting and their combination unusual. Women washing laundry by the well; birds chirping and crowing and singing; chicken, pigs, and kids running and chasing each other; an occasional sound of a scooter.
Shower was outside by the well, and toilets were behind a wall. Indian toilet is an art by which I was now well trained, but this was something so unusual that I would not have been able to make it up even in my wildest dream. Behind the wall, you simply squatted on the ground and shat, and soon enough pigs would come and clean it up better than any modern toilet would. It was certainly extremely simple and efficient but it did take me by surprise the first time; I was hardly finished that a big pig came rushing towards me and I thought I would lose parts of my cheeks. I slowly learned the fine art of doing my business in a relaxed way while sending the pigs the message that their time had not yet come. I came to love those toilets. But I never to this day tasted Goan pig delicacies.
One day, I packed my bag, put my guitar around my shoulder and walked to the bus station. I slowly made my way to the main port town of Panajim where the next evening I would take a ferry to Bombay.