Lying in the sun on the Caribbean beach it’s hard to imagine the streets of Udaipur, with their bustle and relative poverty, though this too was a tourist’s paradise. Goa is peopled by British sun-seekers and yoga aficionados choosing between Kundalini and Ashtanga based on their suppleness and ability to perform their practice in the 35 degree heat. The beach at Patnem, to the far south of the province is chosen by older people and yoga-seekers as the most peaceful and laid-back of about twenty resorts. Talking to a builder from Billericay, who pays his brickies £180 a day in the post-Brexit building bubble, it seems that in one resort he stayed, there were a load of Russian tourists and in another, a continuous moon party for the Club 18-30 crowd. This must be where most of the 250 Tourist Police are based. He and his two mates had made a last minute decision to come to India and as a consequence, he bemoaned the NHS queue for injections and his £550 bill for private services. He’d booked them all into a hotel, run by a Brit in North Goa for new year’s eve, at great expense, paid in full and found when they got there that it had been closed for three years and that they would have to take the last three beds in an eight bedded dormitory in the only hostel in the town which had space. They were also fined £15 each on the spot for riding hired scooters without helmets. The policeman had apparently been wearing copious amounts of gold jewelry, and had not proffered a receipt.
Beside our sunbeds, outside the Solida Del Sol cafe, which is sandwiched between Namaste Homestay and Nirvana Lodge, two French Canadian tourists lounged for their last few days before taking the two flights to Delhi and then the 14 hour connection to Toronto. He was heavy-set and tattooed, with nipple rings in both nipples. She was not, as far as I could see either tattooed or pierced. They had booked to see India, expecting to travel the length and breadth of the this massive continent of a land, but had been so phased by their arrival into Delhi – nothing changes there then – they had promptly stepped into a travel agent and hired a driver for a 12 day to tour Rajasthan. They’d had a great trip, much like our own, but in more comfort.
The Kranti yoga centre consists of two huge ‘stages’ made of stone slabs, protected from the sun by huge canopies, and each surrounded by a series of perhaps 20-30 huts, in which retreating yoga-seekers stay for the three or five or more day retreats. There is no catering, so each must either fast (which is possible, looking at many of them) or go to Namaste or Nirvana or even brave Round Cube, where ambient music and lemon mint tea is order of the day. They have hammocks outside their huts, and there is plenty of saffron cloth draped around the place. My drop-in class is not till 10.15 each morning, which is a shame as the morning muesli with fruit, curd and honey is hard to resist, but also hard to perform three legged dog after. The yogis bring their own clean mats and I choose a very soiled but perfectly serviceable one from the centre. A sari-clad administrator (and definitely not a yogi) collects our 200 Rupee fees (€3), but as there are about 25 westerners dropping in, that’s a healthy income for the centre for the 90 minutes with Sally, the young black London yoga teacher who strides among us and describes the poses in English rather than using their proper names. What type of yoga are we performing? I’m fairly sure it isn’t pure Ashtanga, as I’m still alive to describe the experience, so it is really a mish-mash of Hatha and Kundalini and some Vinyasa thrown in. While we go through the practice, a stray dog stands in front of us on the raised stage and watches. Each establishment has its own dogs. They lie on the beach in front, or wander within the compounds, looking for scraps. I saw the Round Cube stray sit beside a customer as she ate her lunch, refusing dry toast scraps, but happily eating them once buttered. At night, they become tandoori experts, choosing between tables and selecting them on the basis of the occupants’ generosity, and maybe their menu choices, taking scraps. They are fiercely territorial and never eat from next door’s customers without a riotous and noisy dog-fight. Last time we were on the sunbeds outside Solida Del Sol, two cows wandered onto the beach and began to eat our clothing. They are not so territorial it seems.
Goa is truly European in everything except the menus, and even then, the majority of places offer fries instead of rice or naan, and tandoori chicken tikka is probably the number one dish. The question which keeps raising its ugly head is whether what is here is really good for anyone. Is it benefiting anyone but the few wealthy local owners, and should one really only partake of the authentic Indian experience on a trip to India, rather than funding this Eastern version of the Costa Del Sol? What’s the authentic India now though? To live it, you just have to buy a Chinese mobile – preferably taking several hundred selfies with it every day, drive a Royal Enfield motorbike and learn enough Hindi to hold conversations with the locals and the tourists simultaneously, to ensure that your cut in someone else’s offering is protected when you sell the tourists a manageable version of the India they fear.