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Last Updated: Monday, 17 March 2008, 17:19 GMT
Anjuna: Hippie paradise lost
By Soutik Biswas
BBC News, Anjuna, Goa

Anjuna's beaches are most popular with foreigners

A sense of unease can be felt on India's most famous beach village after news washed up that a teenage British girl was raped and left to die in the sea last month.

Two local men have been arrested in connection with Scarlett Keeling's death in Anjuna in Goa.

Anjuna, famous for its grubby shacks, crescent-shaped beaches, crowded flea markets, drug-fuelled parties and ayurveda spas is in the news again - for all the wrong reasons.

Turnout at the once-a-week 3,000-shop, 38-year-old flea market selling anything from tribal jewellery to thongs has been thin. Shacks selling food and alcohol have fewer guests and revellers. Even the live bands with names like Kundalini Airport and Bindoo Babas have been turning down the volume when night falls.

'Mind altering qualities'

"Scarlett's killing has affected tourism here, for sure. Suddenly things are very quiet," says 61-year-old Manohar Singh, who was born in India, brought up in Zanzibar and holds a British passport.

Anjuna was discovered by hippie travellers in the 1960s, a time when there was "much interest in the mind-altering qualities of India," according to Arun Saldhana, who teaches geography at the University of Minnesota and has written a book on the place.

"It was defined by its psychedelic culture and family-run guest houses, a freak and backpackers hangout, rather than the [many] charter tourist hangouts [of Goa]," he says.

Manohar Singh
Suddenly things are very quiet in Anjuna
Manohar Singh

The 13-sq km beach village hemmed in by lush hills is where, according to another old-timer, foreign tourists went to "escape India".

Resting in a village in Anjuna during a visit in the mid-1960s, Graham Greene "found it possible to forget the poverty of Bombay (now called Mumbai), 400 miles away, the mutilated beggars, the lepers... "

Anjuna's palm-lined beaches gave birth to a homegrown electronic dance music, called Goa trance, before house and techno music grew roots in the early 1990s.


The place was seen by many as a secluded, whites-only haven for hippies, who according to Arun Saldhana, could "freely indulge in drugs, nude sun bathing and all night full moon parties".

The early 1980s were possibly the high point in the beach's chequered history - hippies, punks, artists, Rastafarians, devotees of new-age gurus all hung out here, swapping drugs, music and sexual partners.

The Anjuna subculture saw tourists bending rules and bribing local officials.

Beach shack owner Francis Fernandes remembers the hippies taking over parts of the beaches and putting up 'Indians are not allowed' signs to keep away the locals.

Anjuna beach
The beach was discovered by hippies in the sixties

"Once some foreigners began a beach rave party on a Good Friday without any permission. We stormed the party and smashed it up," he says. A third of Goa's residents are Catholic Christians.

British novelist Deborah Moggach even spoke about what she called the "touristic caste system" in Anjuna, alluding to the Indian caste system.

"The Brahmins (uppermost in India's caste hierarchy) are the old hippies... They whizz around on old Enfields - how superior people look on motorbikes!" she wrote.

"They have long ropes of hair, washboard stomachs and low slung sarongs... At the lowest rank are package deal tourists".

Rising abuse

Four decades after the foreigners arrived, Anjuna's hippy reputation appears to be backfiring.

Its only hospital, a 20-bed private operation, treats an increasing number of drug overdose cases. Seventeen of the 74 foreigners who have died in Goa in the past two years were in Anjuna, and 11 of them are suspected to be have died of drug abuse.

Tourist at Anjuna beach
The crowds have thinned since the murder of UK teenager Scarlett Keeling

"Drug abuse cases have risen here since I came here seven years ago," says Dr Pravin Tippat, who works at the hospital.

Anjuna even has a detox and rehab clinic, run by a NGO, which reports high drug and alcohol abuse in the area.

"We get foreigners every month coming to help for drug abuse. People are taking all kinds of drugs," says Pamela D' Costa, who works there.

Though the police talk about record drug seizures, successfully banning nude sun bathing and cleaning up the place, it has not really been successful.

It is still easy to get drugs.

At the almost completely foreigners-only beach where Scarlett was murdered, women sunbath topless on deckchairs with cows and stray dogs for company.

Victim of success

In the end, Anjuna appears to have become a victim of its own warped success - foreign tourists, scorned by many Goans as "white trash", have lifted living standards of the locals, but material progress has come at a high cost.

Leading Indian designer and Goa resident Wendell Rodricks describes Anjuna as a "dark spot".

Anjuna beach
Grubby shacks dot the beach

"I don't go there. It is a place that is hung over from the 1960s, but sadly with more potent drugs than hashish," he says.

"The government should restore the reputation of the village and the dignity of its residents."

Clearly, the more innocent days of hippie lifestyle - full-moon parties, psychedelic drugs, growing vegetables - which launched Anjuna as a favourite destination are over.

These days, as a British writer said recently, the "place gives me the creeps with its Western-driven drugs culture."

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