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To Beach or not to Beach – That’s Never a Question

Tourists sunbathing at Candolim beach


Unravelling the Lure of Goan Shacks

Before you flip the page (or worse, and navigate away from this web page!) thinking that this is going to be an article doling out a list of the predictably popular beach shacks in Goa, physician take another bite of your warm buttered poi and read on.  This is a story not just about beach shacks but a way of life – a uniquely Goan phenomenon that, vialis 40mg as much as anything else about our lovely state, defines us in the eyes of the world.

Wikipedia defines a shack as a type of small and often primitive shelter. In Goa a shack is a restaurant, a night club, a performance venue, a sleep lounge, a viewpoint, a bar and a laid-back hangout all rolled into one. It’s also the state’s tourism lifeline and an inseparable part of its identity, much like the dhabas in Punjab, jazz in New Orleans or pubs in London.  Last Sunday, as some friends and I were debating on a mutually acceptable venue to satiate our hunger pangs, I felt a craving for a beach shack afternoon and reckoned it was the ideal frame of mind to speak to other shack addicts about their symptoms.

So, we plonked ourselves into the comfy cane chairs at Pete’s, located on the northern end of Candolim beach.  Evolving from a restaurant run out of home, this shack is a favourite with both locals and visitors, to the point where an American man I interviewed, begged me to give it a bad review because he didn’t want it to get too crowded!


   A beautifully lit shack


Before I continue, let me tell you where word has it are some of the hottest shacks this season (and I’m not talking about the weather). In the Candolim/Calangute area, you can never go wrong with Calamari, Spotty and the Boat Shack. In Anjuna, Curlie’s is the place, with food and ambience a cut above the rest (even though these guys seem to have a propensity for getting in trouble with the law). In Baga, go for Café del Mar, Zanzibar and Good Luck. In the South, Café del Mar also has an outlet in Palolem, and Kingstok in Colva is highly appealing.

At Pete’s, soothing music was playing at a normal decibel as opposed to the high voltage beats that accost our senses at other venues, and waiters were friendly and efficient. It also has clean toilets (with extra points for toilet paper).  The icing on the cake is the menu; tasty fare with a varied cuisine.  A Spanish family sitting behind us were raving about the seafood, specifically the calamari and I reckon that could be compared to the Japanese waxing eloquently about sushi.

Dennis is an Englishman who’s been coming to Goa for several years and stays six months at a stretch in Pete’s guesthouse. He takes it upon himself to decorate the shack for Christmas every year “because it makes everyone happy”and he gave me his word that he’ll hold off on taking the tree down if I promise to return to the shack next weekend.


Feeding a stray calf, a much enjoyed activity at the beach


Truly, there’s something for everyone when spending a day at the beach in Goa. It’s a rare thing to be able to sit so close to the water under a charming shade and feast on a steady supply of food and drink, with eager staff at your beck and call.  This kind of decadence is not often seen in other parts of the world.  Interestingly, it is the restrictions in Goa that originally gave rise to the beach shacks. No permanent structures are allowed within 100 metres of the high-tide line, but the government allows a designated number of temporary structures (the shacks) within that perimeter.

It’s an automatic stress buster where gentle waves sound like a lullaby and the cool sea breeze is a respite from the heat. The shacks usually offer sun lounges where one can read, people watch or simply contemplate the meaning of life.  A party of four from the UK, who were in the late sixties age bracket, admitted that they had conducted an experiment regarding the firmness of the sun beds “else you’re going to end up with a nasty backache”.  Good point; they hit jackpot at Appis in Candolim years ago and have never strayed since.  But they also candidly stated that minus the shacks, Goa would be taken off their holiday list.

Of course it’s not only tourists who avail of the shacks. Here’s what one local resident had to say about spending the day at a shack:  “It makes us feel like we’re on holiday without the expense and trouble of travelling elsewhere!”  On the flip side, the great Goan singer Remo Fernandes dislikes going to the beach these days, “because of the commercial chaos – blaring music, large crowds and parking woes. It’s construction without control”.


Surfing is fast catching up with the beach shackers


And this brings us to the downside of the beach shack phenomenon in Goa. Indeed, in many places the infrastructure to support the estimated 700 shacks on private property and 347 shacks issued by the Tourism Department on public land simply does not exist. With the exception of the Calangute/Candolim stretch, where the Tourism Department has now arranged for the local village panchayats to collect garbage, garbage removal is an enormous problem. As is sewage. Last year at Arambol, tourists witnessed raw sewage bubbling up from the sand after a group of shacks decided to pipe their waste into a common area beneath the sand rather than install septic tanks, as required by law (very few shacks obey this law).

The shacks are a constant source of tension between environmentalists who see the coastline as an eco-sensitive zone and the many thousands of Goans who make their living from the shacks. The tension is particularly acute in the Morjim area, a renowned turtle nesting site, and though the number of shacks there has been curtailed in recent years, shack life remains robust (despite a mistaken beach survey that recently placed a number of Morjim shacks within the high-tide line, resulting in massive flooding).

Every year, a lottery is held to determine who gets licenses for the shacks on public land (this latest lottery gave three-year licenses), and the outcome of winners and losers inevitably entails heartbreak. One owner, who asked to remain anonymous, complained about how he had to ‘buy’ his license from another operator to stay open this season and this, after being in business since the early ‘90s.  “Some of the lucky ones got a 3-year license so they can plan ahead and renovate their spot”.  Sprucing up has been in the form of elevating the shack onto a platform so as to lay hard flooring, though I think that’s a pity because what’s the point of dining at a shack if you can’t curl your toes into the sand whilst munching on rawa fried mussels and chugging back a few beers.  One of the other disappointments is the banishment of the masseurs due to the fact that some of them operated prostitution rings.  A real pity, for the closest I’ve come to nirvana is while lying on the sand getting a foot massage.


One for the camera


Before I bid farewell, here are a few more shacks you might want to make a beeline for this season. Check out  Dunes in Mandrem, which has scrumptious prawn curry and a store selling beach apparel. While you’re in the area, try Paradise Shack in Ashwem which serves up food that’s better than most. Zeebop in Salcette that has a pristine and quiet beach, and Flying Dolphin in Calangute is a perennial favourite. I’m not sure either technically qualifies as a shack, but La Plage and Sublime in Ashvem are more upmarket  both in terms of décor and price but are definitely worth a visit. Dominck in Benaulim has been a favourite for decades.

All this talk of wining and dining with the sun, sand and sea as a soothing backdrop is causing goose bumps so, I’ve decided to pack my swimsuit and Frisbee and head on down to the nearest water body. I’ll see you there.