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Palolem Beach, Goa
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Palolem Beach, Goa: A Monsoon Experience
Satu Susanna Rommi

An old Indian man practices moonwalk in the water and a lazy cow wanders along the beach trying to steal food from the restaurants as she moves along. A handful of travelers sunbathe on the crescent–shaped beach and a few more adventurous holidaymakers have ventured into the ocean despite of the strong waves and the darkening skies. Some travelers have retired to the safety of the cozy beach restaurant for cold drinks and platefuls of fresh seafood in anticipation of the approaching tropical rain shower. Palolem Beach in Goa attracts crowds of visitors even during the rainy season.

I first visited Palolem Beach in India’s tropical South Goa during a three-month backpacker trip around South India in 1999. Back then there were few hotels in Palolem, and most travelers stayed in simple bamboo huts on the beach. A few basic beach restaurants served a mix of Indian food and Western backpacker favorites for hungry travelers, and although there were some shops around that sold cheap traveler fashion from colorful tie–dye shirts and scarves to fisherman pants, Palolem was one of the quietest beaches I had ever seen.

When I returned to Palolem nearly ten years later, I found a beach that only vaguely resembled the quiet and simple backpacker hangout I remembered from my first trip to India in 1999. The amount of bamboo huts on the beach had multiplied, and clusters of bamboo dwellings extended along the beach and its surroundings. There were so many new restaurants on the beach that it was sometimes difficult to find a spot of sand between them, and the beach itself was filled with international tourists, local and foreign families, Indian visitors on a daytrip to the beach and persistent salesmen and –women carrying baskets full of fruit, clothes and souvenirs. The once quiet roads leading to the beach were now lined with new shops that sold imported bikinis, fake designer sunglasses, souvenirs and party clothes. There were countless new guesthouses and hotels everywhere and many of them had facilities that were unheard of in 1999, from air–conditioning to televisions. Palolem had grown from a quiet backpacker beach into a buzzing international tourist resort.

Palolem Beach is the beach in Goa, South India, that Matt Damon as Jason Bourne ran along in the famous scene at the beginning of his 2004 hit film Bourne Supremacy. Despite the massive growth in tourism, this crescent–shaped beach remains to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Goa and despite the influx of tourists, a beach holiday in Palolem can still be very affordable. During the low season it is possible to find basic bamboo huts with beach views for a few dollars a night, if one is willing to share toilets and bathrooms with other travelers and sleep on the floor. For a few more dollars I have found simple but clean rooms in local guesthouses just a few minutes’ walk from the beach. There are also several comfortable resorts in Palolem and even some luxury hotels have sprung up in the area. Palolem’s beach shacks serve seafood, Indian cuisine and imitations of Western food from pizza to pasta, but there is also a great authentic Italian pizzeria in Palolem. Beauty parlors, massage clinics and yoga schools have appeared in Palolem and yoga holidays are growing in popularity. Families like Palolem, as the low water and lack of waves here make swimming relatively safe, and the growth in accommodation options attracts new groups of visitors including those who prefer their Indian beach holiday with a little bit of luxury.

Many guesthouses and restaurants in Palolem stay open throughout the year, even during the rainy season between June and September. It is the later part of the monsoon season, around August and September, that has become a popular time to visit Palolem amongst those travelers who want to avoid the high–season crowds and who don’t mind a little bit of rain if it means cheap accommodation and food.

And this is why I have ended up in Palolem in the middle of the Indian monsoon season. The famous bamboo huts have been dismantled for the rainy months, but I have found a comfortable room in a local guesthouse for around four dollars a night. Some of the beach restaurants have stayed open for monsoon travelers and a waiter in one of them tells me that rainy season prices in Palolem’s restaurants and local guesthouses can be less than a third from the peak–season rates they charge around Christmas and New Year. It does rain sometimes, and when it rains it can easily pour down for hours, but there are also sunny days that are perfect for sunbathing and swimming, and the climate never gets unbearably hot. When it rains, the quiet beachside restaurants are great places to sit down and drink coffee, read a book, talk to other travelers or just to stare at the sea. It is during these rainy weeks that Palolem most resembles the quiet backpacker beach that I first saw in 1999, before it was discovered.

But despite the growth in international tourism, Palolem’s palm–fringed half–moon shaped beach is still much quieter than many of Goa’s beaches. Package holidays to Palolem are arranged by travel agents around the world but independent travelers can get to Palolem easily by train or bus from other parts of Goa and from cities around South India. Goa’s international airport is in Vasco da Gama and taxes and buses are available from the airport to destinations around South Goa. The nearest train station to Palolem is Chaudi (Canacona) on the Konkan Railway, and Chaudi also has a bus station for bus services around the local area. The nearby town of Margao, an hour’s bus trip away from Palolem, has more long–distance bus connections.

The best way to find cheap accommodation in Palolem is simply to turn up and have a look around the bamboo huts and the local guesthouses, although during the very busy Christmas and New Year season it is best to book in advance or arrive as early as possible in the season as rooms fill up fast during the high season and prices are raised accordingly.






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