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Ways of Seeing: Goa through different eyes

Matt Damon got to see Goa long before I did. Through most of my adult life, my friends have been consistently surprised that I had never been to Goa. Whenever the topic of Goa came up, there would be these nods of appreciation, wistful looks and even the city-slickest of my friends would say something like: “It’s not Ibiza or even Santorini. And it’s not Kuai. It’s just (long silence) more.” Voices would trail off. Silence. And there would be this shared bond that I could not seem to break into. How special could this place be!!

I finally got there a couple of years ago. And then went back in a hurry. And I got it. Goa is so many things to so many people and it is different at each life stage. Trying to put Goa into a bottle…I asked our team to study Goa.

We studied 300,000 images and conversations taking place in Goa, by tourists. These were further split in gender and nationality of the tourist. Our intention was to see how Goa is represented, and therefore how it is imagined, by the visitors.

Untouched and undiscovered Goa

For some international tourists, the appeal of Goa is that it allows them to become explorers — Travellers seeking out the ‘untainted’ can assume the role of adventurer stumbling into a quiet, undiscovered oasis amidst the buzz of the rest of the state.

Retail establishments play up the appeal of the road less travelled by attempting to de-index themselves from search engines and shun publicity. The consequent creation of an unmapped identity invites ‘discovery’ from the explorer tourist.

The Good Ol’ Days Goa

Others see Goa as the place to disconnect from the trials and tribulations of the 21st century.

As life in their urban cities in the West gets too much to handle, Goa provides these individuals with an escape from modernity and a glimpse of a bygone simpler time. Where fish were caught from the sea, cows roamed the streets, and people slept during the day.

Across beaches, we observed that a key tourist experience is that of “tuning out” and isolating themselves from the world, disconnecting from the noise and rediscovering hidden parts of themselves.

Goa as an Alternate Reality

For a range of international tourists — both the 19-year old gap year girl and the middle-aged corporate dude suffering from a particularly bad dose of mid life crisis, Goa offers escape from life as they know it.

These travellers see a Hippie Goa — think of tribal fashion, drum circles, pagan rituals and of course, psychedelia.

Hippie Goa can be seen by all tourists: found on the streets and beaches, from hula hoops, to trinkets, to actual wandering hippies, even those not participating in this universe, can see it as they walk down the street.

Goa as the Exotic East

Goa is the mysterious Oriental to other international tourists. Whether it’s getting henna done or appreciating religious artefacts, these experiences package the East for Western tourists in a highly accessible manner.

These tourists engage in select experiences of eastern spirituality, such as yoga and meditation across beaches in Goa (a huge part of their exotic experience).

Goa is where young Indians come of age.

Turning to local tourists, a group trip to Goa is a key chapter in a young Indian’s bildungsroman.

Many young men and women in India visit Goa when they are in school or college. Goa is the go-to place for large group holidays to celebrate special events such as graduations.

For the men, Goa satiates their appetite for thrill. Many seek out novel adrenaline-filled experiences such as jet skiing and paragliding.

For the young women, Goa offers escapism. Goa offers a brief respite from the pressures and expectations of their everyday lives. Within the safe space of a trip to Goa, temporary tattoos, public displays of skin, drinking and intimacy can occur.

Interestingly, while engaging in these liberating activities, these women also index their anonymity through wearing sunglasses and opting for silhouette photographs.

I am in love with Goa because sometimes it reminds me of a time gone by. But mostly, I am consistently surprised by walking miles on a beach and see nothing and nobody except the waves. At the time of going to press, my friends (those same Goa snobs) are being persuaded by me to build a house there. Come visit!

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