Goa, a small state on the west coast of India, is a popular destination for beach-lovers from all over the world. During the late 60s to around the mid-80s, it attracted beach-lovers of a very specific kind – those who wanted to experience the free-living hippie lifestyle.
Growing up in Goa during the early seventies to the mid-eighties was a wild time. The hippie culture was at its peak. This was the time of full moon rave parties, nudist beaches and flea markets where recreational drugs were bought, sold and smoked freely. It was a completely different era.
Who exactly were these hippies? Where did they come from and why Goa - a tiny coastal state that very few had even heard about at the time?
Full Moon Party Ajuna, Goa 1979
Most of the hippies in Goa were westerners looking to get rid of their frenetic pace of trying to compete in the rat race, and indulge in a lifestyle that allowed them to ‘just be’. And what better place to do this than on the beaches of Goa!
The hippie culture in Goa was mainly restricted to the beaches of North Goa – Calangute, Baga, Anjuna and Arpora. At that time, the beaches were pretty isolated – vast stretches of pristine beach with just a smattering of beach goers in sight. The sunshine, warm waters, friendly locals and affordable accommodation made for a heady combination – just what a hippie was looking for. Local residents rented out rooms in their home for a few dollars a day and even provided their guests with home cooked meals.
South Ajuna Beach, Goa 1976
It was a different era – No phones, no digital cameras, no internet. This lack of media intrusion allowed the hippies to live their lives as they pleased without getting heckled by curious observers. They came quietly and unnoticed, soaked in the sunshine till they ran out of money and then sold off their belongings hoping to make enough money to buy a ticket back home. Only the Goans living near the beaches were even aware about these foreigners and after a while, they just became part of the beach scene. Those of us, me included, who lived in the cities did not really know much about these hippies except for the odd article we’d read in the newspaper.
My introduction to the hippie lifestyle came about unexpectedly. A college friend whose father ran a hotel on Calangute Beach showed off his almost-new Olympus SLR and an Adidas haversack he bought off a hippie for less than $20. I was intrigued and decided to go take a look at what had now become a weekly affair – the Wednesday Flea Market. This was a place where those who were running out of funds sold their belongings for a few dollars. Some were trying to rustle up enough money to head back home, others were just looking to make an extra buck to buy some more week. If you looked around, you could find some great deals. I didn’t buy anything, but I was fascinated by the lifestyle.
Ajuna Flea Market, Goa 1970s
I found the whole scene fascinating and came back to the beaches several times just to talk these interesting people and hear about their experiences.
Their full-moon parties were memorable, with the locals and the hippies just chilling on the beach listening to the music. At one spot was a makeshift stage with live bands playing Bob Marley, Dire Straits, Pink Floyd and Bob Dylan. The hippies stood out from the locals in their clothing. Men in loose, colourful pyjama pants and a flimsy sleeveless vest. Women wore bikinis and maybe a sarong. You could tell the Goans apart because of their more restrained clothing. Maybe it was the warm weather or the beachy atmosphere but the hippies in Goa wore clothes more suited to the beach, unlike the floral shirts and bell-bottomed trousers that we usually associate with hippies in the western world.
At some point, some of the hippies decided they wanted even more freedom and one of the beaches along that stretch became a nudist beach where whole families of hippies roamed around without a stitch on. Unfortunately, that got them a whole lot of unwanted attention from Indian tourists from more conservative parts of India. It resulted in a lot of ugly scenes and the authorities were forced to step in and shut it down. The hippies reluctantly conceded and put their clothes back on.
Full Moon Party, Goa Mid 1970s
By the early 80s, Goa began to get wise to its huge tourism potential and large international hotel chains began taking over the hospitality scene. As tourism became more upmarket and expensive, it was not affordable anymore and the hippies slowly started packing up and leaving.
Till today there are colourful weekly flea markets held at various beaches of Goa. They give you a glimpse of what it was like during the hippie heydays, but for me they’ve lost their charm. They hold none of the fascination of the original flea markets and their unique vibe.
Author: Diana D'Souza