Idyllic but flawed would fairly sum up Goa’s reputation. On the one hand reliably perfect, warm weather when the rest of the northern hemisphere is in deep winter; on the other, a haven for crazy hedonists and party animals.
The latter has put off many potential tourists. However in the last 10 years Goa has seen a transformation. The weather is still the same — absolutely gorgeous, with lovely beaches and interesting markets — but the combination of legislation to restrict the most annoying parties and anti-social individuals, with an upsurge in the alternative health facilities, has seen Goa become a far more acceptable destination.
If you want to combine physical and mental well being with the Goa experience there is almost too much on offer, from yoga centres and retreats, to spas with everything from Thai massage to Ayurvedic treatments, as well as a wide variety of accommodation options from boutique hotels to basic beachside huts.
The new Goa — reclaimed for the ancient Indian arts of yoga and ayerveda, versus its former incarnation as a place for drug-crazed hippies — has been welcomed by tourists and locals alike. Taxi drivers and guest house owners infinitely prefer the new tourists for their honesty and conscientious habits — like going to bed early, and paying their bills.
Purple Valley Yoga Centre, in the north of Goa, is unique among yoga centres because it is run on Western lines by Westerners, meeting Westerners preference for certain foods, organic salads, filtered water and comfortable beds. But it is not a soft option: there are early morning yoga classes six days a week and afternoon workshops on four afternoons. It is also ideal for observant Jews because not only is Saturday the day off for yoga, but the food is strictly vegetarian. And it is not just nut roast and coleslaw — the menus are delicious and varied.
The level of experience was wide-ranging, from complete beginners (me) to those who have been doing it daily for 20 years. The objective of two weeks at Purple Valley is to instill the basics, so that students can take the right habits and knowledge back to their lives in the West.
Those who are experienced can develop further.For the record, the yogis were not all diehard hippies with long toenails and hairy armpits. They were an eclectic, international group of professional men and women and not a hairy armpit — at least not among the females.
Purple Valley would not suit those for whom a holiday means lying on a beach for two weeks, but it’s not too onerous either, with an infinity pool set in tropical gardens for relaxing between classes. The staff are always smiling and helpful, quietly ensuring Purple Valley runs smoothly and guests’ needs are always met.
The north of Goa — where Purple Valley is located — attracts an interesting selection of visitors: gap-year back-packers, retirees, Israelis seeking solace after military service, those in search of a spiritual path, the Russians, and a few hippies and druggies who haven’t heard about the “new” Goa.
Taxis in Goa are cheap and readily available, but for the brave scooters can be rented for around £1.50 a day. It’s a lot of fun but not for the faint-hearted. In Goa there is only one rule of the road: Keep your hand glued to the horn because the horn means “I am here”; “Get out of the way”; “I am about to overtake (even if it is on a blind bend)”; “I am coming up on the inside”; “You are going too slow”; “You are going too fast”; “Cows ahead”… In Goa, you drive without a horn at your peril.
For the shopaholics there are great markets. A must is the Saturday night market, which has wonderful food (if you are wary, stick to cooked food); crafts made by locals and hippies, and great live music.
The local market is on a Friday in Mapusa about 10 mins from Purple Valley, with fruit, cashew nuts, local spices, antique replicas, old coins and whatever the locals feel like bringing to sell. On Wednesday there is a bigger and more cosmopolitan market on Anjuna Beach. You will encounter some overzealous market traders but in the main the locals are laid-back, friendly and respectful. Glasses are also cheaper in Goa. They take a week from initial order and my varifocals cost £45.
There is so much to do and see that you need to be selective — especially if you are keen to have a real yoga experience. Some of my fellow guests at Purple Valley didn’t leave the retreat. They spent their days doing yoga, lounging by the pool and sampling the delights of the on-site Ayurvueda beauty and treatment centre. And who could blame them; you could have a full body massage, manicure, pedicure and eyebrow threading all for £22.