So here I am in Goa looking for the counter culture.
A famed hippy retreat in the sixties – has it retained the mystic steam or succumbed to mass tourism and the bric n brac of mdern culture?
Goa is melting in the mid day sun and yet the crazy tourists are still lying laying naked on the beach – skin and brains frying. I’m sat there wondering where the freaks went and if the counter culture has been totally chewed up by the mainstream and that most time honoured of the capitalism’s tricks – selling the revolution back to the revolutionaries has swallowed up a culture whole.
A picture postcard paradise by the sea, Goa is now a package holiday tourist destination and a long way from the hippy haven of the sixties. The veneer of the counter culture does remain and deeper into India their own tradional culture remains untarnished by the last days of the money makers.
The hippies are still here, grizzled veterans of the culture wars who drifted here in the late sixties on the so called hippy trail. Back then the long hairs were escaping the damp conformity of the UK and derailing themselves from the starched monochromatic lives of their elders towards the sunshine of Ibiza, Morocco and then India for the heat and eastern attitudes and the drugs and wearing of a lot less clothes, which is a good thing.
Fascinated by the culture of the Indian sub continent that had hit the pop mainstream after George Harrison exposed pop to the possibilities he heard and saw in the ancient culture of India.
When the Beatles went to Rishikesh in north India in the early months of 1968 they were creating a two way flow of ideas that heavily affected both cultures in the last few decades. India got western pop culture and the west got a whole confusing rush of eastern ideas from Yoga to Buddhism to those Indian prints to Buddha statues in trendy flats. Indian religion, that most ancient of traditions, had ideas that seemed so in tune with then hipsters. Their gods looked like psychedelic overlords and no one tripping on acid could come up with images this colourful and wild. The religion promoted vegetarianism and seemed a long way from the stuffy god stuff at school. There we also smaller religions like Buddhism that could easily be adopted by anti capitalism Westerners who now had old philosophies to back up their ideals.
And that’s not even getting to Jains, another old religion, who took things another step further and whose monks would wear masks to prevent them from breathing in and killing microbes. The Jains respect all life and believe everything has a soul and they live on a pure vegetarian diet, they also believe that there is no black and white side in an argument- just different shades of opinion. This seemed the perfect religion for the freaks, some sects of Jains even walked around naked or skyclad as they called it but somehow the hippies never went there and it was another India that was absorbed into the freaks version as they picked parts of the rush of ideas of India that was thrown at them.
It was a picture postcard of a very different culture and one with conservative traits that made little or no sense to the free thinking westeners who preferred to edit those bits out. The long haired hippies with their straggly beards were quickly fascinated by the Saddhus or the holy men who lived off alms and drifted around Indian in bare feet, smoking hash and seeing god in everything, wow! The hippies must have thought here’s someone validating our lifestyle and off the went to India seeking out their brethren.
With the then super modern pop culture almost seeking validation in something so ancient they swiftly embraced it. Indian religion is the oldest in the world. Hinduism is fascinating and colourful and almost like going to Egypt if they still worshiped the gods of the Pharoahs. How often do you get a portal that far into the past?
Western pop culture had already done the Indian thing. Allen Ginsberg had been out here and Jack Kerouac had been interested in it but the Beatles were right at the centre of pop culture and what they sang about was being listened to by a whole generation. The hippies fell in love with the idea of India and were on their way.
They ended up in Goa where there were not many holy men but idyllic beaches and peaceful coves save for the fishermen who stared at the naked hippies and their all night parties and love of psychedelic music and strange drugs. They had never seen white man go so crazy apart from in the colonial days when a few of the Brits ‘went native’ . Their more conservative culture had never seen anything like it and they smiled at themselves as the crazies came. It had barely been a decade since they had finally kicked the Portuguese colonial masters out of their state in 1961 and here were their European neighbours arriving in another, much friendlier invasion.
The UK had been thrown out a decade earlier but it’s love affair with India continued untouched. India was the cornerstone of the the British empire and the colonial masters must have sometimes pinched themselves with shock when they recalled how they managed to hold such a massive place down. Indian culture had been exported back to the UK and there are 19th century reports of yoga masters coming to their masters damp home island and people being equally enthralled and fascinated by what they could do.
In Ravi Shankar’s autobiography he talks of his pre sitar playing days on the road as a dancer across Europe and how the Indians always loved being in Germany where the people seemed genuinely fascinated by their culture but it was in the UK and via George Harrison and the Beatles that Shankar would achieve mainstream popularity and England for so long was the portal with which India could escape into the world.
In the 21st st century India is on the way to becoming a super power whilst the UK is crippled by debt, now the UK government pleads with India for help and support, the are are improbable times.
And in Goa the tourists still come. The are less each year, even the cheap package holidays have been hit by the reason but the Brits can’t resist a lager toasted, blotchy, red suntan. The counter culture still turn out here, some of the villages are so full of hippy head shops that they can look like Glastonbury on a rare sunny afternoon. The freaks still hang out here but the beach parties, the famed moonlight parties of house and rave are over after a government clampdown. Goa trance that most psychotropic of dance musics is still played in the bars eloping magical enveloping of a whole bay is over for now. The soundtrack to Generation E had revived the hippy’s Goa dream arriving twenty years after those first all night parties and for a decade had been the destination of those wild eyed long hairs you still see at festivals.
The counter culture still exists here in bars and in the host of yoga and freak medicine stalls you see dotted around the coastal enclaves, Reiki is normal and buying crystals and magic stones and glowing techno outfits seems more normal than strange. There are characters like Johny Chocolate, an ex punk from the UK who eats only raw Chocolate and produces the stuff, that’s the measure of the place, the freaks may have grown up but they never went away and there are are still the old hippies now touching 70 who really did beat the system and escape to this life forever.
India is such an old culture that all this somehow makes sense and is soaked up into he endless sunshine and waving palms. Afterall eternal means never panicking.