There’s a certain strange kind of magic in Arambol, one of the northernmost beaches in Goa, India. The first time I set foot on its sands I couldn’t wait to get away. This was the first place I’d been after spending nearly two months in the holy city of Rishikesh, studying yoga and philosophy and bathing in the Ganges river.
Arambol is not Rishikesh.
When I walked along the beach that first night with my travel mates, taking in the clash of music from the cafes and the lounge chairs strewn across the sand, it was hard not to just turn around and hole up in our shack for the night. Which, to be fair, we eventually did anyway. The next morning we beat a fast retreat, heading for the sleepy beaches of Gokarna, and I swore I’d never go back.
Fast forward a couple months and many emails between friends later. It was early morning as I stepped off a local bus and trundled to the nearest cafe for a cup of coffee and some internet. I had a contact from Rishikesh looking forward to my arrival. A place to stay, a person in the know, and a promise of a week or two, max, of Arambol before undoubtedly heading elsewhere.
Except, Arambol is a place that doesn’t let go easily. That first night, I think I escaped by the skin of my teeth. My second venture would not be so short lived.
My friend took me back to the room we’d be sharing so I could get settled. Like many rooms in India it consisted of a thinly mattressed bed, tile floors and little else. Just my style. I grabbed a shower while he cleaned, sweeping the floor from a squatting position with a thatch brush. It was a vision of him that stuck in my mind, this young Himalayan mountain boy in Goa for his first time, the voice of his mother still loud and clear in his ears, making sure he keeps things tidy. So far, I thought, Arambol is okay.
That night, when the techno music started in the bar across the street, then the cafe down the street, then the Israeli party pad catty corner to our building, I realized I might have bitten off more than I could chew, but it was too late. I was hooked.
I spent part of that night on the rooftop overlooking one of the main drags, very close to the beach entrance. Directly below my perch point was the Om Ganesh grocery store, a perfect spot to grab booze, smokes and snacks at any time, day or night. I cannot think of a better place to people watch. Russian women dolled up in heels and bustiers, vacationing Indians with a little too much to drink, hippy kids with dirty feet and straw hats they made themselves, they all made an appearance. The streets of Arambol are rarely quiet, and never boring.
For those who want big parties, Vagator Beach is a better bet. However, I wasn’t into great crowds of kids hopped up on Molly. What intrigued me was what I could find in Arambol itself. It’s a very small town, when you get right down to it. Everyone knows someone, who knows someone, who knows you. And everyone’s got an opinion about everything. Sure, the option exists to stay insular if you’re traveling with a group, but I find no joy in that. Rather, I wanted to get out, experience, explore.
I attended my first sweat lodge in Arambol. It wasn’t life changing, by any means, and my more recent experiences with this type of medicine have been a lot more edifying. But where else can you find a white guy from Arizona, his Goan fire tender, and a group of people from all over the world gathering together in the backyard of a cafe to sweat and sing and pray?
Arambol introduced me to the philosophies and followers of Osho, an Indian mystic with a rather controversial approach to spirituality. One of the cafes hosts a series of Awareness Understanding Meditations (AUM). Essentially, there are about a dozen steps to this meditation. In each stage you fully embody a particular emotion/state of being. Sadness, anger, forgiveness, sensuality. Part of that embodiment is expression; participants roam the room, and when they make eye contact with another participant that expression is engaged. Anger: you scream at one another. Forgiveness: hold each other’s hands, apologize, hug. Sensuality: a solo or partnered dance steeped in your sexiest output. It’s extreme, draining, often uncomfortable. And for days after I had people telling me I looked years younger. Yet I could never quite bring myself to go back, it was so intense.
On Christmas Eve I danced onstage with Anna RF during a blackout at one of the biggest cafes in Arambol. It was just me up there, until the band moved their instruments from the larger stage to my smaller stage, and we rocked out until the lights came back.
I fell in love. I fell out of love. I had my heart and my ego bruised, and I’m pretty sure I did some bruising of my own. And every day, every single day, I woke up thinking This is the day I leave Arambol.
Written by Sarah Hirsch, edited by Bethany Naylor