Susan Marling's Traveller's Checks

No disaster here, but Goa's buildings are under threat

A journey to India is always bittersweet. Hardship casts a long shadow, even on the beautiful beaches of prosperous Goa - especially in the aftermath of the earthquake in Gujarat, 800 miles north of here. The papers are full of recriminations, of lessons not learnt, of warnings and building regulations ignored.

A journey to India is always bittersweet. Hardship casts a long shadow, even on the beautiful beaches of prosperous Goa - especially in the aftermath of the earthquake in Gujarat, 800 miles north of here. The papers are full of recriminations, of lessons not learnt, of warnings and building regulations ignored.

Curiously, here in Goa it is buildings which are central to the tourism debate - which ones to encourage, which to knock down. The government has been keen to welcome five-star resorts to south Goa which, unlike the north, has escaped the rash of hotels built to accommodate the cheaper end of the package holiday market and the influx of winter migrant ravers from Ibiza. The Leela Palace is by far the grandest, and the Taj Exotica the most recent, of these well-manicured, impressively marbled retreats. But they, and many of the other big hotels, have not made themselves popular with some local people - not least because of their efforts to close down, bulldoze or otherwise force out of business that essential component of a Goan holiday - the beach shack.

"Shack" is perhaps too derogatory a word. These are beach cafés, made simply from a frame of wood thatched with palm, with a few tables and chairs set in the sand. They serve anything from English breakfast in the morning to Goan lobster (with fireworks) at night. When the season ends in April and the monsoon begins, shacks are dismantled as though they had never been. The popularity of the shacks (whose loyal European guests are treated to a family welcome each time they return) is a thorn in the hoteliers' side. Sebe d'Souza, chairman of the Shack Owners' Association, who runs his own Boat Shack on Candolim beach told me that bully-boy tactics have been used. The government had tried to ban shacks completely and had now settled instead on a Byzantine lottery system for issuing licences. The hotels, meanwhile, try to sign up their guests to half- or full-board to keep them on site, a ruse which "only ever works with first-time guests", according to Mr D'Souza.

The official concern for the welfare of tourists on the beaches has led, this last week, to the delivery of 40 new chemical toilets intended for service along the coast. One of these bright pink sentry boxes now stands behind Mr D'Souza's shack and, in theory, he is in charge of it. It has arrived with a very fat instruction manual but no door key. The question of replacement chemicals and maintenance is also unresolved.

The buildings most at risk in Goa are the colonial-style mansions that were the homes of Goan officials and retainers employed by the Portuguese. With their owners cut off from an income after the Portuguese colonists left in 1961, the houses have, with a few exceptions, been left to deteriorate, or have been abandoned to squatters. The houses are immensely handsome with steep-pitched roofs sloping down to form deep verandahs and sitting porches. The rooms are cool and lofty, built around a courtyard garden and with shuttered windows that are often glazed with oyster shell rather than glass. Antiques and sepia photographs scattered through some houses give a glimpse of former grandeur.

Unlike the Portuguese-built churches here, which are supported by a Catholic foundation, no protection is offered to these buildings. Restoring them would be a difficult but worthwhile job for a charitable organisation such as The Landmark Trust. Rather than see the houses turn to dust, why not renovate and run them as guest houses for the Panama hat-wearing tourist with a taste for nostalgia?

The worst tourist blight in Goa is people who don't use buildings at all. I've just been to the beach at Agonda, an idyllic boulder-strewn sandy bay famous for turtles and tall palms. Parked under the trees were a dozen or so "traveller" vehicles - huge, overland trucks hung with fuel tanks and dirt bikes and decorated, often enough, with maps of the journey so far. Terrific adventure, you may think. But talking to John Fernandez, who runs the Carferns beach restaurant and a few rooms (£3 a night with fan and shower) behind the beach, it's another story. These travellers, mostly from Germany and Holland, pay nothing to park, and obscure the view from Mr Fernandez's place. Sometimes they stay for a month. They buy supplies in the market at rock-bottom prices, cook for themselves, and contribute nothing to the local scene except human waste dumped in the bushes. No doubt these people will go home and congratulate themselves for having "done" India and making the trip last six months. This is not green travel. It is mean travel.

s.marling@independent.co.uk

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
news
Life & Style
tech
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Arts & Entertainment
film
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    NGO and Community Development in Cambodia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: There are many small development projects in ...

    Sports coaching volunteer jobs

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Kaya Responsible Travel offer a variety of sp...

    Turtle Nesting and Coral Reef Conservation in Borneo

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: Volunteer with Kaya in Borneo and work on a p...

    Elephant research project in Namibia

    Unpaid: Kaya Responsible Travel: If you have a passion for elephants and want ...

    Day In a Page

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

    Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

    As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
    Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

    Mad Men returns for a final fling

    The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

    Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

    Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

    Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

    Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

    Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

    Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
    Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

    Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

    The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
    A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

    A History of the First World War in 100 moments

    A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
    Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

    Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

    The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
    Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

    Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

    This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
    Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

    Education: Secret of Taunton's success

    Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
    10 best smartphones

    10 best smartphones

    With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

    The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
    Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

    Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
    The pain of IVF

    The pain of IVF

    As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal