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

Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
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
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Trainer / PT - OTE £30,000 Uncapped

    £25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The fastest growing fitness cha...

    Investigo: Finance Analyst

    £240 - £275 per day: Investigo: Support the global business through in-depth a...

    Ashdown Group: Data Manager - £Market Rate

    Negotiable: Ashdown Group: Data Manager - MySQL, Shell Scripts, Java, VB Scrip...

    Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - Bedfordshire/Cambs border - £32k

    £27000 - £32000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Application Support Analyst - near S...

    Day In a Page

    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all