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Monday, February 22, 2010

Shiva Valley

Soon after parking the bike, we were suctioned into a psychedelic tractor beam. Like moths to a flame, hundreds of us are drawn to the distant bass that echoed through the sultry night air. The trek to Anjuna Base Camp from the foothills of the car park is gruelling. The first beach lights are now visible on the horizon - the pace quickens. I glance around at those gleefully striding around me; so many have made the pilgrimage. A stream of bass hungry youth from all corners of our beautiful planet flows quietly through the solitary street. Some of the houses on either side look on disapprovingly. Tonight is New Years Eve: they’d be silly not to expect it.

I love hearing all the different languages and accents. Who says no one goes to Goa anymore? Those who hate it, those who find it too loud and too noisy do the right thing by not coming. Italians and Germans and Russians and Bombayites and Bangalorites and neo-hippies all follow their ears; their state of frenzy increases with the anticipation of what nears. Glimmers of flashing neon round each bend of the dark, windy path show us the way. We are but mice on this dusty Goan back-road, skipping along to the piper’s tune, oblivious to the plunge we’ll soon be taking. Dull thuds turn into sharp notes that pierce the humid darkness. Sounds of laughter and trance dance now make themselves known. They’d be hidden beneath the soft rustling of palm trees and moon kissed sea breeze.

We emerge out of the densely palm tree lined street into moonlight and the beach and the Goa I came for. The twin trance shacks on Anjuna Beach throb away relentlessly. Waves of water from the West and sound from East pound at the beach they bathe on. The sea-facing fence at Curlies has been broken down by drunken Indian men, who want to be part of this paradoxically exclusive experience but who do not tick the boxes. They are soaked in Cashew liquor and sea water, their eyes are wild and their dance is wrong. Their dance is Indian. For them, this is simply another party they are not good enough for. It is the wrong kind of dance.

Quick to respond to the changing market, a 500 rupee tariff is now levied upon all those who wish to enter the drumming disco delirium. This fiscal policy is met with outrage from the drunks and locals. It is a protectionist sieve through which we slink. It is an unfortunate but sadly necessary cost we are willing to pay. Sigh, it’s become yet another club with yet another bouncer outside. It doesn’t have to be like this.

The crude steps carved out of sheer rock are a bit tricky to navigate in the artificial twilight. But we reach the warm, soft sand soon enough. All around, people move to the music, eyes closed, spirits soaring. Curlies is rocking, but not for long. High pitched squeals from the beach! The drunks have broken through the line and pour through in great numbers. The fort has been breached. We retreat to the safety of the next shack along Anjuna beach, Shiva Valley. It is similar to Curlies, but the music is darker. One is still wished a Happy New Year every 5 minutes, but the crowd here have blood shot eyes. We take the high ground, the steps that connect the dance floor to the beach. In the distance, we see Curlies conquered. The drunks occupy themselves by harassing the foreigners; prisoners of war. It’s India, accept it. Enjoy the bass.

What sound it is. It prods at every sinew of every limb, inducing movement. Like others around me, I am helpless – completely at the mercy of some nondescript DJ. He manipulates us mortals like some sick puppeteer. The speakers are the colossal black pillars that hold this temple up. They spit forth the soft, sped-up guitar riffs that whir in the background, that make Goa Trance what it is. The riffs are unmistakable; without them, the sound would be generic electronic music. It is the background riff that catalyses it all. It is the glue that holds together the squeaks and squawks and thuds and. The kick drum is faster than that of house music but slower than jump style and other European techno off-shoots. It is the background melodies that give the songs their speed. Voice samples laced over soft rumbling tones provide periods of respite. These periods of relative quiet are the ladders that the aforementioned drum climbs up and down. The DJ uses them to talk to the crowd, luring them into a sense of calm before once again sending hundreds into limb-flinging trance. He isn’t one of those pretentious ‘one hand on the headphones, one hand on the decks’ DJs – he wasn’t pretending like he was mixing a live set. He was just a happy Jewish bloke playing some dark, dark psytrance.

Above us, light-sabre duels rage on, synched perfectly to the rhythm of the speakers. The lights glance off the murals on the walls, making for a kaleidoscopic spectacle. If only you could see the red-green lasers paint and repaint the Hindu art that night, you’d be as mesmerised as I was. The decoration was half the battle won – draped along the sides and back of the shack were fantastic tie-die murals depicting various Gods. I think this was a Goa party; it attacked every sense from every angle.

But step out of the shack and ankle deep into the lukewarm water and the atmosphere is very different. The music is further away so you’re once again in control of your body. One’s eyes are given a break from the Star Wars disco lights. It’s only from the beach that you can truly appreciate the beauty of a full moon and the pristine silver light is playfully exchanges with Arabian Sea. The haphazardly organised fireworks offer yet more colours that challenge the vast, black sky.

Lying back on the sand, in a circle with the friends I came here with, I have found, as my mum says, ‘my coordinates in the universe’. It is a dream you never quite wake up from.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Gosta Green

The snow that crunches underfoot is winter's parting shot. It isn't daunting mountain snow, it is crisp, polite English snow that folds away gently beneath you. The transparent blizzard that cuts away at my exposed face and manages to creep past the defences of my scarf, makes me - for a split second - hate my second favourite country in the world. Like a hoard of gloating frost-demons, the wind dances and pounces and howls about my ears. But Gosta provides refuge for weary youth; shelter from the wind and the rain and coursework. There is an unmistakable warmth that greets you as soon as you close the door behind you, that unique blend of carefree conversation and warm air purring as lager caresses it.

My university doesn't really have a campus. All the rooms are contained in one gigantic, Soviet style building. It's like a palace that a colour-blind Inland Revenue accountant would have built. The halls of residence aren't much to look at either. The lake is a puddle and the library is about as inspiring as yoghurt.

But walk past all that, just for a minute or so, and feast your eyes on my favourite part of England. Gosta is so much more than a pub. I feel like I'm insulting it when I class it as merely another watering hole for procrastinating students. The Pub is an idea that is celebrated in England - and I celebrate with them.

All over the world, bar owners have tried to rebuild the atmosphere in a British pub. It needs to be experienced first hand though. 'Tuesday night, when the footy is on' is something that needs to be experienced. The lighting is perfect: no squinting needed here - shades of red-orange lap at strangers faces and provide just the right contrast to the deep green of floodlit football pitch on the projector screen. When the cheesy music (which everyone loves deep down) is switched off and the commentary and surround sound of the stadium flicker into life and you take a sip of crappy cold beer and exhale in satisfaction anyway, you will know what I'm on about.

I love England.