Palolem is arguably India’s most paradisical beach. I’d never really given much thought to what ‘paradise’ would look like before, so I am easily convinced that kilometres of soft white sand, turquoise seas and walls of Palm trees, is what paradise ought to look like.
It certainly felt like paradise, after traversing across an entire country (never doubt the logic of our route) and the craziness of the north. The place was tourist central, and it wasn’t even peak season yet, but I loved every second of our week long routine of lounging on the beach, eating and then going to sleep.
Palolem beach is curved in a crescent shape and is guarded at both ends by rolling hills, that in addition to the walls of palm trees, make the beach feel all the more secluded and safe, in short; make you never want to leave and face the world again.
But face it you shall, in some warped holiday-makers sense. There wasn’t so much a travellers community here (travellers meaning smelly twenty-something’s with huge rucksacks trying to find themselves) but a holiday-makers, and dare I say family oriented scene. Before now the thought of bringing a small child to India on holiday made my blood run cold, but there were youngsters in their droves out building sandcastles on the beach (lucky babies). There were bars and truly fantastic restaurants, but the prices of these were all reflected in the fact that holiday makers have exponentially more to spend than us. However, I still managed to make the most of the speciality seafood restaurants and saved up for my first ever crab (complete with shell), which far from being the civilised affair I had envisioned, culminated in tearing a crab apart with my bare, masala covered hands.
The high prices drove us to the backstreets and in search of street food. The search led us to one of the oldest relics of palolem, before the tourist boom – and that is Maria and Michael’s. Part fantastic traditional Indian chef, part bitter old woman – Maria didn’t waste a second moaning about how high rent was and what a good deal we were getting for our food, even charging us for extras we didn’t order, whilst her husband humbly swept up after her, quietly majestic. You could see this as annoying and repellant behaviour at first, screeching “COME EAT HERE” at every person who passes is far from ideal hosting, but you can’t help but soften and want to shake your fist in anger at the way tourism has crippled traditional businesses. Squeezed between developments and new restaurants, Maria and Michael’s tiny ram shackle street store has weathered 30 years of continual price hikes and increasing traffic in the area – which has unfortunately resulted in the charismatic couple having to pack up and leave palolem, as they simply can’t afford the keep the business running. Seeing their plight makes it hard to begrudge their frugal ways, and we found ourselves returning there every day to hear the same old soliloquy on the price of eggs, and how you couldn’t get this quality of cooking anywhere else.
With or without the scolding of Maria, Palolem is the most beautiful beach I have ever been on, and the multi coloured beach shacks that line it, although unnatural, are incredibly picturesque. They provide the perfect place to watch the sun set, and the sky slowly change from blue to pink – to match the European tourists skin.
Is palolem a paradise lost? No, not even the ugly face of tourism can spoil the beauty of this place.