Buy, binge & bask in Goa

To know the flavour of Goa, take a stroll through its famous flea markets that offer the best for bargain hunters, writes Gajanan Khergamker

If there’s anything that is synonymous with Goa, it has to be the flea market that guarantees the adrenalin rush for shoppers, both domestic and foreign. It’s of little wonder then that India’s smallest state has flea markets mushrooming throughout the week and at dusk, all night long and at midnight too, for effect.

So, for tourists, on a Saturday, it’ll have to be a trip to Arpora, an inland village flanked on both sides by the enigmatic Anjuna and Baga beaches, guaranteeing a once-in-a-lifetime experience. The otherwise small stretch, a conduit for travellers hurtling down their rented two-wheelers looking for ‘world-renowned’ beaches and Portuguese bungalows to double up as ‘homes’ for that quiet vacation, transforms on Saturdays into a paradise for shoppers.

Expansive

There’s a parking lot of the size of a football field, a maddening flurry of rental cars and bikes lining their way in and out of the big maze of parked vehicles; multiple entry points to the market area guarded by security personnel checking baggage and frisking visitors with metal detectors and the works. The gates to the market are lined with small stalls of ice-cream, Bombay chaat, sugarcane juice and other fast-food items. The Arpora night market provides work to hundreds from all over making a beeline for Goa during the season — December and January. Amidst the chatter of children and reveller tourists surging into the market area are the thumping beats of music being played ‘live’ in a performance zone in the market.

Part-time female bouncer, Haseena Shaikh, who is a tailor by profession during the day, came to Goa from West Bengal with her aunt three years back and works for a security agency at the Arpora market by night. “In this maze, it’s easy to get lost or lose something. So often, we find ourselves holding onto lost children or luggage till someone comes over to claim ownership,” she says.

There’s a seamless array of stalls selling every item you can think of buying. Stall-owners arrive at the site early in the morning with their wares packed and in tempos that transport them on the morning of the big night. And, through the day they set up shops, arranging every item, carefully and nimbly on the shelves, hangers and ropes scattered around the stall. By evening, when the shops are ready, shopkeepers take a final breather before gearing up for the steady trickle of visitors that starts to culminate into a sea of visitors by night.

Source of livelihood

Like all other flea markets of Goa, Arpora, too has members of the Banjara and Waghri communities selling wares. They converge from all across Goa for the Arpora Saturday night market in the hope of a better sale and decent earning. “There are easily 2,000 to 3,000 Waghris in Arpora at the Saturday night market. They wait every week for this one day when people come specifically to buy unique items,” says Lata Ugreja, a Waghri selling scarves on the move at the flea market.

Arpora Flea Market has items ranging from spices, exotic varieties of tea, junk jewellery, handicrafts, hammocks, clothes, trinkets, wooden, metal artefacts, stones and landscape pebbles and other knick-knack items. Foreigners and domestic tourists mark their days for this event. The other big draw for shopaholics in Goa, during the season, is the Anjuna Flea Market that comes up on Wednesdays from 9 am to 6 pm. During this period, small shops mushroom along a long stretch of road just before Anjuna beach. Banjaras sell items of daily use, beach wear, jewellery, spices, artefacts, hammocks, etc. And, despite the scorching heat, thousands of tourists, mainly foreigners arrive in large groups. The excitement is evident on their faces despite the heat and dust flying around from the flurry of bikes hurtling in and out of the zone. The larger groups of tourists, particularly Russians and British, arrive in tourist buses and taxis as part of their tour packages.

Shivaji Rathod, a Banjara from Hubli in Karnataka has been setting up shop here for more than six years now. He can speak fluent English, Russian and Konkani to understand and talk to tourists, mainly foreigners and few locals. His father had migrated from Karnataka about 15 years ago and started work in Goa. Shivaji has other shops in Baga and makes it a point to come to this market every Wednesday.

Many communities, an integral part of these markets, are no ‘outsiders’ in Goa. Why, a lot of them have been born in Goa itself as their parents or grandparents came to Goa decades ago, some even before Goa was annexed to India from the Portuguese. The other famous market that draws people from all across is the Calangute Market, particularly the Tibetan Handicrafts and Jewellery Market — a few metres before the popular Calangute Beach, that is set up throughout the week during the ‘season’. While the beach zone has shops that sell clothes, hats, footwear and tattoo salons, the Tibetan Market is famous for jewellery, particularly silver and stones of all types, Tibetan handicrafts and recycled handmade paper.

Regulars at the fair

Mussoorie-based Tibetan siblings, Dorjee Bhotia and his sister Dawa lamo Bhotia have been coming to Calangute during the ‘season’ from November through April for several years now. After the season ends in Goa, they take a month-long break in their home town of Mussoorie and then head out to Ladakh for the next 4-5 months where they sell antiques. “Both our parents came to India from Tibet when the refugee crisis hit the country decades ago. We were born in India and now this is our home.”

Arambol, the Bohemian beach town in North Goa, where the world’s most creative are known to converge to eat, drink and sing together, has a market where foreigners ‘set up shop’ on the beach selling exotic wares, jewellery, trinkets, glass pipes, handmade even ‘refurbished’ clothes and swimwear in evenings during season. The Mapusa Flea Market remains open through the week but transforms into a Goan flea market on Fridays offering meat, fresh fish, fruits, vegetables, clothes, utensils, Goan spices, Goan sausages, cashew feni and organic food. There are several other flea markets — a few private and a couple doling only luxury goods — that attract visitors of different nationalities. Like Mackies’ Night Bazaar set up on the banks of River Baga, Chapora Fish Market is set up in the fishing village of Chapora.

Goa’s flea markets are a thrill for buyers holding a promise of providing the perfect purchase, the best of fish-curry and good music to boot. They have a global appeal and diverse wares guaranteed to offer something for everyone.

Interestingly, most of these markets have foreigners selling wares, cooking exotic foods, selling makes from their own lands almost creating a global showroom of sorts.

And, with live music, it’s the perfect place to let your hair down and buy, binge and bask in all things Goan.

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