Saturday 19 August 2017

Comment: Sun, sea and spices seem suddenly stupid, as brutal murder brings a chill to Goa

Travel in India

A Hindu temple in Goa, India, where Danielle McLaughlin was on a backpacking adventure.
A Hindu temple in Goa, India, where Danielle McLaughlin was on a backpacking adventure.
Pól Ó Conghaile

Pól Ó Conghaile

Danielle McLaughlin's murder has cast a darkness over one of India's most colourful tourism destinations.

Goa is an exotic, confounding place.

It's at once India and a place where Indians go to escape India. Its seafood is sensational; its jungle thick; its beaches as famous for raves and yoga as for resorts fit for royals.

But it can also madden with tourist hustle, shock with poverty and is festooned with litter.

One of my clearest memories is sitting in the passenger seat of a minibus taxi as it overtook a car on the main road connecting Panjim to the northern beaches. The car was at that moment overtaking a scooter, which was in turn overtaking an Indian elephant.

Goa feels like an Ibiza with extra henna, like Thailand sprinkled with white-washed churches. It's a place where 21st century flower children mix with families on package holidays and locals in psychedelic saris and salwar kameezes.

Now this tiny state has hit the headlines for the worst of reasons - the tragic murder of 28-year-old Danielle McLaughlin, her life cut brutally short in Canacona.

Suddenly sun, sea and spices seem stupid. Suddenly, sexual attacks on female visitors to India are under the microscope.

And so they should be. No tourist destination can be summed up by a single tragedy, but the reality is that tourists have been the victims of sexual assault in Agra, Goa, Delhi, Bangalore, Madhya Pradesh, Kolkata and Rajasthan, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA). In 2008, British teenager Scarlett Keeling (15) was raped and found dead in another horrific episode on Anjuna beach.

The land of tigers and the Taj Mahal is also a place where women can receive unwanted attention - including verbal and physical harassment - particularly at night. It's not alone in that, and safety is something all travellers need to weigh up for themselves, but it is a fact.

Travel advice? The DFA recommends female tourists do not travel alone at night, use women's carriages where available on the metro, be smart in their choice of rooms and taxis, and respect local dress codes and customs.

 Such caution seems far removed from the hippie paradise of the 1960s and 1970s, when magic buses drove across the Middle East in search of enlightenment - and found it on a string of golden beaches that spawned Goa's reputation for spiritual (and drug-fuelled) escapes.

Ultimately, of course, mass tourism did what mass tourism does. Beaches and roads became crowded. Resorts sprung up. A new wave of travellers discovered Portuguese colonial heritage, spicy seafood, tropical seasons and full-blown, 21st-century hedonism.

Goa remains an enthralling destination, and it's worth mentioning that the vast majority of trips to India pass off safely.

The DFA's warning level ('exercise a high degree of caution') is the same for France, China and Mexico, among other countries.

But that, of course, is no comfort to Ms McLaughlin's family.

Irish Independent

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