GOA, India (AP) – The golden rays of the sun fall on Goa’s slippery sandy beaches every night, magical as always, but strangely quiet and lonely. This holiday season only a few visitors enjoy the famous sunsets in the Indian festival hotspot.
The unspoken fear of coronavirus sucks Goa’s lively beach huts and noisy bars into their lifeblood.
A Portuguese colony until 1961, this western Indian state usually comes alive in December and January, its tourist-led economy flourishing with foreign travelers and chartered flights bringing hordes of vacationers.
Over the past decade, Goa had transformed from a seasonal mecca for both hippy backpackers and wealthy holidaymakers to another home of India̵
The pandemic and the consequent travel restrictions have changed everything, possibly forever.
Along the popular beaches of North Goa from Candolim to Calangute to Morjim, many landmarks have coffee shops, tattoo parlors and cottage bars with sun loungers closed permanently. Nightlife in popular party hubs is dead.
Seema Rajgarh, 37, is a lone figure on an almost deserted Utorda beach in southern Goa, her blue sari lying against the Arabian Sea while she chops jewelry made of pearls and stones. None of the handful of domestic tourists are interested in buying them.
On good days during the holiday season, the mother of three girls, the youngest not yet two years old, said she used to earn 2,000 rupees ($ 27).
Now the times are gloomy.
“Some days I earn almost 200 rupees ($ 2.7), not enough to even buy milk and food for my children,” she said.
Rajgarh’s husband, a chef, lost his job during the nationwide lockdown imposed in March for containing the spread of coronavirus infections. He remains unemployed.
Tuition for the children is long overdue. Rent is three months in arrears.
“This virus has ruined our lives,” Rajgarh said.
In 2019, more than 8 million tourists visited Goa, including more than 930,000 foreign tourists. About 800 chartered planes arrived from Russia, Ukraine, Britain and Japan, among others, according to the state tourism department.
By August, only 1.1 million had visited, including just over 280,000 foreign tourists.
An official report on the impact of COVID-19 on Goa, published in December, estimated a loss of almost 1 billion. $ For the tourism industry due to the closure in April-May. Potential job losses are expected to range from 35% to 58%. More than one in three of Goa’s 1.6 million people work in tourism.
Goa has accounted for over 51,000 of India’s more than 10 million reported coronavirus cases with 749 deaths. The prolonged drive after the sudden disruption in economic activity has tempted many business owners to call it quit.
Sitting at home last summer during the shutdown, designer Suman Bhat, whose luxury brand “Lola by SumanB” with her floating draped silhouettes is popular among Bollywood celebrities, battled whether to close her flagship store in Goa’s capital Panjim or wait for a drop in sales.
Bhat managed to retain its workers but had to give up its beloved shopping area and moved to a cheaper location in August.
“It was a hard goodbye for me. You put so much money into the business to create a customer experience – and it’s completely taken away from you. There is no way for anyone to see, touch and feel your product anymore, ”she said.
Bhat says her workers are exhausted by the new routines for cleanup, testing and worry. With the end of the pandemic still not visible, the future is uncertain.
“Can my clothes be evening clothes when there is no evening to go to? Is it fair to ask people to pay that kind of money when everyone is trying to save up? She asked herself.
“Everyone is just exhausted. You do not know when a worker will say he has a fever. What are you doing? Shut everything down? Ask everyone to be tested, disinfect and spray everything? You are in problem-solving mode all the time, ”she said.
Months after the shutdown began to ease, Goa is showing signs of life. Arrivals from domestic tourists rose sharply at the end of the holiday. Casinos have reopened and visitors are no longer required to view negative coronavirus test reports, unlike in most other Indian states.
But things are hardly back to normal.
Yoga teacher Sharanya Narayanan is struggling to make sense of what has been lost.
Narayanan, 34, came to Goa from Mumbai in 2008 to perform aerial acrobatics at a club and continues to make it his home.
She taught in several places, but had to switch to virtual lessons during the shutdown. When wellness centers were allowed to reopen in August, only one of her jobs came back – her own private class.
“The pandemic has changed everyone’s lives – including mine,” she said.
“I miss the feeling of anonymity I had before in Goa. That every time I did not have the same set of people to meet, it always changed and evolved so that I was able to recreate myself without a sense of stagnation, ”she said. “It’s the transient nature of things that is so appealing to Goa.”