In this scorching heat of May, one dreams of heading to a beach, sitting in a shack or on a beach bed, enjoying the breeze and the setting sun, with some cool drinks.
I believe that’s the image of Goa for many people, and that’s why you see a sea of tourists on our Goan beaches. But then, just rewind some 40 years or so, and you will see a different image of chilling on a beach.
Here you will come across local Goan families, just enjoying the beach, the sea, and the salty air.
It was part of the annual ritual of salt-water baths. It is locally known as khare nhavop, which was a compulsory summer activity, held either in April or May, for at least three consecutive days.
The best part of it was that not everyone knew to swim as most of the time, people used to just sit on the shore and enjoy the waves.
SUMMER BY THE SEA
“I have this distinct memory of ladies, who belonged to different communities and religions, coming together for this salt-water bath, during my childhood. They just sat on the beach, taking in the waves and soaking in. Now, I hardly see this activity on Goan beaches,” says Dr Maryanne Lobo, an ayurvedic doctor and conductor of plant walks across Goa.
This activity was held all over Goa, and even in urban areas like Panjim city. “I remember joining my grandparents for this salt-water bath activity on Miramar beach somewhere in the 1970s. It was a must for them. We used to go, either, in the morning or in the evening. We even carried some snacks or seasonal delicacies like dhonas (jackfruit cake); it was more like a picnic for us. As the beach was close to the city, and we had a vehicle, we would not stay on the beach, which was a common practice back then,” says caterer, Anjana Amonkar, from Porvorim.
Staying on the beach for days together was part of the practice of salt-water bathing. In those days, people didn’t have personal vehicles and thus, it was not possible to visit the beach everyday for three or more consecutive days. Having at least three baths for consecutive days was considered compulsory. So, most families hired a room for a few days near the beach.
Some people also stayed on the beach. “I recollect staying on the beach as a child, under the coconut tree on Baga beach. When I tell this, people hardly believe it. Especially now, when we look at the state of the beach as it is crammed with beach shacks, beach beds, and hoardes of tourists,” says Ramita Gurav, who teaches at St Xavier’s College, Mapusa.
Her mother, at 72, is continuing this practice, that too, on the same beach. “For her, this activity is part of her life which she has to do,” says Ramita.
She, further, informs that her family like many other families, used to visit the beach with all their belongings, bedding, and also ration to cook.
“Each family used to select one coconut tree as their temporary home and used to sleep and cook there. I remember spending so many nights under the open sky as a child,” recollects Ramita.
Dr Maryanne mentions her grandmother, who used to visit Goa from Kolhapur annually just to have this bath. “This was during the Portuguese rule when one required a special passport to enter Goa. It was not for mangoes, but for this bath. It was an annual pilgrimage for her as she believed that this bath kept her arthritis in check.”
Speaking of health benefits, Dr Maryanne says that a salt-water bath is good for joint pains, arthritis and some skin ailments. “My grandmother used to tell me that it is good even for migraines, for our lymphatic system, and especially for those women who are transitioning from peri-menopause to menopause. And, swimming is an excellent exercise.”
As mentioned before, for this bath, knowledge of swimming is not necessary. But, one has to be careful, especially during the pre-monsoon days as the sea gets quite rough at that time.
Generally, women like to sit on the beach and soak in the waves on their back and legs, and apply the wet sand on their knees as part of the healing process.
ORIGINS & MORE
One may wonder how and why this practice came into existence. The obvious answer would be to beat the heat since the beach is an ideal place to hang out in the summer.
But, there are other reasons which point to the agrarian lifestyle of Goans.
The months of April and May are the harvest seasons as it is the time to harvest mangoes, paddy, cashews, distill cashew feni, and prepare for the monsoon ahead. These are labour-intensive and physically challenging activities, especially in summer. So, after the harvesting season, a salt-water bath was an ideal way to relax and allow the body to heal and be ready for the next season.
Nowadays, since our lifestyle has changed, most people of Goa no longer work in fields, and that connection with nature is not seen or felt. Additionally, rampant tourist activities on the beaches, such as shacks, watersports, etc have eliminated this practice.
“I would say that it is still seen at some beaches, but Baga beach is full of tourists. You hardly see any locals here, forget about the salt-water bath. Here everything has a price tag. For example, on Baga beach, I saw the rate of ₹ 100 to use beach beds for 1 hour. Another row of beach beds with hardly any distance of 10 meters behind, offered a rate of ₹ 100 for 2 hours. This shows how we have commercialised our beaches,” says Niyati Patre, sister of Ramita, who accompanies her mother to Baga Beach.
Her mother is now among the few Goans who are continuing this annual ritual of khare nhavop in the ever-changing landscape of the Goan beach.