BY AUGUSTO RODRIGUES
“The first thing they (Indian tourists) ask after getting down from the taxi is where they can buy some drugs. They ask about the room later. This is not the tourism we expected when we started but we have to go on now,” explains an exasperated Paulo Britto from Ashvem.
Ashvem is a coastal ward nestled between Morjim and the Mandrem market that has sea on one side and a hill on the other and is inhabited by members of a minority community.
“The English and Germans have stopped coming now. They became part of our family and kept coming back. They still keep in contact with us through Whatsapp but are not ready to come over to stay anymore,” says Concessao as she rues the day when they decided to welcome tourists into their village.
Ashvem is now the hub for Russian and Indian tourists, mostly from Delhi and Mumbai. This mix has not gone well with the locals. Some are not happy with both and others don't like the presence of Indian tourists.
“People from Delhi have brought places on the beachfront and built structures that are blocking the breeze that would enter our houses. They have no GCZMA licenses but have got permission from the panchayat,” complained another lady on condition of anonymity.
“The problem with the Russians is that they drink the full night in their room, talk loudly and listen to music. Not all tourists come to stay awake at night and this keeps all away from where the Russians stay,” explains Constantin who has been renting out rooms for years.
“Indians started coming during the pandemic. They used to work from home during the days of quarantine and word about the village spread far and wide. Slowly, they started opening businesses here,” says Rita who rents her rooms to staff working in nearby hotels.
A road on the coastline separates the houses in Ashvem from the shoreline. Fishing, distilling caju feni and toddy tapping were the three businesses that kept the villagers engaged in the past. With the advent of tourism, the village seems to have overgrown into the beach.
“We have three big restaurants running on the coastline operated by people from Delhi. Two of these places stop playing loud music before 10 pm. But one blasts music till the next morning. We see drunkards on the street when we go for mass in the morning,” laments Paulo who, before venturing into tourism, worked for Goa police.
“What was going on in the place was so bad that even a national television highlighted what was happening here. The noise and drug scene have decreased since the telecast and we hope it will not re-start,” prays Paulo.
“There are days when parties go on till late into the night. We don’t mind if there are parties sometimes but definitely not every day. Worse for us is the consumption of drugs. Our parents didn’t take in foreigners in the past because they were linked to drugs,” admits 60-year-old Antonio.
“There are hardly any fishing boats left now and a few families still distil caju. The coconut trees have been cut and so there is no more toddy,” laments Antonio.
Tourists residing in Morjim and Chopdem use the road through Ashvem to reach Arambol or Reddy in Maharashtra thus increasing the vehicular traffic on a road that is narrow.
“The attitude of Russians has improved a lot this season. They are less noisy and most importantly are not much into drugs like the Indians for whom drugs seem to be the main reason to come to our village,” scowls Antonio.
“We don’t sell and will never sell drugs here. We are tolerant of people smoking because some of them hire our rooms. You can say we turn a blind eye to consumption but selling drugs is out of the question,” says Paulo who expresses concern over the intake and sale of drugs whilst trying to justify their tolerance to the consumption of drugs. “We tell them to go to Anjuna or Vagator,” admits Paulo.
With most of the younger generation settled abroad, a majority of villagers are senior citizens, some living on the subsistence of their children while most others on tourism and the bucks that come with tourism are leaving them with split emotions.