Asia 6 – Full Moon Party

Full Moon Party (2)

Full Moon Party, Goa, India

Full-moon parties aren’t confined to Ko Pha Ngan – or even Thailand. Goa was once home to some of the biggest events. Started in the 1960s by hippies wintering in north Goa after long hauls across Western Asia, the party scene came of age in the 1990s with the advent of digital micro technology, when a full-on PA could be erected on the remotest Goan hilltop and the latest dance tracks beamed in from the clubs of Amsterdam and London. Goan Trance was born and rapidly popularized by DJs such as Juno Reactor and Goa Gill who regularly showed up for the full-moon parties that took place every month. But, over New Year in 2000, just when the Goa scene seemed poised to live up to its somewhat exaggerated reputation as a prime rave venue, on a par with resorts such as Ibiza and Ko Pha Ngan, a government-led clampdown pulled the plug on the party scene. However, reports in the international media that India’s rave era was at an end were premature. Six years on, the scene survives, albeit in a more subdued style. Parties tend to be smaller and better hidden – except that is, over the Christmas and New Year period, when they’re as full-on as ever.

Goa was, until 1961, a Portuguese colony, and around one-third of its 1.3 million population remain fervent Catholics, for whom Christmas is the most important time of the year. For Western tourists, however, Christmas in Goa offers the chance to escape the conventional yuletide at home for a night of unbridled hedonism under a South Indian moon. Goa is nothing like the fleshpot dance resorts of the Mediterranean – not least because of the paucity of parties. Since they’re technically illegal now, the Christmas/New Year raves aren’t advertised, and the big events are held only in out-of-the-way spots – on cliff tops, down densely wooded valleys or on mown rice fields near the state border with Maharashtra. To find one you have to keep your ear to the ground: ask around the shack cafes, chat to the taxi drivers and hawkers on the beach, and listen out for the tell-tale roar of massed Enfields thumping through the paddy fields. This clandestine aspect adds a spark to tracking down a party, and to the overall impact of the music, lights and crowd when you finally arrive.

Regardless of your taste in nightlife, Goan raves are a compelling spectacle. Heaving beneath a palm canopy strung with UV, strobe and fairy lights, the tanned masses look appropriately exotic in their retro-psychedelic dance gear, bought, more often than not, at the Anjuna flea market, India’s trendiest and most outrageously colourful open-air boutique. No self-respecting Goa ravehead would be seen without a tool belt to stash all those party essentials: papers and keys (thefts of passports and possessions from rented rooms on party nights are very common), imported Rizlas (Indian ones don’t stick) and a bottle of mineral water. Those brave, or foolish, enough to run the gauntlet of the inevitable police roadblocks also carry their charas (Indian hashish) in Velcro wristbands that can be discreetly ripped off and ditched in a hurry.

The pace builds steadily to a peak at around 3 or 4am, after which the rhythms mellow and the dancers are drawn to the kerosene lamps of chai ladies’ stalls, to chill out on straw mats and sip reviving, sweet Indian tea as the moon turns pale cream, to yellow, then pink, before finally sinking into the sea. With the first rays of sunlight shining through the palms, the survivors slip on their shades and kick-start their Enfields, leaving behind a graveyard of plastic bottles, which kids from the nearest village sift through in search of coins and lost lumps of hash.

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