Sunday 8 February 2015

Patnem: Paradise Found

Round about now I should be easing my stifled body from the flat bed of the overnight coach from Cancona to Hospet and unceremoniously unfolding my creaky limbs. But instead I am walking once more along the soft, homely sand of Patnem beach and limbering up for a spot of morning tennis. For the first time, but not the last, I’ve decided to extend my stay in a place I love.

Among the sadnesses to reconcile oneself with when travelling is having to leave places that you love, but to which you know you will never return. But it is part of the deep joy of travelling too – embracing the impermanence and transience of life, and rejoicing in things that make you happy while they last. To lose something you love, first you must have loved.

So maybe you stay a few extra nights, or weeks here and there to prolong one flirtation or another. Maybe not. But every now and then you go somewhere to which you know, beyond all doubt, you will return, and so it is with Patnem.

The greatest thing about life here is almost intangible. It’s not just a sense of community or warmth of spirit. It feels as though everyone is somehow unburdened by being here; lighter, happier and that the essence of the place fills them and makes them better people, more content. The gentle pulse of the tide is like a heartbeat, slow and strong, and in the same way that people walking together eventually step in time, so it is that everyone here seems to find harmony with that unique rhythm.

The civility of people can often be measured by their attitude towards animals. Resident dogs live on the beach, but to call them stray would be pushing it. They are extremely well fed and loved by everyone; basically communal pets. They reciprocate this love by loitering around the dinner table pulling sorrowful faces that their fat bellies belie, and by noisily fucking one another throughout the night (or in front of you while you eat - dinner and a show).

The sunsets here might not be the most spectacular (there aren't enough clouds) but they're a special moment nonetheless. The dogs join us humans and we head to the sand to watch the daily celestial wonder with a sort of reverence and gratitude, before spraying ourselves head to toe with mosquito repellant and slinking off to enjoy whatever the night time has to offer.

There are hundreds of huts along Patnem beach and beyond, all made of plywood, bamboo and covered in palm leaves. The cafes and bars are of similar construction, and for good reason. Because though for over half the year, the beach bathes in tranquil sun, come the end of May, the rains will arrive. 

My home for the last week or so

First the tourists will leave, and then the travellers. The Goans, who have businesses here, baton down their little shops and head inland to their houses. And then every single one of these huts and bars will be dismantled, piece by piece, the plumbing and electrics, the walls, beds and furniture packed away in storage, and the roofs of dried leaves burnt or left to wash away with the tide.

The baking heat of the summer sun will raise a great monsoon from the Arabian Sea, whipped ashore by a ferocious wind, and the empty beach, Paradise Lost, will sit and take what nature delivers; a penance for the high season of blissful, beachside days. And then, in November, like a colony of ants, the people will return, unpack the little world from the sheds and garages, and reassemble Babylon again on the seashore. The tourists and travellers will leave their homes all around the world and file back here to recreate and relive the happy times. The coin will flip over, the world will turn, again and again, year on year, new people, new beginnings, but the same, heavenly place.

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