It must have started out as music at some point, but it was way beyond that now. This trance rhythm had taken on a life of its own, thumping the last vestiges of sanity from my shattered mind. I stared up at the full moon and stifled a howl that was building up deep in the back of my throat.
Someone thrust an oversized doobie in my face and groups of dancers came out of nowhere, in various stages of undress. I sidestepped the mob like Carel Du Plessis in full flight, in the process also avoiding two bodies contorted in a position I would have thought impossible - until now. And as the bonfires burnt all night, even the fluorescent painted palm trees seemed to dance. Boom, boom, boom.
This was Anjuna Beach, Goa, India - on the shores of the Arabian Sea and known by insiders as the 'Freak capital of the world.'
Legend has it that Anjuna is the home of trance music, which was developed in the 1950s by a bunch of hippies who had opted out of society and stumbled in a dope-filled haze onto the pristine beaches of this area. These wanderers took Eastern spirituality and Western music, put it through a wringer and ended up with the world's first rave parties and its adopted trance music.
A psychedelic clique took to gathering here to party after the rains when the moon was full. It is now a ritualistic gathering of folklorish proportions and something that should be on every self-respecting hedonist's bucket list.
I was in Goa to bring in the New Year, along with half of Britain it seemed. Anjuna was one of the best beaches along a coastline that defied description. Forget about Camps Bay or Plettenberg Bay. This is the kind of palm-tree-hanging-into-a-turquoise-sea kind of beach, and dolphins literally put on a show just for the hell of it. But it's loud.
The next morning I found myself sitting in one of the beach shacks up the line, chatting to Melly the barkeep.
Built of palm leaves and bamboo poles, with a kitchen in the back, these snack shop/bars command the best view of any dining experience in India. Each shack has the obligatory volleyball net to entice bronzed beach jocks. At night the shacks become techno and disco clubs, with names like Splash, Silverspoon and Ziggy's.
Melly asked me if I had been to the Anjuna craft market. I hadn't, but as it was Wednesday (market day) he ordered me to make my way down.
"It's the biggest and most famous craft market in India, you have to check it out," he said, head bobbing under a thatch of dreadlocks.
Melly offered me the use of his bike and I set off to Anjuna beach once more, on a rutted path under a blazing sky. At around 11am tourist vehicles in the distance raised dust clouds as they converged on the beach area. What had been a raving mass of swaying bodies the night before was now an overdose of color. If Indian scarves, cloths, silver jewelry and rugs do it for you, then this is shopping nirvana.
They say if something looks to good to be true, check the label. I trod warily. The trance was still playing, now from a battery of speakers. What started out as cash-strapped tourists selling off their possessions to buy a ticket back home in the 70s is today the mother of all craft markets. No sooner had I passed the first stall than the screams and grabbing from hyped-up vendors began.
'Hello gentleman-ji, you are for a haircut due, please sit down,' a salubrious looking young man called.
'Who me?' I replied. I heard the snip, snip sound and watched as he did an Edward Scissorhand move to warm up his fingers.
I moved on swiftly and almost tripped over a guy selling didgeridoos at almost R5000 each. Yeah - I was blown away too!
"A new meaning to the term face value"
Next to him was a fierce-looking woman whose face was pierced so much it seemed she used it to display dozens of items of silver. This brought a new meaning to the term face value.
The huge white sail clothes tied between palm trees provided scant shade as the sun singed the pale bodies of wide-eyed tourists. The spread of goods went as far as I could see.
Used books, electrical goods, Kashmiri, Tibetan, and Gujarati trinkets and handicrafts, exotic snacks, cassettes and CDs of 'Goa Trance' music, fake carved ornaments and anything it was possible to make from silver.
If you need an 'I was really there pic' to show the folks back home, an elephant ride or posing with a fake sadhu (holy man) or a snake charmer are no problem.
The snake charmer was taking pulls from a bottle of feni, the local high-octane alcohol made from distilled cashew fruit smelling like sweetened brake fluid. I winced as he swallowed. The more he drank the slower he moved. The snake stared ahead. The charmer smiled a toothless grin.
'Worry not gentleman-ji, snake not teethed.' That made two of them.
A small girl grabbed my hand and dragged me to where two made-up performers were miming some traditional play. 'Money, money,' she said. I gave her a coin and she skipped off to find another tourist.
I needed a break and headed for ocean, leaving only footsteps. And the trance played on.
Previously published on iafrica.com.