A little bit of Tibet in Goa

Tibetan market in Calangute, Goa.

Tibetan market in Calangute, Goa. File photo/Flickr/Dietmut Teijgeman-Hansen


GOA, India, 7 December 2014

You’ve heard of Goa’s flea markets, fish markets, and even the Saturday night markets. Ever hear of the Tibetan markets in north Goa’s tourism belt of Calangute-Anjuna?

With the Dalai Lama as their global mascot, the exiled Tibetans have converted the world’s attention in Tibet and all things Tibetan into a business opportunity. Think Tibet and you immediately think of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhism, spiritualism, thangkas (Tibetan Buddhist paintings), tantric meditation, monks in maroon robes, prayer flags, and all kinds of magical amulets, rings, mantras and charms to guard you from evil spirits here on earth and even beyond.

But where do you buy them? In the Tibetan markets. There are three in the tourism hub of Calangute itself, while the Anjuna flea market’s centerpiece is the Tibetan mini-market right in the middle. The main Tibetan market in Calangute is at the Calangute Association ground. There’s another further down on Baga road, and one on Holiday Street. Many tourists shopping at these markets for souvenirs to take back home think that by buying from the Tibetans, they are also contributing in some way to the Tibetan cause, and also, somehow, mysteriously, getting more spiritually evolved.

Lobsang Tenzin, 30, is the ‘union’ leader of the Tibetans. Yes, he says, it’s all because of the Dalai Lama. “The Dalai Lama travels from country to country to speak about Tibet and Tibetan spiritualism. The Dalai Lama helps us to survive in India. We’re all refugees and poor, without any land of our own,” he says. “There is no rich Tibetan.”

With the Dalai Lama a global new age spiritual icon, almost everybody in the world has heard of him and Tibet, so when the world comes visiting to Goa, many step into the Tibetan markets to pick up a souvenir or two, he says. A resident of Dehradun in Uttaranchal, Lobsang along with around 200 other Tibetans come to Goa every year in October, and stay on till around May (for the tourist season), after which they travel to Ladakh for the season there from May to August. They then spend a little time back home in Dehradun before coming back to Goa again. He’s been doing it for seven years now. Others, like fellow vendors Sikandar Tenzin, Kunphel and Gelek, have been coming to Goa for 25 years.

“Most of the items we sell are from Tibet and Nepal,” Lobsang says, pointing to earrings and pendants with the Buddhist mantra ‘Om Mani Padme Hung’ inscribed on turquoise. Other items have carvings of the Buddha, the Wheel of Life, dragons, etc. “These are spiritual ensigns from Tibet. We also buy some silver jewellery and handicrafts from Jaipur and Delhi, but the stones are Tibetan. Because we’re poor refugees, we get the items on credit from the wholesalers and after selling them, we go and pay them,” he says, explaining their business model. Turquoise, coral and other semi-precious stones are traditionally used in Tibetan jewellery.

The years gone by were more profitable, he says. Now the competition has increased with a large number of shops selling handicrafts and jewellery in Goa. “We mostly sell to foreigners. Foreigners like to buy Tibetan spiritual things,” he says. Russians, the latest wave of foreigners in Goa, apparently take back tea pots, bowls and things like that besides everybody’s favourite — earrings and other jewellery.

Life is tough, the Tibetans say. “It is very difficult to stay in Goa. Staying, food, travelling, everything is very expensive in Goa. We come for business, but we don’t have any personal land to put up shops. We don’t have that kind of money to buy land or shops. We will be very grateful if the Goa government can give us some place to have our markets,” says Lobsang. “We’re not new here. Tibetans have been in Goa for more than 25 years.”

And they’re probably here to stay. Going back to Tibet is not an option, he says. “I’ve never been to Tibet. We’ve heard that any Tibetan refugee who goes to Tibet is jailed and tortured,” he says. It’s better in Goa.

Copyright © 2014 Bennett, Coleman & Co Ltd Published in The Times of India Posted in Features » Tags: , ,