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Psychedelic Journeys: What Next for the Late, Great Goan Party?

Rave parties are now almost as synonymous with Goa as hippie culture, but there's been much recent hullabaloo about the death of Goa's hardcore party scene -- many bemoan the fact that they missed what all the hype was about, while generally locals can finally breathe a sigh of collective relief for the end of the noise, the drugs, the mischief-making, and the (in some minds, scandalous) reputation Goa has always had as an alternative hippie enclave. And, sure, the party scene has definitely calmed down a bit, but it has by no means come to an abrupt and grinding halt, even if the late night noise ban has quelled a lot of the mania. It's probably safe to say that the parties have gone deeper underground -- and, in an entirely wrong spirit, moved into city-style clubs. If you end up partying the night away in a club, you're probably missing the point, since the Goan trance scene has always been about dancing under the stars or outdoors through the day, surrounded by Goa's considerable beauty and energized by music, nature and good vibes. Times are, of course, a-changing.

If you want to attend one of the winter gatherings, once known as full moon parties (but now as likely to happen by day in a remote location), you'll probably have to ask around at the shacks (at Vagator, Anjuna, Arambol, or Palolem). Location is often kept secret until late in the evening to avoid harassment from cops and generally disclosed only a few hours before the party starts. These underground dance and music parties start around 11pm and go till at least 8am. Various intoxicants are freely available and consumed (but they're very much illegal), and local women set up stalls outside selling chai and snacks. DJs play psychedelic trance music (the "Goan trance" that has become a global genre); ravers often dress up in old-fashioned costumes and wear rave belts and colorful clothes, all part of setting the mood for their psychedelic journey, which inevitably entails a lot of good-hearted mischief. Regulars insist that these are not just massive techno freak-outs where everybody is "tripping," but a mystical, devotional experience akin to a spiritual encounter.

In south Goa, the scene is compact enough to make finding the party quite straightforward, but in the north, you're going to need to put in some effort. A few obvious spots for picking up the scent of out-of-the-way parties are the Saturday Night Bazaar in Arpora, Anjuna's Wednesday Market, or the ever-popular Shore Bar. The latter is a party institution right on Anjuna beach; it really picks up on Wednesdays, when the market crowd redeploys here to continue the revelry, and the sunset scene is a virtual tourist cliché (albeit with a pretty cool crowd). Even cooler, though, is the other "institution:" Nine Bar, on top of a hill overlooking Ozran beach at Vagator. As the sun sinks to provide another classic moment, the DJs up the volume and furiously belt out deafening trance and psychedelic music -- a haven for trippers and a nightmare for the rest of the world, but only till around 10pm, when things shut down and it's time to move on. Aside from the obvious locations in north Goa, there are also good vibes (and a better crowd) in and around Palolem in the far south. Palolem is also where India's first so-called silent parties have really taken off -- you pick up a set of headphones and dance to the music, but the outside world doesn't have to hear a thing. Launched in 2008, the Silent Noise Headphone Parties (tel. 97-3093-5334; www.silentnoise.in) are a revolutionary answer to Goa's 10pm music ban. The parties happen Wednesday ("Retronica") and Saturday at Neptune's Point; revelers are provided with advanced wireless headsets that allow you to switch between each of the 3 DJs playing that night; founder Justin Mason (a DJ himself since the '80s) procures outstanding international as well as Indian DJs (look out for Ma Faizel, an icon of the hip Indian electro scene), and you're able to switch between house, trance, hip-hop or even rock tunes, spun simultaneously by different DJs. The venue comes with all the frills of the modern party era, including massage chairs and impeccable lighting. And, should you wish to tune out and engage in meaningful conversation for a moment, all you need to do is whip the headset off -- no need to scream at the top of your lungs to ask for a drink.

The most happening clubs competing to attract the who's who with great let-your-hair-down ambience, fabulous music, and terrific cuisine include Club Cubana (Arpora Hill; tel. 98-2323-2910) -- beautifully located atop a cliff with a swimming pool open at night and the focus on hip-hop and R&B music -- and legendary Tito's (tel. 98-2276-5002; www.titos.in). This local expire has been going for years and attracts anyone and everyone who's up for a party in a range of different-but-the-same venues (definitely nothing groundbreaking here); a good choice here is Mambo's, an open-air pub that's part of the Tito's franchise, where DJs spin 1980s rock music (but no trance). For a less rocking atmosphere accompanied by fairly good food, check out Kamaki (tel. 98-2327-6520; 6am-6pm recorded music, 6pm-6am DJ), a lounge bar up the road from Tito's that's open 24 hours. For an upmarket buzz, join the vibey, sexy-smart crowd at Shiro (tel. 0832/645-1718), the Candolim sibling of the ultrahip Mumbai restaurant-bar with a spectacular beachfront setting. Finally, although you should be cautious about planning a vacation here around New Years, since 2007, Goa has hosted the biggest music festival in Asia, Sunburn (www.sunburn-festival.com), for 3 days at the end of the year; check the website, though for specific dates, lineup, and venue.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.