Once the capital of Portugal’s empire in the east, the coexistence of Indians and Portuguese, Hinduism and Christianity, gives the tiny west coast state of Goa its identity
It was almost dusk. Afonso de Albuquerque stood on a grassy hillock overlooking the Mandovi River. To the north stretched miles of fertile green fields edged by verdant hills. The wide river slithered away into the horizon. Below him smoke and billowing sails marked the area of battle. This bountiful land was now his, wrested from Yusuf Adilshah, Sultan of Bijapur. It was 25 November 1510, the feast of St Catherine. Overwhelmed, Albuquerque knelt and gave thanks and ordered a shrine to be built in the saint’s honour. Thus began four centuries of Portuguese influence on this tiny land. They came looking for spices and stayed to make Goa the centre of their eastern empire.
Tucked away snugly between the hills of the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, this territory of only 3,500 sq. km (1,350 sq. miles), about halfway down the west coast of the Indian peninsula, is covered with bottlegreen hills wooded with jakfruit, mango and cashew groves, cut across by rivers and edged by miles of sun-drenched beaches. A warm languid climate, and friendly, welcoming people complete this compelling kaleidoscope.
Cocooned within its natural boundaries and the colonial cloisters of Portuguese rule, this pocket of South Asia was bypassed as the rest of the country I Progressed towards Independence and the 20th century, and Goa remained a Portuguese colony, suspended in a web of nostalgia.
Goa City Information
Since Goa’s absorption into the Indian Union in 1961, there have been many changes. But one can still drive through peaceful towns with their Iberian-style villas, stop at a small taverna (bar) for a drink of feni — a local brew made from cashew or coconut — listen to the sounds of mando (traditional songs) and the strains of a guitar mingling with the lapping of the waves, or bask on the golden sands of idyllic beaches.
There is a Mediterranean atmosphere in the towns with their red-tiled roofs and narrow streets and the fishing villages snuggled among coconut groves. Fishermen with faces weathered to mahogany by sun, salt and wind, catch mackerel, shark, crab, lobster and shrimp. Although the majority of the state’s population is Hindu, on Sundays and feast days many Christians file into the baroque-style churches — the women often in European dress and with lace mantillas on their heads, the men in black suits.
Panaji (Panjim) , the capital of Goa, situated on the southern hank of the Mandovi River, is centred on a church and the square in front of it. Largo da Igreja (Church Square) is an impressive ensemble: a dazzling White-balustraded stairway in front of the Church of the Immaculate Conception heightens the proportions of the baroque facade, which dominates the square. Built in 1541, its twin towers were the first signs of “home” for the sailors who made the long voyage from Lisbon.
Panaji has several squares, the houses lining them rising directly above the wide streets. Most of these villas, painted in pale yellow, green or deep rose, with their embellishments picked out in white or some contrasting colour, display French windows opening onto wrought-iron balconies.
Particularly quaint is the old residential area of Fountainahas, which lies behind the church, where narrow cobbled alleys weave through a miscellany of closely knit houses with tiled roofs, overhanging balconies and carved pillars, much as one would expect to find in any provincial town in Portugal or Spain. Winding streets echo to the sputter of motorcycles and the chatter of relaxing locals. There is never too little time for a drink or a chat. Shops close for siesta and the whole town dozes away the golden hours.
Facing the river, along the broad riverside boulevard, are some of Panaji’s public buildings, including the Secretariat, built in 1615 by the Portuguese on the site of the Palacio Idalcao (palace of the Sultan of Bijapur, Yusuf Adil Khan, called the “Idalcan” by the Portuguese), a many-shuttered edifice that was once the viceroy’s residence. Beyond Largo da Palacio (Palace Square) lies the quay where the catamaran from Mumbai arrives (the service was suspended at the time of going to press but it may start up again).
The Campal riverside boulevard is one of the most picturesque spots in Panaji. In the far distance are the ramparts of the Aguada Fort — once one of the main bastions commanding the entrance into the Mandovi, with powder rooms, barracks, a church and a lighthouse. It is now used as a prison.
Towns and villages
Margao , 27 km (17 miles) south of Panaji, is the second largest town in Goa and the principal commercial centre. In the heart of one of the most fertile districts, Salcete, several prominent landowning families have built themselves town and country houses here.
Other towns include Vasco da Gama, 20 km (12 miles) northwest of Margao), which is developing into an industrial centre. Goa’s port of Marmagoa, a further 4 km (2% miles) west, is one of India’s finest natural harbours; Mapusa 13 km (8 miles) north of Panaji, is a traditional market town. But the true voice of Goan culture is much more audible in the villages and outlying regions.
Village houses in Goa are designed around a central courtyard, usually over-grown with banana trees. The style combines Indian elements with the Italianate form prevalent in Europe two centuries ago. An open verandah surrounds the courtyard and leads into airy, spacious rooms, which display carved, rose-wood furniture, ornate mirrors, chandeliers and a profusion of blue and white porcelain. Some of the larger homes also maintain their own private chapels. The houses are built of red laterite stone and window panes are traditionally covered with small rectangles of translucent oyster shell, instead of glass.
Churches and carnivals As you travel through Goa’s villages, the imprint of four and a half centuries of Catholicism is evident. The Portuguese came not only to conquer, but also to preach. Presiding over every village, commanding the heights at hilltops, hugging the shores of rivers, are sparkling white churches, crosses and small shrines, built mostly in the 16th and 17th centuries in the Gothic and baroque styles.
On the feast day of the patron saint — and every village has one —the whole village is in attendance. The image of the saint, brightly decorated, is carried in procession by priests and laity to the chanting of prayers and litanies, recited or sung, accompanied by a violin or even a brass band. A fair normally presides the finale — refreshments, such as black gram, cashew nuts, coconut and jaggery sweets, fancy goods and even utensils are on display for sale.
Often, music and dance accompany such festivities, Christianity having thoroughly mingled with existing religious traditions. Carnival in Goa is comparable to Rio’s Mardi Gras, when towns and villages celebrate for three days. Masqueraders dance in the streets, and feni flows freely everywhere.
Famous Beaches in Goa
Strung along Goa’s 100-km (60-mile) coastline, like a lace frill on the edge of a colourful skirt, are some of the most beautiful beaches in the world — dazzling stretches of golden sand and surf edging the vast aquamarine expanse of the Arabian Sea. Fort Aguada , 10 km (6 miles) west of Panaji, is near the luxury resorts at Sinquerim beach and more downmarket accommodation at Candolim beach — now a watersport paradise with jet skis and para-gliding. North along the coast 6 km (4 miles) from Fort Aguada is Calangute-Baga , beach area, best geared to Western tourists with a variety of resorts, good restaurants and shopping. This long stretch of beach, lined with restaurant shacks and a favourite with hawkers, ends at the mouth of a small river in Baga. Across the river are a few good cafes and rooms for rent Deck chairs and sun umbrellas can be rented on the beach, and you can even have a massage. For good views and fresh seafood try St Antony’s.
A walk along a cliff-side path that skirts the ocean leads to Anjuna Beach, also approachable by road, 4 km (2 1/2 miles) north of Calangute. Once popular with the 1960s flower children, this lovely beachfront is fringed with coconut palms and the gentle sea makes it ideal for bathing, except in the afternoons when local tourist groups descend to view the ‘naked foreigners’, or during the bustling Wednesday flea market. The cafes hidden amid trees are popular for evening parties.
Around the corner from Anjuna are the white sand beaches of Vagator, which back onto a residential area with old Portuguese villas. For excellent views of the coastline, climb up to the ruined Portuguese fort at the boat-building village of Chapora, Located beside an expansive estuary, this village has some good cafes and rooms for rent. A freshwater lake edged by thick woods is a surprise at the fishing village of Arambol, and makes a good day-trip by road and ferry.
Colva , beach, 25 km (15 miles) south of Panaji, with a 25-km (15-mile) stretch of silver grey sand running to Cabo de Rama, is a remarkable sight. Several luxury hotel resorts have mushroomed here and the formerly pristine beach is no longer tranquil. Benaulim, 2 km (1 1/2 miles) south, has a better beach front. Nearby is the fishing village of Varca. A further 40 km (25 miles) south in Canacona district the rocky coast harbours good beaches such as Palolem, which is now geared to tourists. Agonda, known for big waves, is best for more daring swimmers, and Polem beach is a good spot for dolphin-watching.
The beaches of Goa, particularly Anjuna, are well-known as a venue for clubbers in search of parties. These had huge sound-systems pumping out the latest dance music and a thriving drug culture. While in recent years the full-moon parties have been pretty wild, the Goa police have now started to clamp deal on any gatherings and almost everywhere is closed down at 1Opm sharp.
Places to Visit in Goa / Sightseeing in Goa
No visit to Goa is complete without going to the Golden Goa (Goa Doirada) of the 16th century. when it was the ”Rome of the Orient . The best way to reach Old Goa , is by boat like the Portuzuese, and through the Viceregal Arch. Magnificent churches, sumptuous buildings. stately mansions and broad street once characterised Old Goa.
The Se Cathedral (Cathedral of St Catherine) remains one of the greatei monuments of the period. Completed in 1619, it is the largest Christian chtuth in Asia, and a grand example of Renaissance architecture. The Cathedral’s 80-metre (260-ft) aisle culminates in a richly carved gilt altarpiece — one of the finest in India. There is a font in the church, possibly a vessel of Hindu origin, said to have been used by Goa’s patron saint. St Francis Xavier, who came to Goa in 1542 and converted large numbers of its inhabitants to Christianity.
Within the compound of the cathedral but facing the opposite direction, is the Church of St Francis of Assisi with a stucco ceiling and a profusion of canings.
The Church of St Cajetan, near the ferry wharf, with its two belfries and cupola in the centre was modelled in miniature on the Basilica of St Peter in Rome by its Italian architect. Also near the river bank stands the Chapel of St Catherine, built on the site of the bitterest fighting during Albuquerque’s con-quest of Goa in 1510.
A few minutes’ walk up the road from the basilica is Monte Santo (Holy Hill) where one haunted tower of the Church of the Augustinian Monastery is all that remains of a once-splendid vaulted structure. Adjacent to the ruins stands the Convent of St Monica, once one of the largest nunneries in the Portuguese empire.
Past the flying buttresses of the convent, on a grassy mound at the edge of a steep cliff, stands the shell of the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, one of the earliest to be built in Goa. It contains the alabaster tomb of Dona Caterina, wife of the 10th viceroy and the first Portuguese woman to hazard the arduous voyage to India
There is hardly a temple to be seen in the coastal areas. Over the years conversions were forcibly imposed, temples were demolished and churches built in their place. Those who were determined to preserve their ancient faith removed their deities from the shrines and fled to the mountainous interior to the east, where Hindu temples can now be seen.
The Shri Mangesh Temple , (dedicated to Lord Siva), and the Shanta-Durga (to goddess Parvati) and Nagesh temples, 22 km (13 miles) east of Panaji near Ponda, are among the most frequented in Goa. Ornate, baroque interiors and several storeyed dipmals — elaborate lamp towers — are unique features of these Goan Hindu shrines.
Considerable changes are shaking the somnolence of Goa. Reunion with India has brought water and electricity to the villages, communication with the outside world and Western tourists. The inflow of migrant labour has aggravated the pressures on domestic resources and brought about the growth of a new culture. While Goans fear that the identity of the region will be diluted by the pace of its integration with the rest of the country, much still remains of the fascinating mix of peoples and customs that characterise the state.
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