It’s six o’ clock in the morning and I can’t sleep. I’m too excited. I stare out of the window of my hotel in Fontainhas, Panaji in Goa’s oldest district with wide tree-lined boulevards, winding residential alleys and a row of neo-classical houses. It’s very peaceful and entirely still. I leap out of bed for a morning walk, through the bylanes of this old district.
As I stroll between an array of intriguing shops and cafes with names like Souza and Lobo, I congratulate myself on having had the foresight to not head straight for the beaches, but to pause within this faded but charming Portuguese district of Goa’s capital city.
A window in one of these old Portuguese homes cracks open a notch and an old lady in a floral print dress peeps out. She asks where I’m headed at this unearthly hour. Then, proceeds to tell me about her driver who’s unwell. In Goa the neighbour’s business is still everybody’s business.
The tile-roofed houses I walk past have retained their traditional colours: yellow ochre, green and indigo blue, with a white trim. They stand in sharp contrast to the whitewashed baroque façade of the Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. This colour coding testifies to the legacy of Portuguese insistence that every Goan building except the churches, which should be white, had to be colour washed after the monsoons to set them markedly apart.
After 451 years of colonisation, this influence is to naturally expected in more than just design and architecture. Take food, for instance. At the taverns that dot the street, it’s easy to find a sample of the famous vindaloo, whose name originated from the Portuguese vinho d’alho, which literally means garlic wine. Originally it was an extra hot-and-sour pork curry.
Now, owing to its popularity, it is made with a variety of meat and fish. Viva Panjim on Rua 31 de Janeiro is where most foodies go in pursuit of traditional Goan-Portuguese home-cooked food — prawn balchao, grilled fish and bebinca, a rich solid egg custard with coconut. Cafe Venite, overlooking a narrow street below, with its wooden floors, balcony seats and graffiti walls, is another great option to soak up the atmosphere of the quarter.
Getting There: There are many direct flights between Delhi and Goa. The nearest airport to Panaji is Dabolim, which is 45 kms away. The nearest railhead to Panaji is Karmali which is 15 kms away.
Taxis ply abundantly.
Staying There: Panjim Inn, set in the heart of an old Portuguese market town in the Latin quarter of the city, is the right place to stay. Panjim Posauda is another good option. For more information, write to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.panjiminn.com .