Walk through Panaji's Latin quarter

BySonia Nazareth, Goa
Apr 11, 2011 11:16 AM IST

Goa isn't just about beaches and babes. This holiday season, head to Fontainhas, and check out the history on offer

Six o' clock in themorning and I can'tsleep. I'm too excited.I stare out the window of myhotel in Fontainhas, Panaji'soldest and most interestingdistrict with wide tree-linedboulevards, winding residentialalleys and a row of neoclassicalhouses. It's verypeaceful and entirely still. Ileap out of bed for a morningwalk through the bylanes ofthis old district, ready towatch Panaji wake up. As Istroll between an array ofintriguing shops and cafeswith names like Souza andLobo, I congratulate myselfon having had the foresight tonot head straight for thebeaches, but to pause withinthis faded but charmingPortuguese district of Goa'scapital city.

A window in one of theseold Portuguese homes cracksopen a notch and an old ladyin a floral print dress peepsout. She asks where I'mheaded at this unearthlyhour. Then proceeds to tellme about her driver who'sunwell. In Goa the neighbour'sbusiness is still everybody'sbusiness.

The tile-roofed houses Iwalk past have retained theirtraditional colours: yellowochre, green and indigo bluewith a white trim. Theystand in sharp contrast to thewhitewashed baroque façadeof the Church of Our Lady ofImmaculate Conception. Thiscolour coding testifies to thelegacy of Portuguese insistencethat every Goan buildingexcept the churches,which should be white, had tobe colour washed after themonsoons to set themmarkedly apart.

After 451 years ofcolonisation, this influence isto be expected in more thanjust design and architecture.Take the food, for instance.At the taverns that dot thestreet, it's easy to find a sampleof the famous vindaloo,whose name originated fromthe Portuguese vinho d'alho,which literally means garlicwine. Originally it was anextra hot-and- sour porkcurry. Now owing to its popularityit is made with a varietyof meat and fish. VivaPanjim on Rua 31 de Janeirois where most foodies go inpursuit of traditional Goan-Portuguese home-cookedfood - prawn balchao, grilledfish and bebinca, a rich solidegg custard with coconut.Café Venite, a first floorrestaurant, overlooking anarrow street below, with itswooden floors, balcony seatsand graffiti walls is anothergreat option to soak in theatmosphere of the quarter.

Goblet of experience
A lady sits under the sign atCafé Venite and looks as mysteriousand faraway as theprotagonist in an EdwardHopper painting. By herside is a bag of yellow- andbluepainted ceramic tilescalled azulejos, which she'sjust picked up at GaleriaVehla Goa.

Her daughter seated oppositeis reading to her from awell-thumbed guidebookabout the old quarter, "St.Sebastian's Chapel built in1888 has a life-size crucifixthat used to hang in thePalace of the Inquisition inold Goa." One guesses thatthis is where they're headednext, just like me, hungry fora new goblet of experiencetopped up with a stop at atavern nearby for the localspecialty of feni -- adrink made from distilledcashew or from the sap ofcoconut palms.

Getting There:
There are many direct flights between Mumbai 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 for an experience of life in the heart of an old Portuguese market town in the Latin quarter of the city. Panjim Posauda is anothergood option. For more information, write to panjiminn@bsnl.in or visit www.panjiminn.com

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