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Walk through Panaji's Latin quarter

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

travel Updated: Apr 11, 2011 11:16 IST

Six o' clock in the
morning and I can't
sleep. I'm too excited.
I stare out the window of my
hotel in Fontainhas, Panaji's
oldest and most interesting
district with wide tree-lined
boulevards, winding residential
alleys and a row of neoclassical
houses. It's very
peaceful and entirely still. I
leap out of bed for a morning
walk through the bylanes of
this old district, ready to
watch Panaji wake up. 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 be expected in more than just design and architecture. Take the 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. Café Venite, a first floor restaurant, overlooking a narrow street below, with its wooden floors, balcony seats and graffiti walls is another great option to soak in the atmosphere of the quarter.

Goblet of experience
A lady sits under the sign at Café Venite and looks as mysterious and faraway as the protagonist in an Edward Hopper painting. By her side is a bag of yellow- andblue painted ceramic tiles called azulejos, which she's just picked up at Galeria Vehla Goa.

Her daughter seated opposite is reading to her from a well-thumbed guidebook about the old quarter, "St. Sebastian's Chapel built in 1888 has a life-size crucifix that used to hang in the Palace of the Inquisition in old Goa." One guesses that this is where they're headed next, just like me, hungry for a new goblet of experience topped up with a stop at a tavern nearby for the local specialty of feni -- a drink made from distilled cashew or from the sap of coconut 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 another good option. For more information, write to panjiminn@bsnl.in or visit www.panjiminn.com