Walk through Panaji's Latin quarter

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3 Nov 2010
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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 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 [email protected]
or visit www.panjiminn.com
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