Marmagoa and Old Goa, Goa, India

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March 18th 2012
Published: March 24th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

MARMAGOA & OLD GOA, GOA, INDIA. Sunday 18 March, 2012.

The ship was late but immigration was pretty slick. We were doing a ship tour this stop (our first) so we were treated to the preferential treatment that all the tours get and were processed first. The tour was called Spices with Spiritual Insights with Old Goa.

Goa is the smallest state in India with a population of 1.4 million. Goa was ruled by the Portugese for 451 years, only ending in 1961 when the Indians took over. This has left Goa with a blend of two cultures from two continents. Christians still number one third of the population. Among the paddy fields, wayside Crusifixes alternate with Hindu Shrines.

After boarding the coach we were taken to Old Goa. Old Goa has been abandoned since the 18th century, replaced with the more salubrious Panaji (New Goa). However, several important structures remain in Old Goa and the whole area is a World Heritage Site.

Our first stop was the Se Cathedral or The Cathedral of St Catherine, Patron Saint of Goa. This cathedral dominates the north side of the Pelhourino Square, around which the main buildings of Old Goa stand. It has a classical facade reminiscent of some of the great churches of Tuscany. One of the twin towers has collapsed, but the other still holds the great Golden Bell which was used to announce the holding of an auto-da-fe for the trial and execution of heretics under the Inquisition. The grandiose vaulted nave, lined with columns, is flanked by 14 side chapels. The main alter is dedicated to St Catherine. The richly guilded panel shows the martydom of the Saint. On either side of the nave there are wooden statues of St Peter and St Paul. We had to be quiet as it was a Sunday and there was a service in progress. Three bishops were directing proceedings from the front. The congregation were all dressed in their 'Sunday Best'.

We then walked across Pelhourio Square (from the pillory which once stood there) towards the Basilica of Bom Jesus (the Good Jesus). On the way we passed the Archbishop's Palace which is now a museum. The Basilica is dedicated to the infant Jesus and brings thousands of pilgrims to Goa.

The body of St Francis Xavier is preserved here, as is the original pine coffin in which is body was interred. The body is now encased in a silver and bronze tomb on top of a three tiered marble mausoleum in a side chapel off the southern trancept. The coffin used to be opened now and again for pilgrims to kiss the well preserved body. One pious Portugese female pilgrim, in an excess of zeal, bit off a toe in 1554, and over the years various parts of the body (including the right arm) were cut off and distributed as holy relics. As the remains seemed to be desiccating, the church authorities finally had the body safely enlosed in a glass case, and since the 1950s it has been displayed only once every 10 years. We managed to see the tomb and the coffin but were unable to enter the main nave of the Basilica as there was also a service going on here (no surprise on a Sunday!).

Next stop was a Hindu Temple - when you've seen one you've seen them all. This one was called Shri Manguesh Devasthan. Shoes off again. Then on to Savoi Plantation where they adopt traditional methods of organic farming. The mild temperature throughout the year and high rainfall favour a richness of vegetation. The Savoi is one of the largest tropical spice plantations in Goa, situated right on the banks of the Mandovi River. First we had a traditional Goan Hindu Buffet. Seafood, rice, pickles and vegetarian offerings - all served on a plate made from banana leaves. After lunch we were taken for a guided walk around the plantation to learn about production methods and the crops, roots and herbs grown here. We could smell some of the spices and were shown cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, basil and nutmeg.

After lunch we were taken to another Hindu Temple. Very modern but slightly nicer than the first one. The coach then rattled its way back to the ship and on the way we talked about the reasons why we never do ship's tours. It was very disappointing. We should have got a taxi, seen old Goa and then gone to a beach!

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