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Published: December 22nd 2019
Hugging 162 klm of the west coast, with 54 beaches lapped by waves from the Arabian Sea, Goa is the smallest and richest state in India. It’s well known for sandy beaches, scrumptious seafood and it’s Portuguese heritage.
Goa has a long history as a Portuguese colony, dating from 1510 until they were forced out in 1961. Their indelible mark is still evident in the state’s baroque architecture, whitewashed churches, crumbling forts, and the stunning cathedrals of Old Goa.
Panaji is the capital, though Vasco De Garma is the largest city. Our train pulled into the station at Margao, 40klm south of Panaji at 6.00am on Friday morning, 45 minutes late. Margao is the second largest city by population, and the commercial and cultural capital of Goa. For tourists, it’s mainly a transport hub, somewhere they pass through on their way to one of Goa’s beaches.
Thankfully our driver and car was at the station to meet us, where he’s been since 4.30am. He loaded our luggage into the car and we headed into Panaji. It was too early for us to go to our accomodation, an Air BnB property, check in time was midday, so we asked
to be taken somewhere in town for breakfast. We ended up at Aunty Maria Cafe, attached to Hotel Fidalgo, were we had a reasonable meal.
We have our driver for the next three days, essential in Goa if you want the freedom to get around. He will also drop us at the airport for our Mumbai flight early Monday morning. We didn’t come here to sit on a beach, preferring instead to get out and see the sights. We are limited to 80klm/8 hours of hire time per day. If we go over, we pay extra.
With still hours to fill, we decided to start our sightseeing over the river and visit Reis Magos Fort and Church which is situated on the banks of the Mandovi River overlooking Panaji. From its origin as a defense fortress, to being used as a jail and then a hospital, the fort has served the state of Goa since 1493. It was a steep walk up the hill to the fort, after waiting outside reception for them to open. Opening time was 9.30am on one sign, with reception, where we had to buy our tickets, opening at 10.00am. We’re finding this sort
of conflicting information everywhere we go, which is a little frustrating. Needless to say, it was after ten before they opened.
From here we headed to yet another fort - Aquada Fort which overlooks Sinquerim Beach. We paid R600 admittance here and there was really nothing to see beyond a huge open space, though there were great river views. We were in and out in record time.
We headed to our accomodation, which was a little hard to find. We were staying at Estellina Homestay at Caranzalem Beach, about 5klm south of Panaji. With the help of google maps our driver eventually found it, on the 5th floor of a huge consortium, overlooking an even bigger one next door. The security guards at the entrance took our details before allowing us through. I wasn’t aware that we were in a big complex until after I’d paid for the accomodation. Our host gave me this information at a later date. Had it been in the property description on air BnB, I would most likely have booked somewhere else.
The beach was within walking distance, a wide expanse of practically deserted sand, which we had a walk on later
in the afternoon.
Tonight we ate at a multi-cuisine restaurant nearby where we were able to buy our favourite drinks from home, for $2-3 a nip, a definate bonus.
The next day (Saturday 21 Dec) I had arranged for us to go on a walking tour in Panaji which would take us through Fontainhas, the Latin Quarter, which maintains its Portuguese influence, particularly through the architecture. We walked through narrow and picturesque winding streets like those found in many European cities, and took photos of old villas and buildings painted in the traditional tones of pale yellow, green, or blue, with roofs made of red coloured tiles, a very pleasant area.
Our driver had dropped us at Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church where we met our guide, a young local woman. He returned two hours later, when the tour finished, to collect us. We headed out to Old Goa, and spent a few hours wandering through Portuguese era churches.
From the 16th to the 18th centuries, when Old Goa’s population exceeded that of Lisbon or London, Goa’s former capital was considered the ‘Rome of the East’. You can still sense that grandeur as you
wander what’s left of the city, with its towering churches and cathedrals and majestic convents. Its rise under the Portuguese, from 1510, was meteoric, but cholera and malaria outbreaks forced the abandonment of the city in the 17th century. In 1843 the capital was officially shifted to Panaji. Some of the most imposing churches and cathedrals are still in use and are remarkably well preserved, while other historical buildings have become museums or simply ruins. It was busy, lots of local tourists out and about. We’re still not seeing a lot of foreigners here, I think most are sitting on a beach further south, with a cocktail in hand.
From here we went to The Goa Museum, which was situated well out of town in a residential area. A strange place to put a public building, we thought. The Goa Affordable Art Fest was underway and we enjoyed an hour there, admiring the talent of the local artists. I could have bought a few home, I found the work so inspiring.
We asked our driver to drop us back at the homestay after leaving here. We have down time every afternoon, to sleep, blog or read, heading out
later to find dinner.
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