Known as the Velhas Conquistas (“Old Conquests”), the land wedged between the Mandovi and Zuari rivers in Central Goa was the first territory to be colonized by the Portuguese in the early sixteenth century, and still retains a more Christian feel than outlying districts. Gabled, whitewashed churches dominate most village squares, and you’ll see plenty of old-style Portuguese dresses worn by Catholic women.
The Lusitanian atmosphere is most discernible of all in the older districts of the state capital, Panjim, and although the town attracts far fewer visitors than the coastal resorts, it certainly deserves a day or two’s break from the beach, if only to visit the remains of Old Goa, a short bus ride away upriver. Further inland, the forested lower slopes of the Western Ghats, cut through by the main Panjim–Bengaluru (Bangalore) highway, shelter the impressive Dudhsagar falls, reachable only by 4WD jeep, and a small, but beautifully situated medieval Hindu temple at Tambdi Surla.Read More
Stacked around the sides of a lush terraced hillside at the mouth of the River Mandovi, PANJIM (also known by its Marathi name, Panaji – “land that does not flood”) was for centuries little more than a minor landing stage and customs house, protected by a hilltop fort and surrounded by stagnant swampland. It only became state capital in 1843, after the port at Old Goa had silted up and its rulers and impoverished inhabitants had fled the plague.
Today, the town ranks among the least congested and hectic of any Indian capital. Conventional sights are thin on the ground, but the backstreets of the old quarter, Fontainhas, have retained a faded Portuguese atmosphere, with their colour-washed houses, azulejo tiled street names and Catholic churches.
Panjim’s annual hour in the spotlight comes at the end of November each year when it hosts the International Film Festival of India, or IFFI, for which a galaxy of Bollywood glitterati, and the odd foreign director, turn up to strut their stuff.
At one-time a byword for oriental splendour, Portugal’s former capital in India, OLD GOA, was virtually abandoned following malaria and cholera epidemics from the seventeenth century onwards. Today, despite its UNESCO World Heritage Site status, you need considerable imagination to picture the once-great city at its zenith, when it boasted a population of several hundred thousand. The maze of twisting streets, piazzas and ochre-washed villas has vanished, and all that remains is a score of cream-painted churches and convents. Foremost among the surviving monuments is the tomb of St Francis Xavier, the legendary sixteenth-century missionary, whose desiccated remains are enshrined in the Basilica of Bom Jesus – the object of veneration for Catholics from across Asia and beyond.