Spotlight Travel

Goa Beyond Beaches, Bikinis, and Booze

People come to Goa for many reasons. To sit on the beach and listen to the sound of the crashing waves. To devour Goan fish thalis and fresh urrack. To dive into natural plunge pools and attend full moon parties. To spend time with loved ones. To spend time with themselves.

Goa has become my comfort place of sorts. Ever since I dived into my fears here, I have felt an intrinsic connection with the place. Like an old friend who sees you through your highs and lows, Goa has been a source of much joy, comfort, and susegad over the years.

On my last trip to Goa, I was keen to do a few tours with Soul Travelling, a Goan experiential travel company. As you know, I love exploring places on foot, and while it’s fun to do so on my own, it’s equally interesting to see places through the eyes of locals who are passionate about offbeat experiences, hidden nooks, hyperlocal food, cultural trivia, and anecdotes! So I signed up for two tours: a visit to the heritage houses of Goa and a walk through the Latin Quarter of Panjim.

The Old Mansions of Chandor

Chandor is the oldest known capital of Goa. A thriving settlement of yesteryears, Chandor, earlier Chandrapura, is located in South Goa on the banks of the Zuari and Kushavati rivers. It served as the capital from the Bhojas period to the Kadamba dynasty and, thus, has many ruined forts. It derives its name from ‘Chandreshwar’ or ‘Lord of the Moon,’ aka Shiva, though locals most associate it with the ‘Queen’s Curse’ prompted by the treachery of the warriors of the Kadamba kingdom.

Chandor is also home to some really old Goan-Portuguese houses. As part of Soul Travelling’s Houses of Goa tour, I visited two mansions that are over 500 years old!

I love visiting heritage houses – even ones that are just a few decades old – for their architecture and design, materials used, antique furniture, and old household items. Aanchal Malhotra’s book ‘Remnants of a Separation’ has further instilled in me a deeper curiosity and appreciation for material memory and the human stories behind everyday objects. Walking into an old home feels like traveling back in time – inspiring us to imagine what life must’ve been like before we set foot there.

The first house we visited was the Pereira-Menezes Bragança house – a 17th-century Indo-Portuguese mansion that is now divided into two wings with a common entrance. It is believed to be the largest mansion in Goa! The east wing is occupied by the Pereira Bragança family and the west wing belongs to the Menezes Bragança family. Both houses feature antique furniture, Italian marble, Belgian chandeliers, exquisite artifacts, and family portraits. The Menezes Bragança also has Goa’s first private library with over 5000 leather-bound books in Portuguese, English, and French collected by Luís de Menezes Bragança, a reputed journalist in his time.

The houses also feature gifts from around the world, ranging from Chinese paintings to porcelain vases and artifacts. Wooden furniture in unique designs (such as the Lover’s Chair) give the rooms character. Some windows are made of flattened oyster shells in lieu of glass while coconut shells from Seychelles, Ruby candle stands, elephant tusks, and glass paintings adorn the shelves and walls. Other interesting objects at the Pereira Bragança House include a 12-legged mahogany dinner table, a kerosene fridge from before electricity came to Goa, Sterling silverware from England, ceramic gin bottles, German soda makers, and a boat-shaped wooden roof.

The second house we visited was the Fernandes Heritage Home – the oldest house in Goa! Complete with a women’s cupboard that gives way to an underground room for emergency escape, it could very well be the setting of a historical fantasy novel! The walls have bullet holes, paintings and portraits, old wall clocks, and French windows, while the interiors include crystal chandeliers, ancient lamps and vases, a piano, and porcelain items including a beautiful tea cup with a Japanese lady’s face reflected against the light.

It’s all very grand – but also fascinating – to get a glimpse of a different era, a different world.

The Latin Quarter of Panjim

Fontainhas – the Latin Quarter of Panjim – is a delightful neighborhood to explore and was recognized as a Heritage Zone by UNESCO in 1984. With narrow alleys, colorful houses, and quaint cafes, it’s the perfect place to walk, take photos, grab a drink, and while away time.

I first did the Latin Quarter walk with Soul Travelling to learn about the neighborhood’s history. In addition to exploring the picturesque streets of Fontainhas, we also visited the Panjim Post Office which was once a storeroom for spices and tobacco, St. Sebastian Chapel which was constructed after the Bubonic plage disappeared as thanksgiving, Sao Tome Chapel, a statue of the Father of Hypnotism, and one of the oldest bakeries of Panjim where we got to eat bebinca, dodol, dosh, and macaroons!

Fontainhas dates back to the late 18th century when Antonio Joao de Sequeira, a wealthy Portuguese man used the area for coconut plantations. However, when the Portuguese government headquarters shifted to Panjim due to the spread of the Bubonic plague in Old Goa, Fontainhas was converted into a residential area for the administrative officers. Some of the houses and bakeries here are over 100 years old and have distinct Portuguese architectural influences.

After the walk, I visited art galleries to see how Azulejo tiles are painted and hand-baked, followed by some quiet reading time at a streetside cafe. The entire setting – a tiny balcony with carved iron railings overlooking the narrow cobbled street below – and the laidback vibe of the people inside, reminded me of the small towns of Europe.

A close friend once wrote me a note in which he said that despite knowing me for many years he felt like he’d barely scratched the surface of who I was. His words have stayed with me for various reasons, but I particularly feel this way about Goa. The more I visit it, the more I discover, and the more it calls me back.

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