Near the end of the road from Mumbai to Goa lies a golden city, fought over for centuries by kings of many colours. Today it has lost a little of its shine, but this Rome of the East continues to draw admirers from across the world. And why so? Because Panjim is Emerging! The old giving way to the new, art deco structures next to charming vivendas, a bustling market place and suddenly an old church. And all these add to the beauty. No Doubt, every angle in Panjim affords a different view.
The moment you migrate off NH 17 and emerge onto a stone-paved bridge, Panjim-on-Mandovi will rise up to greet you. Twin bridges carry you across the silver river and you could swear you feel a physical embrace as you enter this city which, as the late city planner David Menezes once wistfully remarked, is "a gift from God'. Old villas and church spires peek out between the tourist resorts, jostling for attention, against the curtain of a serene waterfront. As you drive into the city, even the newer uproars can't erase the elegance of this old colonial town adorned with shaded avenues and heritage mansions. Adding a dab of Portugal to its shapely temples, and a touch of local repartee into the haughty customs of the Iberians, Panjim's combined heritage is neither perfectly Portuguese nor incredibly Indian, but gorgeously Goan.
Walking The Bygone Paths of History
The graceful Mandovi, which flows like a gift from God, before it empties into the blue waters of the Arabian Sea, holds the history of Goa in its shimmering waters. Along the Mandovi the Portuguese sailed into what is now Old Goa, expatriating the Adilshah of Bijapur and scattering the terrified local populace out of their dictatorial passageway. They stayed over for four centuries, in the bargain changing the landscape of Goa forever.
The advent of an epidemic in the 18th century, made the Portuguese shift their capital to Panaji, 'the land that never gets flooded'. They pulled down the magnificent structures of Old Goa, built in Portugal's hey-day, and carried the stones to Panjim, where they copied the same elegance while building a new capital. Later on 22nd March 1843, it was bestowed with the status of 'city' and renamed as Nova Goa (New Goa).
Experience The Magic of Discovery At Ponjje (Panjim)
You will need a full morning for a tour of Old Goa, an afternoon for a tour of Panjim or of the islands in the Mandovi river, and many, many weekends for the famous beaches of Bardez. Any resident will tell you that Panjim is a walker's paradise. So take out a good pair of walking legs even before you plan a holiday trip to Panaji. All roads lead to Church Square, dominated by the towering Lady of Immaculate Conception Church at the heart of Panjim, so this is a good place to begin. Rising up out of Altinho (pronounced Aal-teenyu) hill like a delicately iced, massive, multi-tiered cake, the IC Church is indeed a place to be visited for Midnight Mass on both Christmas and New Year's Eve. Its characteristic feature is the majestic flight of stairs made in Gothic style. Remember to look for two things this church is famous for - the central pediment topped with the second largest bell in Goa and the Baroque main altar, that stands apart inside. Spend a pleasant hour at George Restaurant at the corner below the church, munching on fried 'bombil' to go with beer, and soak in the laid-back atmosphere.
Turn your back to the church and face the Municipal Garden. Walk along the Ourem Creek and cross over into Panjim on the footbridge. At the other side, turn left for the heritage ward of Fontainhas. Fontainhas got its name from 'fonte' (spring) and a single glance will tell you that it's very appropriately named indeed. The cultural centre of Old Panjim in the 1800s, Fontainhas was indeed like a spring out of flowed eminent doctors, pharmacists, engineers, historians, actors, journalists and missionaries. Fontainhas Ward today, with its labyrinthine streets and quaint houses has lost the moment but not its glory. Do take a stroll through the quarter; where the air is irrefutably Old World, the lingo Portuguese and residents sitting in their balconies are fed up of snoopy tourists peering into their living rooms.
Don't forget to visit the concrete memory of the times gone at the Chapel of St. Sebastian, nestling nearby. The most impressive part is the historic crucifix of the Palace of Inquisition, which still sends a shrudder down the Catholic spine. Christ on the cross is always depicted with its head drooping onto his chest. Here, he is life-size and looks straight ahead with eyes wide open, as open as at the times these eyes witnessed unspeakable horrors suffered by Goans at the hands of invaders. Walk up the stone flagged steps to the palace, which has 12 crosses commemorating the Stations of the Cross, tracing Christ's walk up Calvary to his crucifixion. Drive north on Corte de Oiteriro Road to reach the oldest surviving building Adil Shah's Palace, built by the Sultan of Bijapur. Often referred to as Idalcao in Portuguese, this princely palace was remodeled in 1759 for the use of Viceroy. Today, it is morphed into Goa's Secretariat, legislative offices and other government offices.
Explore Art With Nature
When in Panjim for a holiday vacation, don't miss the opportunity to visit the Kala Academy, located on DB Bandodkar Road, next to the Children's Park. Designed bt Charles Correa, this fine centre for art and culture, is intriguing in its of structure and space. Whenever you will visit, you will find some of Goa's finest artistes and stage personalities enjoying a discussion over a cup of coffee. Kala Academy taps and promotes local musical and dramatic talent by organising various cultural events throughout the year.
Drive east on the riverfront road from the Kala Academy, and you can behold some of the city's most well-known sights at the Panjim Jetty. Enjoy a ride on Caravela, a floating casino that cruises the Mandovi in juxtaposition to small crafts like barges, yachts and trawlers, that crowd the shimmering waters of the river. Apart from the casino, you can also relax at the service bar and restaurant that carves a niche in every traveller's mind because of its delicious and mouth-watering delicacies.
A Ride on Mandovi
A stay in Panjim is incomplete without a trip on one of Goa Tourism's Santa Monica cruise boats that take you either west to see a mesmerising sunset on Arabian Sea or east to the island of Chorao. One can enjoy a live performance on deck by local musicians, and everyone from crew to commuter is nice and jolly. If the cruise is an early evening one, grab a seat in the front of the ferry and watch the banks of Mandovi roll smoothly past, illuminated in fairy lights that cast a charming spell. GTDC also offers other boating tours from Panjim Jetty. On Tuesdays and Fridays , go a refreshing backwater trip (9:30 am-4:30 pm) which includes a guided tour of a spice plantation and other nearby rural destinations of tourist interest. This is indeed a lifetime experience because of the close meeting that this ride offers and one gets a memorable chance to explore the vicinities of this palm-fringed state. You van even disembark and have the pleasure of meeting the people, talk with them about their lifestyle and get to know their day-to-day activities.