We flew out to Goa over the Diwali-Bhai Duj break. But unlike my previous holidays to the state, instead of enjoying the sun and sand, we decided to explore the historical part of the lovely Latin quarters in the heart of Panjim.
We stayed at the hundred and fifty year old Panjim Inn. Also part of the same property is the Panjim Poussada and Panjim Peoples. Panjim Inn is a beautiful heritage hotel located in the Fontainhas neighborhood. We booked through tripzuki and got a room in the new wing of the hotel. When I first entered I was a tad bit disappointed with the size of the room. But then I overcame that soon enough and began to admire the two large four poster beds that take up most of the space. Of course, given how sturdy these beds are it is unlikely it is part of the antique furniture that this hotel is otherwise famous for. The beautiful wardrobe with the floral inlay and antique style dresser in the corner adds to the quaint feeling of having stepped into a different era. But it is the red and grey mosaic floor and the Portuguese style windows that really take the cake. Our little first floor balcony overlooked the narrow road where traffic is rather heavy. But we weren't bothered by the noise since we were outdoors most of the time. Right across the road flows the Rua de Querem - a once lovely canal, that now unfortunately carries a lot of the locality's rubbish.
Across the hotel is the Gitanjali Art gallery where Maria (an artist herself and, incidentally also a part of the family that owns the Panjim Inn) curates art exhibitions. She was nice enough to introduce us to works by a few interesting artists. She has also beautifully arranged the Panjim Pousada courtyard - with its red floor, tulsi plant in the centre, the four headed Ganesh and exquisite paintings all around such that it exudes a sense of calm and exquisite elegance. The Pousada, also across the Panjim Inn was originally owned by a family of oil pressers (Ghanekars). The Hindu elements of the architecture of this building complement the portuguese style of the Panjim Inn.
The Panjim Inn has a small restaurant called the Verandah. This is a quiet open air restuarant located in the old wing of the hotel. While the Goan section of the menu is rather limited, the staff was nice enough to whip up a few traditional dishes on request - a cafreal and xacuti - dishes too Goan for them to not be able to accede!
Other than the Verandah, we ate at the Desbue - a beautiful restaurant serving continental fare right next to the Panjim Inn. The food is excellent (although they don't seem to have a liquor license) and very reasonably priced. Another day we visited the Saraya Ecostay where we met up with a few friends for lunch. True to its name, the food here is vegetarian, organic and extremely wholesome and the fare comprises of soups, salads and pizzas. But the best food we ate was at the legendary Mum's Kitchen, next to the Miriam beach that serves authentic Goan cuisine - a little pricey by Panjim standards, but worth every penny
Fontainhas and the adjoining Sao Tome neighborhoods are now heritage sites - which means that the locals were forced to stop demolishing the lovely old buildings and erecting ugly apartment complexes - the bane of modern India (which has ruined another adjoining and primarily Hindu area - the Mala neighborhood). One day AB and I explored the locality on our own and marvelled at the beautiful houses, the Immaculate Conception Church, the Maruti temple and the beautiful fort of Adil Shah and the winding lanes of the Latin quarters.
On the second day we took a heritage walk through this area with Ana (part of a group called 'Make It Happen'). Ana happens to have been a teacher for close to four decades and with the enthusiasm of a school teacher helping students explore and discover, took us around this locality. What makes her tour special is her personal connection with the place. Turns out, her husband's family lives in Fontainhas and after marriage she also lived there for several years. As a result, as she took us around the neighbourhood, several people paused to say hello or exchange pleasantries with her. Ana could also tell us about most of the families that occupied the homes that AB and I had been admiring the previous day.
Only in Goa have I seen such vibrant colours on houses that shout joie de vivre. Ana also pointed out the windows of the old homes that still had mother of pearl shutters. One can only imagine the beautiful sunlight that would filter into cool dark rooms through these lovely shells in a bygone era.
The tour ended with us stopping at the residence of Chico, a troubadour and an old friend of Ana's who showed us his antique furniture and curios and then sang a few Konkanese and Portuguese songs for us.
The thing about Goans is that singing and dancing comes naturally to them - go to any restaurant that has a live band that the locals frequent to understand what I mean. So AB and I decided to take all four left feet between us to the Sylvia and Jason Dance Academy for a few lessons in ballroom dancing. Sylvia is a wonderful teacher who patiently took us through the basics of cha cha cha, fox trot and waltz.
And finally to complete the Goan experience, we hired a scooty for our stay there. A very pregnant me clung on to a nervous AB on the first day as we wound our way around Panjim. But by the next day we were naturals - I navigated and AB confidently weaved us in and out of traffic as we went to and fro our dance classes and to meet friends.