About Panaji capital city, Goa
One of the smallest capital cities in India, Panaji is situated on tile south bask of the Mandovi River in Goa. Called affectionately the 'Mandovi Princess', it is 3.37 sq. km. in area and is built around a wooded hillock called “Altinho” on the slopes of which are some of Goa’s most beautiful residential houses. The view from this hill of the magnificent houses, the river, the country boats, the estuary of the river and of the ancient forts of Aguada and Reis Magos is breathtaking.
Panaji's origins are rather humble. It grew from an obscure, tiny, fishing settlement with sleepy, white-washed houses to a capital city when, in 1843, the Portuguese shifted from Old Goa to Panaji to escape an outbreak of plague in the old capital.
Potuguese ruled the Goa
The Portuguese took over the ancient fort of Adil Shah and also his palace, the Idalcao palace. Probably, no other modern fort can compete in grandeur with it, except, perhaps, Fort St. George in Madras. Today, the fort-cum-palace houses the Secretariat and Legislative Assembly buildings.
The mellow sight that greets the visitor on first beholding Panaji is of white-washed villas, well-nurtured gardens of bougainvillea and roads winding past graceful old houses. The central plaza is enclosed by cool arcades and serenity pervades the entire scene.
The sight of small country boats plying up and down the silvery Mandovi with an enchanting view of historic forts, lush green paddy fields arid coconut groves and rolling hills in the background is indeed a treat to the travel-weary eyes of the modern visitor.
There are not many historical sights in Panaji. Its greatest attraction is the innate Portugueseness it has maintained through the centuries of rule and conquest. And, of course, its beaches!
Anjuna (22 kms from Panaji)
A popular beach that is a hotbed of psychedelic color and music, lost children of the world, artists, searchers and defiant citizens.
There are a number of excellent sea food restaurants by this beautiful beach. Its few hotels are usually booked far in advance of the November-March season. This is the beach for the adventurous in spirit, the daring and the uninhibited.
Calangute & Baga (15 kms from Panaji)
Lying on the south bank of the Mandovi is Calangute beach which offers an excellent view of the Aguada and Reis Magos forts on the opposite bank of the river. The Nehru Bridge which spanned the Mandovi collapsed in 1986 and is being rebuilt. Calangute Beach, set in a 7 km arch along the Arabian Sea provides year-round fun and thrills. Called the 'Queen of Goan beaches', it is one of the most popular and most populated of beaches in Goa and is well-known for its scenic splendor and breathtaking views.
Although it was notorious some years back as a 'paradise' for hippies and the bizarre, it has now settled down to being a pleasant tourist haven. You can shop here for quaint beach- side wares like shell-jewellery and handicrafts.
Baga, about 2 kms north of Calangute, is charming and quiet, unlike bustling Calangute. There is a retreat for priests and pilgrims here.
Aguada (7 kms from Panaji)
South of Calangute and near the Mandovi River is this beach frequented by the jetsetters.
The Aguada Fort, overlooking the silvery Mandovi, is the most famous of Goa's forts. Built as a bulwark against British and Dutch attacks in the early 17th century, the fort has not decayed much over the centuries. Work on the fort was started in 1604 and completed eight years later, during the reign of Viceroy Dom Ruy Lourence de Tavora. Still in good shape are the Manueline arches and the 79 guns which fired at invaders. So too are the springs, fountains and gardens of exotic plants and fruit trees. One of the rock-cut fountains in the fort is attributed, by an inscription on the rock, to the regime of Dom Francisco da Gama, a grandson of Vasco da Gama.
Ships used to dock by the beach here, in Portuguese times, to take water from the Fort's many wells. Hence the name, Agua meaning water in Portuguese.
Inside the fort is a chapel dedicated to Our Lady of Good Voyage. The fort is now used as the Central Civil Jail.
Built over the ruins of a small fort of the Adil Shahi dynasty of Bijapur (l5th-l6th centuries), the Reis Magos fort (6 kms from Aguada) dates from 1551, though it was enlarged and rebuilt in 1704.
According to a Gazetteer, the fort housed, in the 18th century, Raja Madhav Rao of Savantvadi (now in Maharashtra, about 50 kms from Goa) and his retinue of 1500 men, 1000 horses and 4 elephants.
Very near the fort are a church and college of the same name, both dating from 1555. Many of the Portuguese Viceroys took their oath of office in this church. In the church precincts are granite tigers and pyramids which are believed to be the remains of an ancient Hindu temple.
Reis Magos is the scene of much gaiety and fun from the 5th to 7th of January, every year, when a huge fair — the Feira dos Reis — is held.
Gaspar Dias (Miramar) (3 kms from Panaji)
This beach is the closest to Panaji but as a tourist spot it is not very popular, being marred by a strong undertow. But it is extremely picturesque, situated as it is just where the Mandovi meets the sea. And the Aguada fort on the opposite bank of the river adds to the scenic splendor.
The historically important fort of Gaspar Dias was built in 1598 by Julio Simao - a famous architect of the time, who also designed the Arch of the Viceroys in Velha Goa.
Dona Paula (7 kms from Panaji)
This elegant picnic resort has earned the name 'Biarritz of the East' for its vast stretch of sand and water. It is a delight to behold by the dazzling light of the sun or the mellow glow of the moon... "here the waves are dressed in whitest foam and the sea is a pure, transparent green".
There are two statues near the sea carved from marmorite — a marble-like stone. The statues, together entitled 'Image of India', depict a woman looking east and a man facing west, probably signifying that west or east, the world is one, or, as some theorize, look into the past and the future, the man looking back and the woman forward. The sculpture was done by Baroness Yrsa von Leistner. The beach also provides a fantastic view of the Marmagao harbor across the river Zuari.
This is the enormous 15th century palace of the Adil Shahi dynasty. Rebuilt in 1615 by a Portuguese viceroy, it was mainly used as a fort to protect the capital. Today, this fort-cum-palace houses the buildings of the Secretariat.
Statue of Abbe Faria
Right opposite the palace stands the imposing bronze statue of Abbe Faria, the celebrated Goan priest-scholar-scientist who was recognised by 18th century Europe as the father of hypnotism. Faria, a contemporary of Alexander Dumas, even figures in the author's famous The Count of Monte Cristo. The statue, which portrays Abbe Faria in the act of mesmerising a woman patient, is one of the landmarks of Goa.
Facing the main square in the very heart of the town is the imposing Church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception with its twin towers and belfry. Situated atop Altinho, in the city-centre, it provides an enchanting view of the town laid out below — the graceful villas, narrow winding roads, the lush green of paddy and palm, groves of mango and jack fruit, all interspersed with the white of Christian crosses and the color of the shrines of all faiths.
The original church was built in 1540. It was demolished and rebuilt from the foundation in 1619. The main altar to 'Nossa Senhora da Imaculada Conceicao' is in the Renaissance style.
The arch of the main altar has marble statues of the Saints Peter and Paul decorating either side. There are side altars dedicated to Crucified Jesus, Our Lady of the Rosary and Sacred Heart of Jesus. The first two have Dominican statues of an earlier age, but the beautiful altar to the Sacred Heart of Jesus was built only in the 19th century.
Another object of interest in the Panjim church, as this shrine is popularly called, is its bell — the second largest bell in Goa, the biggest being the one of Se Cathedral. The bell, originally from a church in Old Goa, was brought to this church in 1871 from Fort Aguada where it was used in the lighthouse tower.
Panaji is probably the best base for the traveler's sojourn in exotic Goa, especially as far as accommodation is concerned. The town is well-furnished with a wide range of hotels, restaurants and youth hostels to fit every budget. The Tourist Office and the Indian Railways' out booking office are also located here. There is no question of rail booking in 1st Class from Panaji; you have to go either to the rail head, Vasco da Gama, or the Madgaon station. Major airlines also provide connectivity from different parts of the country.