Find the best landmarks, beaches and entertainment in the cultural heart of northern Goa. Words Meral Kathwari
Goa is India’s smallest state but attracts a surplus of visitors during the months of November and December. Its Panaji region is a popular getaway to enjoy a variety of fashion shows and concerts, art and culture, and enticing beaches and resorts. Goa is the only Indian region where you’ll find a wealth of Portuguese influences, since it was a colony of the country from 1510 to 1961. With colourful villas and cobblestoned streets, Goa is reminiscent of many European cities. Add the monsoon climate and it’s a hit tropical destination.
Panaji has a number of churches, temples and cathedrals. The most prevalent is the Basilica of Bom Jesus. The Basilica is the best example of Baroque architecture and is one of the oldest churches in India. Once you go inside, it takes you back in time to a different era. Here, you can pay your respects to the tomb of St. Francis Xavier. Our Lady of Conception church is located in the main square known as Praça da Igreja. It was built in 1541 and is known for its ‘square of flowers’ attraction. The bell on top of the church is also the second-largest in the world. According to popular belief, Sao Tome chapel is inhabited by spirits. The church was rebuilt in 1902 and is surrounded by pastel-coloured houses and taverns. Across the town, you can visit the pillory where live executions used to take place in 1849. Or for something a little less macabre, head to the Goa State Museum, and browse through art exhibitions and galleries of sculpture, paintings and furniture.
Goa also has age-old temples to relish. The Mahalakshmi Temple (located 22km from Panaji) has existed since 1413. The Maruti Temple is on top of Altinho hills. It overlooks the Fountinhas and is one of the most beautiful temples in Goa, dedicated to Hanuman. Other temples in the district include Balaji Temple, Mangeshi and Candolim. When you go on a heritage walk, you’ll get to see the Fountinhas district. Envision narrow streets, old villas, and colourful buildings – it’s an ancient Portuguese quarter of Panaji. Casa de Moeda is another attraction meaning ‘house of coins’. It was Goa’s mint house from 1834-1841. In Panaji, visitors can head to the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary located in the nearby village of Curacao, along the Modavi River. Goa is known for its exotic birds and wildlife and here you will find many different species of birds and animals.
Beaches and Water Activities
Panaji has three major beaches: Miramar, Bambolim, and Dona Paula. The Zvari River and The Mandovi River meet at Dona Paula and lead out to the Arabian Sea. Many Bollywood films have been filmed at the location. Miramar beach is mostly crowded throughout the year because of the influx of vacationers. Bambolim is a scenic setting, with clear blue waters and palm trees holding up hammocks. Jet skiing and windsurfing are the two most popular activities in Goa. You’ll find companies offering both for tourists to try out on Panaji’s Sinqueim beach. Goa’s Baga, Candolim, and Vagator beaches also offer the sports and are about a 30-minute drive further south of Panaji. Visitors on Dona Paula beach can try their hand at deep sea diving. With deep, clear waters at their disposal, Dive Goa instructors will certify and assist anyone who wants to explore the warm and the safe underground of the Arabian Sea (www.divegoa.com). Cruises are also very common in Goa, which can be experienced on the Santa Monica Jetty Boat Rides. It’s a river cruise that runs along the Mondavi River, with a fine dining and bar experience on board, along with live cultural and musical entertainment. They also have different trails venturing into the ocean for dolphin watching, plus a sunset and also sundown cruise. Their Backwater Thrill explores the spice plantations and the Islands of Chorao, Divar, and Old Goa. White water rafting is also an amazing experience in Goa and just a short drive from any beach. There are rafting tours that take you on the Tilari river gorge and Mahdei and allow six guests per trip (www.goarafating.com).
Goa is a shopaholic’s heaven. Because of the Indo-Portuguese influence, it has an array of mixed traditional and modern crafts. Clothing, bags and shoes have an exotic character to them. There are a lot of flea markets and malls, as well as designer boutiques and brand stores. Goa is famous for its brassware, shell work, coins, and carved furniture, while at Miramar beach you can scour a collection of beachwear, bags, and shirts. At the Calulo Mall you’ll find international brands, and a food court to take a break. Alternatively, travel further north to find bargains at the sprawling mass of stalls at Anjuna Flea Market.