22-24: Goa

by - February 03, 2014

Day One: Old Goa

And so, just over three weeks since we touched down in Mumbai, we were in our final destination of the trip.  Goa was to be a bit different – a place that is legendary for its beaches and hedonistic lifestyle that is unique within India.  Controlled by Portugal for nearly half a millennium (until it was seized back with force by the Indian Army in 1961), it is no wonder that Goa has a culture all of its own – I am sure that if Hertfordshire had been run by the Indian government for five hundred years you would probably notice the difference as you crossed from Bedfordshire, even fifty years after it had been handed back…

Se Cathedral
The plan with ending in Goa was to relax a bit before we made our way back to Hong Kong for the new term.  As a result, we decided to do the bulk of the genuine cultural sightseeing on our first day.  This was centered around a visit to Old Goa, about 10km to the east of Panaji (sometimes referred to as new Goa).  Old Goa was once one of the most important cities in the world – they say that in the days of the Portuguese trading empire, Old Goa was more impressive than even Lisbon.  It certainly would have surpassed the majority of European cities of the same time in both wealth and size.  It was, however, slowly abandoned due to outbreaks of disease and the capital of Portuguese Goa was moved to Panaji. What remains is very strange – the churches and major buildings of what was clearly once a major city, surrounded by a few souvenir stalls, restaurants and houses.  To give you an indication of the faded glory of the place, the “Se” Cathedral in Old Goa is the largest church in all of Asia and contains the biggest bell in all of Asia.  It is surrounded on two sides by forest.

Church of St Francis of Assisi
We spent the whole day wandering around Old Goa, looking in beautiful churches and museums with what seemed to be very few other people – considering just how unique the place is.  UNESCO declared the area a world heritage site and this has gone a long way to preserving many of the buildings which are starting to crumble – the combined capacity of all of the churches in Old Goa is now far, far too much for the local Christian populace and many of the beautiful churches stand empty.  There was something very melancholy about the place.  While I am not a particularly religious guy, I walked around picturing my own little village church and imagining how sad it would be to see it with all the pews and soft furnishings stripped out – Christians who know the bible will know that a church refers to its people, not the building, and bearing that in mind, Old Goa was a town full of ghosts.

Disused Church of Our Lady of the Rosary
The more I thought about it however, the more I realised what a difficult situation the local authorities have been put in with Old Goa.  This was a city that was imposed on India by a foreign power – a power whose inquisition is well documented as killing many innocent people in the region.  The sheer volume of churches at the site are now surplus to the requirements of the (still sizeable) Christian community in Goa and the congregations themselves therefore cannot be expected to maintain all of the buildings.  From a historians point of view, I would say that it is essential to preserve all history as best as possible and welcome the money spent on preserving the area.  However (and I acknowledge this as a crude, simplistic and rather unfair argument) I wonder whether in a hypothetical scenario where the Nazis defeated Britain in WW2, we would be keen on preserving the monuments to their conquest once they had left.  As I say, an ethical dilemma.

Ruined Monastery of St Augustine
Basilica of Bom Jesus
As we made our way up to the hill above the town we reached the Monastery of St Augustine – a church that actually crumbled under Portuguese rule.  Once a large ‘Augustinian’ monastery (I’m not even going to pretend that I know what that actually means), it was abandoned in 1835 and suffered a major structural failure in 1942.  The ruins of the monastery remain, along with the haunting tower which has almost split in half.  Our last church of the visit was the Basilica of Bom Jesus (we saw a fair few others but I don’t believe it is worth listing them all – when you go to Old Goa you won’t miss any).  This Basilica is one of the Old Goan churches that is still in use and actually contains the shrivelled remains of St Francis, Goa’s patron saint.  His body is displayed on an elevated altar in a glass coffin – pretty grizzly really… After what had been a very interesting day, we made our way  back to our hotel for a swim and then headed off for good Goan seafood curry in Panaji.

Day Two: Vagator Beach and Chalora Fort

Vagator Beach with the fort to the left
With our cultural day occurring yesterday, myself and Sergei felt able to explore some of Goa’s famous beaches.  Keen to not just go to some ‘Indian Benidorm’ however, we scoured the Lonely Planet for beaches that seemed to have a little bit more to them – almost the entire Arabian Sea coast of Goa is made of beaches so there was plenty to choose from.  We found what we were looking for in a small town located about 45 minutes north, where a beach was said to sit in the shadow of a dramatic fortress, called Chalora.  Arriving at around midday, we weren’t disappointed – while the fort was in a fairly advanced state of disrepair, it offered wonderful views over the beach and coastline.  Once we had got our pictures (and our fill of hot midday sun) we went into the ‘town’ of Vagator – I use inverted commas because the town appeared to be a sparsely distributed selection of restaurants, shops and holiday homes spread through a forest of palm trees.  We ate our lunch at an amazing Greek restaurant with views over the sea and then stayed on the beach until sunset – a very unbloggable activity I’m afraid, but it has been a very busy trip…

Vagator Beach

Day Three: Fort Agauda, Candolim and Sinquerim Beach

Fort Agauda
Today was the last full day of the trip and we were keen to recreate the success of yesterday.  Another flick through the Lonely Planet during our long and excellent breakfast at the Crown Hotel pointed us towards a town just north of Panaji called Candolim which, again, had a great fort and a great beach.  The beach was supposedly the domain of slow roasting Brits and Russians (the two main tourist nationalities in Goa), but we figured we could deal with that if the beach was big and nice enough.  The fort was more impressive than Chalora and the big lighthouse next door was open to the public – and allowed great views back towards Panaji to the south and Sinquerim Beach to the north.  We spotted a nice coastal path from the top of the lighthouse to the beach and this took us about an hour to amble along – the severe cliffs made a change to the long beaches that we had seen so far and actually, in a funny sort of way, reminded me of some of the coastlines of the south of England.  One of the ‘sights’ that I had read about at the beach was a large oil tanker that had run aground about a decade ago just off the coast and hadn’t been removed (at least at the time of writing for Lonely Planet) – however it appeared that this boat had just been dealt with as there were lots of little tug boats off the coast, but no big tanker.  The town of Candolim sits behind Sinquerim beach and was where we had our lunch before another afternoon spent sitting on deckchairs and swimming in the sea.  A hard life for this blogger, for sure.

Cliffs around Fort Agauda
Sinquerim Beach
Sinquerim Beach
Sunset over Sinquerim Beach

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