Toast to coasts

Toast to coasts

Toast to coasts

A jaunt to Goa is oodles of fun, a lesson in history, a shoppers’ high and a game of gamble, writes Tanushree Podder.

It was a bright February afternoon when we drove into the capital of Goa. The long drive from Pune to Goa, through the beautiful forests of the Western Ghats, was as fascinating as our destination. Our stomach growling angrily with hunger, we stopped to tank it up at Velha, as Old Goa is known.

Fortified with a platter full of rice and fish curry, we covered the short distance to Panaji with the Mandovi river meandering by our side. Doubtless, it was a dramatic entry into the city that was established by Bijapur Sultans and colonised by the Portuguese for a few centuries.

In the very first glance, it is possible to detect the lasting affect the colonisers left on the people and the city. The influence on cuisine and culture is just a couple of them. The city reminded me of Macau that has an equally strong Portuguese influence.

Eager to step into the sea, we made our way towards the beach just as the sun started dipping towards the horizon. Although North Goa can barely rival the more beautiful and popular beaches of South Goa, hard pressed for time, we decided to rush to the nearest one to catch the sunset.

Lovers’ paradise

The Dona Paula beach, a pretentious and crowded one, was 10 minutes away. There, standing with the crowd, watching the sun going down into the sea, was a moment to treasure.

The palm-fringed beach, also known as Lover’s Paradise, has a tragic story. Dona Paula de Menezes, the young daughter of an important Portuguese official, was in love with Gaspar Dias, a humble fisherman. Dejected after she was denied the permission to marry her lover, Dona Paula jumped off the cliff, into the sea. Wondering what happened to the lover, we drove back to Panaji to indulge in a gastronomic orgy. Without going into the details of the orgy, I can safely say that the tiny eatery called Ma’s Kitchen lived up to its reputation.

The next morning, determined to catch up with a bit of history and a bit of religion, we covered the 10 km to Velha, once again. This time, we were there for a heritage tour. Spending time to stare at the World UNESCO Heritage tagged churches was a lovely way to begin the day. It was a Sunday and the church service had just begun as we followed the haunting notes of a hymn into the famous Basilica of Bom Jesus constructed in Baroque style. The Basilica holds the sacred relics of St Francis Xavier, who died in 1552. The embalmed body lies in a coffin contained in a silver casket that is opened for public once every 10 years. For the rest of the years, the public is happy to pay their respects to the closed casket.

Across the road stands the imposing Se Cathedral, which took almost 90 years to build. It is said that the Cathedral started as a tiny mud and straw chapel built under the order of Alfonso Albuquerque after his conquest of Goa. We wander into the Church and Convent of Francis of Assisi, next door, which is quieter without the crowd of devotees. The interior with its frescos and peaceful ambience roused my dormant spirituality more than the crowded Cathedral. Lost among the impressive structures, St Catherine’s is a solitary and unpresuming chapel. Not many of the tourists flocking the other monuments make the effort to visit it.

The solitary bell tower jutting out from amidst the ruins of St Augustine Church narrates a tragic story of religious intolerance exhibited by the Portuguese rulers. One of the oldest churches of Goa, it was built by Augustine friars in the late 16th century. Sadly, it was demolished after the Portuguese government declared a ban on the Augustine order.

Our day, the next morning, started even before the Sun had shrugged off its slumber. The destination this time was the ancient Reis Magos Church, a recently restored, unpretentious little church dedicated to the three wise men. It is one of Goa’s best kept secrets. Dating back to the 16th century, the church with the whitewashed gabled facade has fascinating wooden carving of the Three Wise Men inside.

Nearby, the Reis Magos Fort, dating back to 1493, was constructed by Adil Shah of Bijapur. The simple citadel is sited on the banks of Mandovi river. Interestingly, there is a gallery dedicated to Mario Miranda, the famous cartoonist. It showcases his work on Goa. One of them is a sketch of the fort, done by Mario.

To the lighthouse

The 17th-century Fort Aguada, with its famous lighthouse, was our next halt. According to the information board, Aguada in Portuguese means the watering hole. With a freshwater spring inside the fort, it served as a watering hole for the passing ships. The freshwater storage tank is reputed to have a capacity of 23,76,000 gallons. According to the guide, there is a secret passage that was used to evade attackers. But with most of its walls crumbling, it was only possible to imagine the presence of the passage.

The picturesque setting of the fort threw the crowd of tourists into frenzy as they rushed to capture the splendour in their cameras. That we should make our way to the Calangute Beach from the fort was inevitable. With the 105 km stretch of the Konkan coast, one is spoilt for choice as far as beaches are concerned. Palm-fringed silver sands, frothy waves and azure waters are what make Goa the perfect destination. Surrounded by sunbathing foreigners, we unzipped our adventurous spirit to take off on a parasailing experience. After all, we were in the Susegad territory.

As we returned to Panaji, I couldn’t resist the temptation of trying my luck at a casino. That I returned with empty pockets is yet another story to be told another time.

Fact File

Goa is connected to major cities through railways, roads and airways. The Konkan Railway, passing through sceneries, ensures good travel.

Bikes and cabs are for hire to cover places within, for nominal rates.
Taking the ferries is also a good option.

Indulge in Goan cuisine with dishes like sorpotal, xacuti, vindaloo, sannas, ambot tik and bebinca.

Head to the flea markets — in Anjuna on Wednesdays and in Mapusa on Fridays. Port wine and cashews are gift-worthy. Bargaining is a must.

Casino boats on River Mandovi and Casino Royale are your safe bets. They charge Rs 500 and above.