Location: Salcete Taluka, 33-km From Panjim, Goa
Also known As: Madgaon
Main Attraction: Lutolim, Chandor
Margao is Goa's second largest town and a bustling commercial center. Barely frequented by travelers, this central Goan town has an old-worldly charm about it because of its Old Portuguese churches, and fine country houses decked with dark rosewood furniture.
Surrounded by fertile farmland, the town has always been an important agricultural market, and was once a major religious center, with dozens of wealthy temples and Dharamshalas - however; most of these were destroyed when the Portuguese adsorbed the area into their Novas Conquistas during the 17th century.
Today, Catholic churches still outnumber Hindu shrines, but Margao has retained a distinctly cosmopolitan feel, largely due to a huge influx of migrant labour from neighbouring Karnataka and Maharashtra.
The Old Market: If one is arriving in Goa on the Konkan Railway from Mumbai or South India, one will almost certainly have to pause in Margao to pickup onwards transport by road. The other reason to come here is to shop at the town's excellent market. Stretching from the south edge of the main square to within a stone's throw of the old railway station, the Bazaar centers on a labyrinthine covered area that's a rich source of authentic souvenirs and a good place to browse.
HOW TO GET THERE
CHURCHES: The Stately Church Of The Holy Spirit: While one is here, take a short rickshaw ride north to the Stately Church of the Holy Spirit, in the heart of a disheveled but picturesque colonial enclave. Presiding over the dusty Largo de Igreja Square, the church, built by the Portuguese in 1675, is one of the finest examples of late-Baroque architecture in Goa, boasting a pristine white façade and an interior dripping with gilt crystal and stucco.
The picturesque farming villages strewed across the verdant countryside around Margao host a scattering of evocative colonial monuments and a handful of Hindu temples that can be visited on day trips from the coast.
Lutolim: Peppered around the leafy lanes of Lutolim, 10-km northeast of Margao, are several of Goa's most beautiful colonial mansions, dating from the heyday of the Portuguese empire when this was the countryseat of the territory's top brass. Lying just off the main road, the village is served by eight daily buses from Margao, which drop passengers off on the square in front of a lopsided looking church. The cream of Lutolim's houses lie within walking distance of here nestled in the woods, or along the road leading south. However, visits have to be arranged in advance through the Margao tourist office.
Within Loutlim: Pick of the crop in Lutolim is Miranda house, a stone's throw from the square. Fronted by a plain classical façade, the mansion was built in the 1700s, though renovated later following raids by a clan of rebel Rajput bandits. Today, a famous Goan cartoonist, and his family, direct descendants of the wealthy Areca planters who originally owned the surrounding estate occupy it. Route Caetan Miranda house, two minutes' walk south of the square, and Salvador Costa House, tucked away on the western edge of the village, are other mansions worth hunting out; the later is occupied by an elderly lady who only welcomes visitors by appointment.
Lutolim's other attraction is the quirky model village cum heritage center, a short way east of the square, called Ancestral Goa. Set up to show visitors a cross section of local village life as it was a hundred years ago, it's a well meaning but ultimately dull exhibition of miniature houses and dressed dummies.
Chandor: 13-km east of Margao across the fertile rice fields of Salcete lies sleepy Chandor village, a scattering of tumbledown villas and farmhouses ranged along shady tree-lined lanes. The main reason to venture out here is the splendid Perreira Braganza / Menezes-Braganza house, regarded as the grandest of Goa's colonial mansions. Dominating the dusty Village Square, the house, built in the 1500s by the wealthy Braganza family for their two sons, has a huge double-storeyed façade, with 28 windows flanking its entrance.
Braganza de Perreira, the great grandfather of the present owner, was the last knight of the King of Portugal; more recently, Menezes Braganza, a famous journalist and freedom fighter, was one of the few Goan aristocrats to actively oppose Portuguese rule. Forced to flee Chandor in 1950, the family returned in 1962 to find their house, amazingly untouched. The airy tiled interiors of both wings contain a veritable feast of antiques. Furniture enthusiasts, and lovers of rare Chinese porcelain, in particular, will find plenty to drool over, while anyone interested in religious relics should request a glimpse of St. Francis Xavier's diamond-encrusted toenail, recently retrieved from a local bank vault and enshrined in the east wing's tiny chapel.
Visitors generally travel to Chandor by taxi but one can also get there by bus from Margao, or by train via Chandragoa station, 1-km northwest. While many people turn up without an appointment, it is still a good idea to call ahead through the tourist office.
Rail: Margao's new Train station, the only stop in Goa for most long distance express services on the Konkan Railway, lies 3-km south of the center. The Reservation office (Monday-Saturday, 8.00 am-4.30 PM, Sunday 8.00 am- 2.00 PM) is divided between the ground and the first floor; bookings for the Superfast Rajdhani Express to Delhi are made at the hatch to the left of the main entrance. Tickets for trains for Mumbai are short in supply so make sure to book the tickets well in advance. There is also a 24-hour Information Center and round-the-clock pre-paid auto rickshaw stand outside the exit.
Road: Local private buses to Colva and Benaulim leave from in front of the Kamat hotel on the east side of Margao's main square. Long distance bus services one can get at the main Kadamba Bus Stand, 3-km further north, on the outskirts of the town. This is also the departure point for interstate services to Magalore, via Chaudi and Gokarn, and for services to Panjim and North Goa.
Lutolim: 10-km Chandor: 13-km Vasco-da-Gama: 30-km