Also known As: Panaji (The Politically Correct Marathi Name)
Significance: Capital of Goa
Best Time To Visit: October to March
Called Panjim by the Portuguese, Panaji, which means "the land that does not flood" is the state capital of Goa. Unlike many capital cities, Panaji has a distinct unhurried character. It is situated on the southern banks of the Mandovi River, which makes this town all the more charming.
The European Ambience: Typical of a Goan town, Panaji is built around a church facing a prominent square. The town has some beautiful Portuguese Baroque style buildings and enchanting old villas. The riverside, speckled with brightly whitewashed houses with wrought iron balconies, offers a fine view.
There are some fine government buildings along the riverside boulevard, and the Passport Office is especially noteworthy. In the 16th century, the edifice was the palace of Adil Shah (the Sultan of Bijapur). The Portuguese took over the palace and constructed the Viceregal Lodge in 1615. In 1843, the structure became the Secretariat, and today it is the Passport Office.
Trudge around town in the cobbled alleys to see quaint old taverns and cafés with some atmosphere, and practically no tourists. They are a good place to meet the local people.
The Largo Da Igreja Church Square is a fine illustration of the awesome Portuguese Baroque style. The Church of the Immaculate Conception is easily one of the most elegant and picturesque monuments in Goa. Built in 1541 AD, atop a high, symmetrical, crisscrossing stairway, the church is a white edifice topped with a huge bell that stands in between two delicate Baroque style towers.
The Braganza Institute, houses the tiled frieze, which depicts the 'mythical' representation of the colonization of Goa by the Portuguese. Fountainheads is a lovely old residential area amidst shady cobbled streets connecting red-tile-roofed houses with overhanging balconies, much like a country town in Spain or Portugal.
PANJIM AND CENTRAL GOA
Take any mid sized Portuguese town add a sprinkling of banana trees and auto-rickshaws, drench annually with torrential tropical rain, and leave to simmer in fierce humid sunshine for at least one hundred and fifty years, and One’ll end up with something like Panjim. The Goan capital has a completely different feel from any other Indian city.
History For centuries, Panjim was little more than a minor landing stage and customs house, protected by a hilltop fort, and surrounded by stagnant swampland. It only became capital in 1843, after the port at Old Goa had silted up, and its rulers and impoverished inhabitants had fled the plague.
Although the last Portuguese Viceroy managed to drain many of the nearby marshes, and erect imposing public buildings on the new site, the town never emulated the grandeur of its predecessor upriver --a result, in part, of the Portuguese nobles' predilection for erecting their mansions in the countryside rather than the city.
Panjim expanded rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, without reaching the unmanageable proportions of other Indian State capitals. After Mumbai or even Bangalore, its uncontested streets seem easygoing and pleasantly parochial. Sights are thin on the ground but the palm-linth squares and atmospheric Latin Quarter with its picturesque neoclassical houses and catholic churches make a pleasant backdrop for aimless wandering.
Worth A Visit although one can completely bypass the town when one arrives in Goa, either by jumping off the train or coach at Margao or Mapusa or by heading straight off on a local bus, it's definitely worth spending time here. If only a couple of hours en route to the ruined former capital at Old Goa.
The area around Panjim attracts far fewer visitors than the coastal resorts, yet its paddy fields and wooded valley harbour several attractions worth a day or two's break from the beach. Old Goa is just a bus ride away, as are the unique temples around Ponda, an hour or so southeast, to where Hindus smuggled their deities during the inquisition.
Further inland still, the forested lower slopes of the Western Ghats, cut through by the main Panjim- Bangalore highway, shelter the impressive Dudhsagar falls, which one can only reach by four-wheel drive jeep.
The Town: Until a decade ago, most visitors' first glimpse of Panjim was from the decks of the Old Bombay steamer as it chugged into dock at the now defunct ferry ramp. These days, however, despite the recent inauguration of the Konkan railway, and Damania's catamaran service from Mumbai, the town is most usually approached by road - from the north via the huge Ferro-concrete bridge that spans the Mandovi estuary, or from the south on the recently revamped NH-7, which links the capital with the airport and railhead at Vasco da Gama. Either way, one will have to pass through the suburb of Pato, home of the main Kadamba Bus Terminal, before crossing Ourem Creek to arrive in proper Panjim.
West of Fontainhas, the picturesque Portuguese quarter, the commercial center’s grid of long straight streets fans out west from Panjim's principal landmark, Church Square. Further north, the main thoroughfare, Avenida Dom Joao Castro, sweeps past the Head Post Office and Secretariat Building, before bending west along the waterfront.
Church Square: The leafy rectangular park opposite the Indian Government Tourist Office, known as Church Square or the municipal garden, forms the heart of Panjim. Presiding over its East Side is the town's most distinctive and photogenic landmark, the toothpaste white baroque façade of the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. Flanked by rows of slender palm trees, at the head of a crises-crossing laterite walkway, the church was built in 1541 for the benefit of sailors arriving here from Lisbon. The weary mariners would stagger up from the quay to give thanks for their safe passage before proceeding to the capital at Old Goa - the original home of the enormous bell that hangs from its central gable.
The Secretariat: The road that runs north from the church brings you out at the riverside near Panjim's oldest surviving building. With its sloping tiled roofs, carved stone coats of arms and wooden verandahs, the stalwart secretariat looks typically colonial. Yet it was originally The Summer Palace of Goa's 16th century Muslim ruler, the 'Adil Shah. Later, the Portuguese converted it into a temporary rest house for the territory's Governors and then a residence for the Viceroy. Today, it accommodates the Goan State Legislature.
Hundred meters east from the building is situated a peculiar statue of a man holding his hands over the body of an entranced reclining woman shows Abbe Farin, a Goan priest who emigrated to France to become one of the world's first professional hypnotists.
Fontainhas: Panjim's oldest and most interesting district, Fontainhas, lies immediately west of Pato, overlooking the banks of the oily green Ourem Creek. From the footbridge between the bus stand and town center, a dozen or so blocks of neoclassical houses raise in a tangle o terracotta rooftops up the sides of Altinho Hill. At siesta time, Vespas stand idle on deserted street corners, while women in western clothes exchange pleasantries with their neighbours from open windows and leafy verandahs. Many building have retained their traditional coat of ochre, pale, yellow, green or blue- a legacy of the Portuguese insistence that every Goan building should be colour washed after monsoons.
The Chapel Of St. Sebastian: At the southern end of the neighborhood, the pristine whitewashed Chapel of St. Sebastian is one of many Goan churches to remain faithful to the old colonial decree. It stands at the end of a small square where Fontainhas' Portuguese speaking locals hold a lively annual street fiesta to celebrate their patron Saint's day in mid-November. The eerily lifelike crucifix inside the chapel, brought here in 1812, formerly hung in the palace of the inquisition in Old Goa. Unusually, Christ's eyes are open - allegedly to inspire fear in those being interrogated by the inquisitors.
Sao Tome: Sao Tome ward is the other old quarter, lying north of Fontainhas on the far side of Emilio Gracia Road. This is the area to head for if one fancy a bar crawl: the narrow streets are dotted with dozens of hole-in-the -wall taverns, serving cheap, stiff measures of rocket fuel 'Feni' under strip lights and the watchful gaze of colourful Madonnas.
The State Archeological Museum: The most noteworthy feature of Panjim's state archeological museum is its imposing size, which stands in glaringly inverse proportion to the scale of the collection inside. In their bid to erect a structure befitting a state capital, Goa's status-obsessed bureaucrats ignored the fact that there was precious little to put in it. The only rarities to be found amid the lame array of temple sculpture, hero- stones and dowdy colonial era artefacts are a couple of beautiful Jain bronzes rescued by customs and excise officials from smugglers and, on the ground floor, photos of the prehistoric rock carvings at Usgalimal.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air: European Charter planes and domestic flights from Mumbai, Bangalore, Kochi (Cochin), Delhi, Chennai and Thiruvananthapuram arrive at Goa's Dabolim airport, 29-km south of Panjim on the outskirts of Vasco Da Gama, Goa's second city. Pre-paid taxis into town booked at the counter in the forecourt, can be shared by up to four people.
Rail: Panjim is also connected by rail from Bombay, Bangalore, Hyderabad and New Delhi. The nearest railway station is Vasco-da-Gama, which is situated 30-km away from the capital city.
Road: Long-distance and local buses pull into Panjim at the town's busy Kadamba Bus Terminal, 1-km east of the center in the district of Pato.
Local Transport: The most convenient way of getting around Panjim is by auto rickshaw; flag one down at the roadside or head for one of the ranks around the city. The only city buses likely to be of use to visitors run to Dona Paula from the main bus stand via several stops along the esplanade, and Miramar beachfront. If you feel up to taking on Panjim's anarchic traffic, bicycles can be rented from a stall up the lane opposite the head post office.
Music And Dance: Regular recitals of classical Indian music and dance are held at Panjim's school for the performing arts, the Kala Academy in Campal, at the far west end of town on Devanand Bandodkar Road. For details of forthcoming events consult the boards in front of the auditorium or the listing page of local newspaper.