Panaji or Panjim, we wondered aloud minutes after deboarding from the bus that had brought us to the capital of Goa from Margao. It was the beginning of August. Rain clouds flecked the horizon. The bus station was empty except for a few bus drivers and hawkers who were prepping for the day. In the next two days over delicious curries and cans of chilled beer, we would learn that Panjim (the final ‘im’ that also appears in names of other Goan towns like Betim, Siolim, Candolim, etc. indicates a nasal ending, so the ‘m’ is never heard) is the older Portuguese name and the official name is Panaji. Locals usually pronounce it as ‘Ponnjee.’
Old Goa was one of the three principal cities in Portuguese Goa and Panjim, on the left bank of the Mandovi estuary, was originally a suburb of Old Goa. The city is laid out in a grid; the main roads run parallel with the seafront. In 1500, Yusuf Adil Shah of the Bijapur sultanate built a palace here that would later be seized by Albuquerque and renamed the Idalcao Palace. After malaria and cholera epidemics ravaged Old Goa, the Portuguese Viceroy moved to Panaji in 1759 but Old Goa continued to the de jure capital of Goa until 1843.
Panaji is often overlooked by visitors impatient to see Goa’s stunning beaches. We spent two beautiful days walking through the old Latin Quarters, dreaming about moving into a traditional Goan home and inviting friends over for potlucks, visiting churches, and lamenting that we didn’t have enough time to visit all the eateries we wanted to.
Fontainhas Walking Tour | 7 AM
Start your Goan sojourn with a leisurely walk through the narrow streets of Panaji’s Latin Quarters. Brightly painted houses featuring tiled roofs, seashell-studded windows, and overhanging balconies lend a Mediterranean charm to Fontainhas. The law of the land was that only churches could be painted all white and government buildings in ochre. Thus residences, which were required to be painted every year post monsoons, were painted in bright primary colours. Some of the heritage houses that been converted to boutique hotels. Read our post on exploring Fontainhas to find out about local eateries and great photo-ops!
Tobacco Square | 12:30 PM
Tobacco Square, or Post Office Square, is flanked by Casa de Moeda (literally ‘house of coins’) that functioned as the Mint of Goa from 1834 to 1841, the red and white buildings of the General Post Office, and the São Tomé chapel which was built in 1849 and renovated in 1902. The post office building started off as a depot for trading tobacco thus giving the square its name.
Mermaid Garden | 1:30 PM
Mermaid Garden is known for a porcelain statue of a mermaid that was painfully restored by filmmaker, Shirish Desai and sculptor, Ghanshyam Anant Chari. The sculpture, over 5 ft in length, is probably only one of its kind in the world. The TOI reports that it was probably installed sometime between 1939 and 1945 when Froilano de Melo was the president of the Camara municipal de Pangim. Not much is known about its history but it surely is a pretty sight.
Adil Shah Palace | 1:45 PM
The palace of Yusuf Adil Shah of the Bijapur sultanate fell to Portuguese invaders in 1510. Today it is Goa’s oldest colonial-era building and houses the state secretariat. The 55 cannons and the surrounding saltwater moat are gone and the original design has been altered vastly by the Portuguese.
Statue of Abbé Faria | 2:00 PM
If you’ve read the Count of Monte Cristo, you probably know that Dumas based his character on Abbé Faria who is one of the pioneers of the scientific study of hypnotism. He was born in a Colvale Brahmin family in Candolim. A dark statue of Abbé Faria hypnotising a woman stands next to Idalçao Palace.
Church of the Immaculate Conception | 2:30 PM
A broad sweep of steps from the Largo da Igreja leads you to this 16-century church, the tall, Portuguese Baroque towers of which were originally built as a landmark for sailors. It was constructed in 1541 and enlarged in 1600 to reflect its status as the parish church of the capital. Resplendent in colours of Goan Catholicism: blue, white, and gold, the interiors feature heavy chandeliers, gilded wood, and chintz. The two altars to Jesus the Crucified and Our Lady of the Rosary are flanked by marble statues of St Peter and St Paul.
Cafe Tato’s | 3:00 PM
Take a break and stop for a snack at a Goan institution, Cafe Tato’s which has been serving hot puri bhajis, samosas, and chai since 1913.
Institute de Menezes Braganza | 3:45 PM
A blue tile frieze hand-painted by Jorge Colaco in 1935 leads you inside the central library and public rooms of what was previously the Instituto Vasco da Gama (est. 1871). The library has a rare collection of religious texts but if that doesn’t interest you, explore art gallery upstairs that displays paintings by European and Goan artists.
St. Inez Church | 5:00 PM
The twin-towered church is designed in the Mannerist Neo-Roman style of architecture. Originally a chapel built in 1584, it was rebuilt in 1605 and in 1606 it was raised to the status of a parish church. The present structure was built in 1653. The feast of Our Lady of Ports is celebrated here.
Miramar Beach / Dona Paula Beach| 5:30 PM
Ride a local bus to Miramar Beach or further south to Dona Paula Beach. The beaches don’t quite live up to Goan standards and are definitely too dirty for swimming. At Dona Paula, visit the chapel (open on Sundays for Morning Mass) and the grotto at Cabo Raj Bhavan.
Mahalaxmi Temple| 7:00 PM
Built in 1818, the Mahalaxmi Temple was the first Hindu place of worship to be allowed in the Old Conquests. The idol of Goddess Mahalaxmi was initially worshipped in a temple in Taleigaon but the Brahmins, afraid of being persecuted, brought the idol to Mala from where Raghavendra Mhamei Kamat transported it under the cover of night to Bicholim. Years later, the Goddess appeared in a dream to another member of the influential Mhamei Kamat family who located the idol and with permission from the viceroy, Conde De Rio Pardo, established it in a temple built on land donated by the Sinari family.
Boca de Vaca | 7:30 PM
Nearby is the Boca de Vaca, a spring where fresh water flows year-round from a cow’s head spigot.
Kokni Kanteen | 8 PM
Order the sumptuous seafood thali and wash it down with some feni at Kokni Kanteen.
Mhamai Kamat House
Located across the street from the statue of Abbé Faria, this beautiful residence is open to the public on Ananth Chaturdashi. If you are into architecture, this is a must visit!
The spacious building was designed by Charles Correa in collaboration with Mario Miranda. Keep an eye out for music and drama performances on their website.
Our Lady of Penha de Franca Church
A 10 min bus ride from Panaji towards Britona will drop you off at this beautiful church. Located at the confluence of the Mandovi and the Mapusa rivers and overlooking the island of Chorao, this grand church was originally built in 1626 and rebuilt in 1655. It started raining when we reached there and the church was closed but the views across were amazing. A few youths were trying their hands at fishing. It was so peaceful there.
Have you been to Panaji? What were your favourite experiences?