Goa’s colourful secret

Goa’s colourful secret
Highlights

The architecture of the heritage house, the once ancestral home of a Portuguese-Goan family, is quintessentially Portuguese. It has been charmingly and thoughtfully refurbished, keeping conservation in mind. Our room had large door-sized windows opening onto a small courtyard displaying an ancient but well-maintained well. The fairy tale look triggers an immediate feeling of wow for Fontainhas, Go

The architecture of the heritage house, the once ancestral home of a Portuguese-Goan family, is quintessentially Portuguese. It has been charmingly and thoughtfully refurbished, keeping conservation in mind. Our room had large door-sized windows opening onto a small courtyard displaying an ancient but well-maintained well. The fairy tale look triggers an immediate feeling of wow for Fontainhas, Goa’s Latin Quarter.

The very word Goa conjures an inviting collage of sun, sand, surf and beaches. However, the place is much more than that as we discovered recently. In addition to the immense natural beauty, it is also blessed with a rich cocktail of history and heritage, the vibrant pulse of which can be distinctly felt at Fontainhas (Bairro das Fontainhas, in Portuguese) - an old but vibrant idyllic neighborhood dating back to the Portuguese era.

Fontainhas, which is the oldest Latin Quarter in entire Asia, is very similar to a Mediterranean city. Bordered on the east by the creek of Ourem and on the West by the Altinho hill, a visit to Fontainhas feels like walking through a street in Lisbon. The tiled-roofed houses in spectacular shades, some dilapidated, others standing solid, untouched by the onslaught of time, brings alive Goa’s Portuguese past.

The name Fontainhas was derived from the “Little Fountain” which existed once and was the only source of potable drinking water in those days. The neighborhood was developed by the Portuguese after old Goa had to be abandoned due to health concerns.

A walk through Fontainhas turns out to be an experience in itself. We are accompanied by Jack Sukhija, whose ancestral house in Fontainhas is now a boutique hotel. The houses here sport a riot of bright colours such as yellow, green, pink, red, lavender and blue and are very well maintained. While most of these houses are at least 200 to 300 years old, many are still used as family homes.

Some have been converted into boutiques, up market restaurants, heritage home stays, art galleries and what not. Jack enlightened us that during the Portuguese rule, it was compulsory by law for every urban resident to paint his house every year after the rains and this practice is continued as a tradition. “Only the church was allowed to paint in white”, he comments.

The lanes too are very clean, quite unlike the scene in most cities of India. After crossing one of the busy main streets, we enter a narrow alley. What we had initially assumed to be a private area is an 80-year-old heritage bakery -Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro. You really need to be a local or be with a local to find this place. A couple of mouth-watering goodies later, we are again on the go.

While strolling along the streets, Jack, all of a sudden invites us into a lane we would never have thought of walking into all by ourselves. Immediately, like magic, another layer of Fountainhas unfolds before our eyes.

We spot authentic stone masala grinders outside old doors, small catholic family alters, old windows made of seashells and a violin-playing old gentleman with his parrot in a cage next to him. The scene is aptly complimented by the flowering hibiscus trees on the street and rows of ornamental plants in pots on the pavement. I am too touched to utter even a single word.

The silence is suddenly broken by the hum of conversation that travels from an adjoining restaurant, which again I learn is a couple of centuries old. Here and there, I notice residents exchange warm greetings or happy nods of acknowledgement.

Intrigued, I enquire about the people who live here and I am told that the feeling of community still runs deep here, a fact I could immediately make out. The neighborhood really has an old-world charm that evokes a deep sense of nostalgia - a feeling heritage walkers and history lovers are generally familiar with and love immensely.

Enjoying the afternoon breeze as it wafts past us, we stroll towards Velha Goa Galeria, a gallery which displays hand painted tiles in varying sizes. Replicas of the Portuguese azulejos, these tiles are designed in Portugal and manufactured in Mapusa, a Goan town.

Old Quarter Hostel by The Hostel Crowd- an interesting name, isn’t it? It is a name you would not forget in a hurry. Located in the heart of Fontainhas, the place really stands out because of the gorgeous graffiti on the exterior. If you want to explore Fontainhas on foot, relive the Old Portuguese era by staying in an ancient mansion and do all that on a tight budget, this could well be the place to be.

We end our walk with a visit to the main church of the area, Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. A couple of old ladies’ reading their evening prayers appear like a street scene straight from Lisbon. “A lot of the older generation still speak Portuguese here”, Jack said.

A beautiful camel foot tree (bauhinia) perched guard-like near the church assumes a magical hue in the radiance of the afternoon sun which paints the streets, structures with a golden hue. It is a magical moment, one that I am reluctant to let go of.

History and heritage need to be conserved and celebrated. We need to preserve historic precincts, old houses, old furniture, and so on so that our future generations too are able to effectively imagine how life was in the days of their great-great-great grandparents.

Fact File
Location
Fontainhas is situated in the heart of Panjim, Goa’s capital.

Accommodation:
There are options available for all budgets. Many of the heritage houses have been converted into the “Pousadas” meaning “A Small Guest House”

Best season to visit: Round the year except, peak summer. Best mode of exploration: Walking or cycling, as most of the narrow lanes cannot be reached otherwise. Cycles are available on rent at a minimal rate from the Old Quarter Hostel near the People’s School.

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