What makes Goa distinct from rest of India is that Portuguese culture has seeped in deep. And became an integral part of this small Riviera state. You can see the Portuguese influence in houses in remote villages, in food, and in language. To enjoy this culture in a matter of hours there is no better place than to walk around the Fontainhas area of Panjim. Also, know as Latin Quarters at times. This is a very small and absolutely walk friendly area. Where you go through the residential area, a few of which now work as guesthouses, hotels, restaurants, cafes, boutiques and art galleries. All of these offer a chance to sit back, relax and soak in the richness of the culture that is a microcosm of the culture of Goa.
I have walked this area many times – as a tourist, as a resident of Panjim, at night, early morning and of course during the day. In December I walked again with the sole purpose of writing this post.
Fontainhas, Panjim – Walk around Heritage Area
I started by landing early morning at Panjim bus stand. And walked through the early morning flower market to reach the Patto Bridge that connects the Fontainhas area with the Patto area over the Ourem Creek. An old road sign at the end of the bridge will tell you this is the center of Goa. And you can go to North or South from here to explore the state. Stand on the bridge and see the still waters on which another two bridges pass on either side. One is busy with traffic while the other one is pedestrian only. The blue pedestrian bridge with its reflection in water makes a lovely picture as the green mangroves on the side provide a perfect frame.
Lanes of Fontainhas
From here we walked into the lanes of Fontainhas. The area that lies between this creek and Altinho hill and was once fed by springs or fountains and hence the name. This place used to be a coconut grove before it was inhabited in late 18th CE. Colorful houses in bright red, blue, yellow and green make it look very Mediterranean. In fact, I noticed the color of the house usually does not repeat in a street. And wonder if the color worked as the last mile address once upon a time. You cannot but notice the windows panes with the shell stuck together in narrow strips. A very Goan feature that is supposed to keep the interiors cool and dry. The red stone sit outs, popularly known as Balcoas are another distinct feature to notice, as are the overhanging balconies at places.
St Sebastian Chapel
Most streets would lead you to the lone white building in the area – St Sebastian Chapel. You see, the White color was reserved for churches and chapels in Goa. And that is why you do not see it often on houses. If you want to go inside and see a couple of historically relevant things like an old crucifix and an image of Christ with open eyes, you need to walk on a Sunday when the chapel is open. It is quite a serene chapel with well-maintained interiors and a few commemorative tablets for the curious. A laterite stone near the well to the chapel is a reminder of old water management systems.
Not too far from the chapel in a narrow lane lies the 31st January Bakery that you must explore for the lovely wine biscuits that they make. Though you will locate quite a few bakeries during your walk.
Walking down the road through open public spaces and painted walls and through art galleries like Gitanjali Art gallery and Fundacão Orienté. Reading the nameplates in traditional Azulejos tiles in white and blue, looking at a 100+-year-old library, we enter the Mala area that is predominantly a Hindu area. And a way to recognize this is, by the Tulsi plant prominently being a part of the house. At the end of the road, you meet the stepwell like a white structure of mid 19th CE called Fonte Phoenix – a natural spring. On our night walk, some of our co-walkers went inside the tunnel that opens up from the walls of this reservoir. And reported that the water seeped in from porous laterite stone, as it would down on a small spring.
This was the main source of waters for the residents of Fontainhas, probably a reason for the settlement itself.
From here when you look up you would see a saffron-colored temple on top of a hill. There are steep steps that lead to the base of the temple. You need a bit of strength to climb to this temple standing at a vantage point. This less than 100-year-old temple looks quite new but was built during the Portuguese reign. Being on a steep hill, it is built in an unusual way that allows you to view the idol from the basement before you go around and see it in the main hall. It is a pleasure to sit in the open courtyard of the temple and admire the view from here.
The red slanting roofs standing between the lush green trees, a bit of Mandovi and a top view of my favorite public library. Temple is lit in the evenings and shines like a star on the hill from a distance.
There are many small and big eateries on the whole route. – choose the one that appeals to you. I recommend Baba’s Wood Café for authentic Italian meals. To shop, pick up Ajulezos tiles with Mario Miranda cartoons if you like.
You can complete this walk comfortably in about 60-120 mins depending on pace and interest. I prefer to walk in the mornings but for this walk, I would recommend anytime after 10 AM so that eateries, galleries, and boutiques are open for you to explore.
Recommend you to read following Travel Blog posts and explore Panjim, Goa further.