Panjim has a big surprise in store: a fantastic Latin Quarter with narrow streets, squares and Quaint Goan houses painted in clear colors which remind you of Portugal. Welcome to Fontainhas. We came across this area by pure coincidence around ten years back, thanks to a small note in the paper about an art festival. My wife, kids and I couldn’t help falling in love by first sight of Fontainhas. We keep coming back every time we visit Goa. Every time we discover something new; a cafe, a fashion designer or an eighty year old bakery.
Yesterday we had a date with someone with a deep passion for Fontainhas; 5th generation Heritage hotelier (Hotel Panjim Inn) and secretary of Goa Heritage Action group, Jack Ajit Sukhija. We met Jack at the Tobacco square, just in front of the “Casa De Moeda” or “Mint house” one of the older houses in Panjim, dating back to 1834. We where in for a “Heritage walk” in Fontainhas.
Goa was a Portuguese colony from 1510 to 1961, so obviously the influence is to smell and feel. Jack spends the first minutes to run us through the very basic historic facts, and promises to keep more quite during the walk, for us to soak in the ambience and ask any questions. “Do you notice that all the houses are painted in the basic colors red, green, blue and yellow?” Jack asks. No good answer from us. He then replied that it was required by law to paint houses every year and normally houses had to be painted after each monsoon. “Only the church was allowed to paint in white”, Jack comments.
While walking the lanes we until now had considered narrow, our guide all of a sudden invites us in to a lane we would never have thought of walking into ourselves. Another car-free layer of Fontainhas opens up. Authentic stone masala grinders outside old doors, small catholic family alters, old windows made of seashells and a peak in the window of a violin playing gentleman with his parrot in a cage next to him.
After crossing one of the busy main streets, again we are directed into another alley we would have thought was private area. After cutting a few corners, bending down to avoid the low hanging cables, saying hello to some local cats, we are entering into Confeitaria 31 de Janeiro, an eighty year old bakery. You really need to be a local to find this place. A couple of mouth watering goodies later, again we are on our way through new streets with names as Rua Conde De Redondo. Not exactly typical Indian names. We have a feeling being in south Europe with an Indian twist.
We visited the main church of Fontainhas, Chapel San Sebastian. A couple of old ladies making their evening prayer, looked like taken out of a scene from Lisboa. “A lot of the older generation still speak Portuguese here”, Jack says.
Next stop is an over 130 year old Hindu home in the middle of the catholic area of Fontainhas. Jack’s father bought this in the mid 1990’s and turned it into a 9 room heritage hotel with an art gallery around the main courtyard. The house has an inside atrium where the rain water is harvested and led to the in-house well. We also saw lots of art and antiques, among it some wonderful wooden pieces restored by Jack’s father, Ajit.
Typical in Fontainhas is the art of using broken tiles and china on floors and walls. When Jack Found out I was passionate about this, he obviously was very enthusiastic about showing another of their hotels in the Fontainhas. Up the outside stairs, on top of a local gallery, is the wonderful 4 room hotel Panjim Peoples, where broken tiles combined with antique furniture really makes a special ambience. We will for sure spend a night or two there, to take in the wonderful tiles.
The trip was actually to end here, but with guests eager to see more, our guide offers to also walk us through the predominantly Hindu quarter of Mala. As crossing a line drawn on the ground, the scene changes. Hindu signs on the houses, temples and I could bet; more cows walking the streets. But all with a Latino touch.
1) Go to Panjim Inn.
2) Ask for Jack and tell you were instructed to take the heritage walk (the next day). You will not regret it.
3) Go to the small restaurant on the veranda.
4) Have a bottle of wine, and soak in the colonial mansion atmosphere.
Trond Skundberg (C) 2012