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Saturday, 01 July 2017

Panjim, India & its Phases

Written by Richard Taylor
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“Panjim is just a city,” said the man in Mapusa. “No beaches.”

Good enough for me. Having already deluded myself with Pune, that ‘university town,’ a phrase that evoked mom ‘n pop bookstores and students lolling on campus knolls under the old oak tree – I’d failed to factor in the host nation. Pune was an Indian university town (recall Apu graduating from ‘Calcutta Tech,’ first in his class of seven million) and after that bit of chaos, I wasn’t going to be fooled now by this shilling for beach front, especially beachfronts as famous as Goa’s. I would stay in the quiet capital, make a day trip to the shore, stumble about the glistening knobbled heap of sun screened bodies and declare “Okay, I’ve seen it.”

Besides, I’d paid the full fare from Pune to Panjim and it rankled to jump the bus prematurely. We’d had a hair raising night circling the Ghat range hairpins and having sat up front under the full ‘aircon’ blast, I was gelid by morning (in the hotels one could dial it up again once the eager desk staff had cranked it to the polar regions). We’d parked at dawn near an office complex and I sat on the curb and thawed, surrounded by a crescent moon of cabbies, murmuring “taxi sir,” awaiting the decision.

Goa itself was pretty, there was a fair bit of choice regarding lodging and I felt better and better, outsmarting the beach crowd. My hotel room floor was elevated on the window side, the single step to this platform illuminated by lights under the trim; to prevent tripping I supposed, or facilitate cabaret.

They held a festival here for St. Francis Xavier, but according to the calendar I’d missed it by three days. It had intrigued me as a curiosity – they move his bones about but I knew what festivals could mean in India and wasn’t overly fussed that it had passed me by. So Panjim was quiet, eerily so, shutting down almost completely after dark, unnerving after weeks of bursting din from Ahmedabad to Pune (India bursts at you, that’s what it does). Still, it’s what I’d been looking for and by that evening I’d collapsed on a bench and was admiring Panjim’s major landmark, the Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception. It was lit up now. It had been lit up this morning in dazzling white, reflecting the sun in the blue sky. They’d built it for the seadogs centuries ago, those sailing in from Lisbon when Goa was Portugal’s colony.

That history was still evident. On the next day’s walk, I found plenty of Da Silvas and De Souzas on the shops and a main drag called Avenida Dom Joao Castro, running along the mouth of the Mandovi. The street paralleled the river’s tree lined promenade and after Mumbai’s Marine Drive, that famous but charmless stretch of concrete, braced between sea and the unbuffered honking madness of an Indian megacity, Panjim’s modest shady promenade was a very nice place to sit.

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Last modified on Friday, 30 June 2017

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