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Saturday, 01 July 2017

Panjim, India & its Phases - Page 2

Written by Richard Taylor
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It’s a fairly recent capital, Panjim. By 1843, the old one had silted up and the upstart town seemed a better bet (its Marathi name, Panaji, meant ‘land that does not flood’). A substantial tide swells the Mandovi but it was out now, so women were traversing the slimy rock and sand, picking out seaweed and shelled critters, while the city dogs barked and gamboled, chasing the sea birds for fun. No seagulls in the chase though. I hadn’t seen gulls in India, even at port cities. In Mumbai they’d been displaced by pigeons, in Panjim by crows and their raucous caws were the only things cracking the city silence.

An old gentleman stopped by my bench to say hello and chat.

“I have a daughter in Canada,” he said.

I’d met several in India with daughters in Canada, or sons, or cousins. He inquired about Canada, I about Panjim. He told me of the Secretariat, once a summer home of a sultan, or some such. It was nearby along the Avenida, apparently the city’s oldest building.

“You have seen Old Goa?” he asked.

“Not yet.”

Old Goa had once been the capital, before silt and plague had got to it. I’d assumed it was walking distance, misread the street signs and by mid afternoon was wandering vacant parking lots on Panjim’s east side. Deflated, I sought solace and found it in the lovely quarter called Fontainhas, Panjim’s ‘old Goa,’ with brightly hued homes adorning the slopes of Altinho Hill, reflected in the canal branching off the Mandovi. It was a beautiful walk – a beautiful climb much of it, stone steps snaking about pastel walls and lush green bush and bird cages. The upkeep looked regular – bold blue and mustard yellow predominated, although after monsoon season any ‘colorwashed’ shade of the palette was acceptable except white, reserved for churches.

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On the way back to the hotel I stopped and bought bananas. There were mass bunches hanging from the frame of the kiosk, all very green.

“Don’t eat them yet,” said the vendor.

I took a nap or tried to. Outside my window the crows were extremely angry and loud.

By the next morning India had returned to Panjim. The steps of the white church were mobbed, the square jammed with stalls and tents, the vendors doing a brisk sale in pots, pans and flower garlands.

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“St. Francis Xavier festival,” I was told.

“Ah. A movable feast.”

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This seemed a good time to get out of town and visit Old Goa. But would it be? Old Goa with more Renaissance churches than anywhere in the world outside Rome? They’d be part of this festival, indeed central to it. Somewhere though, the crowds would surely dissipate, among the cobbled nooks and crannies of the old city. I’d try for that.

The bus was slow getting out. The roundabout near the station was clogged with cars, a backup for miles, revelers arriving for St. Francis’ bones.

(Page 2 of 3)
Last modified on Friday, 30 June 2017

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