Panaji became the capital of Goa in 1843 after the port of the old capital, Old Goa, silted up and a plague hit the city. Panaji is the smallest, and one of the nicest, state capitals. Many people pass through Panaji on the way to the beaches, but most do not spend much time in this friendly town.
The city has a definite European feel to it because of the whitewashed churches, old houses, red-tiled roofs, cobbled roads, and small squares. In the old Latin quarter, Fontainhas, many of the shops have Portuguese names. I enjoyed walking around the town looking at the old buildings. Old Goa is thirty minutes away by bus.
Panaji is situated on the south bank of the Mandovi River. It is easy to get around by foot because everything is close together. The Ourem River, which runs north–south, divides Panaji. The Kadamba Bus Terminal and the Goa Tourist Office are on the eastern side of the river. Most everything else is on the west side. The Fontainhas area, the old part of the city, runs mainly along the western bank of the Ourem.
Tours of Goa are operated by Goa Tourism. They can be booked at the tourist offices and by private agencies. Most tours go to many places in one day, and you may feel like cattle being herded around. The beach tours are for out-of-staters who want to look at Western bodies.
The North Goa tour goes to Panaji, Mapusa, Datta Mandir, Mayem Lake, Vagator, Anjuna, Calangute, and Fort Agauda. The South Goa tour goes to Old Goa, Mangesh Temple, Shantadurga Temple, Miramar, Dona Paula, Pilar Seminary, Colva, and Vasco da Gama.
The Bondla Wildlife Sanctuary tour departs daily at 9:30 am and returns at 5 pm.
There are daily half-hour river cruises on the Mandovi River at 6 pm (Sunset Cruise) and 7:15 pm (Sundown Cruise). They include a Goan folk song and dance cultural program. On full-moon nights, there are two-hour cruises starting at 8:30 pm (Rs 100). You can have dinner on-board. The Goan Tourism’s Santa Monica departs from the former Mumbai steamer jetty, by the customs office. There are also private boats that cruise on the Mandovi River, which depart from in front of the Tourist Hotel. Their rates are usually higher.
Music and Dance
At Kala Academy there are regular performances of classical Indian music and dance. The school is in Campal, at the far west end of Dayanand Bandodkar Rd.
This is the oldest and most interesting area in Panaji. There are blocks of narrow streets and old Portuguese houses with over hanging balconies. Many of buildings still have their traditional coat of green, blue, and pale yellow paint. In the past, the Portuguese had a rule that all buildings had to have a fresh coat of paint after the monsoon. Churches had to be white.
Chapel of St Sebastian
The chapel was built in the 1880s and contains a lifelike crucifix. It formerly hung in the Palace of the Inquisition in Old Goa. Christ has his eyes open, which is unusual for a crucifix. It is said that this was to inspire fear in those who were being interrogated by the Inquisitors. It is located at the south end of the Fontainhas area. There is a festival here in mid-November to celebrate the patron saint’s day.
The Secretariat (Idalcao Palace)
This was the summer palace of the Muslim ruler of Goa, Adil Shah. This is the oldest building in Panaji. It has a European look with its wooden verandah and carved stone coat of arms. It was rebuilt by the Portuguese in 1615 and was used by the territory’s governors during overnight visits on their way to and from Europe. When Goa became the capital, this building became the viceroy’s residence. Now it is used as the Goan State Legislature.
A hundred metres west, there is a statue of Abbé Farrin (1755-1819) with his hands held over an entranced, reclining woman. He was a Goan priest who moved to France and became a famous hypnotist.
Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception
This beautiful church, east of Church Square (also known as Municipal Garden), was built in 1541. It is located on an elevated terrace, approached by climbing a flight of steps. It has a beautiful gilded main altar. The huge bell in the main tower used to be in Old Goa in the ruined Augustianian monastery. This is the most photogenic place in Panaji. Church Square is a park in the middle of Panaji.
A few blocks south of Church Square is the Hindu Mahalakshmi Temple. Also near the square is the domeless Jama Masjid Mosque (mid-18th century).
This museum contains ancient deities, temple sculptures, puja (worship) paraphernalia, and sati stones. There are also old Jain bronze sculptures, found by Customs officers when they were being smuggled out of the country. In the Western art section there is a collection of photos taken around the beginning of the century. There are also some Christian exhibits and antique furniture.
The museum is on the first floor of an office building near Caculo Island intersection.
Where to Stay
During the festival of St Francis in early December and during the high season of mid-December to mid-January, accommodations can be tight and prices doubled. The best budget places are in Fontainhas, near the Ourem River. There are no accommodations in Old Goa.
Train There is no railway station in Panaji. There are railway stations in Mapusa, Old Goa, Vasco da Gama, and Margao. There is a railway booking office on the first floor of Kadamba bus terminal.