Panaji is Goa’s capital city. Most travellers just pass through the city or treat it as a transport link. However, if you can spare a few days it really is a hidden gem. Not to sound like a lonely planet guide book but I want to give you a few bits of information about Panaji’s history that will wet your appetite for it’s vibrant culture.
When the Portuguese arrived in 1510 they sought to gain control over Goa. They succeeded and for virtually over five centuries Portuguese religion and culture spread throughout Goa, sometimes by force. The influence of this occupation is felt most strongly in Panaji. The grandiose white washed Church of our Lady in the cultural and social centre of the city. Small, winding roads lined with Portuguese style houses are littered with relaxed tea shops to grab a chai and chill out of the mid day sun. The Mandovi river is a focal point of the city where floating casinos cruise and people stroll down the palm tree laden coastal path. You really could be in a European seaside town, but of course it has that Indian twist which makes it special.
Here are a few must dos for India’s most laid back capital city.
1. The Latin Quarter
Panaji can be split into two, the latin quarter (Fontainhas) and the new town (Altinho) which are either side of a large hill engulfed with foliage, temples and brightly coloured houses. Both have their own merit however the latin quarter is where you want to stay. It is the only latin quarter in the East and my god is it beautiful. With an abundance of terracotta tiled houses with flowered balconies and fruit stalls selling the fresh picks of the day, it is where you want to be. We stayed in the prettiest hostel in town which is aptly named ‘The Old Quarter’. It is the brain child of the hostel crowd. These guys have five hostels littered around Goa and one in Kerela. Their places are a back packers dream. They offer squeaky clean, cool dorms with a choice of air con or not for affordable prices. The Old Quarter is not only a great place to stay but it is also home to one of the coolest coffee shops in Panaji selling organic teas, coffees and food all sourced from India.
2. Local Cuisine
The food in Panaji is bloody fantastic. As it is in the whole of India but Goan cuisine deserves a special mention. Literally anywhere you choose to eat in the capital even if it looks like it will give you a deadly case of Delhi belly is a party for you taste buds. My favourite dish which I guarantee you won’t have tried before is Bhindal Fry. Some good places to go are;
Viva Panjim, Hotel Venite, Hotel Vihar and Anandashram.
3. The Hannuman Temple in Fontainhas
This temple is not always on the top of the tourist list but this towering burnt orange structure is worth a visit. Providing one of the best views of Panaji it is sure to capture ones interest in spirituality and aesthetics.
4. Sunaparantha Centre
Found on the top of Altinho hill in a brilliant blue and white old style Portuguese mansion. It is a centre for the arts which shows indie- art house films alfresco every Thursday night. As well as exhibitions it is a desired destination for the cities young arty socialites. It also has a great shaded café going by the name Bodega.
5. Old Goa
Once holding a larger population than Lisbon and London the old relics than still stand proudly are worth a day trip. Rather than getting a 350 rupee tuc tuc ride the 20 minute bus is far cheaper and a journey in itself. It is best to head off early as the South Indian sun is scorching and you will beat the crowds, head to one of the shaded cafes at midday to cool off and grab a chai.
Panaji is not top of every travellers Goan list but a few days in the picturesque Capital will not disappoint.