From Mahabaleshwar we headed towards Goa taking a day off at Kolhapur. At Kolhapur we were given to understand about a site close by called Panhala. Not very well know outside, it is an important place where Chhatrapati Shivaji, one of the greatest icons of Maharashtra, is stated to have spent more than 500 days. It is known for its fort which is supposed to be the largest of all Deccan forts. Panhala’s elevation is more than 3000 ft; the fort rises another 400 ft. affording a panoramic view of the valleys below. There was nothing other than the fort and the place seemed to have had utter indifference from authorities. It looked to me to be ill-kept. Panhala was in the news recently for vandalism by Hindu Right-wing activists of the film sets of the film “Padmavati” being shot by Sanjay Leela Bhansali, a film producer of note.
Two days later we were in Panjim, now known as Panaji. We had bookings in the Goa Tourism outfit at Panaji. Very well located, it had comfortable rooms. The Mandovi River was only a couple of minutes away, and more importantly, close to which we had found a restaurant which used to offer Goan food. As it was close to the Goa Secretariat lots of officials of Goa government used to patronize it during the lunch hour. They would have a quick lunch with a shot of cashew or coconut feni and rush back to office.
It was a Goan pub actually and not a restaurant as along with food alcoholic beverages could also be bought and consumed. The Goa Tourism outfit did have a restaurant but we found this pub to our liking with lots of fish, prawns and shrimps in the menu done in Goan style. Curries are what Goa is known for and. of course, the vindaloo. One needn’t say that those were very delicious meals that we had. In 1979 strangers as we were to Goan cuisine the food just overwhelmed us. During most of our stay of a week we tried other such places but we found this one very good and matching our tastes. My memory is rather fuzzy about its name; I think it was Olympia or Olympus.
Portuguese influence was still palpable. The colonial laid back style of functioning was very evident. The most glaring example of this was the habit of taking afternoon siesta that Goans had been unable to shake off till then. Most of the shopping and office establishments would be shut during the siesta hours. Centuries of Portuguese rule did have its impact. Portuguese was still spoken among many families and they were generally from among the elites. Konkani was the second language, we were told, spoken generally by Hindus. Goa used to have, and still has a mix of religions with Christians, Hindus and Muslims living together in the tiny territory. But, unlike in the rest of India where inter-religious strife erupts frequently, peace and quiet prevails in Goa – no religious schisms.
One could hear strains of Western music as the evening progressed. This was another sign of the Portuguese influence. Close to the Tourism outfit boys and girls would come together and either play on guitar or sing together what appeared to be Portuguese romantic or love songs. This would go on for quite some time well into the night but without, apparently, disturbing the neighbourhood.
We took a few packages. The first had to be the one to Old Goa or Velha Goa. Velha Goa was the capital of Adil Shah’s Bijapur dynasty in the 15th and early 16th Century when it was wrested away by the Portuguese who ruled over the territory for more than 400 years. The rule ended only when Goa was annexed by the Indian Union. The annexation was culmination of years of struggle by Goans against Portuguese Rule. Nehru, the then Prime Minister of India lost patience with the Portuguese when numerous freedom fighters were shot dead in Goa. Though continuation of colonial rule in Goa was an anachronism in the second half of the 20th Century the Portuguese dictator Antonio Salazar never tried to acknowledge it. French had already peacefully transferred their small Indian possessions to the government of India in early 1950s. For the military action in Goa the Indian Government came in for the heaviest criticism from Western Powers and President John Kennedy was even reported to have said “the preacher (of non-violence) has been caught with his pants down in a brothel”.
Portuguese established their trading post and created a veritable religious town with several churches and cathedrals at Old Goa. It is from here that the Portuguese embarked on their spice trade across Asia. While the remnants of pre-Portuguese Goa have been wiped out, there are several structures built by the Portuguese in their early years in Velha Goa are still intact. The most outstanding is the Basilica of Bom Jesus which also has the remains of St. Francis Xavier. Considered to be the best example of baroque architecture in India, the Basilica was consecrated about 400 years ago and is supposed to be one of the oldest churches in India. From many aspects it appears as if the church is dedicated to St. Francis Xavier with numerous paintings relating to his life and his mortal remains have been kept in a silver casket and is exposed every ten years. I had an occasion to see it during its Exposition in 1980s. There are numerous other churches and cathedrals that are still standing and standing well. But the Church of St. Augustine is in ruins.
Goa is beautiful as you travel through its countryside to reach places like Madgaon or Vasco da Gama. Coconut groves keep you company and what is perhaps more beautiful is the sudden appearances of small impeccably white-washed churches that seem to emerge out of the lush green landscape. Every village apparently has a church which is well maintained making it a sight to behold.
The Goan beaches are what the tourists are taken to. We also did the rounds of Calangute, Baga, Anjuna and Vagator. As we were not the type to strip down to bare essentials and dive into the inviting waters, we wandered around beaches peopled with scantily clad or even unclad white men and women frolicking under the rather strong sun. They were apparently quite used to the hordes of tourists wandering around, sometimes some young men even ogling, but they displayed supreme indifference to them.
It was the 1970s when Goa came into its own with hippies swarming into it from all corners of the world. Hippies had just discovered freedom and started migrating to freer pastures. Goa was excellent for them and was different from other Indian destinations. The locals were more used to the Western ways, whatever that might be, and were tolerant of their uninhibited ways. Here, therefore, they had absolute freedom on the beaches of Baga, Anjuna and Vagator. Arambol in North Goa was still to be discovered and Colva and Mojorda in the South were yet to find favour with the hippies. Life was amazingly uninhibited and liberated for them with day-long gamboling with their partners in the sun and, as it went down across the Arabian Sea, music and dance took over, maybe, with a shot of alcohol or drugs. It was indeed out of this world – sheer paradise.
A word must be said about the Goan flea markets. While coming back from North Goa we had a stop at a biggish town called Mapusa. And, lo and behold, there right in front was a flea market in full swing. Most of the stuff was oriented to the requirements of the foreigners but there were traditional items like village handicrafts. The crowd was mostly of foreigners who took a break from the beaches to buy brief apparels for their life on the beaches.