We take you away from the surf to discover Goa’s forgotten towers and forts, great nature trails and more
Goa evokes thoughts of sandy beaches, shacks and nightclubs. However, beyond this glossy veil—that earned it the tag of party capital of India—there is a rich heritage that often goes undiscovered. On a recent three-day trip to the city, during the Carnival 2015, we checked in with some local experts to find out where to head in search of Goa’s heritage.
While historian Sanjeev V Sardesai, who conducts heritage tours, recommended Se’ Cathedral, others like Bianca Dias, the proprietor of Off Trail Adventures, who leads biking trips into less explored terrain, told us about secluded waterfalls. However, we soon found that three days weren’t enough, especially when combined with some fun at the shacks, a late-night party with hippies and tequila shots at Rs 50. So even as we list what we unearthed during this visit, be assured we are planning our next.
Reis Magos Restoration
While staying at the Miramar Residency, run by the Goa Tourism Development Corporation, we discovered the existence of a lesser-known fort along the Miramar Beach (few records of its existence still remain). At one point, the fort had, along with the Reis Magos, helped blockade ships at the harbour.
Funds from the Helen Hamlyn Trust were poured into its restoration, which was helmed by famed architect Gerard da Cunha, with the cooperation of the Government of Goa and INTACH. He had to undo numerous “unnatural modifications” made to the original fort after the British occupation. “It had kitchens and toilets, which were not true to the original design. I had to gut it out entirely and study architectural designs that were in vogue at the time to restore the fort,” says da Cunha, adding that the restored fort is now “fairly accurate” to the original, constructed more than 450 years ago.
While people visit heritage sites, like the Bom Jesus Basilica in Bainguinim, most fail to appreciate their finer nuances. For example, did you know the Basilica has entire rooms hidden beneath the gravestones that make up its flooring? But we wanted something off the tourist track. So Sardesai pointed us in the direction of Se’ Cathedral, a 16th century monument of the Roman Catholic rule. The historian informed us that the architecture of the church had infusions of Hinduism and stands as a testament to the intermingling of native cultural influences and that of the Portuguese.
St Augustine Tower
Sardesai also recommends the ruins of the St Augustine Tower, on the Monte Santo Hill in Margao.According to him, the Augustinian Order of Christian monks had built the structure in 1602. Excavators at the site are believed to have stumbled upon relics of Ketevan the Martyr, the queen of the kingdom of Kakheti in Eastern Europe.
Not too many take advantage of the nature trails and rain forests of the state. However, Dias is trying to alter the tourist Zeitgeist. She conducts three to six-hour treks deep into the jungles of the Western Ghats. Choosing not to disclose her trails (for fear of them being over-run with tourists), she reveals a bit about 32 waterfalls that were discovered during the treks. She also offers biking trips to Fontainhas, popularly referred to as the ‘Latin Quarter’, and Divar Island. Costs for the treks can vary depending on the size of the group, she said, while the bike rides cost Rs 1,500 per person.
Details: Sanjeev Sardesai – firstname.lastname@example.org, Offtrail adventures – offtrailadventures.com
● Casa Menezes is a family-owned and run homestay, located in Batim and housed in a property built over 350 years ago. Proprietor David Mascheranas says the basic structure has remained much the same through the last three centures. “I’ve only restored what’s there to bring it back to its full glory,” says the interior designer, adding the property, which overlooks paddy fields, is located near the Batim Lake, which attracts many species of migratory birds. Details: cazamenezesgoa.com
● Also interesting is The Only Olive, a 150-year-old property by the banks of the Mapusa (reportedly named after a century-old olive tree on the property) . Adrian Pinto, part owner of the property that was constructed with both Indian and Portuguese architectural influences, says anglers can fish the river, while those inclined can also go on picturesque walks. Details: theonlyolive.com
Other places to visit
Namazgarh: An idgah (open mosque) atop a hill in Bicholim, it was built for a Moghul prince, who had gained asylum from king Chattrapati Sambhaji, of the Maratha dynasty, after his father sentenced him to death. The namazgarh is located in a mining area, so entry is restricted.
Budbudyanche Talle: Belonging to the Sri Gopinath temple, in the Netravali Wildlife Sanctuary, the name means ‘lake of bubbles’. According to locals, the lake has been bubbling for centuries and, reportedly, shouting ‘Har Har Mahadev’ or clapping increases the bubbles. About 85 km from Panaji.
Petroclyphs of Ponsaimol: A set of 240 rock carvings, the petroglyphs on the banks of the river Kushawati features animal figures and unidentified designs dating back to 8,500 BC. They are attributed to an ancient settlement, the Kushawati Basin Civilisation. About 75 km from Panaji.
The writer was invited by Goa Tourism