So here’s what confused me about the capital city of Goa, is it Panjim or is it Panaji? It appears to be both, Panjim as the Portuguese coined it and Panaji as the locals refer to it.
One of the things I like to do when I’m in a new city is wander off on my own to explore and discover it. Not a big fan of catching the first light of day, I did make it a point to drag my sleepy arse out of bed at 6:15am to take a walk along the Mandovi River banks to check out what makes Panjim tick at the crack of dawn.
Just a few blocks away from the hotel, which is on the fringe of Panjim and Campal, I came across the dreaded morning market. I’m especially sensitive to bad odours and this one was just about as revolting as it can get. It’s also one of the best places to catch a glimpse of people in their daily environment. The atmosphere was balmy and the smells nauseatingly foul.
As I made my way further up the road, I was glad to seek refuge with the vegetable and fruit sellers where the smells were more palatable. The colours were wild with everything from bright yellow bananas to deep red apples, fresh greens and everything else in between for the eye to feast on. I stuck out like a sore thumb from the looks I was getting and at some point several folks tried to start a conversation with me but they were speaking in Goan. To which I could only muster a blank response. Who in their right mind photographs a dirty market place early in the morning? I’m sure they must be thinking.
The weather in Goa is almost identical to what I’m accustomed to in Malaysia so it was mildly cool and a little hazy with the sun rising just a few minutes short of 7am. Unlike bustling KL, Panjim is a sleepy little town and there were very few folks on the streets. Which is a nice change for a city boy who hates crowded places.
As I walked deeper into the city centre, children were out and about in their uniforms heading to their schools. Stores were still closed with the exception of little sidewalk cafes where you can stop and have a hot coffee or tea and some local breakfast. It was truly a pleasant and relaxed mood. No rush, no race to get to where you’re going.
For several days prior I kept asking cab drivers where I would find the old quarter of Panjim city to which I never got a straight answer. But here I was right smack in the middle of it. It’s quaint, rustic and old. The Portuguese may have left a long time ago but their legacy and the architecture they left behind is still very much alive and well. Most old buildings are painted bright colours and it’s truly a joy to see heritage buildings still in use by government departments as well as several refurbished to house modern businesses and retail stores. 18th June Road is a good example of this. It’s a shopping district with local stores as well as the usual suspects, big brands such as Adidas, United Colours of Benetton, Levis, Nike and the likes of which I did not come all the way to India to visit.
The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception is perhaps the centrepiece of Panjim. Sitting at the top of a hill, its a commanding church with a magnificent view of the surrounding area. Built in 1541 as a chapel by the Portuguese, the site was the location of a colonial port landing, where ships sailing from Lisbon made first call and where sailors disembarked, before proceeding further inland to Ela (now Old Goa). Official visiting hours are after 11am so it was not unusual that I got shown a stern finger for trying to catch a few shots of mass that was in progress at that early hour in the morning. But I’m thick skinned and hardened when it comes to getting my shots. Chase me with a stick, then perhaps I’ll make a run for it.
As I made my way back to the hotel, I crossed over the main street and proceeded along the Mandovi riverside. Dubbed the French Riviera of India, Mandovi Riviera as it is known, is filled with floating casinos that operate 24/7. I saw the morning shift of people all fresh and suited up arriving to relieve those who had worked all night to the sounds of Bollywood music as it played over the PA systems on board. Not something you would expect to see in a city like this. And every few minutes, launch boats would come to the gates to ferry gamblers to their respective destinations.
I climbed over one of the gates at a secluded corner and sat on the pier to take in the sights of a new day dawning over this city trying to imagine what it must have been like hundreds of years ago. Across the river I spotted the Gurdwara which I had visited just a few days before glistening in the rays of the rising sun. There was an order of peace and tranquility for the few moments I spent sitting there.
Further on, I passed people who were up early jogging and several homeless people sleeping along the walkway. Initially tempted to take their photo, I put down my camera out of respect for their privacy. I decided it was not something I wanted to publish on my blog. The only thing on my mind was the irony and juxtaposition of the haves and have nots. While the rich were busy living it up and gambling away their riches in the lap of luxury at these casinos, the poor slept on concrete benches just a few feet away.
I continued to walk on for what seemed like forever with this thought until I arrived at my hotel. I’m glad I took the time to experience the city of Panjim coming alive this morning.
The Roving Photographer
December 15, 2015