An tribute to the Fontainhas Art Festival

Fontainhas Art Festival, Fontainhas, Panjim, Goa

The Fontainhas Art Festival or “The Fontainhas Festival of the Arts” as it is officially known, was created with the aim of revitalising Panjim’s 200 years old Latin quarter and putting spotlight back on Goa’s neglected architectural legacy.

The week long festival of music, art, culture and hertiage put the spotlight on Panjim’s quaint and picturesque Latin quarter. A settlement on the fringes of the capital Panaji that was meant originally for Portuguese families, Fontainhas (which means “little fountain” in Portuguese and gets its name from the fountain at the foot of the hill) began to sprout around 1770. Patterned along the lines of Lisbon’s Bairo Alto, Fontainhas (also known as Bairro de Fontainhas) has a certain Moorish character to it and is hence referred to as the Latin quarter. Macau in China (originally another Portuguese settlement) also boasts of a similar Latin Quarter. 

With its single-storied bungalows criss-crossing narrow bye lanes, Fontainhas’ Iberian ambience makes it an attractive proposition for tourists, especially French and Portuguese tourists. A number of houses in the area have already been converted into ‘pousadas’ (small guest houses) ranging from the tacky to the upmarket. The Mitaroy, Goa – A Heritage Homestay is the latest addition with its 4 Heritage Suites of 1000 sq ft each. 

The Fontainhas Art Festival was organised by the Goa Heritage Action Group (GHAG). The Festival managed to attract a large number of tourists and locals to Fontainhas. As tourists get more discerning, they are looking for more than just sun and sand, they are looking to imbibe the local culture of the destination. And local festivals such as the Fontainhas Art Festival is able to attract such discerning tourists. The uniqueness of the Fontainhas Art Festival  was that artists exhibited their works in the houses within the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas. A selection of singers such as the famous Lorna of Goa and a number of local Goan bands also added to the whole experience, serenading the visitors as they went from house to house appreciating the art on offer. 

Fontainhas Art Festival, Fontainhas, Panjim, Goa

All in all, the Fontainhas Art Festival helped to throw a spotlight on one of Goa’s most charming, yet neglected architectural legacies. And that makes the demise of the Fontainhas Art Festival all the more sadder…

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Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, Goa

Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary Chorao Island Goa

Goa’s only bird sanctuary, the Dr Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary in Goa is named after the famous Indian ornithologist Dr Salim Ali.

On the western tip of Chorao Island along the River Mandovi, mangrove swamps that cover this bird-watchers’ paradise provide refuge and sanctuary to a wide variety of local and migratory birds on the island. Apart from a rich variety of coastal birds, you can even see flying foxes, jackals and the razor sharp teeth of the odd crocodile as he simply sits there, lazing in the sun with his mouth open.

The Mangrove eco system on Chorao Island also has another very important role to play. The Mangrove eco system also provides the ideal breeding grounds for several varieties of fish and insects which form part of the food chain for these rare species of birds.

The Sanctuary is criss-crossed with a network of water channels. Thus, if you travel by boat, you can only visit during high tide. During low tide, the creeks are only accessible by canoe.

A watch-tower has also been erected in the Sanctuary for better viewing of the birds. Apart from the several resident birds, the Sanctuary also plays host to winter visitors such as coots and pintails.

The scenic and serene atmosphere of the Sanctuary make it a highly rejuvenating place for couples to unwind, reconnect and fall in love again.

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

The Ribandar Ferry Wharf is only a short ride from my Mitaroy Goa Hotel in Panjim. From the Ribandar ferry wharf, you take the ferry across the Mandovi river to the island of Chorao. The Dr. Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary is then a short walk from the ferry wharf on Chorao Island.

Open throughout the year, the Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary can only be visited with the permission of the Chief Wildlife Warden.

Museum of Christian Art, Old Goa

Museum of Christian Art Old Goa

Tucked away in a quiet road near the majestic Basilica of Bom Jesus is Asia’s first and only Museum of Christian Art.

Inaugurated in 1994 by the then President of India, Shri Shankar Dayal Sharma, the museum, which has enriched the cultural heritage and history of Goa was originally set up at the Seminary of Rachol in Salcette, Goa.

However, for the convenience of the general public and tourist visitors to Goa and with the support of the Archdiocese of Goa, the Museum of Christian Art was relocated to within the precinct of the Convent of Santa Monica, Old Goa, in the vicinity of the World Heritage Monuments. Most tourists only visit the World Heritage Monuments, leaving the few tourists that trickle in to the Museum of Christian Art enough space and time to look around.

I join a few tourists who have managed to make it past the World Heritage Monuments and are walking slowly, almost solemnly, toward the Museum of Christian Art. Before we get there however, we pass by the Convent of Santa Monica.

Th Convent of Santa Monica, built in the year 1627, has considerable architectural and historical significance. The Convent was at one time extremely important on account of royal patronage and was known as the Royal Monastery. I dislodge myself from the group and take a look inside. Past a few scaffoldings, I enter a large Church which is in the process of being restored. As I look around, I come upon an old cross hanging in the centre of the Church. I read a faded inscription next to the cross stating that sometime in the 17th century (I forget the date), this cross actually wept blood. Millions of pilgrims came from all across Goa and South India to witness this miracle. Now the cross hangs forlorn and forgotten in an old Church. 

The Museum of Christian Art in Old Goa itself forms the other half of the Church. Thanks to an entrance fee and efforts by the Archdiocese of Goa and the Goa Government, the Museum of Christian Art is much better preserved than the old Church.

The Museum of Christian Art houses a number of beautiful old paintings, sculptures and statues dating back to the early reign of the Portuguese in Goa. However, the Museum of Christian Art is unique in the fact that it houses a selection of objects on display that are the Hindu contribution to Christian Art in Goa and India.

Before visiting the museum, I wasn’t aware that many Hindu artists and artisans were involved in the building and creating of Christian artifacts during the Portuguese colonial rule.

At the time, images and paintings could not be dispatched from Portugal fast enough to meet the rising demand in an increasingly developed Goa. Hence, the Portuguese authorities were forced to use local Hindu artists and artisans to complete this religious work. The permanent requirements of producing images of the myriad of Hindu deities coupled with the existence of hundreds of Hindu temples and shrines in Goa was the shining proof of a well established and highly respected Goan School of Art.

Later, Hindu artists even sold images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin Mary and many Christian saints door to door, thus depicting their ability to move from traditional Hindu backgrounds to sophisticated forms of European art steeped in venerable Christian traditions.

The Museum of Christian Art in Goa is thus a unique testimony of the close bonds of interdependence, religious understanding and mutual acceptability between Sacred Christian Art and its traditional Hindu artisans in Goa !

While there is a fair amount of silverware such as crosses, chalices and mass plates, my favourites among the items on display are the richly embroidered priestly gowns and a portable Mass kit for priests who had to travel to distant villages to say mass.

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

Casino Royale Goa Casino

Casino Royale Goa

“You are my lucky charm”, say many a couple to each other.  

The Casino Royale Goa Casino floating off the pier in Panjim is the perfect place to see if those words indeed ring true.

A short stroll from my Mitaroy Goa Hotel, the pier of the Casino Royale Goa is quite a fancy affair with a red carpet welcome.  From there, a speed boat with a captain and crew in smart sailor uniforms rush you to the Casino Royale Goa, a floating casino ship that is anchored off the coast of Goa, due to strict gambling rules that apply in Indian territory.

On board Casino Royale Goa, which I am told is the largest passenger/entertainment vessel ever built in the country, I immediately feel an eclectic mix of sophistication and style. The reception area is really fancy, with a classy mix of browns, gold and mirrors. 

Among the couples I notice a few rich looking gentlemen, that look like Russian millionaires to me, looking to drop a million or two. I am guessing that they didn’t come by speed boat. Indeed, Casino Royale Goa boasts of its own helideck where millionaires can land in their own private chopper, before being whisked to the private gambling Suites!

I see a big Bollywood entourage in the main Casino Royale Hall. At the time, Casino Royal Goa is partnering with the Bollywood movie Teen Patti, starring Amitabh Bachchan, Sir Ben Kingsley and southern superstar Madhavan. Casino Royale Goa akin to Bollywood seems to be about a winning combination of lavishness, style and grandeur.

I am on board to visit my friend and Managing Director Narendra Punj, who has worked many years for Casinos Austria. I know Narendra’s bother Brij, who lives in Germany very well.

Dressed in a dapper grey suit that matched his salt and pepper beard, Narendra Punj is not at all like his soft spoken brother. I guess that in the casino business, you have to make a mark immediately. And Narendra has made his mark, working for many years for Casinos Austria before he returned to India to take charge of Casino Royale Goa. Narendra managed to take some time off to show me around his floating casino. In addition to the Main Gaming Area and a dedicated poker room, Narendra also showed me the VVIP Gaming Room, where the creme de la creme of Indian and foreign society come to chase lady luck in the privacy of their own room.

Casino Royale Goa also has an Aqua Bar that has a stunning view of the ocean. I order a Goan feni with water. The bartender at the Aqua Bar seems to be quite shocked that I didn’t go for the usual martini. He tells me that I am the first person to order a Goan feni on board, and he opens a sealed bottle of feni as proof.  

As I sip my Goan feni, shaken not stirred of course, and wandered around the ship, I notice a couple sitting at one of the tables. The man gently encourages his wife to roll the dice and she hesitantly does so with a flush of excitement on her face. 

Or maybe it is the flush of love, I think to myself as I stroll away…

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

Goa Monsoon – Romance in the Rains

Goa Monsoon

Finally, its that time of the year.

Whether you prefer to take long walks in the pouring rain or cuddle up cozily in your spacious Suite and watch the rain beat incessantly against your windows, Goa in the monsoons is the perfect place for romance.

Goa is a great place to visit in all seasons but my favourite time of the year has to be Goa in the monsoons. 

After a long and hot summer, the monsoon showers in Goa bring much needed respite to the soil. Nature in Goa takes on a newly washed look, looking fresher and greener than ever.

Goa in the monsoons is perfect for romance because, for some odd reason, most tourists choose to visit Goa either during Summer or Christmas / New Years, leaving Goa quiet and peaceful for couples that visit during this time of the year.

As you walk along the Panjim pier (a short distance from my Mitaroy Goa Hotel), you can see a few couples holding hands as they marvel at the spate of the Mandovi river, in all its glory!

Stay Romantic!

Mihir