Braganca House in Chandor, Goa – Goa’s Heritage

Braganca House Chandor Goa

In the centre of the small, sleepy village of Chandor in south Goa lies a 450 year old sprawling Portuguese mansion named Braganca House. Built in the 16th century by the two Braganca brothers, they divided the large mansion into two parts where the brothers lived with their families. The west wing became the property of the Menezies Bragancas and the east wing of the Pereira Bragancas.

For anyone looking for a peek into the lives of the landed gentry of the Portuguese era, the Braganca House is probably your best bet. From the ceiling tiles hand-painted by Chinese artists, to the oyster shell windows and the exquisite porcelain plates from Macau adorning the walls.

One of the first things that struck me about the interiors was the handcrafted furniture in rose & teakwood. Over 2 centuries ago, Goan carpenters who would come to Braganca House daily to carve, chip and chistle. Their handcrafted work includes intricately carved four-poster beds adorned with the family’s initials and dining chairs that are the exact replica of those, which are now used by Queen Elizabeth in the Buckingham Palace !

While you are in the West Wing of the Braganca House, don’t miss what is widely regarded as the single largest private library in the whole of Goa. 5000 (!!!) books sit on rows and rows of book shelves running alongside the walls. There are Portuguese, English, French and Latin tomes. Shakespeare and Tolstoy sit side by side with the great Classics of Portuguese literature. It is like having the world’s authors next to each other in a single room.

The entire Braganca House has an eerie sense of the melancholic. I later learn that it was in 1962, a year after Goa’s liberation, that the landed Braganca family lost all their lands in the new Goan land reforms. With no compensation from the government, the Braganca family was forced to open the legacy of the Braganca House to the public. Under the contemptuous gaze of the solemn looking ancestral portraits, one gets the feeling that this is not a decision that the Braganca ancestors are completely in agreement with. But then again, maybe it’s just the lack of air that causes my thoughts to wander…

In the East end of the Braganca House, the age of the house and the ravages of time are more apparent. In the ballroom, with its Italian alabaster marble flooring and crystal chandeliers from Venice, the ceiling is damp and peeling in large chunks. But it only requires a little bit of imagination to take me back to the days when the aristocracy of old Portuguese Goa glided elegantly across the marble floor.

Today, the Braganca House serves more as a storage space for old family relics than as a memoir to the Old Portuguese way of life. In the corridor, sit a pair of ancient tombstones belonging to the Braganca ancestors. Dating back to the 1800s, they were suffering damage in the open graveyard and are now protected indoors. In the corridor also lies a palanquin, that was used by the Braganca ancestors as a common mode of transport. The family chapel also houses what is believed to be a single fingernail of the Jesuit saint and patron saint of Goa, St Francis Xavier.

The atmosphere of the Braganca House is one of saudade, the Portuguese word for a feeling of longing for something dear that is now gone. Braganca House represents the last of Goa’s golden era of prosperity.

Perhaps, some day Braganca House will come to represent the future of Goa, where tourist and locals alike will be drawn toward the heritage of Old Portuguese Goa once again…

While there is no charge for visiting the Braganca House, a donation of Rs 100 is a welcome contribution towards it’s upkeep.

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

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Dona Paula Beach Goa – A tragic love story !

Dona Paula Beach Goa

The Dona Paula Beach (a 10 minute drive from my Mitaroy Goa Hotel) is a pristine beach with a tragic love story to its name.

Dona Paula beach was named after the Portuguese Viceroy’s daughter Dona Paula de Menezes.

This young, innocent girl fell in love with a local Goan fisherman. Of course, this match was unacceptable to the Viceroy who forbade his daughter Dona Paula to ever see her young lover again.

Distraught with love and sorrow, Dona Paula could not bear a life without her young Goan lover and threw herself off a cliff into the unforgiving Arabian Sea.

Left with nothing but his daughter’s memory, the Portuguese Viceroy named the area Dona Paula, as an eternal tribute to his stubbornness and forbidden romance & love.

Today, there is a black stone statue of the young Dona Paula and her Goan lover on a rocky promontory jutting into the sea with a sweeping view of the Marmagoa Port in the background.

The bay of Dona Paula in Goa lies at the sangam (or meeting point) of the Arabian Sea and the Goan rivers Mandovi and Zuari. Dona Paula is located in the suburbs of the capital Panjim (where our Mitaroy Goa Hotel is located). Dona Paula is also a very fashionable residence for the rich and famous of Panjim. Originally a fishing village, Dona Paula attracts its fair share of visitors and tourists who come to marvel at its pristine beach, its natural beauty and the romantic legend associated with it.

When you are in Dona Paula, you must visit the ruins of the Cabo Fort, erected in 1540. The Cabo Raj Niwas is one of the most elegant governor’s residences in the whole of Goa.There is also a 180 year old English cemetery, open to the public along with a chapel, which has a memorial tomb of Dona Paula de Menezes with her history engraved on the tombstone.

In Dona Paula, you also have the National Oceanography Institute which was opened in 1960 to study the local Goan marine life alongwith the Marine Biology Museum. A little further (around 9 kms from Dona Paula) is the famous Salim Ali Bird Sanctuary, in the island of Choro by the side of the Mandovi river and named after the famous Indian ornithologist. The Bird Sanctuary is spread over an area of 2 sq km and is a delight for bird lovers. 10 km from Dona Paula is the famous Reis Magos church. This historical landmark is one of the oldest Churches in Goa and was dedicated to the three wise men of the East who brought the baby Jesus gifts of frankincense, gold and myrrh.

The Dona Paula beach itself is one of Goa’s best beaches for water sports such as windsurfing, water skiing, para sailing, motor boat rides etc. There are also several organised water sports facilities on offer in Dona Paula. If you do happen to get serious hunger pangs with all the water sport action, there are quite a few seafood restaurants along the stretch from Dona Paula to Miramar – including Martin’s Beach Corner, Sea Pebble, Menino’s and Sea View.

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

Goan Urak – The Taste of Summer

If you have been to Goa, then you must have tried feni – the local Goan fiery brew made from either cashew or coconut. However, I sincerely doubt that you have had Goan Urak, truly the Taste of Summer.

Having been to Goa for the last 23 years myself, I am ashamed to say that it was only this year that I discovered this local Goan elixir. My friend John Pollard kept raving about it on Twitter. He praised it to high heavens, even going so far as to call it the Taste of Summer !!! I had heard enough and when I went to Goa at the end of March, the first thing I did (okay, maybe not the first!) was to head to my local pub and order myself a bottle of Urak.

Unlike feni, which is clear, Urak which is the first flush of feni is a cloudy beverage with sediment floating at the bottom. Wine lovers may know federwasser or sturm and feni is the Goan, cashew equivalent. While its cloudy character may put off a few, connoisseurs are able to look beyond the cosmetics and accept this natural Goan spirit for what it is.

Goan Urak, unlike feni, is meant to be drunk with Limca or lemonade. While you pour only a quart of feni, Urak servings are a taste more generous, filling almost half the glass, since the volume percent is only 12 – 15 % when compared to around 45 % of feni.

I topped my glass up with chilled Limca or lemonade and took my first, deep gulp.

And I was in seventh heaven!

Truly, Goan Urak was the most amazing thing I had ever tasted in my 25 years ! I love my malt whisky and my Goan feni, but Urak was just something different. It was the Taste of Summer and something beyond.

The head of summer was quite at its zenith but one glass of Urak with lemonade was indeed the cure. The taste of Goan Urak is difficult to describe. It has a pungent aroma of young cashew tinged with a slightly lemony bitterness. But the bitterness is only slight. While the lemonade cuts out most of the bitterness, I found myself searching for the taste of Urak amidst the sweetness of Limca.

I don’t know how Urak does it, but suddenly I didn’t feel the latent heat of the Goan summer anymore. The Urak went down my throat so smoothly that before I knew it, I had finished the bottle and was feeling an eerie sense of bliss!

It was only at around midnight or so that I felt a nice buzz in my head. Later I learnt that Urak, unlike goan feni, does not give you a high immediately. It is only when you sit in front of a fan or let the breeze blow over you on the beach that you feel nice and high.

I enjoyed Goan Urak many more times on that trip to Goa and indeed, sometimes I can still feel the taste of Urak on my tongue.

Ah, the pleasures of Goa!

P.S. Please note that one is not advised to drink Goan Urak and sit on the beach after that. My bartender told me that Urak and the sea breeze can be quite a lethal combination that has indeed led to many deaths. So please stay safe and don’t try this.

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

O’ Coqueiro Restaurant Goa

O Coqueiro Restaurant Goa

No Couple’s Holiday to Goa is complete without a visit to O’ Coqueiro Bar and Restaurant.

While you have famous Goan restaurants like Brittos on Anjuna beach, Infantaria and Souza Lobos on Calangute beach, O’ Coqueiro is by far one of the most romantic restaurants in the whole of Goa.

O’ Coqueiro (pronounced as o-co-ke-roo) means Coconut tree in Portuguese. The O’ Coqueiro restaurant is housed in a sprawling, old Portuguese-style ancestral bungalow right on the Mapusa – Panaji highway in the small village of Porvorim. Rather plain by day, in the evening the lighting and greenery give it a romantic atmosphere that is hard to describe.

While you can sit in the A/C section called the sala de jhantar (dining hall in Portuguese), we chose a table in the garden under a starlit sky.

When the waiter came to take our order, we immediately chose the house special – Chicken Cafreal (pronounced as kaf-ri-el). A greenish coloured chicken curry, the Chicken Cafreal was first created here at O ‘ Coqueiro, many moons ago. I pick a Goan feni to wash down my meal.

And then the highlight of the evening begins.

We chose Friday to go to O ‘ Coqueiro since that is the day when the legendary Goan mandolin player, Emiliano and his band play at O ‘ Coqueiro. And Emiliano (who is an old family friend of ours) doesn’t disappoint. He belts out a few Goan songs that get the couples around us tapping their feet.

As the food arrives, I cannot wait to tuck in. I first go with Chicken Cafreal and Goan Paav bread. The Chicken Cafreal is a delight, lightly spiced and flavoured with mint and spinach, if I am not mistaken. For my second course, I chose Chicken Cafreal with rice. I am not quite sure which combination is better so I suggest that you try both!

For desert, we order the Bebinca, a traditional Goan layered cake that takes hours to bake because it is cooked one layer at a time. The Bebinca is good but I still maintain that the best Bebinca I’ve tasted is made in a small bakery in Fontainhas.

As we finish desert, Emiliano strikes up the music and a few couples venture out onto the dance floor. An old couple catches my eye. They must be married over 40 years yet the glimmer of love in their eyes is unmistakeable.

I only hope that I am that lucky in love…

Stay Romantic!

Mihir

Emiliano plays every Friday at O’ Coqueiro Bar and Restaurant in Alto Porvorim, Bardez, Goa. Please check local listings before going to avoid disappointment.