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Old Goa

Started: 2016-01-23 14:48:09

Submitted: 2016-01-23 05:04:22

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29 December 2015: In which the intrepid narrator visits churches, ruined and otherwise, in Old Goa

On Tuesday, our second and final full day in Goa, Willy's classmate Alex joined us again to look around the churches and ruins of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Old Goa. This was where the Portuguese first set up their administrative center for their colony of Goa, but they made the mistake of putting it in low-lying land, and eventually consecutive cholera outbreaks drove the people into Panaji, which is still the administrative capital and largest city of Goa, and is where we stayed.

My mother convinced the hotel staff to let us eat breakfast at the hotel, in the restaurant adjacent to the hotel, for Rs. 100 each (about US$1.60.) This was, arguably, more than we could have paid for breakfast out in the town, but it had the distinct advantage of being convenient, and still not very expensive in our purchasing power. It was not, however, an especially expansive breakfast: Calvin was happy with the white bread and jam (which seemed to get sweeter and more cloying every day), and I managed to sate myself with a few idly, a masala omelette (where "masala" just means "with mixed vegetables"), and chai.

We met Alex at the hotel and walked a few blocks to the central market in Goa, where we hoped to find a pair of auto rickshaws to take us to Old Goa. We found a fish market dozens of fishmongers sitting behind low tables with the day's catch laid out in front of them. I was curious, so I led Calvin through it, and we saw a variety of seafood: mostly fish, with some crabs, octopi, and even a few foot-long sharks. Some were whole, some were decapitated, and some were in the process of being decapitated or gutted as we walked past. Calvin took the whole thing fairly well, but was creeped out by the crabs -- he was worried their claws would reach out and grab him.

Fish market in Goa
Fish market in Goa
Fishmonger in Goa
Fishmonger in Goa

Back on the street, we found a pair of auto rickshaws to take us to Old Goa. The route took us east on a causeway lined with mangroves next to the bay, which probably turned into a river at some poorly-defined point inland. We disembarked in the middle of Old Goa, dodged an army of vendors hawking souvenirs and trinkets (here the trinkets had a distinctly Catholic slant, which was unusual for India) and snacks, and made our way to the first church right on the south side of the open square, the Basilica of Bom Jesus. Like the fort we saw the previous day, the church was also built out of laterite bricks, which had been left mostly exposed in the exterior wall.

Basilica of Bom Jesus
Basilica of Bom Jesus
Altar at Basilica of Bom Jesus
Altar at Basilica of Bom Jesus

This church had an impressive gilded altar, but biggest draw was the coffin containing the mortal remains of St. Francis Xavier, who came to Goa to bring Christianity to the colony, and whose body has (allegedly) never decayed, despite being unembalmed in the tropical heat and humidity. All I could really see in the glass coffin, perched well above the ground on an elaborate base, was the vague outline of something wrapped in a shroud -- surrounded by throngs of Indian tourists jostling their way into the narrow corridor surrounding the shrine. I was able to crop the masses out of my photo simply because the shrine was so high above the ground.

Coffin of St. Francis Xavier in the Basilica of Bom Jesus
Coffin of St. Francis Xavier in the Basilica of Bom Jesus

I pushed my way through the scrum and eventually found the rest of my family on the square in front of the church. Calvin grabbed my camera and started taking pictures, which he thought was great fun, but which failed to produce any usable pictures.

Christmas decoration hanging in Old Goa
Christmas decoration hanging in Old Goa

We walked across the street to the north to another church, the oddly-named Se Cathedral, which was painted a blinding white in the late-morning tropical sun. This church featured an impressive barrel vault, another impressive altar, and an elaborate chandelier. It also held a wedding taking place in one of the side chapels. After we'd finished gawking at the interior, we happened to be standing on the front steps of the church at the right moment when the wedding party ran out of guests to distribute their post-wedding refreshments to, so we ended up with mango juice boxes and egg samosas.

Interior of Se Cathedral
Interior of Se Cathedral
Chandelier in Se Cathedral
Chandelier in Se Cathedral

We dropped by another smaller church in the same complex, and then looked at a small (and not especially interesting) museum collecting various artifacts from around Goa, as well as some of the official portraits painted of the governors of the colony of Goa. It seemed a little weird to see the Archaeological Survey of India collecting and displaying Christian artifacts, and preserving Christian churches, but at this point I really shouldn't be surprised by anything I see in India.

We found a little restaurant to eat lunch at, where I enjoyed my vegetarian thali plate (which I think was cryptically described just as "veg rice"). Halfway through lunch Calvin decided he needed to go to the bathroom, surprising no one, which proved inconvenient because there was not a restroom handy. When pressed, the restaurant staff led Calvin and I through the kitchen to a door behind the building, where an old woman squatted peeling potatoes. The idea was just to point and shoot, into the field, so that's what Calvin did.

We walked north of the churches we'd seen earlier and stumbled upon yet another church, set back from the others in the jungle. This one was painted (or whitewashed) brilliantly white inside, and featured a large cupola over the main vault. Calvin was very excited when he noticed that one of the gravestones embedded in the floor had a skull and crossbones on it, and tried to pose in front of it, though his expression in my pictures left much to be desired.

Front of Church of St Cajetan
Front of Church of St Cajetan
Interior of Church of St Cajetan
Interior of Church of St Cajetan

We kept walking towards the river, though the Viceroy's Arch, built to memorialize some important event in the colonial history of Goa, and passed a throng of beggar children on our way to the river. We had intended to walk along the water, until the road connected to another road and we could loop back into Old Goa, as my map seemed to suggest that we could, but the road stopped into construction that looked impassable on foot and we had to turn around, brave the hoard of beggar children and the Viceroy's Arch again, and walk along a different street through the jungle.

Palm trees in Goa
Palm trees in Goa

Our final objective in Old Goa was the ruined Church of Saint Augustine. Apparently the Augustinians had built a church here in the colonial period, and then fallen out with the colonial authorities, who banned them from the colony and ordered their church destroyed. (The interpretive signs on the ground, and the explanation in our guidebooks, left much of the story untold.) The colonial authorities did not do an especially thorough job of tearing down their church, but their partial demolition lead to a fire and further decay, until eventually the ruin was left with a corner of one laterite brick tower climbing several stories into the air. It was now up to the Archaeological Survey of India to stabilize the ruin and try to present it to the tourists.

Ruined tower at the Church Of Saint Augustine
Ruined tower at the Church Of Saint Augustine
Overgrown ruins at the Church of Saint Augustine
Overgrown ruins at the Church of Saint Augustine

I enjoyed crawling around on the ruins, trying to visualize what had been there hundreds of years ago. Some parts were obvious -- the tower next to the main body of the church -- but the ruins in back were harder to discern. It appeared that there had been a monastery at the complex, which explained the proliferation of rooms in back. While I found the ruins themselves fascinating, I also wanted better interpretation, to see how it all went together. Still, it was one of my favorite things to see this time in India.

Calvin and Aunt Bethany climb the ruins at the Church of Saint Augustine
Calvin and Aunt Bethany climb the ruins at the Church of Saint Augustine
Willy, Alex, Mom, Dad, and Bethany at the ruins of the Church of Saint Augustine
Willy, Alex, Mom, Dad, and Bethany at the ruins of the Church of Saint Augustine

Earlier in the day I had promised Calvin ice cream if he cooperated with the sight-seeing, and it turned out there was an ice cream cart right in front of the ruins of Saint Augustine's. Calvin and I selected our frozen desserts, and the remainder of our party did the same, and we enjoyed our ice cream on the street in front of the ruins.

Willy and Alex spent some of their time talking about Hindi, including the suffix "-baz", which Willy defined as "a Hindi-Urdu suffix meaning someone who is has an unhealthy obsession with something." We decided that Calvin must be an ice cream baz.

We caught a pair of auto rickshaws back to Panaji, and walked along the water until we could see the sun setting over the Arabian Sea. We found a playground, where Calvin amused himself on the play equipment with the other Indian children playing there.

Sun sets over the Arabian Sea from Goa
Sun sets over the Arabian Sea from Goa

Willy and I took the opportunity to stage our own visual nod to the famous binary sunset scene in Star Wars. I tried to play the appropriate theme music on my iPod but discovered, to my distress, that I had not actually downloaded the Star Wars soundtracks onto my iPod, even though I had gone to the trouble of importing them into iTunes several months ago.

Willy enjoys the uniary sunset in Goa
Willy enjoys the uniary sunset in Goa

After the sun set, we headed off in search of supper, with me leading the way navigating using Google Maps, holding my phone out in front of me to show me the path. I tried to be judicious in my use of my international roaming mobile data and only use my phone when I really needed it, and finding supper seemed like a good use of my phone and my expensive mobile data. (I paid Verizon US$25 for 100 megabytes of data, which lasted about a week before I hit the limit and paid for another 100 megabytes of data at the same rate. This proved much easier than trying to get a local SIM card; the forums I saw on the Internet suggested that this had not actually gotten any easier since my last attempt on my first expedition to India.)

After supper I headed straight back to the hotel with Calvin to put him to bed, then eventually went to bed myself, ready to head to our final destination -- Mumbai -- the following day.

For more photos from Old Goa, see Photos on 2015-12-29.
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