Walks

THE ALTINHO WALK

This short walk is valuable for its scenic views and also to get a feel of the historic importance of Panaji as an entry point for traders and travelers and students embarking on professional careers.

You could start this walk at the office of the Commissioner, Customs. This indigo building received its first cosmetic face-lift in over a hundred years in 1999. Known as the Alfendega or Custom House, this was one of the most important commercial buildings during Portuguese rule in Goa. Walk around the rear of the building and then cross the street towards what is popularly called the Panaji Municipal Garden. It is one of Panaji’s many civic open spaces and perhaps its largest and best maintained. The stone pillar was brought here from Velha Goa when the city fell.

Catch up with some local gossip at the Clube Vasco de Gama, now housed on the first floor of Souza Towers, an incongruous high rise that replaced a charming single storied clubhouse. Walk straight up, past the Children’s Park to your right. This Park is curiously named Comercio Parque especially going by the fact that this area was once a coconut grove! The Government of India Tourist Office now stands right in front of you. Admire its indigenous facade, bottle balustrades, balconies on corbels, beautifully crafted cast iron railings and segmented column.

The Administration of Comunidades (Central Zone) office and a few good shops occupy this building. Motorcycle taxi drivers will invariably call out to you from their spot under the rain tree by the Park. These taxi drivers, rivaled only by their counterparts in Bangkok, are locally called pilots. Now turn around and face the grandest of all Panaji’s edifices, the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. The hill behind the Church was where beacons were once lit to guide pilots at sea. The hill was named the Hill of Pilots and the Panaji motorcycle taxi drivers take their nickname from their spot facing the hill, Benches facing the Church give you a fine view of the Panaji Church but with traffic whizzing past you on both sides, it is rather difficult to appreciate this piece of street furniture and the Church itself.

The street that veers to the right from here was once Goa’s Gujarati Quarter. Block printed textiles from this little pocket were exported to Portuguese Africa at one point of time. Goa’s Gujarati population now lies scattered all over the State but today Gujarati appears to be the language most heard on the streets when hordes of Indian tourists invade this holiday destination in the summer.

If this is going to be your day for walking around Panaji, rake a right up the steps to the High Court building (The High Court of Bombay at Goa), Formerly Goa’s most prestigious high school or Lyceum. Instruction was once imparted in the Portuguese language here and its high teaching standards could compare with today’s university education. Go up to the East Gate of the High Court. You will see a spectacular view of the roofscapes of Portais and Fontainhas. Admire the expanse of t Mandovi River, the scale of the bridge at Patto and the two new bridges that span the river. Ferries transported you across the river (cars, buses et al) before the bridges were built. In case you are wondering why there are two bridges spanning the river at almost exactly the same spot leading to the same destination, here’s the story. The first bridge collapsed soon after it was ‘inaugurated’ on account of spurious building materials used for its construction. Emergency aid from the Government at the Centre helped build a second bridge while the first one was being restored. The result is that now the strip of the National Highway No.17 linking Panaji to Porvorim has two impressive bridges across it. Look beyond the two bridges in the distance towards the East. On a clear day you can also see the hills of diver in the distance, the mangroves at the Salim All Bird Sanctuary, the Ribander jetty and the Goan fishing nets. From the North-Fast Gate of the High Court you get a fabulous view of the gables of the church of Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. Take the steps down from the High Court just as hundreds of students must have done before the Lyceum became the High Court.

You can now either go straight down into the heart of the city and enjoy a sumptuous Gujarati meal at Rasoyo, a South Kanara thali in air-conditioned comfort at Kamat’s or do some utility shopping on 1 8th June Road. You can also step into the Fontainhas heritage district via the steps from the East Gate of the High Court.
This circular route offers you panoramic views of the city of Panaji, the villages and mangroves below as well as views of the Panaji Church and the new Legislative Assembly.

If you would rather carry on with the Altinho Walk, however, come down the steps (still referred to as “the Lyceum steps”) and turn to your left and on to Pe. Agnelo Road. This is Panaji’s most visible heritage site and the hotbed of a recent controversy. Marked for conversation in Panaji I997 Plan, the heritage pocket was “redesignated” in the year 2000 as a commercial precinct, allowing a developer to demolish the five villas and replacing these with yet another high rise.