Walks

THE SAO TOME WALK

This walk takes you, through the heart of Panaji’s brief historical links with Goa’s Portuguese rulers. Partisan views run high here and visitors will sense the rhythm and pace of an era gone by.

If there is one place in Panaji where one should begin a heritage walk, it should be at the chapel dedicated to St Thomas. S Thomas, patron saint of builders in India, is probably the one Christian saint most surrounded by controversies. The masons and carpenters of Panaji through subscription built this little chapel in Tobacco Square. Sociologists will find it interesting that the saint is considered a patron saint of builders only in India. Elsewhere, particularly in Europe, Sr. Joseph the Carpenter is venerated as the patron saint of builders. Was St. Thomas really a builder by profession? Does he hold a lance in his right hand or is that a tool that masons in Goa use to this day for excavating earth? No other Christian saint is as full of mysteries as is this Apostle who was sent to India by Jesus Christ himself!

Before you take a look at the chapel, though, you might want to walk around the square on which it is located. The Office of the Postmaster General of Goa once used to be at Tobacco House, a building where trade in tobacco was initiated as a last-ditch attempt at rescuing a failing Goan economy. The revenue from the sale of tobacco from the Americas did precious little but the location of this compact little building tells a tale of its own. The statue of Dr. MC. Dias, Surgeon that stands in the little triangular garden facing the South is a testimony to the affection this surgeon enjoyed from the citizens of Panaji.

Now take a look at the stucco mouldings over the windows of G.X. Verlekar & Sons, Jewellers and IA. Gonsalves & CIA Negociantes em Ferramente ETC. Armas e municoes. Once an arms and ammunitions store, this establishment now sells hardware, garden tools and paint supplies. Observe the wooden railings that encircle narrow balconies indicative of the building’s importance and antiquity. These narrow balconies were designed at a time when fresh air from the river was given great importance. The citizens of the old city had seen people succumb to disease due to cramped space and these narrow balconies were incorporated into the design of Italianate-style house to overcome the design defects of the past.

Place this historic building firmly on your left as you turn into the street named Rua Luis de Menezes. Take particular note of the building that houses the quaintly named Inocencio (Innocence) Fernandes & Sons. Notice its indigenous columns and railing that face the street. Compare these with the railings placed in the prestigious Tobacco Square in 1938. Even the interventions made in this street in the first quarter of the 20th century are worth taking note of. Partisan values run high in this neighbourhood and out early in the morning after a quick around much before the morning after a quick breakfast of “assembly line” Udipi Fare from the South Kanara District of Karnataka at the well-known Vihar Vegetarian Restaurant.

Look at the high pitched roof over the entrance over the building housing Casa Radio Electra. The cast iron railings are an import from Bombay but the wooden tracery over the high pitched roof and the decorative finial in terracotta is definitely the work of a Goan master craftsman. Walk to the end of the street and then take a right turn into 31 January Road. Names here are in Portuguese and English. Test your linguistic capabilities by trying to pronounce the name of this shop, Estabelecimento de Cera, Candles, Wax Merchants, 1930, for the sheer tongue twisting joy of it. This Street is filled with wax merchants, petty tradesmen and wine merchants. Just as artisans occupied the houses around St. Thomas Chapel when settlers from up the river Mandovi first occupied Panaji, this street was given to bakers, candle-makers and wine merchants. Reasons of caste exaltations have often been cited as one of the reasons for mass conversions of Hindus to Christianity. It is also possible that lower caste Hindus who converted to Christianity were the only ones willing to take up low-ranking occupations such as candle making and baking that involved the handling of animal fat. Today many other tradesmen occupy the street, adding their own character to its history, thus giving the entire precinct a unique charm of its own. Go up the stairs of Hotel Venite lot a leisurely cup of “tourist-style” tea and some Goan fare. If mangoes are in season, try their mango milkshakes and be transported into a culinary heaven.