Thursday, March 23, 2017

Senhor Costa, welcome to Goa’s Alfama

As the Prime Minister of Portugal takes a walk through the area today, January 11, 2017, Café looks at all that goes into the maintenance of Fontainhas, a part of Goa that is a last bastion of its kind

11 Jan, 2017, 02:54AM IST

Senhor Costa, welcome to Goa’s Alfama
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Amidst all its concretisation and turning ‘modern’,
Goa loses a little piece of itself with every passing day.
However, there are little bits and pieces that hold on to
their past linkage and heritage. A prime example of an
area such as this is none other than Fontainhas. Panjim’s
fondest Latin Quarter reminds us, perhaps every single
day, that there are some things that will stay timeless;
that there is hope for those who want to make a
difference, by staying true to their roots. It is set apart by
its vibrancy that is both architectural as well as cultural.
It would be lovely to safeguard the entire state in similar
vein, so that it wasn’t a given that when dignitaries came
to Goa, they would have to be taken to one area alone
to see Goa in its prime – a side of Goa that many would
aspire to own a chunk of.
One cannot simply think of Fontainhas, heritage
and accommodation in the same breath, and not come
up with Panjim Inn as an end result. It was classified as
the first heritage hotel in Goa in the mid-’90s, and from
its verandah, one has a panoramic view of the region
of Fontainhas. Panjim Inn was a project undertaken
in the 1980s, by Ajit Sukhija, its founder. Having taken
a sabbatical in Italy, he discovered that it would be
viable to convert heritage buildings so as to make them
economically sustainable via tourism. To date, the
haunt serves as a watering hole for many a weary (or
otherwise) traveller.
Jack Ajit Sukhija is at the helm of the ever-popular
venture, and speaks of how he believes the region has
flourished. “To an extent, we’ve been fortunate in a way,
or series of ways. The government had declared that the
area should be marked a conservation zone. This led to
its status being earmarked in that manner. However, it
was also fortunate that the bulk of the area’s residents
were financially stable, and many managed to monetise
their homes to make them self-sufficient. At this juncture,
I believe that there must be at least 35-40 guest houses in
the area. This is not to say that there are no issues; parking
is a major issue, for example. However, the system still
manages to work for the residents,” Jack shares.
Rua 31 de Janeiro runs straight from Fontainhas,
to the adjacent hamlet of São Tomé. Tucked into this
little by-lane is the ever popular ‘Hospedaria Venite’,
known simply as ‘Venite’, to most. It is a meeting place
for many a local that knows of the secret delights the
venue houses and the tourist that chooses to tread off
the beaten path. Venite serves primarily as a restaurant,
but in reality, is far more. We often hear the phrase ‘if
only these walls could talk’. At this quaint little restaurant,
they can. The walls are the diners’ canvas, where much
scribbling and sketching has happened and many tales
have been shared for eons.
Luis De Souza who owns and runs the place, points
out how it is self-undertaken initiatives that keep the
charm of the region, alive. “Many of us managed to
adapt to the conservation tag, running our family
businesses that were already existent in the same place
before. However, it has come down to self-driven
initiatives more than anything else. It would indeed be
lovely if all of the city had been bestowed with the same
conservation tag.” Speaking nostalgically, Luis adds,
“I think that had such legislation been passed, Panjim
would easily have been one of the most sought after
destinations in the world.”
Veteran journalist Jovito Lopes is another individual
who lives in the area, and it is his belief that community
bonding alone is what has kept the fabric of Fontainhas
well-bound. “There is a series of unofficial meetings that
helps us take stock of what we need as a community,
or to highlight where we are found wanting. In similar
vein, we meet for all conceivable feasts and festivals to
formulate similar plans. The fact of the matter remains
that we take much pride in the culture and heritage that
we have inherited, and as such, we do all in our power to
ensure that it lives on,” he shares.
The preservation of Fontainhas is quite clearly a
people’s initiative. It is not because of the Government,
but rather despite it. There are evident cracks in the
surface; the fact that São Tomé is a parking lot for
casinos; the fact that across from Rua de Ourem, the
air is filled with the ‘scent’ of garbage; the fact that the
footpath is now level with the road in many places,
leading to people driving upon the sidewalk. However,
as long as the people thrive, areas such as Fontainhas
will thrive, and that is where the hope for the future lies.