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Senhor Costa, welcome to Goa’s Alfama

11 Jan 2017 02:54am IST
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11 Jan 2017 02:54am IST
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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

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.
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