Colourful villas, cobbled streets and interesting buildings give Goa’s capital, Panaji, a Portuguese ambience.
Goa’s capital, Panaji (“Land that never floods”), situated at the mouth of the Mandovi River, is reminiscent of a provincial Mediterranean town. Earlier a port of the Adil Shahi kings of Bijapur, it became a military landing stage and warehouse after the arrival of the Portuguese in 1510. In 1759, after a series of epidemics in Old Goa, the viceroy was forced to move his residence to Panaji, or Panjim as it was then called. However, it was only in 1843 that the town became the official capital of Portuguese territories in India.
Today, Panaji has a relaxed and friendly ambiance, especially along the leafy avenues of the old town. It has terraced hills, concrete buildings with balconies and red-tiled roofs, and churches. There are avenues lined with gulmohar, acacia and other trees. The newer commercial hub, laid out on a grid, has concrete structures interspersed with colonial buildings and churches. A tiny city with a Riviera-style promenade along the Mandovi, it’s also splendidly uncommercial: the biggest business seems to be in the sale of kaju (cashews), gentlemen-shaves in the barbieris and feni-(cashew liqueur) quaffing in the booths of pokey bars – and city folk still insist on sloping off for a siesta at lunch. The 18th- and 19th-century bungalows clustered in the neighbouring quarters of San Thome and Fontainhas stand as the victims of elegant architectural neglect. The Baroque Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception Church is located overlooking the main square known as Praça da Igreja. Colourful villas, cobbled streets and interesting buildings give Panaji a Portuguese ambience.
Panaji is a friendly, manageable and walkable city – maybe India’s cutest capital – and its Portuguese-era colonial charms make it a perfect place to while away a day or two. Take a walking tour of Old Town Panaji, take a kitschy Mandovi river cruise, eat vindaloos and end the evening in a cosy local bar.
Getting to & from Panaji
By air – The nearest airport is Dabolim Airport which is 30 km (19 miles) away. A taxi from the airport to Panaji will take about an hour.
By train – The nearest railway station is Karmali, about 10 km to the east, but many express trains do not halt here. The main junction is Madgaon Junction, 45 km to the south.
From the railway station, taxis, rickshaws and buses go to Panaji, but if you are carrying only a backpack, motorcycle taxis are a bargain, plus you get to ride on the pillion seat! Be sure to fix fares before the ride.
For budget travellers carrying little baggage, you could take the local bus. To get to the bus stop, get out of the Karmali station, a short climb and across the road is the bus stop. Wait across the road for busses going towards Panaji. There is no sign board marking the bus stop. From Madgaon station, a short walk leads you to the main road from where buses head to Panaji.
By bus – Panaji is connected with the state of Karnataka to the south and Maharashtra to the north by winding highways. It is possible to take a bus from Mumbai to Goa. However, it is not advisable to travel long distance in India by bus due to the discomfort of a rattling bus, uncomfortable seats, over crowding and stopping at numerous villages and bus depots along the way.
Getting Around Panaji
Panaji is easy to get around on foot as the city is small and navigable. Auto rickshaws and taxis can be picked up from any location, albeit they are quite expensive.
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