Though I am sure you could lose all sense of time and stay in Goa for weeks on end, for me, it was just a brief, convenient transit stopover on my way to Hampi the following day. As I am planning to get my beach fix in Kerala in a few days time, I used my half day to look at the old Portuguese colonial settlements of Old Goa and Panjim.
In 16th century, Old Goa, the former capital of Goa, had a population that exceeded both Lisbon and London. Its numerous churches and cathedral show why it was considered the Rome of the East. Portuguese traders and colonialists contributed to its rapid growth and grandiose buildings, but malaria and cholera outbreaks forced the abandonment of the city in the 1600s (Panjim would become the capital).
Sadly, the interiors of the churches aren’t very well maintained, and many have been whitewashed in dubious restoration projects while birds make their nests near the ceilings. I visited the Basilica of Bom Jesus (that includes the preserved body St Francis Xavier, who had tried to set the sinful Portuguese colonials back on the straight and narrow in the 1500s), Sé Cathedral (Asia’s largest church at over 76m long), the Church of St Francis of Assisi, the Church of St Cajetan (modelled on the original design for St Peter’s in Rome), and my favourite the Spartan but cute, the little Chapel of St Catherine.
I hopped on a bus, and 15 minutes later I was in Panjim, with its old Portuguese quarter of narrow streets and crumbling stone houses.
Mumbai (formerly Bombay) is known as India’s capital of cool, home of Bollywood and was once home to the presidency of the British East India Company in the colonial past. After having been in Delhi in February and hating the dirtiness of the city, the creepiness of the men and the general poor quality of the sights, I had low expectations for another big Indian city such as Mumbai. But my fears were unwarranted. With the charm and grandeur leftover from its colonial days and considerably cleaner streets than Delhi or Kathmandu, it was a thoroughly pleasant experience.
I stayed at the little boutique hotel Abode in the Colaba district. Arriving in the afternoon on the 27th, I spent the remainder of the day hopping around Mumbai’s nice shops, though getting around took considerable time given the massive scale of the city and the bad traffic. And unfortunately the taxi drivers are not very helpful; they are only familiar with the mainstream landmarks. This led to the unfortunate experience of being dropped in the middle of a poor, Muslim and very non-touristy neighbourhood by a taxi driver who claimed to know the location of a vintage Bollywood memorabilia shop. Well, I never found the shop and quickly got into another taxi. Thanks dude.
For my only full day in Mumbai, I used the first half to take a boat out to Elephanta Island to see the the UNESCO World Heritage cave temples that date from 450-750 AD. I the locals it is Gharapuri (place of caves); it was the Portuguese who named it Elephanta after a large stone elephant that was on the shore when they first arrived.
Many of the carvings remain wonderfully preserved and the caves are a pleasant respite from Mumbai’s hot, humid weather.
Heading back to the mainland, I had lunch at trendy cafe/bakery/deli Basilico before losing myself in über cool boutique Bungalow Eight almost an hour. They would have been right at home on Smith Street in Melbourne. After trying on over a dozen items, I finally settled on a handwoven kaftan. I then swung past Theobroma cafe for excellent coffee and red velvet cupcakes.
In the final hours of the afternoon, I visited the National Gallery of Modern Art, which had a varied collection (though some great pieces) and then strolled the streets, admiring the colonial architecture.