Fontainhas is a warren of streets at the base of the Altinho hillock, in the heart of Panaji (or Panjim), the capital of Goa. It lies along the Ourem Creek and is in close proximity to the main bus stand in Panaji.
The Portuguese-colony touch is intact in Fontainhas, with building exteriors painted in vibrant colour - royal blue, brick red, yellow ochre, pista green and even majenta. On some stretches, you will find many houses in a row, but each painted a different colour. Only the Chapel of St. Sebastian, with an unusual crucifix inside, stands out in pristine white.
The roofs of the houses are invariably tiled in red brick and the windows and doorways outlined with a broad slash of white. Some villas and bungalows have retained the exquisite grills and latticework. Some even have window shutters with translucent mother-of-pearl inlays between frames.
The Portuguese arrived in Goa in 1510 and stayed until 1961, when the territory was taken over by the Indian government. Remnants of Portuguese architecture are evident in some chapels in the region and the forts guarding the mouths of rivers opening into the Arabian Sea.
However, Fontainhas is unique in that it is a well preserved residential locality even today. There are homes, businesses as well as a school in the locality. There are quaint fruit carts piled high with oranges and apples and old fashioned provision stores with sacks of produce spilling over the threshold. A bar is situated on the first level of a house with some of its tables and chairs set on the overhanging balcony. However, the signs of modernity are aplenty today, with rows of cars and two-wheelers parked along the streets and a profusion of cables.
Some businesses have set up shop in the locality, retaining much of the style of exterior. A boutique hotel has expanded to three properties in the same locality by providing the authentic Goan stay experience. There is also a gallery that retails hand painted decorative tile-work called 'azulejo' using primarily, as the name denotes, the colour blue. You will notice these tiles being used as road signs across Fontainhas.
In January every year, the Fontainhas festival is organized where there are art exhibitions, cultural performances and local food to sample. During the festival, the locality becomes a living museum to the Goan lifestyle with the homes throwing open their doors to tourists and visitors.
An afternoon stroll through Fontainhas is a must-do on a visit to Goa. Who knows, you just might hear snatches of some lilting Portuguese melody following you along the narrow old-worldly streets of Fontainhas.
Pic by author
An edited version of this article was published in the November 2008 issue of At A Glance.