Radhika's Diaries

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Old GMC Building, Panaji

I am participating in the A to Z writing challenge which runs through the month of April and my theme is Goa. Today it’s the letter L for little interesting facts about the place.

Goa, the tiniest State of India, on the South-Western coast along the Arabian Sea is truly Heaven on earth. It has something for everybody, and then some. From breathtakingly beautiful spots to be captured on camera, ancient and world-famous Churches and scores of beautiful temples for those on a pilgrimage trail, an array of sea-food cuisine for the connoisseurs, around 7000 bars for the liquor seekers, more green coverage than many other regions with equatorial forests, a sparkling night life for the bold and the beautiful to sights, sounds and smells that take one back to the region’s colonial past, one is spoilt for choice.

Apart from the usual stuff the place is already famous or infamous for, there are some little titbits which are quaint and found only in Goa.

Like the Pilot taxis – Goa is the only place in India where one finds a taxi on a motorbike, long long before Uber or Ola bikes! These special bikes called ‘pilot taxis’ can be found at corners of most streets like we have auto stands in other cities. A convenient means of transport for single passengers, reasonably priced and above all, safe, these taxis are the best form of transport on a busy traffic day or if you want to ride into the remote parts of the state.

We had a bunch of these bikers on the corner of the street between our Junta House and the Hotel Fidalgo and having seen them around since I was growing up, I was familiar with most of the regulars. And they have come to the rescue a couple of times when I needed to get up the Altinho hill to my college in a hurry. It’s sad to hear they are on a decline now, although attempts are being made to bring them back into service through regulations and Pilot Associations.

The Goa Medical College is a building worth knowing about. A sprawling building spread over a large stretch of land, I am more familiar with its former location in the city near the Panjim Market quite close to our street. It is said to be oldest Medical College in India and one of the oldest in Asia. Since the last decades of the 16th C, Goa was infamously known as the ‘cemetery of the Portuguese’ in the words of Viceroy Fransisca de Tavora due to lack of medical care and infrastructure. Doctors in Portuguese India were very rare.

The Portuguese introduced a course of medical education in Goa, as early as 1691, which however ran in fits and bursts. In 1842, the Escola Medico Cirurgica de Goa – the Medical-Surgical School of Goa, was established and took off with a definitive start. When Goa was liberated by the Indian army in 1961, the school was administered by the Mumbai University and was renamed as the Goa Medical College in 1963, with a general hospital attached to it. I have fond memories of the college and hospital since my dad Dr. NGK Sharma was associated with it as Prof. and HOD of Medicine, for most of the years that we lived there. The present Medical College and hospital have been moved to bigger and better premises in Bambolim about 4 kms from Panjim.

Yet another dubious distinction for Goa is Big Daddy Casino, Asia’s largest floating Casino. At 72 metres in length and 29 metres wide, the Panamanian vessel has 3 decks and is moored in the middle of the river Mandovi. The unique casino can be accessed by a ferry ride from the Panjim Port. The casino has over 100 tables reportedly spread over 50,000 sq feet and boasts of being a unique blend of grand games with high stakes and the high living experience. Apparently, there are VIP gaming rooms with ‘no limits’ tables where there is no cap on stakes. The games that the players can indulge in are varied, from Baccarat and Roulette, to Poker and Paplu – that’s Indian Rummy apparently, and many more.

With live song and dance performances, live music bands and DJs, separate entertainment areas, gourmet multi-cuisine restaurants, barbeque, sundeck, international artists and celebrity appearances, this Casino on water is said to be a next level experience, for those looking for it, of course! And oh, I forgot to mention … there’s a supervised children’s play area too, in case you’re wondering what to do with your brats when you go gambling, elsewhere on the ship. Just remember to pick them up, after you’re done gambling away all your wealth.

Incidentally when the idea for the casino was mooted, it was met with quite a bit of resistance and protests by sections of the Goan society for obvious reasons, but as usual the big daddies swept these minor impediments aside again for obvious reasons, and went right ahead with it.

Moving on to another 1stthe 1st printing press in India was set up in Goa by the missionaries of Portugal, and this was way back in mid-16th C. A letter written by St. Ignatius of Loyola was traced to this printing press. It was dated April 30, 1556.

And the last little titbit from my side here – Goa was the only place in India which needed a passport and a visa stamped by the Portuguese Consular for entry into the State and out of it! It was a ‘phoren’ place for the rest of the country, until it was liberated by the Indian Army in 1961.

However, the most marked titbit left over from the Portuguese was the safety and security in daily life. Dictators they may have been, but crimes were dealt with a heavy hand and therefore very rare. In our capital city of Panaji, petty thefts or house-breaking was unheard of, for several years after the Portuguese left. We had huge open verandahs and wide windows in most buildings, without the mandatory grills and shutters that we would see in other States. We travelled through the public transport without separate entry or reserved seats for women because eve-teasing or bottom-pinching was unheard of too. We took these things for granted and accepted it as the normal way of life, until we travelled to other places and heard about or experienced unsavoury incidents.

The local Goan, in my personal experience, was by and large laid-back, fun-loving, peaceful and chivalrous, and tended to mind his own business. It was our good fortune to have lived amongst such people and to have known them closely.

Dev Boren Korun – God Bless you!

  • Image of the old Goa Medical College and Hospital (GMC) courtesy Google, renovated and used as a venue for the IIFI, The International Film Festival of India.

This post is part of the #blogchatterA2Z.

My previous outing with the writing challenge in 2019 gave me a series of hilarious posts about a fictitious JP family which were subsequently published as a very popular paperback – The Adventures of the JP family!

5 thoughts on “Day 12 – L for the Little titbits of Goa

  1. Swarnali Nath says:

    Little is not always little anymore! See, Goa has the Pilot Taxi and the first Printing press in India in its history. What a wonderful facts to know them!! Thanks for sharing Ma’am.


  2. Suchita says:

    Always seen people on colourful two-wheelers in Goa but didn’t realize there were pilot taxis as well. How cool!


  3. ‘phoren’ place.. lol…
    How wonderful to read these tidbits about such a popular travel destination. It made me sad as I read about women’s safety but lately, this is not so.


  4. Deepti Menon says:

    Goa seems to be as wonderful as it is rumoured to be. The bit about the safety of women is particularly noteworthy! Lovely post!


  5. Sudeshna Kanjilal says:

    Lovely post! Nice to know about the casino.


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