Churches in Old Goa


Sé Cathedral is the largest church in Asia and is only one of numerous churches in Old Goa. It is a magnificent structure and must have been truly spectacular when the interior was still richly decorated and not white-washed as it is now. The remaining bell tower (the other one having been struck by lightning) houses the huge bell, which once tolled during the unspeakable autos-da-fe held during the Inquisition in this outpost of the Portuguese empire. Those are distant memories for the hundreds of Indian Catholics who were attending mass at the nearby (and wonderfully named) Basilica of Bom Jesus the day we visited. This was in preparation for the feast of St Francis Xavier, whose “incorrupt” body is kept in this church. We had a fascinating morning visiting some of the churches and museums as well as the Viceroy’s Arch with its commemoration of Vasco da Gama.



It is well known that cows are sacred in India. What I hadn’t known before we went to Goa was that they love the beach. We spent a couple of nights at Agonda beach in the southern part of Goa and both mornings I got up early to enjoy the cool of the beach before the sun came up. So did the cows. They meandered along in a herd and then plonked themselves down in the sand near the waters edge, quietly chewing the cud and gazing into the distance. They are such peaceful animals. The only drawback is that when they eventually take themselves off, there are piles of dung all over the sand. We enjoyed a couple of days’ rest beside the Arabian sea but Agonda is not the unspoiled paradise trumpeted by the guidebooks. There was a noisy building site right next to our cottage! For quiet, deserted beaches I recommend New Zealand – we’ll be there very soon.



While Jim was working, I took an all-day tour of chaotic Mumbai, home to 22 million people. Like a latter-day memsahib, I was driven around in an air-conditioned hotel car under the expert care of Sunil. He dealt with the manic traffic calmly and efficiently, dropping and fetching me from various sites around the city. I could never have seen so much without his help. I saw everything I expected – filthy children playing in the street, wandering cows, teeming pavements lined with stalls and tiny shops, all kinds of vehicles from hand-carts to overloaded buses sharing the same inadequate roads, people sorting through piles of rubbish, homes ranging from plastic-covered shacks to mansions on Malabar Hill. I visited several museums including the beautiful Dr Bhau Daji museum and Gandhi’s Mani Bhavan. I gawped at the magnificent colonial buildings – the Victoria Terminus, the Gateway to India and the Taj Mahal hotel. A drive along the waterfront revealed what an oasis this is for Mumbaikars. I snapped this photo along the Bandra Promenade, where Indian film stars are immortalised in full-size bronze statues sitting on benches. I enjoyed every minute of my day in Mumbai and would love to visit it again.




We’re in Hyderabad. Yesterday we took a private tour, which meant a friendly, well-informed tour guide with impeccable English, a driver so good-looking he belongs in a Bollywood movie and an air-conditioned car. The photo above is of the clock tower in the beautiful Chowmahalla Palace built in the 18th and 19th centuries by the nizams, a Muslim dynasty that ruled the area from 1724. They were fabulously wealthy mostly due to the diamond trade. We also went to the impressive ruins of the Golconda Fort that date from the 16th century, when it was developed by the Qutb Shahs on the commanding site that had been used for at least three centuries before that. From there we went to view the magnificent domed tombs of the Qutb Shahs. Seven of the eight rulers from that dynasty are buried here. As impressive as all these sites were, perhaps more interesting were the glimpses of daily life in the old city that we got while driving through the narrow streets clogged with traffic (mostly motorcycles, tuk-tuks and overcrowded buses), pedestrians, flocks of goats and other animals (cows, dogs and even a horse). It is chaotic and there are no discernible traffic rules, but it is certainly not dull!