Strolling through history
With the majestic Raj Bhavan in Dona Paula opening its doors to visitors, NT BUZZ got onboard the first tour of the sprawling land that abounds in history
CHRISTINE MACHADO | NT BUZZ
For most Goans and indeed visitors to this beautiful state, a visit to the Raj Bhavan in Dona Paula, the official residence of the Governor of Goa, has for long been restricted to attending mass at the small charming chapel, especially on occasions like Christmas, Easter and the feast of Our Lady of Assumption (August 15).
The over 450-year-old edifice which is situated on a cape, hence the name Cabo Raj Niwas (‘cabo’ is the Portuguese word for ‘cape’), and which was earlier known as ‘Palacio do Cabo’ ( Cape Palace) was constructed in 1541 and earlier housed the monastery of the Franciscan friars apart from a fort (no trace of this remains today). It was later the residence of the Portuguese generals of ‘Estado da India’ before it became the residence of the governors of Goa.
In a landmark move however, on January 4, 2019 the 88-acre estate was for the first time thrown open to the public to visit for a fee of `300 (entry is free for children 12 years and below). Put together by the Raj Bhavan and Goa Tourism Development Corporation, the one and half hour long tour will give visitors a chance to visit not just the chapel, but also the jetty, the helipad, the beach, the grotto, the canon point, a museum, and the vatika (a medicinal herbarium maintained by the Forest Department which has many exotic plants).
Bookings for this tour have to be done online either via the Raj Bhavan website or the Goa Tourism Development Corporation website. An identity proof will also need to be submitted. Two time slots are available – 2.30 p.m. and 4 p.m. It is important to note that confirmation will take about three days as police verification will be undertaken. Visitors will then have to show the final confirmed ticket at the gate of the Raj Bhavan whereupon they will be taken around the estate via bus along with an assigned guide.
The first stopover is the helipad from where high officials touch down into the complex. On the side, one can see the quarry from where stones were removed to construct the convent and the fort. This fort was particularly of importance when the British forces came down to Goa from 1799 to 1813. In fact, just outside the Raj Bhavan is located the British cemetery.
The depression where these stones used to be is used to collect rain water (about 2, 50,000 litres) which is used for fire fighting and for watering the gardens. If you are lucky you can spot a variety of birds and other animal species too.
Proceeding further, one comes across the jetty. A busy place during the Portuguese rule, it is not in use anymore. It is said that when a Franciscan friar fell ill or later if a Portuguese General wanted to visit Panaji, they would take a boat from here..
A little further is the road that takes you down to an exclusive beach used by the earlier governors of Goa.
At the end of the route you come to the Chapel of Nossa Senhora de Boa Viagem (Our Lady of the Good Voyage). We are informed by our guide-historian Sanjeev Sardesai that it was called so as it was the last edifice that the Portuguese ships would see before they went over the horizon, and thus was like a blessing for a good journey.
Inside the chapel, on either side, just before the main altar are two gravestones. The one of the left is that of the famous Dona Paula. “Paula was the only daughter of Amaral Menezes, the Portuguese Governor General in Sri Lanka. She was married to Antonio Souto Maior and passed away on December 21, 1682 and was later buried in this chapel,” informs Sardesai. Her burial inside the chapel puts to rest rumours that she committed suicide or was poisoned by the wife of a viceroy who fell in love with her, states Sardesai. “Those who died an unnatural death were never buried inside the church or chapel. Thus this tombstone proves these theories null and void,” he says.
On the left-hand side is a pulpit. “When the governor general attended mass he would come to the choir stand located on top which was directly connected to his residence. On such occasions, the priest would say mass from the pulpit,” says Sardesai.
Outside the chapel, one is greeted with a mesmerising sea view from where one can see the Mormugao Fort and Fort Aguada. From here one can also see not just the Arabian Sea spread out in front of you but also the River Mandovi on the right and River Zuari on the left.
Located close by is the museum which portrays the historical wealth of the state of Goa. Also parked nearby is the Governor’s Cadillac. This luxury limousine was brought to Goa in 1959 and was used during tenure of the last Portuguese Governor General, Manuel Antonio Vassalo e Silva. It remains in prime condition today ferrying the present governor around the state.
As one walks down the stairs from the sea view point, one comes across the grotto dedicated to St Pauline. It is said that Dona Paula (Souto Maior’s wife) was named after the saint; the idol which is in reclining position is dressed in Indian clothing. It is also believed that anyone who offers a prayer here will have their wishes fulfilled. Her feast day is celebrated on August 2 every year at the Grotto.
The Canon Point on the other hand, located at the north west end of the Raj Bhavan, strategically faces the Fort Aguada and together their joint fire power was used to protect the River Mandovi from enemy ships.
All in all this tour promises to be a visit to remember.