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Introducing Old Goa

Picture the scene. It’s 1760, and you’re lucky enough (and pious enough, given the dark penchants of the Inquisition) to be living in the most glorious city in all of Asia – the Rome of the East – filled with ornate cathedrals soaring at heights unimaginable to most people on the subcontinent. Then, suddenly, disaster strikes. All around, people fall ill, eyes bleeding, mouths foaming. Your neighbours die in their dozens, and then your parents, your cousins, your friends. You rush to the cathedral to beg God for help, but the deaths continue. The smell of decay hangs heavy in the hot, breathless air, and it’s an all-too-familiar scene. It happened 10 years ago, and 15 years before that.

But this time, you decide it’s worse. Scrabbling together what you can carry of your belongings, you scoop up your children, praying it’s not already too late, and flee the glorious city of dreaming spires. You cast a final glance back as the towers and turrets recede into the distance, and put your mind to the future, and onwards to Panaji.

Life in Old Goa, the principal city of the Portuguese eastern empire from 1510 until its abandonment in 1835, was anything but dull. Its rise was meteoric. Over the course of the century following the arrival of the Portuguese in Goa, the city became famous throughout the world. One Dutch visitor compared it with Amsterdam for the volume of its trade and wealth. However, its fall was just as swift, and eventually, plagued by epidemic after deadly epidemic – cholera, malaria and typhoid among them – the city was completely abandoned.

These days in Old Goa, 9km east of Panaji on the course of the broad Mandovi River, only a handful of imposing churches and convents remain in a city that was once so grand and so powerful it rivalled Lisbon.