Goan fishermen, like these carrying nets of sardines and mackerel caught off Benaulim Beach, fish in much the same way as their ancestors. But pollution and over-fishing in the Arabian Sea threaten a fish famine on the west coast.
Goa – Fact Check

Meeting the most interesting lady of South Goa

Photo by Brian India

Goa – Fact Check Meeting the most interesting lady of South Goa

As I head towards Benaulim in the southern part of Goa, the view gives way to pretty village scenery.

Sheema Mookherjee
Sheema Mookherjee Travel Writer

Traditional houses painted in yellow, blue and purple, with the mandatory balcao (balcony) and tiled roof, hide among tropical gardens. Village squares are shaded by enormous banyan trees and are marked by a chapel or cross, sleepy shops sell the bare essentials, and the occasional backpacker cycles past. The road towards the coast opens up and I can hear the ocean and smell its salty air.

The southern stretch of beaches starts with Colva, crowded and touristy, giving way to the calm, wide sands of Benaulim and Varca. Next come the smaller beaches of Cavelossim and Mobor; and then, far down south, the New-Age Palolem Beach. Apart from a few large, five-star resorts, the hotels here are small and character-filled. Most offer yoga classes, ayurvedic massages and warm personalized service.

South Goa has a distinctly different vibe from the north. The people here have a certain disdain for the other side, which they feel has sold out to tourism. I find a fierce pride in the locals, as in my taxi driver, who walks right into the heritage mansion where he has driven me the next day, to have a look-see himself.

We have driven down leafy village lanes, to arrive at Loutolim, to see the 400-year-old Figueiredo Mansion owned by Dona Maria de Lourdes Figueiredo de Albuquerque. There are several more heritage mansions in Goa, but this is probably the one with the best-preserved collection of furniture and crockery. The vast “sala” and ballroom that could accommodate 1,000 people is crammed with period furniture, including some exquisite pieces of Indo-Portuguese design, displaying inlay work in wood and ivory.

Dona Maria de Lourdes is even more interesting than her mansion. “I believe that Goa was invaded by the Indian government in 1961, rather than liberated,” she says. “Although I grew up in Goa, I moved with my family to Lisbon, where I had a flourishing business and was later a member of parliament in the Salazar government. I know people called him an autocrat, but it was his sycophants who made him so. I could always stand up to him and tell him what I wanted.”

A gracious hostess, she receives me with tea and crepes, and takes me on a tour of the mansion, absolutely brimming with energy. “My family has no interest in maintaining this house,” she bemoans. “My elder sister kept the flag flying, and I was forced to return from Lisbon when she passed away. But there are no servants to help me anymore. I single-handedly host meals for groups who want to have a typical Goan banquet in these settings.”

I see in her an isolated person from a past era, precariously holding on to a legacy that will fade with her. Luckily she has had the good sense to form a trust that will continue the upkeep of this slice of history.

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