Photographers banned from Goa Beaches

If you have been to a Goa beach, you must have noticed the “freelance” photographers loitering on the beach, taking photographs of the tourists and locals and then trying to sell them back at Rs 50 to Rs 100 per photograph.

Thankfully, these photographers have now been banned by the Goa Tourism Department from disturbing the tourists. If caught, they face a huge penalty of Rs 10,000.

According to the Goa Tourism Department official, “There were lot of complaints against these photographers charging Rs 50-100 per picture. But the basic complaint against them was that they were loitering on the beaches without permission and disturbing the tourists,”.

However, these photographers not only are a nuisance to the tourists and local visitors alike, they are also a danger to the belongings of the tourists which are usually left on the beach while the tourists go into the water. 

It is time that we cleaned up our lovely beaches from illegal hawkers, vendors and photographers so that both the tourist and local visitors can enjoy their time on the beach without being disturbed.


Guzaarish and the Goan Scenery

Today I watched Guzaarish, a Bollywood film by Sanjay Leela Bhansali starring Hrithik Roshan and Aishwarya Rai Bachhan and set in Goa. Although the film was released in 2010, it took a while for the DVD to find its way to my Austrian library. 

Guzaarish is a movie about a famous magician named Ethan Mascarenhas who has an accident during one of his magic shows and is left a cripple. After living for 14 years as a cripple, only able to move his head and neck, he now wants to end his life and appeals to the court for permission to kill himself i.e. euthanasia or “Ethanasia” as he calls it. 

What follows is some wonderful acting by Hrithik as the cripple looking for freedom, Aiswarya Rai Bachhan as the nurse who is in love with her patient and the rest of the star cast that Sanjay Leela Bhansali has put together. 

But what I really enjoyed the most were Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s amazing visuals and sets. 

Set in an old house in Goa (called Villa Mascarenhas in the film) that resembles a church, Bhansali goes to great lengths to depict Ethan Mascarenhas as one of the old guard, the old landed gentry with their Portuguese lifestyle, old Portugese styled mansions, servants and spacious grounds. 

Each of the characters, especially Sofia, also wear period type dresses with Sofia’s typical headscarf and flowing gowns, and the servants typical Goan/ Portuguese dresses. 

The old Portuguese bungalow itself forms the backdrop of the film. Large, with high ceilings, winding staircases and a leaking roof, it could be anywhere in Goa. During the film, we learn that Ethan has many debts and is unable to financially maintain the old house. We also get glimpses of the fierce Goan monsoon when the roof leaks down onto his bed and it is mentioned that the roof can collapse any time. Unfortunately, most old Goan bungalows across Goa find themselves in this state and it is important that the Government and the NGOs come together to act before it is too late. Tourism presents a great opportunity for these old houses to be converted into Heritage Guest Houses or Heritage Homestays (as is the case with Fontainhas, the neighbourhood where my own Heritage Homestay is located – The Mitaroy, Goa). Here the tourism department and Mr Manohar Parrikar, CM of Goa must make it easier for home owners to convert their old houses into Heritage Homestays without having to run around or pay bribes to the corrupt Government officials. 

When Ethan Mascarenhas does leave the house, we are treated to some beautiful shots of Goa’s natural beauty with its green verdant fields, swaying palm trees and of course the famous Goan beaches when Hrithik is placed on a wheelchair and the waves sweep over his crippled feet. 

If you can get your hands on a DVD of Guzaarish (or Die Magie des Lebens as it is known in German), do watch it. 

Watch it for its wonderful acting and its thought provoking theme. But also watch it for its depiction of a Goa that many of us rarely get to see. 

An tribute to the Fontainhas Art Festival

The Fontainhas Art Festival or “The Fontainhas Festival of the Arts” as it is officially known, was created with the aim of revitalising Panjim’s 200 years old Latin quarter and putting spotlight back on Goa’s neglected architectural legacy.

The week long festival of music, art, culture and hertiage put the spotlight on Panjim’s quaint and picturesque Latin quarter. A settlement on the fringes of the capital Panaji that was meant originally for Portuguese families, Fontainhas (which means “little fountain” in Portuguese and gets its name from the fountain at the foot of the hill) began to sprout around 1770. Patterned along the lines of Lisbon’s Bairo Alto, Fontainhas (also known as Bairro de Fontainhas) has a certain Moorish character to it and is hence referred to as the Latin quarter. Macau in China (originally another Portuguese settlement) also boasts of a similar Latin Quarter. 

With its single-storied bungalows criss-crossing narrow bye lanes, Fontainhas’ Iberian ambience makes it an attractive proposition for tourists, especially French and Portuguese tourists. A number of houses in the area have already been converted into ‘pousadas’ (small guest houses) ranging from the tacky to the upmarket. The Mitaroy, Goa – A Heritage Homestay is the latest addition with its 4 Heritage Suites of 1000 sq ft each. 

The Fontainhas Art Festival was organised by the Goa Heritage Action Group (GHAG). The Festival managed to attract a large number of tourists and locals to Fontainhas. As tourists get more discerning, they are looking for more than just sun and sand, they are looking to imbibe the local culture of the destination. And local festivals such as the Fontainhas Art Festival is able to attract such discerning tourists. The uniqueness of the Fontainhas Art Festival  was that artists exhibited their works in the houses within the Latin Quarter of Fontainhas. A selection of singers such as the famous Lorna of Goa and a number of local Goan bands also added to the whole experience, serenading the visitors as they went from house to house appreciating the art on offer. 

Fontainhas Art Festival, Fontainhas, Panjim, Goa

All in all, the Fontainhas Art Festival helped to throw a spotlight on one of Goa’s most charming, yet neglected architectural legacies. And that makes the demise of the Fontainhas Art Festival all the more sadder…

Goa wants to enter World Heritage list with forest bats

Being included in UNESCO’s World Heritage List is one of the surest ways for destinations to get noticed by tourists and the media alike. 

It was only a few months back, in July 2012 that the Western Ghats (the mountainous region spreading along the Western Coast of India across Maharashtra, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Kerala) was added to the World Heritage Sites list by UNESCO. However, the Goan part of the Western Ghats was not included in the UNESCO’s list.

There was a huge outcry by Goa’s powerful mining lobby when the proposal was brought up and it seems that the powerful mining lobby managed to thwart the Government’s attempts to include Goa in this prestigious World Heritage List. 

That is why it came as quite a surprise to me to read that the Goan Government would like to enter the Goa region of the Western Ghats in the World Heritage Sites list. 

Making its representation, the Goan State Forest Department has claimed that the forests of Goa are the only home on earth for rare species of wild forest bat — The Giant Indian Mastiff.

This small creature looks rather small and weak, unlike its rather pompous sounding name!

The Goan State Forest Department has claimed in a draft letter yet to be submitted to UNESCO that the Great Indian Mastiff (also known in scientific circles as the ‘Wroughton’s free-tailed bat’ has been sighted in the Mhadei Wildlife Sanctuary in the Western Ghats region and steps have already been taken to declare the area a protected region. 

As per protocol, the draft letter must receive the approval of the Chief Minister of Goa, Manohar Parrikar, before being sent to UNESCO. The letter also includes an appeal to declare Goa’s forests as a ‘tiger habitat. 

The increased presence of tigers in the Western Ghats region in recent years shows the potential of these forests to become a protected tiger habitat in the Western Ghats region. 

For Goa to be included in the World Heritage list, the natural heritage must be deemed to be of value to all humanity.

If the proposal is accepted by UNESCO, the forests of Western Ghat will find themselves in the middle of a great amount of attention, from both the media as well as tourists. Not only does a UNESCO Heritage tag ensure a greater number of tourists, it also enables the local State Government to better protect the natural habitat against development pressures. 

Goa has indeed benefited by such a UNESCO Heritage tag in the past, as its Churches and Convents of Goa are already included in the cultural and historical Heritage Sites list of UNESCO. Built during the 16th to the 18th centuries, these historial structures date from Goa’s Portuguese Colonial days and are credited with introducing the Manueline, Mannerist and Baroque styles of art to the Asian peninsula.

Most beach tourists make it a point to at least visit the UNESCO Heritage Site of the Churches and Convents of Goa, known simply as Old Goa, during their stay, usually as part of a half day Old Goa sightseeing tour by bus. 

But as tourists become more discerning, they spend more time visiting and imbibing the cultural heritage of Goa, with repeat visits to both the Churches and Convents of Old Goa as well as the Heritage Conservation Zone of Fontainhas in Panjim.