The Goan hill and the tales of an era gone by

Connected by slopes and stairs, Altinho is the perfect slice of village life in the city
An aerial view of Panjim is guaranteed once you are at Altinho.
An aerial view of Panjim is guaranteed once you are at Altinho. Photo: Katia Goes

The lights go out, and it is assumed that the city is asleep. But, the last time we checked, mere light bulbs never made a city – its people and their stories did. 

Pin code 403001 belongs to Altinho, the quiet neighbourhood that sits with its legs dangling over the city of Panjim. And, that is precisely why this hilly neighbourhood was called Altinho (derived from the Portuguese word 'alto', meaning 'high').

According to Wikipedia, once considered an elite residential colony, Altinho was home to every chief minister that Goa welcomed because this was where the official residence was and still is even to this day. Within the proximity of the residency is the Archbishop’s Palace. 

The chief minister's residency is situated on the left and the Archbishop's Palace lies straight ahead.
The chief minister's residency is situated on the left and the Archbishop's Palace lies straight ahead.Photo: Katia Goes

The All India Radio station (whose precursor was the famed Emissora de Goa radio station of Portuguese times) and other governmental accommodation was also set up here.

Altinho has always been home to the Maruti temple, PWD Head Office, the Portuguese Consulate, Menezes Polyclinic and Hospital and the Joggers Park to name a few, and today has other added notable edifices such as Sunaparanta, Goa Centre for the Arts, Goa, Café Bodega and several other government offices.

Truth be told, there is very little about Altinho on Wikipedia. Then again, not all stories make it to the news. Some are carefully stored inside the dusty old libraries of memory. 

Although it is part of the city, there was always something about Altinho that felt like the calming embrace only an evergreen village was capable of providing. Perhaps it was the abundance of beautiful gulmohar trees, and other greenery which have always kept Altinho several degrees cooler than the rest of Panjim.  

As a child, Altinho was the only place that I had ever heard of. Be it watching my mother write our address on a school form or listening to my father explain which nook and cranny of Altinho we lived in, all I knew was that the road to home always included many tiring steps and slopes which led either upward or downward. 

A memory that is still as fresh as if it were yesterday is walking to my school during the rains via the slippery steps that were built to create a pathway through the houses in the ward. These steps connected us to the rest of Panjim.

I don’t know who constructed the steps or when they came to be, but these steps always provided the perfect excuse to wave at the neighbours as I passed their houses on my way back home from school every afternoon.  

Our ward was called Alto Guimaraes, and, in complete honesty, this is the only ward that I can vouch for when I write because all that I know, I know by speaking to the people of Alto Guimaraes – my father included. 

A glimpse of the Bombay High Court at Goa in Altinho from below.
A glimpse of the Bombay High Court at Goa in Altinho from below. Photo: Katia Goes

Back in his day, all the children in the ward would gather every evening and set out on a new adventure. While the boys leaned towards football, the girls played (now almost forgotten) tennikoit with a rubber ring or bodiyani (sticks and stones) 

The place where the Bombay High Court stands today was known as Liceu (the Portuguese translation of 'Lyceum'). The Lyceum complex had buildings all around that housed several educational institutions such as the Government Higher Secondary School, Dr T B Cunha Educational Complex and Dempo College of Commerce. In the centre of these institutions stood a school ground that always opened its arms to the people whenever they needed a place to unwind. 

Apart from being a playground, this space was also used for tiatr rehearsals, get-togethers, dances and other events that were organised at the time.  

The Bombay High Court at Goa which was once 'Licue'.
The Bombay High Court at Goa which was once 'Licue'. Photo: Katia Goes

My father and his siblings also studied at Liceu and often told us stories of how their school was known to be one of the prominent schooling institutions of its time and was a CBSE board school. Several government officials’ children also studied there.

Altinho is still home to several educational institutions such as the Goa College of Art, the Government Polytechnic and the Nirmala Institute of Education to name a few.

The Nirmala Institute of Education in Altinho which has given Goa some of the finest educators.
The Nirmala Institute of Education in Altinho which has given Goa some of the finest educators. Photo: Katia Goes

While neighbourhood folklore whispered stories that claimed Lyceum was once a burial ground in the past, others considered it haunted. Maybe it was, or maybe it wasn’t. But, eventually, be it the spirits of the dead or the fence that was built by the living, Lyceum was off limits once the construction of the Bombay High Court in Goa was completed.

Naturally, the high court came with its fair share of police protection and a fence that meant no other recreational activities could co-exist there anymore. That evening, the kids that used to play there walked back home with their rings and footballs in hand and a heavy heart that found it hard to accept the fact that they would never play there again. 

Nevertheless, the sports quota in Altinho stayed alive at Lar de Estudantes (student home), the go-to place to witness football matches even to this day. There was also a boys hostel at Lar and many have lived at this hostel during their educational tenure. 

There is always something about watching the tiny lights below that reminds us of how insignificant we are. Being very close to the city, as nightfall crept in and the hustle and bustle of the working crowd died down, one could hear the sounds of music from the Santa Monica and other boats drifting on the River Mandovi. Be it Portuguese Corrodino or Bollywood masala, the silence post 5.30 pm was drowned out by these musical waters.

Seasonal changes were different at Altinho. The season of Lent saw all the people of the ward and other parts of Panjim gathered to participate in the Via-sacra (Way of the cross) every Friday at the steps beside the Portuguese Consulate in Altinho. And, the New Year made room for a unique tradition that was followed by the people of Alto Guimaraes. 

This tradition included visiting every house in the ward on New Year’s Day and greeting everybody despite any past grievances that they might have had. It was a day of reconciliation, and a choice to start the year afresh. 

Be it people or places, it is their stories that keep them alive. And, as for the stories of Altinho, there is no doubt that they will live forever inside the hearts of the people that call it home.

The city sleeps as Altinho watches – one light bulb at a time.

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