Panaji is Goa’s capital. The town is small by Indian standards, with around 60,000 people, and it’s Portuguese heritage is evident from all the great European and Latin looking architecture as you wander around. The place is very walkable and atmospheric, there are tons of excellent restaurants, and it made for a nice place to spend a few days. With all its food and entertainment options we’d probably have stayed longer, if only it was on the beach! There’s a beach a few miles away, but being in a place like Goa but not right on the water, especially in the heat of March, was just too difficult for us.
Actually we were in Panaji with a purpose. Maybe you’ve heard of the rise in “medical tourism” over the last few years? Denae and I wanted to jump on that bandwagon. After not having been to the dentist in quite a while, we found a recommendation on an Indian travel forum online for a local dentist in Panaji and made an appointment.
First, though, I wanted to find a doctor to check out a minor but persistent lower left quadrant abdominal pain I’d been ignoring for the last few weeks. Our guidebook mentioned a public hospital just outside of town, so we took a cab there and proceeded to waste a couple hours wandering around trying to figure out where to check in. It was incredibly confusing, and keep in mind that India is at least a partially English speaking
country so it wasn’t just a language barrier issue. There were no signs, everything was maze-like, and I guess the people we kept asking for directions were just unusually bad at it. When we finally found the right place we were charged about 50 cents for some documents with my name and date of birth typed on them, and directed up to a crowded lobby. There were hundreds of people milling around waiting to see a doctor, and we were feeling pretty discouraged- this could easily be an eight hour wait. But after only a few minutes some officials hustled us to the front of the line and into the next room. In here were four doctors sitting at a long narrow table, and they would talk a few minutes to patients and then send them on their way. We figured this was some kind of initial check to see where to send patients next, but when it was my turn we found out differently. The doctor asked a few cursory questions, I briefly described my symptoms, and he wrote out a description for a couple medications and sent me on my way. That was it. He didn’t ask if I had any allergies, he didn’t examine me in any way, he barely even talked to me. When I said, wait, is it possible to get an ultrasound or something, he sighed and scribbled something out. Show this to the people downstairs, he said. They’ll probably fit you in in two or three weeks.
Wow. We bought the drugs from the pharmacy for about $1.50 before we left, but I decided not to take them. As we left we reflected on the fact that by comparison to the locals, who’d faced an eight hour wait for the same non-treatment, we’d just been treated like royalty. So if you’re planning on doing a little medical tourism of your own in India, plan on paying the still amazingly inexpensive (compared to the US) rates for a private hospital. The Indians who have to depend on the public hospitals for care have a difficult road to follow.
The next day we went to the dentist. Thankfully it seemed clean and modern, the dentist seemed competent although
maybe a bit cursory, and we had a good experience. He gave us a cleaning and a clean bill of dental health, for about $10 each. He also gave us a recommendation for a local doctor, who I made an appointment with for the next day. I’ll spare you all the details, but over a couple days I ended up seeing a good doctor, getting an ultrasound and blood/urine/stool analysis all for about $30. Each test was in a different area of town and the logistics were more than a minor inconvenience, but everything seemed to be done well and it was cheap. The result? I had giardia and E. coli, both of which tend to produce much worse symptoms than the minor stomach pain I experienced. The treatment? Pretty much the same pills prescribed to me by the public hospital doctor. Draw your own conclusions.
While we were in Panaji we also took a day trip out to a nearby “spice plantation” called the Tropical Spice Farm, near the town of Ponda. There are several of these spice farms in the area, and they’re popular tourist attractions. We paid an entrance fee and took a guided tour around the grounds, where they had an impressive selection of spices growing, including pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, vanilla, ginger, beetle nut, and others. They also grew cashew nuts and fruits, which were pretty good and the source of Goa’s famous (and delicious!) cashew feni liquor. The tour was definitely a touristy experience, but fun, and it was cool to see all those spices in their original form. Included in our admission fee was a buffet style thali meal, and it was one of the best meals of our trip.
On the way back to Panaji we stopped in Old Goa, a former capital of Portuguese Goa. Now it mostly consists of some interesting old buildings and churches, and a couple so-so museums. The most famous building here is the Basilica of the Bom Jesus, a large ornate church built in the 1600’s. It houses the remains of St. Francis Xavier, who died back in the 1500’s. He was buried for two years before being exhumed to be moved back to his preferred resting place of Goa, when it was supposedly discovered that his body had not decayed in any way. It was/is considered a miracle, and to this day many people are attracted to this place because of him. His remains are displayed every ten years.