I have made over fifty trips to Goa in my lifetime but until September, I had never before seen the beautiful 16th and 17th century Portuguese churches of Velha Goa, or Old Goa. Hanging out with my friend Suleiman Merchant (who is quite the explorer and has a sweet photoblog) changed that.

We fueled up on fragrant chai and snacks in a tiny cafe behind the stores selling kitschy idol wares and wandered down to see its most famous building first. The Basilica of Bom Jesus is a fine example of Baroque architecture, then promoted heavily by the Jesuits, with a magnificent black granite facade.

The Basilica houses the relics of St Francis Xavier, a Basque missionary instrumental in spreading Christianity within Asia. His casket is currently lowered for viewing for a public exposition that takes place once every ten years and has pilgrims from India and all over the world flocking to Velha Goa. (I’m obsessed with the conspiracy theories around this, just don’t tell my grandmother.)

The exposition is held over the road at Sé Catedral which we visited next. It is quite an impressive edifice built in the Tuscan style, with a single bell tower (the second collapsed in 1776), ornate filigree carvings and gorgeous chandeliers. We then strolled over to the deserted Church of St. Cajetan, my favourite of the lot with its whitewashed dome and simple contrast of colours.

Before leaving Old Goa, we drove up to The Chapel of Our Lady of Monte, from which the view was just astonishingly beautiful. All we saw for miles were thousands of palms with only the churches of Velha Goa peeking out from under the massive green cover, the Mandovi river and the islands of Divar and Chorao.