Like Shri Manguesh, the Shri Mahalasa temple, 7km northwest of Ponda, originally stood in Salcete, but was destroyed in the sixteenth century during a siege by 'Adil Shah's Muslim army after a platoon of Portuguese soldiers had taken refuge in it. The deity survived, having previously been smuggled across the Zuari River to Mardol, where it was installed in a new temple. This has been rebuilt or renovated on several occasions since: the last time in 1993—95, when a shiny new mandapa, or pillared porch, was added and the courtyard paved with finest Karnatakan marble
Crouched on the side of a steep, densely wooded hill, the secluded Shri Lakshmi Narcenha mandir at Velinga, 3km southwest of Mardol, is one of the more picturesque temples around Ponda. To find it, turn west where the main highway begins its climb up to Farmagudi, and follow the road for 1500m until it reaches Velinga village. The path to the temple starts at the top of the grassy square, in the centre of which stands a modern concrete shrine.
From the main intersection at Farmagudi, dominated by a statue of the Maharatha leader Shivaji, a narrow back road winds sharply down the sides of a shattered valley, carpeted with cashew trees and dense thickets of palms, to the. Shri Naguesh temple at Bandora, 4km northwest of Ponda. If you are working your way north, note that this temple can also be approached via the road that starts opposite the Shri Shantadurgamandir near Quela.
Standing with its back to a wall of thick forest and its front facing a flat expanse of open rice fields, Shri Shantadurga is Goa's largest and most famous temple, and the principal port of call on the region's Hindu pilgrimage circuit. Western visitors, however, may find its heavily European-influenced architecture less than exotic, and barely worth the detour from Ponda, 4km northeast. If you are pushed for time, skip this one and head straight for the temples further north at Mardol and Priol. Shri Shantadurga TempleFrom the row of souvenir and cold drink stalls along the roadside, steps lead to Shri Shantadurga's main entrance and courtyard, enclosed by offices and blocks of modern pilgrims' hostels, and dominated by a brilliant-white six-storey deepmal. The russet- and cream-coloured temple, crowned with a huge domed sanctuary tower, was erected by the Maharatha Chief Shivaji's grandson, Shahu Raja, in 1738, some two centuries after its presiding deity had been brought here from Quelossim in Mormugao taluka, a short way inland from the north end of Colva Beach.
Thanks to the garishly outsize entrance hall tacked onto it in 1905, the Shri Ramnath temple, 500m north Shri Ramnath templeup the lane from Shri Shantadurga, is the ugly duckling of Ponda's monuments. The only reason you'd want to call in here is to view the opulently decorated silver screen in front of the main shrine, the most extravagant of its kind in Goa. Brought from Lutolim in Salcete taluka in the sixteenth century, the lingam housed behind it is worshipped by devotees of the Shaivite and Vaishnavite sects of Hinduism, Shri Ramnath being the form of Shiva propitiated by Lord Rama before he embarked on his mission to save Sita from the clutches of the evil Ravana.
Hidden deep in dense woodland near the village of KHANDEPAR, 5km northeast of Ponda on the NH4, is a group of four tiny freestanding rock-cut cave temples, gouged out of solid laterite some time between the ninth and tenth centuries AD. They are among Goa's oldest historical monuments but are also virtually impossible to find without the help of a guide or knowledgeable local: ask someone to show you the way from the Khandepar crossroads, where the buses from Ponda pull in.
Set back in the forest behind a slowly meandering tributary of the Mandovi River, the four caves each consist of two simple cells hewn from a single hillock. Their tiered roofs, now a jumble of weed-choked blocks, are thought to have been added in the tenth or eleventh centuries, probably by the Kadambas, who converted them into Hindu temples. Prior to that, they were almost certainly Buddhist sanctuaries, occupied by a small community of monks. Scan the insides of the caves with a torch (watching out for snakes), and you can make out the carved pegs used for hanging robes and cooking utensils; the niches in the walls were for oil lamps. The outer cell of cave one also has lotus medallions carved onto its ceiling, a typically Kadamban motif that was added at roughly the same time as the stepped roofs.