The Tiswadi island of Chorao is situated 5 kms from Panaji. The earliest settlers of the island were 10 families of the Goud Saraswat Brahmins. The people of the island are today known as the Chodankars. The island was earlier called Chudamani, which means ‘stunning precious stone’ in Sanskrit. According to the locals who call it Chodan or Chodna, when Yashoda the mother of Lord Krishna threw away diamonds, the islands emerged from them. Later it got the name Ilha dos fidalgos (Island of noblemen) as the Portuguese noblemen found the island a pleasurable place to live. Amongst the first places to be captured by the Portuguese who called the island Chorao, the Chorao Island is a quaint place that has a whitewashed church and some old villas. The island mystifies many visitors as it is screened by a thick hedge mangrove beyond the aquatic swathe. It is known to be the largest amidst Goa’s 17 islands which is also bestowed with rich riverine endowments by the Mandovi and Mapusa rivers jointly.
One can reach the Chorao Island by taking a ferry from Ribandar which is on the road to Old Goa at around 3 km from Panaji. There is also a ferry linking Chorao to Pomburpa on the island’s west. One of the roads moves northwards to Mayem and Bicholim and the other road passes uphill by the majestic 16th century church of Sao Bartholomew. Facing the Arabian Sea, the Sa Bartholomew church was erected in 1569 and founded by the Jesuits. The magnificent landmark reflects the grandeur of Mannerist Neo-Roman architectural style. The church was transferred to the diocesan clergy before 1642 and it was remodeled in 1649. In 1559, the second church dedicated to Our Lady of Grace came up in Maddel. This church was known for its large fairs that were held on the feast day with horses, camels and textiles being traded by foreign merchants. It is known that in the island of Chorao earlier there existed a branch of a University that was affiliated to the University in Benares.
It had its own seat of learning, teaching Sanskrit and ancient literature. On April 2, 1761 when the Oratorians took over the academic responsibilities, a seminary known as Real Colegio de Educacao de Chorao was also established. The Chorao island also had many ancient temples including Ganesha, Ravalnatha, Bhaukadevi, Mallinatha, Bhagvati, Devki, Santa-Purusha, Barazan, Narayan, Cantessor, Chandeussor and Dadd-Sancol. These were destroyed by the Portuguese and this was the time that the people of Chorao smuggled the deities via Mayem to Naroa and Marcela where they are held. The Chorao island offers picture postcard views of the towering Old Goa convents. The famous Dr. Salim Ali bird sanctuary is also situated here. However to explore the sanctuary one needs a canoe as the forest department has no operational boats. A number of soft drink stalls are situated on the ferry wharf on Chorao and one of these hires out a canoe with a guide in season that is from October to April. A drive around the island takes you back to vintage Goa.