Diu – The Discoverer’s Favourite

Chilled by the European winds, I wanted my next vacation to keep me warm. I was looking to get away from the noise and crowd of my city. I searched. And I found. Diu was so small, yet so empty – as if it had been waiting to just see me all this while.

Diu's music is in its waves

Diu’s music is in its waves

It’s Nothing Like Daman

I had previously been to Diu’s cousin – Daman (read: How Daman Delighted Me), and I thought this island would be a reminder of that trip. But I was wrong. Diu is more beautiful… in many different ways. Its beaches are cleaner, its streets are lined with a cycling lane (which unfortunately goes unused), and it rewards its admirers with unique places to eat and hide inside.

Ghoghla Beach - the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla Beach – the largest one in Diu

Ghoghla – The Morning Beach

Diu is no Goa. It’s not a wild, party place. It’s a place to nurse your hangover, and find peace amidst nature. Still, it is easy to rent a car, bike or scooty in this ‘Isle of Calm’. I did not find a place to rent a bicycle though. However, if you are a possessed walker or runner, you will enjoy exploring Diu just as much on foot.

My first evening here was spent watching the sun set over Nagoa Beach, close to my hotel – The Hoka Island Villa. The port wine I had that night gave me a nice sleep. This is why I surprised myself when I woke up early the next morning. My little white scooty urged me to cross the bridge and leave the little island.

I was on Ghoghla Beach. It was too early for the tourists to pour in. Too early for the sun to burn my skin. It was just perfect – my tripod agreed. I saw a little kid turn cartwheels on the sand. I stopped fiddling with my camera and ran to the sea, the breeze encouraging my hair to let go. I told myself that day that I would do a beach marathon someday. (And I am doing it this year! 🙂 )

Fortim do Mar - The Fortress of Panikota

Fortim do Mar – The Fortress of Panikota

A Fortress in the Sea

Fortim do Mar is visible from most of Diu’s coastline. It is hard to miss this seafort which seems to stand in the middle of nothing but water. I wonder sometimes if it is possible to rent this place to spend some quiet time with oneself. There’s a lighthouse there which perhaps offers a nice view of Diu from the top.

Baroque beauty - St. Paul's Church

Baroque beauty – St. Paul’s Church

What Portugal Left Behind

Visiting places of historical importance always unsettles me. A part of me wants to marvel at the wonders of the era bygone – the architectural ruins, the fusion cuisines, the stories and the ways of life. At the same time, another part of me fills up with rage at the masterminds of organised slavery. But time teaches us to move on. To forgive. To accept the good. And to make a promise not to repeat the bad.

St. Paul’s Church is a 17th century building, manifested in the Baroque style. One is reminded of Portugal when one observes the artfully decorated windows and doorways, the arched wooden doors and the murals on the ceiling. The church is still in operation, and you will find the 10 commandments framed against each pillar along the aisle.

Chakratirth Beach... guarded by a lighthouse?

Chakratirth Beach… guarded by a lighthouse?

Some Beaches Find You

As the day wore on, I saw people filling up the streets of Diu. I had to escape before my paradise of peace would vanish. So, I took another road and came across an amphitheatre with a sea-view. It was a viewing space for the grand performance by nature! The sea is so vast, it can help you forget all your troubles.

On the other side of the step-amphitheatre is the Chakratirth Beach, so named because of its semicircular shape. In between the two is an elevated perforated rocky patch. This is where I saw the sun go down again.

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Washed by the sea, this shrine has its own story

Myth or Mystery?

A 5 minute ride from Chakratirth brought me to the Gangeshwar Temple. This one is located underground. The legend goes that the 5 Pandavas (from the Indian epic Mahabharata) spent some time during their exile at this spot, worshiping Lord Shiva. Today, there are 5 shivalingas (one of Shiva’s manifestations) at the same spot. You can climb down the steps to watch the sea wash over the shivalingas at high tide, as if offering its own prayers to the Hindu God.

Naida Caves - where light plays hide and seek

Naida Caves – where light plays hide and seek

Caves that Will Haunt You

Diu is home to another kind of caves – this one, man-made. Naida Caves were formed due to the activities of the ruling Portuguese. They would cut away rocks from here and build monuments on the island. Nevertheless, these hollows and crevices are quite enchanting today. Climbers and creepers have wrapped some parts of the caves. Aerial roots have sheathed some other portions, almost turning this cave into a palace with many rooms. Moss has coloured some walls in shades of surreal green. Sunlight plays wonderful tricks on the human eye when it enters these caves through the rough openings and green canopies. It is poetic how destruction can also be beautiful.

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

Some pieces of history rest in a Gothic Church

The Abandoned Church

What is today known as Diu Museum, once used to be the Church of St. Thomas. Built in 1598, this Gothic white church was abandoned several years ago. It is not used for prayers anymore, but houses relics from the past – sculptures and scriptures carved in stone.

Diu has another old church which has been converted to a hospital now.

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

The Arabian Sea looks mesmerizing from Diu Fort

Diu Fort – Where Warriors Lived

I was saving the best for the last! 🙂 Diu Fort is a large complex that housed soldiers in the barracks, ammunition in underground chambers and canons at every gap in the walls of the mighty structure. This fort is perhaps the largest store of so many canons of different types. Somewhere in this enclosure is a lighthouse – the tallest one in Diu. At every nook and cranny, there is a viewpoint to see the infinite Arabian Sea softly making waves under the sun. Exploring the entire fort takes at least a couple of hours, so plan your day accordingly.

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

One of the canons which were used to smoke the enemies

Diu is a small union territory in India, but it packs quite a punch! Have you been to similar quaint places that have surprised you with how much they can offer?

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How Daman Delighted Me

This is the winning entry for the Prismma Holiday 2015 contest

(January 2015)

With spring’s stolen colour

The water shows me sky.

Gujarat’s younger neighbour,

Daman, is anything but “dry”!

 

Backwaters of Daman

Backwaters of Daman

These words succinctly express what I felt after my three-day trip to Daman last year. Daman arguably has a reputation of being a liquor-haven for people craving for booze in the adjacent dry-state of Gujarat. But there is more to this union territory than cheap alcohol. I could find that out because I wasn’t looking to get “high”. I was on a mission to unearth the natural secrets of Daman!

Greens extending till the horizon

Greens extending till the horizon

It was fairly easy for me to plan the weekend getaway as there are conveniently timed and frequent trains that run between Mumbai and Vapi. Vapi is the closest railway station to Daman. Once you alight at Vapi, you can either take the stairs that lead to Daman, or go the other way and reach Silvassa. After a three hour train ride, I caught an auto-rickshaw to my hotel in Nani Daman. It barely took me twenty minutes to get from one city to another! That is unimaginable in big, crowded cities.

Friendly camels at Jampore Beach

Friendly camels at Jampore Beach

I stayed at Hotel Blue Lagoon which is a centrally located business hotel and has good rooms at affordable rates. After a filling meal of assorted stuffed rotis and curry, I set off to explore the city on foot. Daman does not have any indigenous cuisine to call its own. However, seafood and regular Punjabi and South Indian dishes are widely available at most restaurants. I walked for about forty minutes through almost empty streets and pathways lined by palm trees, before I saw the blazing sun on the horizon. I knew I had reached the pristine Devka Beach.

The dark sand at Devka Beach

The dark sand at Devka Beach

Devka is free of tourists, and an ideal place for some soul searching and quiet self reflection. I sat on the black sand and listened to the soft waves as they kissed my toes and “sizzled” back to the depths of the Arabian Sea. I say “sizzled” because the waters leave a bubbling froth when they retreat. This is because the earth here is slightly acidic. That is also the reason why swimming or taking a dip in the sea is not advisable in Daman. The water can be harsh for the skin.

Soaring like a seagull

Soaring like a seagull

On my way back to my hotel, I bought some vodka and breezer to acknowledge Daman’s significance in a liquor-free state. Over a couple of drinks, I mused how peaceful this city actually is. Devoid of any nightlife, the residents of this place presumably sleep well. Despite being labelled the “Goa of Gujarat”, Daman has neither the crowds, nor the frolicsome atmosphere. The locals prefer to dress modestly even when they are lazing by the beach.

Palm trees line a secluded road in this little union territory

Palm trees line a secluded road in this little union territory

The next morning, I started for St. Jerome’s Fort which is also known as the Fort of Nani Daman. Daman comprises two areas – Moti (Big) Daman and Nani (Little) Daman, separated by the Daman Ganga River. The monikers are misnomers though! Nani Daman is actually the larger of the two! The fort is an old stone-built complex which houses a church. The upper decks of the fort afford copious views of the lovely Daman port that has many boats moored, perhaps belonging to the fishermen. Those boats, unfortunately, do not ply across the backwater to Moti Daman. There are two bridges that connect the two lands though, and only one of those is motorable.

Ruins of the old fort

Ruins of the old fort

Moti Daman has its own share of surprises. It houses the administrative district of this union territory and is much neater and better organized than Nani Daman. The Fort of Moti Daman and  the Lighthouse take up almost two hours to explore. This area also has canons from the yesteryears. Even though Daman was under the Portuguese rule for several years, the Portuguese influence is limited to the architecture of the forts and churches. The Indian people have not thought it important to preserve their food, dressing or language after independence.

The churches here are high-ceilinged and ornate

The churches here are high-ceilinged and ornate

I spent my remaining time in the city visiting various ornate churches – Our Lady of Rosary Church and The Lady of Remedious Church, to name a few. The churches are small but beautifully adorned in golden-bordered statues and murals. I saw also the ruins of the Dominican Monastery, but there’s hardly any building left of it to appreciate. I couldn’t help but notice a lot of lavishly erected bungalows by the sea. These houses, I was told, belong to wealthy Gujarati businessmen who earn in Gujarat and celebrate in Daman. The lax liquor-laws and empty beaches make Daman an ideal party-place and cheap location for holiday homes.

The simple exterior of this church keeps its inner grandeur a secret

The simple exterior of this church keeps its inner grandeur a secret

My final stop was Jampore Beach. Now, this was one crowded and slightly dirty beach with several makeshift shacks that lined the entire stretch and did brisk business selling beer and pakodas. One can try paragliding or camel or horse riding on this beach. As the day wore on, I sat once again, this time on a lounger, to watch the golden sun dissolve into the black waters.

A plant conservation park in Moti Daman

A plant conservation park in Moti Daman

In hindsight, I was glad to have made the trip. It was easy to plan and quite light on the pocket. I beat the tourist rush by visiting in the off-season. Daman fortunately enjoys a pleasant subtropical climate with temperatures always hovering between 20 and 30 degrees Celsius. You only need to pack a pair of flip-flops and shorts for your Daman-weekend. And don’t forget to carry along walking shoes if you love to explore places on foot!

The port of Daman awaits you

The port of Daman awaits you

So, when are you planning to visit this tiny union territory? Have you been to a similar place before? Tell me your stories in the comments below!