A Weekend in Daman and Diu - Places to Visit

During winter here in Northern India, when fog and smog ruin days that already see very few hours of light available, and the cold further complicates life, it made me desperately dream of the warm and sunny beaches of the West of the country; and then what to do? I take a train, travel 30-40 hours and leave all that the North has to offer me behind?

Daman and Diu. I had read about this place in geography books, but I had never met anyone who could describe it to me in an exhaustive way. Daman, the sister of Diu, is located a little further south, still within Gujarat, but is much less known. In reality they are two very different places that have little in common, if not some Portuguese church painted white and some beautiful colonial houses.

Daman and Diu, off the coast of Gujarat promises to offer everything that the exhausted explorer of the northern states most urgently need. Sun, sea and a wide availability of beer at low cost! In addition to cheap alcohol there is not much in reality, but it is a good place off the beaten track.

Daman and Diu tourism

The Road trip to Daman from Diu

After Anand, we make a circular detour on NH 8 to bypass the city of Baroda or Vadodara which then continues straight to the south and the distance towards Mumbai goes down quickly. I feel more of the tropical air, the further I go. I remember when hundreds of miles to the north I saw the first coconut palm and I was exultant.

When I reach Daman it was evening after a very long day of driving for 300 km. I hate traveling at night because here they constantly use high beams and don't lower them when they cross other vehicles. In the evening I see boys playing football and volleyball, the fishermen repair the nets and the women dry fish and seafood. A group of elders play chess, while someone plays a guitar.

Unlike Diu, not much remains and indeed at first sight it looks like the typical seaside town. But after moving a little I immediately realize that even this is not the "usual" India. So many centuries of Portuguese domination have left their mark, and people are much more relaxed and in general seem to live a more modern life.

Here too the standard of living seems high. The supermarkets are well stocked and the restaurants full in the evening. The bars lack the atmosphere of an adventure film that is found in Diu, and I avoided them with pleasure.

I expected to find the classic "ghetto" for young Westerners, with the guys in the Bob Marley shirt who approach to sell you the good grass, the restaurants with wi-fi that make insipid fried rice, the guesthouses with the veranda and the hammock, agencies that organize tours and boat trips, the shops that sell chillum and t-shirts with coloured mushrooms.

There is no ghetto, rather I had to break my balls enough to find a cheap accommodation, as the hotels are scattered around a vast area. If, like me, you arrive on Saturday you are almost screwed because they are almost all full. In practice, after an hour of research, I found only one with free rooms.

I had a large terrace all for myself from which I could enjoy the movement of the people, enjoying the excellent chilled beer taken at the store opposite.

Daman and Diu tourism

Sunday in Daman

I was also in Daman the day after because I wanted to explore the former colony and it was worth it even though it was crowded on Sunday, but fortunately concentrated on the beaches transformed into funfairs with jet skis and other amusements. They are not like the beaches of Goa, favoured by foreign tourists for sunbathing and bathing.

At the first light of dawn I explore the environment through the windows of the tent. North side has a deep palm forest with mysterious mist and fog. In the west side is the flat sea, which recedes, and in the south side we guess is an estuary where are the fishermen and villagers.

After breakfast I go walking on the wide and long beach to relax my calves, strained like everything, that lead me to life. Approaching the small estuary, I see one sink into the mud. And then there is something left by the Portuguese there. There are two forts, some churches, and colonial houses.

The city is quite strange. There is a commercial part (Nani Daman or Little Daman), with the market, the station, the hotels and bars and the administrative (Moti Daman or Big Daman) part on the other side of the Daman Ganga river, located inside the walls of the great 16th century fort.

Obviously the biggest one is Nani Daman. The first is chaotic and colourful, while the second is quiet, silent, orderly, with beautiful tree-lined streets and a splendid cathedral. The main beach is quite bare, while the sea has a brown-brown colour that is anything but inviting.

Fishing in Daman

Fascinated, we sit on the sand and watch the show, open-mouthed. A broom unfolds before our eyes, in front, on the right and on the left. Men and women, in the mud to the thighs, evolve rhythmically and regularly, according to a well-ordered choreography, combining balance and efficiency, according to very precise lines.

It takes a while to understand their ride. Alone or in groups of 2, 3 or 4 they pack the mud before pushing into the mud a subterranean hedge of straw on the pretraced perimeter. But why? It is there that one sees forms jumping, flying and then disappearing on the surface of the water mud. Here again it will take a long time to identify the phenomenon.

Batrachians? Flying fish? Giant leeches? Mini Sea Snakes? There are all sizes, from a gray shrimp to a salamander to mini-eels, with protruding frog eyes, and two fins running behind the gills used as spring legs. And they jump and sinks under the mud, and sways on the mud.

We end up making the link between the group of men and that of these fish. All their efforts seem to tend to catch these animals in the trap. But how? We develop many theories but cannot grasp the strategy. On the other side of the estuary, on wooden racks, we see curtains of dry fish.

On the beach, from time to time, people are busy picking up something. We go back up the estuary. A little upstream a man serves as a ferryman. Following a guide rope stretched between the two banks he carries villagers in his boat and lands at the mouth of a stream in the bed.

And then again, and again, women trace their perimeter of straw in the mud, and again and again these fish appear and disappear in the mud. We turn back to the palm grove and the shade it offers us. We spend the rest of the day walking around.

Daman and Diu tourism

The Portuguese Daman

As it happened, while I was visiting the fort in Moti Daman, beyond the river that divides the city, I made friends with a gardener, of Portuguese origin, who told me several things about the history of the colony and the mini war. For over 450 years the Portuguese have controlled these ports on the Arabian Sea where they arrived in 1500 with Vasco De Gama. They even made Goa their Asian base and for a long time they monopolized the spice trade.

I learned, for example, that after the occupation Portugal had organized a (voluntary) evacuation of the Damanese. Those who had fled had been sent to the colonies of Angola and Mozambique, where even these soon became independent. In the main street, there was a monument to the fallen of the war of liberation, where in the morning they had laid garlands of flowers.

At about 20 meters, in a cemetery, instead I saw the tombs of the Portuguese who died in the struggle for resistance. He tells me that both Daman and Diu is nothing in comparison with Goa, the other famous Portuguese colony of India, which over the years has become a paradise for hippies, bums and party-goers of all kinds and finally backpackers.

Contrary to Goa, Daman and Diu lives mainly on local tourism. On the weekends many Gujarati's, come to the island to enjoy the beaches, the mild climate and spirits on free sale in bars. Diu is indeed a perfect example of the absurdities of India and the great differences that exist between states, even close to each other.

In Gujarat alcohol is even forbidden, but you just need to take a bus and go to Daman or Diu. This small territory bases its economy essentially on tourism and on the revenues deriving from the sale of alcoholic beverages, totally banned in the neighbouring state of Gujarat, from which a continuous flow of commuters of the hangover spills into dozens and dozens of retailers that dispense the coveted nectar.

It is strange to say, according to all that had been told to me, the number of drunk people staggering around the streets remains unexpectedly low, despite the hundreds of bottles of empty liquors of everything from beer, vodka, wine to whiskey that plague streets and beaches to the most remote corners of the island.

Daman and Diu tourism

In Moti Daman

By the way, among places to visit in Daman and Diu, in the historical and picturesque Moti Daman, inside the walls, near the Gama house, there are also two churches and a convent still inhabited with the ruins of a church next to it. I recognized the Baroque style of Goa.

In particular, I enter a chapel, to admire an inlaid wooden altarpiece that is one of the finest in India. The ceiling is also entirely carved with images of cherubs. I was fascinated by the expressiveness of the faces and in particular by a scene of Mary and Joseph holding a baby Jesus walking by the hand. I found it very interesting, since we are used to seeing the baby Jesus in swaddling clothes.

Westerners are not many, and almost all are travelers over thirty in search of a break from "classic" India. The sporadic western travellers who come here, most after a night on the train from Mumbai and others coming down from the north with the mirage of reaching a small Goa, find themselves having a couple of beautiful deserted beaches where they can enjoy the heat sun and the salty water of the Arabian Sea, practically undisturbed lounging all day.

The backpackers are few and strangely almost all South Asians (perhaps Koreans coming from Varanasi). But the "sinful" area where there are hotels and some resorts, but of a low level, is on the other side of the river, in Nani Daman, where nothing remains of Portuguese except a wooden house that is now hotel.

Tomorrow we leave for Bombay or rather Mumbai. We will leave early, before sunrise to be there early and be able to enjoy it to the fullest.
Kalyan Panja