Also known as Ilha de Cama or the Isle of Calm, an erstwhile Portuguese colony, the little island of Diu is one laidback fishing town spread over just about 40 sq km
It was only in 1961 that the Portuguese, who maintained an active garrison at the Fort of Diu, relinquished the territory to the Indian Government after a defeat at the hands of Indian troops. The telltale signs of Portuguese occupancy still linger on in the forts, cathedrals and gateways of Diu along with the use of Portuguese language in the town.
Connected by a road bridge to the mainland, Diu, once an important strategic trade port in the Arabian Sea, is part of the Saurashtra region of Gujarat. Despite the Battle of Diu in 1509 between Ottoman Empire, the Portuguese, Venetians and more parties, Mahmud Begada, the Sultan of Gujarat, succeeded in holding ground. However, in 1535, the Sultan joined hands with the Portuguese against Mughal Emperor Humayun permitting them to not only construct a fort but also to maintain a garrison. The partnership soon failed and the Portuguese annexed the area, killing the Sultan to strengthen their foothold. Diu became a Portuguese colony.
Blessed with an immensely cleanest coastline, Diu is a popular spot for summer vacations and adventure water sports with beaches like Jallandhar, Gomatimata, Chakratirth, Ghoghla and Nagoa. Nagoa, famed for its scenic beauty, lured me in too. The part rocky part sandy beach was replete with people indulging in jet-skiing, parasailing and boat rides. Some sailed away farther for scuba diving spots. I succumbed to the general excitement and soon soared over the sea harnessed to a parachute.
As I navigated across the town, the first thing that caught my eye was the main town’s colossal Zampa Gateway that stood brooding across the wide tar road, reminding me of its Portuguese roots. The striking red gateway that leads to an old chapel beyond, in the western city wall, is carved with images of priests, angels and lions.
The Portuguese Fort is among the most visited sites in the area and sits skirting the Arabian Sea with remnants of stone and brick jetties protruding into the wild waters. Once a formidable structure, the fort built in 1535 that lies in much ruinous state currently, tells of a rich and flourishing past. The citadel, its walls adorned with various images of royal insignia, the Virgin Mary and angels, had housed a governor’s palace, St. Tiago’s Church, a chapel, a light house, barracks for the garrison and cells for the prisoners, which are in use till date.
Rusting canons along the ramparts of the fort corroborate the armed strength of the impregnable fort that is protected by sea from three sides and a deep moat on the fourth. A larger prison fort, ‘Fortim-do-Mar’, popularly known as ‘Panikotha’ for its location in the middle of the sea, now attracts ferry rides from visitors.
The Portuguese settlement was, however, not only about armed bastions. Of the three churches left behind by them, the St. Paul’s Church is one of the best examples of Baroque architectural style in India. Sitting at the mouth of the Gulf of Khambat, it was completed in 1610 AD. Carrying influences of local artisan’s craftsmanship, the elaborate, intricate wood work interiors, a blue and white barrel-vaulted nave and extravagant white stucco carvings on the facade, make the church one of the most detailed and impressive structures in India. The other two churches were converted to a museum and a hospital respectively. The Portuguese structures were mostly made of stones and I was told that the requirement was met with stone slabs quarried from nearby rocky hills where now exist the intriguing Naida Caves.
Roaming through the maze of caves, I marvelled at the spacious interiors punctuated with trees and wild plants, for it could well be developed as a wonderful picnic spot. What began as a quick visit turned into a lingering walk through the inter-connected caves. The dappled sunlight that filtered through the cuts and openings on the outer surface of the caves with straighter sides, unlike the natural caves, lit up the interiors in interesting patterns and made the cavities airy.
While the Portuguese make one part of Diu’s history, an interesting Shiva temple on the rocky shore, some say, dates back to the Mahabharata era. The unique and much revered Gangeshwar Temple with five Shivalingas lies in a natural cave in Diu. The temple that gets submerged under the roaring sea during high tide is said to have been established by the Pandavas themselves. Recent history also appears at Sunset Point beach, in the form of INS Khukri Memorial in remembrance of Indian Navy’s warship that was sunk by a Pakistani submarine in the 1971 war. A model of the frigate stands honouring the brave Naval officers and men at the beach.
And just like that my visit to the town fondly called as ‘dada-dadi, nana-nani’ town, due to much of its population being senior citizens, came to an end. Though Diu is a tiny place to explore, but the town has a relaxed vibe. Less crowded with an old world charm, it truly is an Island of Calm.