Not many flights make a bee-line for this tiny island near Gujarat (Most popular Hindu pilgrimage places in Gujarat are Beyt Dwarka, Nageshvara Jyotirlinga and Somnath temple) and most that do are hopping ones.
The island that was earlier ruled by Bahadur Shah, was given access to the Portuguese in return for help in warding off the Mughal King Humayun’s advances. Bahadur Shah made the mistake of granting the Portuguese permission to build a fort in Diu. The rest is history. The Portuguese never left and instead took over the island!
Diu is one of the last places to be liberated from foreign invasion. It became part of the U.T under Government of India, in 1961. Diu celebrates its independence on 19th December too, the day it was annexed to India, along with 26 January and 15 August.
Most of the original inhabitants left Diu when it was liberated. That included all Portuguese, many Christians and some muslims. Most of the Hindus stayed back.
About Diu Town
The most inhabited place on the Island is the Diu Town, on the Eastern part. The town is very peaceful and we hardly came across people on the road, so much so that when we wanted to ask directions, we found no one! The roads are clean, wide, quiet and at many places lined with the infamous Hoka trees (Palm trees that branch), which are contained only in Diu.
The Hoka trees were introduced here by the Portuguese and are found nowhere else in India!
We found Diu a real ‘Paradise on Earth’. It didn’t have the tourist crowd as Goa does (Read more about Goa beaches). It may not have the ‘happening places’ like Goa, but if you are looking for peaceful surroundings in an almost untouched island, this is the place to be in. Some beaches, of course, seem like everyone decided to look for peace right here, at the same time!
Club the serenity with the fact that alcohol is legal here and sit back to enjoy the Island. Officials claim pollution is minimum here and crime rate is almost zero!
Diu Fort – One of the Seven Wonders of Portugal
The Diu fort, built by the Portuguese in 1535, is constructed right next to the sea and is surrounded by it on three sides. A beautiful view of the blue Arabian Sea can be seen for miles, from its ramparts. The fort is huge and well-preserved with canons mounted on bastions and cannonballs.
Remember to carry water and wear comfortable shoes. We were absolutely parched by the time we came out. There are not many shops outside, unlike most forts that see many footfalls and none inside.
To my surprise, there was no entry fee for the fort.
The fort has an outer stone wall that is built along the coast line and an inner wall where one can see the mounted canons. Between the two walls, there is double moat for protection.
The road that led us upto the fort was earlier a wooden draw bridge which would be lifted up during the night to monitor the entry and exit of people.
The fort housed many beautiful residences and also had three churches, one of which is now converted to a hospital.
The light house here, is Diu’s highest point and is open to tourists. Its beam is supposed to cover a radius of 32 Kms.
Fortress of the Panikota – A former Diu Jail
Also called the Fortim do mar, this small fortress is just across the fort, in the middle of the sea. From the Diu fort, it looks like a surfaced submarine, floating in the Arabian Sea. It can be reached by boat. We didn’t go there as the thought of prisoners gave me the creeps.
There is a small chapel here dedicated to ‘Our Lady of the Sea’.
Gangeshwar, The Cave Temple
The temple dedicated to Lord Shiva is a ‘must-visit’. It is 3 Km away from Diu and built on the sea shore. According to mythology, the Shiv ‘lingams’ here were installed by the Pandavas and are hence of different sizes. The 5 Shiv lingams are installed on the sea bed and are washed by the sea waves.
It was extremely exciting to manoeuvre our way from the first linga to the last, in the small cove, before the strong sea currents would come in and sweep our feet off.
We spent a good hour here, trying to pray while making sure we don’t get swept off into the sea – almost like ‘playing while praying’ on a beach!
As is customary in most temples in India, we were prepared for donating cash but were surprised to see that the ‘pandits’ here just didn’t hound us for any!
The Diu Museum was earlier St. Thomas’ Church. We had thought of giving it a skip but it beckoned us inside – to almost nothing! The vastness of the garden in front looked inviting, but there was hardly anything to see inside, in fact, not even a human.
A few wooden sculptures of saints and Portuguese nobles, in shoddy shape, were scattered here and there.
We walked to the back of the ‘museum’, looking for a caretaker, but it was a no-show.
But standing at the entrance door and looking down at the entry, I could imagine how beautiful it must have been at one time!
We checked into Radhika Beach Resort in the evening, which was bang on the beautiful Nagoa Beach.
A nice comfortable resort and soon we had freshened up to go for a long walk on the clean beach. The squishy sand under our bare feet felt very relaxing after the long day. The water was pristine clear and the beach was a haven for water sport lovers. In the distance we could see the swaying Hoka trees. As I watched the sun set, the sky was lit up in orange, yellow and pink colours. The vastness of the sea can make one feel so small and insignificant, while relaxing one’s mind at the same time.
What an absolutely beautiful island this was!
From Diu, Gir forest was just a 2 hour drive. We had decided to leave early in the morning, hoping to catch sight of some lions in their native habitat.
Gir National Park – Home to the Asian Lions
Other than Africa, Gir National Park is the only place in the world, where, if luck is in your favour, you can see lions roaming freely in the wild. This dry, deciduous forest forms the perfect habitat for the Asiatic lions. Their number had dwindled completely at the beginning of last century due to poaching, but strict laws by the government has managed to bring up their number to more than 500 now.
We had booked an open jeep safari online at a cost of Rs 5300 (For foreigners the charge is Rs 12800, ie, around USD $200) that would take us for a round inside the forest. This is applicable for 6 people and 1 child. This includes the permit charges, camera charges, guide and driver charges.
Points to remember
- Each person has to show some form of identification and the ticket is not transferrable.
- Best time to spot the lions is dawn or dusk.
- Gir National Park is closed from 16th June to 15th October.
No one is permitted to enter the park on foot and strict instructions are given to tourists to not make loud noises. The jeep follows a set path and does not stop at any place in the jungle as it can prove to be dangerous. The driver just slows down at places where he spots some animal for tourists to take pictures.
The almost 40 kms ride was absolutely thrilling. The atmosphere was tense with expectancy of lions attacking us from all sides. We fearfully held the children tightly to us.
Unfortunately, the sun was high up by the time we reached deep inside the forest and we managed to see deers, peacocks, monkeys, Sambars and yes; an old and sick lion sitting under the shade of trees so far away that we couldn’t even zoom in on him to take a photo! But we did see pug marks of a lion on the ground.
Well, I for one was very relieved to be out of the scary jungle but the hair-raising memory of my continuously pounding heart, will remain in my mind forever.
After lunch at a small way-side dhabha, we decided to explore Junagadh, about 75 Kms away.
Girnar Hill in Junagadh
One of the very old cities, it is located at the foot of the holy Girnar Hills. This City has seen many rulers and dynasties and thus has a lot of historical value. The literal translation of Junagadh is “Old Fort”.
The main problem we faced in this city was the lack of English or Hindi signboards. All instructions every where was in Gujarati. Thankfully GPS made sure we reached our places of interest, easily.
The impressive Uparkot Fort was right in the middle of the city and the approach was easy. The view of the Girnar Hills from the top was splendid and the huge granary and water tank, which apparently could store supplies for twelve years, was just grand!
Mahabat Maqbara Palace, an eye-catching yellow mausoleum of Bahaduddinbhai Hasainbhai, is an important landmark of Junagadh, with its multiple minarets, spiral staircases, silver-decorated portals and the most exquisite carvings on walls and windows. We just couldn’t take our eyes off this marvellous structure.
We forced ourselves to move back into our car as we had to travel another 175 kms back to Diu.
We never realised this part of the Arabian Sea Coast would have such a rich history and so much to see and enjoy.
The next day, we bid Diu, a tearful adieu!