It's unlikely that you'll spend time deciding where to go in Daman and how, for the whole area is not more than 72 sq km, as the crow flies. But what you choose to see here is definitely important for this will decide your image of Daman. If you can manage to get past the effects of beer with breakfast that most day-trippers come here for, you'll be lucky enough to see more than most.
Stand atop the crumbling, but imposing Fort St Jerome at Nani Daman and you get to see the very same seas that welcomed Portuguese conquistadors, Abyssinians and Hindu warrior kings, not to mention the first Parsi refugees at Udvada. A mundane visit to the Devka Beach in the evening, on the other hand, will show you only a familiar tourist vista -- busloads of drunk holiday makers in this oasis next to the dry state of Gujarat. Head there at seven in the morning and you'll find the sea pulling back to narrate a very different story -- sleepy water turtles and baby lobsters, local fisherwomen standing thigh deep in muck to pull out levti fish, a local delicacy.
Ask a local historian and you'll see yet another image coming alive in Daman's grey beaches, so unlike the golden sands of Goa. As Victor Fernandes, a local historian and researcher, says, translating a Portuguese proverb, 'The sands of Damans beaches are peppery because of the ammunition spent on them'. This could well be true, considering the Portuguese had to defend their colony from the Abyssinians, the Marathas, the Dutch and the British. It also brings to mind Daman's dubious side, the notoriety it gained post its 1961 liberation by India for being an important smuggling centre. A pet topic with Hindi filmmakers in the 1970s, remember Amar Akbar Anthony. It's also one of the many images of Daman tucked under the touristy views. Peel the layers and you'll be richly rewarded.
A good way to explore Daman is to start with the Damanganga River, which divides it into Nani Daman and Moti Daman (the side populated by the Portuguese). Legend has it that it's impossible to connect the two banks of the river. Locals claim the Portuguese tried to build a bridge in the 1930s, but it was washed away in the monsoons. The bridges built thereafter met the same fate. The last one, inaugurated in 1993, collapsed in 2003 and the one that came up in its place was washed away in 2004.
Looking at the Damanganga River, flowing along the picturesque quay, it is impossible to imagine that it was not only a major harbour once, but also a major ship-building hub. It is said that 500-600 tonne ships were built here out of Daman's rich reserve of teak forests. The river is fortified with two forts at the mouth of the river. To the north lies Fort St Jerome at Nani Daman and to the south, Fort Hieronymus at Moti Daman.
The Hieronymus Fort was built on the site of an earlier fort in 1593, which belonged to Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat. The fort is encircled by a moss-covered moat. The Portuguese Lighthouse, which has now been replaced by a modern structure, towers above the fort. The northern side of the fort housed palaces, administrative buildings and churches. Of these, the Governor's Palace and the Collectorate are said to have been built in the place of Abyssinian structures.
Equip yourself with a map from the Nani Daman Tourist Office. The most appealing historical aspects of the fort are the many churches, chapels and monasteries. The Dominican Seminary, even in its ruined state, offers a glimpse of old Daman. Its ceiling evokes images of heaven. The floral carvings in the central hallway are today guarded by the ASI.
The 16th-century Church of Our Lady of Remedios, en route the main entrance to the fort, is also outstanding for its part-Gothic, part-Byzantine woodwork figurines. But the main attraction within the Chapel Square is the Church of Bom Jesus (1605). This gilded wonder of bricks and wood, also known as S Cathedral, has an impressive altar. The Easter procession in Daman stops at every chapel in the city, starting with the 16th-century chapel of Our Lady of Rosary, also known as Madre Di Dios where a handcrafted wooden altar depicts the various stages of Virgin Mary's life. Visit the intricately carved chapel of St Augustus, built in the memory of soldiers who died in the First World War. The Main Street (rebuilt in 1886 after a devastating storm) has a 4-ft tall cross, carved from a single block of wood. Opposite the S Cathedral stands the jailhouse, where prisoners of the Inquisition were held. There's a 24-hr ferry service to Moti Daman from Nani Daman Jetty.
The Fort of St Jerome at Nani Daman requires a day's trip. The fort was built between 1614 and 1627 and is badly maintained. The chapel within the fort is dedicated to Our Lady of the Sea and has an altar carved in rosewood. One can also see gold filigree work. The graveyard here has some exquisite marble figurines.
Hindu Daman has its own identity in the shape of the Somnath Temple, which is near the large industrial estate of Dabhol. This much-renovated temple is worth a visit for the exquisite Kutchi glasswork that decorates both the ceiling and the floor.
Nani Daman, tiny as it is, has one main street that runs in its middle, towards the sea, where you'll find all that's available in Daman on sale. Makeshift stores line the Seaface Road offering smuggled clothes at unbelievable prices. Cradled next to the clothes' stores, you'll find liquor stores. Just remember that its illegal to take alcohol out of Daman. The 200-year-old Mercardo Municipal (rebuilt sometime in the 1940s), along the same stretch, is a cluster of little stores that stock everything from footwear and vegetable choppers to designer watches.
If you're here on a historical tour, Hotel Marina (Tel 096244 55515 Tariff from INR 1,600 onwards), behind the police station at Nani Daman, is a 140-year-old Portuguese homestead and is the closest you will get to a bed-and-breakfast in Daman. The antique furniture in the home and the lovely courtyard will give you a glimpse of Daman's history.
The centrally located Hotel Gurukripa (Tel 09227759265 Tariff from INR 1,800 onwards), on Seaface Road, is ideal for those wishing to access Nani Daman on foot. It offers good food, comfortable rooms and excellent room service. Hotel Dariya Darshan (Tel 090330 91647) at Devka Beach is also a good place to stay. Hotel Cidade de Daman (Tel +91 7096781866 Tariff INR 5,500 onwards), also on Devka Beach, is the closest to a 5-star hotel in Daman. Hotel Miramar (Tel 085111 37601), also on Devka Beach Road, is a place that's always packed, so reserve in advance. Another popular stay option is Hotel Shilton (Tel 099041 38105), on Devka Beach.
Daman's food is part Goan (though Damanese claim their bebinca is more authentic) and part Gujarati. But all differences vanish at the dinner table, where the Gujarati thali meets the tangy fish curry and a beetroot wine clinks alongside a hearty beer. Visitors to Daman usually head to Gurukripa, situated half-way between Moti Daman and Devka Beach, to taste Daman's rich variety of seafood from Goan fish curry and rice to Damanese specialities like chicken xacuti, dhara fish fry, butter-garlic tiger prawns and fried squid. Hotel Sovereign, a sister concern that's a few buildings down the block, specialises in vegetarian dishes. Nearby is the Pithora Garden restaurant recreating a village ambience. The Miramar Water Park, restaurant-cum-cafe at the other end of Nani Daman, overlooks the lake, where you can take a pre- or post-dinner paddle in a boat. Duke Hotel, Daman's oldest restaurant (started in the 1940s), run by a Parsi family, is famous for its breakfast of sausages and scrambled eggs.