Two people chat away in Portuguese over mugs of chilled beer, the sea breeze dismantling their coiffure. A church stands tall in the backdrop, a few people amble along on a lazy street and a shopkeeper yawns at a nearby store. Time seems to halt in Diu, the idyllic coastal town kissing the Arabian Sea. It is this old-world charm, though broken a bit by the odd cyber cafe, which gives Diu its character, so very different from that of Goa of which it was once a part. Of course, for many thirsty Gujaratis plagued by prohibition back home, Diu is just a place where they can unwind.
But it would be wrong to identify Diu with just beaches and chilled beer. The story of Diu is also about its sprawling proud fort, its fascinating churches and its unique branching palm (Hoka) trees found nowhere else in the country. It helps that Diu is less crowded and spoilt than Goa, largely because of its odd location. This speck of land is far away from any major town and even the railways haven't yet reached here.
Goa, Daman and Diu were Portuguese possessions in India for around 450 years before they were liberated on December 19, 1961, during Operation Vijay. In 1962, they were constituted into a Union Territory until May 30, 1987, when Goa was culled into a separate state, leaving Daman and Diu as one Union Territory.
According to the Gazetteer of Goa, Diu had been ruled by many kings and dynasties mentioned in the Puranas. According to mythology, the Pandavas, during their 14 years in exile, had stayed for a few days at a place called Mani Nagar (Diu), which was under the Yadavas, led by Krishna Vasudev. The Mahabharata says that King Jallandhar, a daitya (demon) who was eventually killed by Lord Vishnu, ruled Diu. Hence its ancient name Jallandhar Kshetra. Even today, Diu has a temple by the name Jallandhar.
There is more proof that Diu was a coastal settlement in the 4th century CE on the route to the Gulf of Cambay (ancient Kambhat), another maritime centre. In the 16th century, when maritime trade was at its peak, Bahadur Shah, the Sultan of Gujarat, made Diu the headquarters of Gujarat Navy. He was, however, unable to hold on to it. The Portuguese entered Diu in 1535, when Governor Nuno da Cunha constructed a fort in Diu and raised his arsenal. It became a Portuguese possession 11 years later, when Governor Joao de Castro seized it.
More than anything else, Diu is a place to laze around, spot migratory birds, read a book or explore the city and its bylanes on a bicycle or a motorbike. If you are not fond of bikes, you can hop into an autorickshaw.
The imposing stone Fort of Diu (to the west of Diu town) is the tourist's password, meaning you start exploring the place from here. Skirted by the sea on three sides, it stands tall like an island of courage with menacing canons atop, aiming in different directions. You will still find a couple of mounds of iron shells inside. Rising from between the expansive structure is a lighthouse, which gives the fort an air of mystery, especially during winter nights when there is fog and the wick of the lighthouse gas flame grows weak. Constructed between 1535 and 1541, following an alliance between Bahadur Shah and the Portuguese to defend the Gujarat Sultanate from an impending attack by the Mughal Emperor Humayun, the fort's front wall has five huge windows with stone galleries.
From the fort, you get a beautiful view of another stone structure in the sea, called the Fortress of Panikotha (Fortim Do Mar, to the west of Diu, north-east of the Diu Fort), which can be reached only by a canoe or a motorlaunch. Located about one nautical mile from the Diu jetty, it also has a lighthouse and a small 17th-century chapel dedicated to Our Lady of the Sea. Interestingly, legend has it that Fortim Do Mar was once connected to land by an undersea tunnel.
Matching the Diu Fort in its magnificence is the St Paul's Church (north-west of the fort) built in 1610. The white structure spells tranquility and peace. Adorned with curiously treated volutes and shell-like motifs with beautiful woodcarving, St Paul's Church is considered to be the most elaborate of all the Portuguese churches in India. The Church is dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception. In the evening, the church's facade is illuminated by floodlights.
Adjoining it is the old St Thomas Church, built in 1598, which has now been converted into a museum. The pathway to the imposing structure is a lazy sprawl of stone staircases at an incline -- the temptation to sit on this stone cushion is as much as reaching the gates of the Gothic St Thomas Church. Visit it for the collection of exquisite wooden statues of saints in various sizes.
Timings: 9 am-7 pm, open all days
Diu, at one time, was known for ivory carvings but ever since trade in ivory was banned, the art of carving seems to have died with it. Instead, items made of tortoise shell are popular. However, we'd request you to refrain from buying these to protect the ecosystem. Diu's proximity to the sea ensures that it has plenty of stuff made out of shells. You can pick these and a few handicrafts at the local markets. But as the locals themselves point out, there's not much by way of shopping opportunities in Diu.
There are many hotels and resorts in and around Diu, from 3-star to the budget category in the town and on the beaches, with most having their own restaurant and bar.
Hotel Samrat (Tel 097273 25249) and Hotel Cidade de Diu (Tel 096240 33181) are in Diu town. Sugati Beach Resort (Tel +91 98995 54805) and Magico do Mar (Tel 098242 48500) are on Ghoghla Beach. Radhika Beach Resort (Tel 098244 18555), Hotel Kohinoor (Tel 070014 39473) and Rasal Beach Resort (Tel 097143 15000) are on Nagoa Beach. Hotel Kohinoor has a water world and a swimming pool, while the Rasal Beach Resort offers a restaurant and a bar.
It goes without saying that seafood, preferably on the beach, is a must in Diu. The place also offers plenty of Goan and Portuguese cuisine. There are several places to try these out. O'Coqueiro Restaurant, The Cat's Eye, Rivera, Apana Foodland, Tawa Tadka, to name a few.