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Quirky charm of a tropical paradise

Quirky charm of a tropical paradise
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Landing at Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel International Airport, I decided to first explore the tiny-ex-Portuguese island, located at the southern tip of Saurashtra peninsula and after an eight hour long bus journey, was woken up by the gentle morning roar of the Arabian Waves, greeting the Atlantic Sea. Welcome to DIU!!!

I stretched myself after a long haul bus journey and decided to stay at Hotel Sao Tome Retiro, housed in the lovely old St.Thomas Church. I was   warmly greeted by my host George D ‘Souza, a simple soul, and I must say, his barbeque parties were a treat.

A 360-degree view of the island, from the tidal marsh and salt pans of the north to limestone cliffs, rocky coves and sandy beaches of the south, seen from the St. Thomas church spire, is unrivalled in beauty. While George was preparing breakfast, I checked out the Diu Museum, which has a spooky and evocative collection of Old Catholic Saint Statues. Very soon, the call for breakfast came wafting over the rooftops.

George sensed my restlessness to explore the tropical island and handed over his scooter keys to me with a smile. Hearing the prayers for daily mass from a nearby church, I checked out the Cavernous St Paul’s Church, dedicated to our Lady of Immaculate Conception, and founded by Jesuits in 1600 and then rebuilt in 1807 AD. Inside, it’s a great barn, with a small cloister next door, above which is a school. Nearby is the Church of St Francis of Assisi, which has been converted into a hospital and sometimes used for services also. The Portuguese-descended population mostly live in this area, still called the ‘foreigners’ quarter’. The amazing hue and colours struck me as I was wandering around the narrow, winding streets of the maze-town, with brightly painted houses showing a lingering Portuguese influence, with the most impressive, the Nagar Seth Haveli, laden with stucco scrolls and fulsome fruits. I checked-in at O’Coquiero Music Garden Restaurant, a soul-infused garden restaurant, celebrating the freshness and quality of Portuguese-style dishes and great seafood. After relaxing for a while, I headed towards the massive Portuguese fort which is well-preserved and boasts a double moat, with the ramparts having an array of cannons. At the main entry gate, there are five large windows with stone galleries on the main front wall. The entrance gateway to the fort has an inscription in Portuguese. The guardian at the gate is St. George. The fort also houses Diu’s highest point, the lighthouse, with a beam that reaches 32 km out to sea. There are several small chapels, tombstone fragments, etc, and a part of the fort also serves as the island’s jail.

From the fort can be seen the former jail, Fortim-do-mar (Pani Kotha), the boat shaped building located in the sea off the coast, that seems to float on the bay. The fortress also has a Chapel of Our Lady of the Sea and a lighthouse. After exploring the massive forts of the east, I headed towards the huge city walls of the west, the Zampa Gateway. A few minutes’ drive along the city wall, and I reached the Naida Caves. This is where the Portuguese hacked out their materials. Dusk had arrived and George called-up to confirm my presence at his barbeque party.  The day ended with fresh seafood, delicious salads, all of us sipping beer around George’s blazing campfire and meeting and exchanging stories with fellow travellers.  Early the next day, I headed towards the extreme west of the island and reached Vanakbara – the fishing village, around 7 am, to witness the bustling activity of the fishing fleets returning to sell their catch. It was great to wander around the port to photograph and document the packed colourful fishing boats and people selling fish.  I then headed towards the long, palm-fringed Nagoa Beach, and enjoyed the delicious breakfast choices such as penne with tuna and tomato, fish and chips and a complimentary beer at the colourful resort Hoka, with its palm-shaded terraces. The Island also boasts some beaches like Gomptimata, to the west, which is a long, empty, sandy beach. Beaches with easy reach from the town include Jallandhar, Chakratirth and the stunning Sunset Point, most popular for its small, gentle curve and hassle-free swimming.

The trip ended off with a 72 km ride and I must admit it’s the safest place to ride a scooter in all of India, with minimum traffic and excellent roads. It also helps that the climate is wonderful. This trip would not have been a success without the help and assistance of George, the most charming and helpful of hosts. We celebrated our last night at Dubchichk. This drinking platform has a great vantage point for overlooking drunken antics on the beach from a safe distance. I boarded the bus back to Ahmedabad, remembering Diu’s serene beaches, imposing forts, the walled city of Zampa and the lovely churches. I know now why this tiny island is the reason most travellers come to Gujarat and I can’t wait to return.
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