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An island of architectural treasures

Once a Portuguese colony, the Union Territories of Daman & Diu host impressive architecture dating back to 16th-century Europe

While the rest of India celebrates its Independence Day on August 15, 1947 – the coastal state of Goa and Union Territories of Daman and Diu celebrate their liberation day on December 19, 1961 when these Portuguese enclaves were incorporated into India by military conquest. While the churches and forts of Goa have become well-known tourist attractions, the treasure trove of European architectural buildings of Daman and Diu are not nearly as well-known.

We decided to spend a couple of days in Diu, exploring its Portuguese past which has left many grand buildings, including some of India's most elaborate churches and one of the largest sea facing forts of the Indian coast. Diu largely comprises an island, but it also has a small strip of mainland connected to Gujarat and a tiny beach called Simbor facing an island fort. From the beach of Goghla, we drove over the bridge that leads to the main town of Diu, set on the eastern corner of the island. Dominating the townscape are the fort at the eastern edge and the looming churches near the town's western wall.

From the bus stand near the landing point of the bridge, we drove along a sea-front road to the majestic gateway of Diu Fort. The Diu Fort is listed among the Seven Wonders of the Portuguese-built Landmarks in the World, a list of buildings located in other parts of the world that were first built by the Portuguese during the colonial era.The selection of the Seven Wonders of the Portuguese-built Landmark in the World was initiated by the Directorate-General of Government of Portugal and the Portuguese Ministries of Education and Culture, following the selection of the Seven Wonders of Portugal. Diu prospered as a port and naval base for the Ottomans who controlled the Arabian Sea trading routes. Malik Ayaz, the governor of Diu with the forces of the Sultanate and the Ottoman naval ships repelled Portuguese attacks in 1520 and 1521. In 1535, Sultan Bahadur Shah signed a treaty with the Portuguese, allowing them to construct the fort at the eastern end of the island in return for naval and military support to the Gujarat Sultanate. Martim Afonso de Sousa built much of the Fort by 1536, with additions made over the centuries. The Sultans regretted their decision and tried to take over the fort, but Governor Joao de Castro managed to get the siege lifted. Thanks to its vantage location, the island of Diu, off the northwest coast of India, was one of the most important Portuguese possessions and had to be well-guarded. Diu enabled the Portuguese to extend dominance over trade routes in the Indian Ocean in the 16th century, when the Portuguese Empire was the largest and wealthiest European colonial empire.

We were fortunate to reach during high tide, when the double moat looks most impressive with the surging waters. A bridge leads across the moat to the huge battlements of the fort with bastions along the wall. Walking along the walls, we came to the ramparts lined with canons, showing the displaying of the artillery that defended the fort. Continuing from here, we entered the inner-area of the fort which holds the remains of old Portuguese buildings like the governor's residence, chapels, a reservoir, the old armoury house and powder magazine. The lighthouse is Diu's highest point. Diu Fort has a serene view of the sea and the island fort called Fortim do Mar, better known as Panikotha.

We walked out of the fort and drove to the wedding cake-like St Paul's church, dazzling white in the mid-morning sun. This church dedicated to Our Lady of Immaculate Conception was Built in AD 1601 and completed about a decade later, but much of it was renovated and extended in 1807 in the florid Baroque style. We gazed at the front elevation which bears exquisitely executed decorative motifs on the three-storey façade that is undoubtedly one of the most elaborate churches I have seen. We entered the vast hall to see its intricately-carved wooden altar. The church services much of Diu's Catholic population and was crowded with worshippers and tourists when we visited. We saw school children gathering in the green forecourt of the Jesuit seminary adjoining the church – a grandiose building with arches which is now the Nirmala Mata High School.

We strolled to the St Thomas Church, a lovely stone building with a vaulted hall. This church is now a museum which offers an insight into Diu's past through an exhibition of has sculptures and architectural fragments from Hindu and Jain temples from the early historical period of Diu, and a superb collection of Portuguese period artefacts and images ascribed to European, Goan and local artisans. There are pieces of furniture like a silver-table and a Portuguese chair, gilt statues and polychrome wood images of Catholic Saints.

This part of the Diu has many quaint houses, some of them occupied by Christian families, and nearby Firangiwada, or foreigner's quarter, there are several buildings of the Portuguese period. We wandered around Diu's markets, where also we saw a few attractive façades. In the warm noon, we stopped for an ice-cream at Ram Vijay, also known for its sodas.

Continuing from here towards the western wall enclosing Diu, we came to streets lined with grand old houses and mansions with broad balconies, galleries, Gothic arches and porticos. Here, we saw the Nagar Sheth Haveli, the most elaborate of these houses with intricate stucco work on a colourful façade, stone lions and ornate balconies.

We drove out of the walls of Diu and headed towards the beaches to the west of the town. A few minutes later, we saw the Church of Our Lady of Assisi, which has steps leading to a portico with arches, ornate facades and a tower, as the interiors have been superbly renovated. Continuing from here, we drove past Fudam Bird Sanctuary, where we saw flocks of flamingos and ibises feeding in the shallows of the marshes. The viewing tower has a superb view of the tidal marshes and mangrove trees along the northern coast of Diu Island. In Fudam, we saw the Church of Our Lady of Remedies, built in 1667, which has an impressive front elevation with towers on top. Fudam has many grand old houses but many original Diveshis and Damankars, and the Parsee and Gujarati mercantile families, left Diu and Daman for foreign shores using their Portuguese passports. The locals told us that many of them are settled in EU countries. They directed us to the Parsi Bungali, the Dakhma or Tower of Silence built by Zoroastrians for excarnation. The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) maintains the Parsi monuments in Diu, which are visited by the diaspora of Diu Parsis settled elsewhere when they visit Fudam.

We took a room at the Kohinoor Hotel of Fudam, which has a distinctively Portuguese architectural style. After lunch and rest, we drove to the crescent-shaped Nagoa Beach where scores of foreigners and Indians were enjoying the sands, the sea and water-sports facilities.

OTHER ATTRACTIONS

- Gangeshwar Temple is best known for its subterranean cave like shrine with Shivalingams facing the sea.

- The sandy beach of Jilander or Jalandar offers a view of the glorious sunset on the Arabian Sea.

- INS Khukri is a memorial to a British Type 14 frigate of the Indian Navy that was sunk off the coast of Diu during the 1971 Indo-Pak War. The mounds here are topped by a model of the ship cased in glass at the top of the memorial.

- Chakratirth is a large and attractive beach with lovely sand and small dunes. This beach offers a delightful view of the sunrise to its east and sunset to its west.

- Malala is one of the greenest areas of Diu, inhabited by leopards and the Nilgai antelope. It has an auditorium and a solar power plant near the Parsee well.

- Vanakbara is a picturesque fishing village and a centre for boat building.

- Gomtimata Temple near Vanakbara village is located facing a virgin beach, little known to tourists.

- On the mainland, the Ghogla beach is one of the finest beaches of Diu, with lovely sands and a good view over the creek to the monuments of Diu. It is connected to Ahmedpur Mandvi Beach in Gujarat.

- Simbor is a tiny enclave of Diu surrounded by Gujarat. Historically, it was connected to the rest of the Portuguese enclave by sea. The Fort St. Anthony of Simbor can be seen from the beautiful beach here.

Anil Mulchandani

Anil Mulchandani

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