17TH May 2003
TRAVELS WITH MY CAMERA /ANU MALHOTRA
DELIGHTFUL DIP IN SERENE DIU
The coal man dunks a shovel full of coal into the fire. The steam engine whistles in delight chugging away over a bridge. I climb, tentatively, on top of the bogie. Thick stream blows across my face and I almost fall off. “Okay”, I tell the cameraman, “this makes a great shot!”
After these filmi
heroics, we go back to the dinning car for hot breakfast. Scrambled eggs and bacon taste great now. The white-gloved butler tells me, “We arrive in Delwada in an hour, madam.” Good, just enough time to have a hot shower and to enjoy my luxurious room for a bit.
Sharad, the presenter gets off the Royal Orient and says to the camera, “I’ve seen forts, palaces, quaint cities, jungles and scenic countryside. The journey in this Royal train has been an amazing experience!” A half-hour drive from Delwada takes us to the island of Diu, set a little off the southern tip of Gujarat. Diu, less than 12km and long and just three km wide, was under Portuguese control, until 30 years ago, but earlier in history (14th
centuries), it was an important trading port, from which the Ottoman Turks controlled the shipping routes in the northern part of the Arabian Sea.
The fabulous view of the sea and the pristine beach from the window of my hotel room beckon me urgently. “Let’s film the water-sports,” I tell my cameraman, and ask Sharad to take off in a water scooter. Of course, I can’t be left behind. Soon, with a colourful parasail strapped on my back, I soar off into blue skies. The bird-eye view of Diu reveals clusters of whitewashed homes and churches set amidst the greenery, an estuary filled with assorted boats and miles of unspoiled shoreline.
I decide to explore Diu’s maze of alleys, lined with distinctive Portuguese buildings and churches, on a cycle. The Portuguese had tried several times to take the island in the 16th
century. In 1535, Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat finally agreed to sign a peace accord, but was deceitfully murdered, instead. The Portuguese took control of Diu and immediately built the fort and a strong wall as fortification.
Diu’s serene fort stands robust, resisting the battering of the sea on three sides and sheltering birds, jackals and the town jail. Its wide moat and coastal position enabled it to withhold attack by land and sea, but the Indian government’s air strikes in 1961, finally forced the Portuguese out. I walk around the rampart littered with centuries old cannonballs and muse over history and the stunning views of the sea and city.
The city has a laid back feel, a little like Goa. Locals have a carefree attitude and easy smiles. Small cafés line the promenade and as I sit in one, Christopher, the owner tells me, “Very few people speak Portuguese and most of us depend on fishing and tourism. Tourists like it here, because it is so relaxed here, and also there are no alcohol restrictions.” Christopher belongs to one of the few Christian families left in Diu and takes us to a Portuguese mass at St. Paul’s Church. The small, but heartfelt service, beneath high ceilings and painted arch feels poignant. Nearby, is the St. Thomas Church, which houses the Diu Museum and its collection of Catholic statues.
We have to film at Nagoa Beach, and decide to ride there, on mopeds. The island’s main road runs past rocky cliffs that give way to mud flats, sheltering flocks of water birds, including flamingos that stop to feed in early spring. I am driving my cameraman, who faces the back, while filming Sharad, who is also on a moped behind us. This is a complicated exercise, especially as my attention is at the back. Suddenly, a truck comes careering towards us. I lose control and drive off the road into a huge, slushy ditch. Thankfully, the camera is safe and the presenter laughs his head off as he pulls me out, squelching and dripping mud!
Nagoa is a tranquil, palm-fringed beach near Diu, ideal for a chilled out day. A few foreigners laze around, sun-bathing, and I see a couple of sailboats out in the bay. I dive into the sparkling sea for my much-needed swim, and revel in the warm water. After a quick beach picnic, we head off to the tiny fishing village at Vanakbara in the very west of the island.
The sea is a flaming orange in the setting sun and the tide brings in fishermen in wooden boats with fluttering colourful flags. Women lay the silvery catch out on rugs to sell in the market, and sing a love song for us. As the haunting melody washes over me, I see the fiery orb slip into molten waters and on the other side, a full moon rises over silvery sands.
TRAVEL TIPS YOU CAN’T DO WITHOUT
- The Royal Orient of Gujarat Tourism offers luxury tours of Rajasthan and Gujarat. The route has recently been altered. For further information, contact: Gujarat Tourism (Delhi) Tel: 23744015
- Diu is accessible by train from Delwada and by bus from various towns in Gujarat. Hotel accommodations available to suit various budgets.
- The best time to visit is between October and April. For information on Diu, contact:
Daman and Diu Tourism, F-308, Curzon Road Hotel, KG Marg.