Damsel in Daman

Having been to Daman three times and under completely different circumstances has allowed me to experience it in its many moods.

The cute little Union Territory of Daman sits cozily on the shores of the Arabian Sea between its titanic neighbours Maharashtra and Gujarat. It offers way more than cheap booze that keeps tourists from non alcoholic Gujarat flocking around the year. Though Daman and Diu are spoken in the same breath as if they are twin cities, Diu is in fact very far away from Daman. In this travelogue I will play with different shades of Daman and also give you tips on how you can travel on your own using public transport or your own car and suggest hotels across the spectrum. Besides, I will also reccomend interesting places you can visit as day trips from Daman.

The first time I visited Daman was in monsoon of 2007 when my friend Bhargavi and I made an impromptu plan late at night to escape from Mumbai. We took a late night and interestingly a double decker train bound for Ahemdabad and got off at Vapi station three and a half hours later. A 15 minute auto rickshaw ride from Vapi station brought us to our hotel in Daman around 1am at night. Despite our impulsiveness, fortunately I had called up Hotel Diamond near the taxi stand to expect our majesties at night. It was a decent sized room with clean sheets and loos and conveniently located in the heart of Nani Daman, so as youngsters with shallow pockets, this budget hotel really worked for us. We woke up late next morning, having pretty much passed out in the night and set out to explore the place.

Daman, we figured was divided into two parts; Nani and Moti Daman. I must confess that for sometime I did wonder as to what was the mystery behind naming something as Nani or grandmother (in Hind)  and Moti or fat (in Hindi) , till someone cleared my confusion and told me that Nani is Gujarati for small and Moti is big. Nani Daman is where you will find the hotels, restaurants, markets etc and Moti Daman houses the historical monuments and administrative buildings.

At the time of my first visit we had to cross over from Nani to Moti Daman in a small local boat. Now, there is a bridge connecting both sides on which vehicles can pass.

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Boats docked on the jetty

Historically, Daman or Damao was a Portuguese enclave for four centuries and a half till the close of the colonial rule in 1961. The first Portuguese Captain Diogo de Mello, while on his way to Ormuz, met with a violent cyclone and when all hopes were lost, suddenly found himself at the Daman coast. Daman was the battleground to oust the Portuguese and had witnessed many wars waged against the alien powers. It had been a melting pot where races and cultures met and mixed to bring forth a multi coloured identity. This paradise of peace, solitude and contentment with its coastline about 12.5 km along the Arabian sea (the Gulf of Khambhat) was once known as Kalana Pavri or Lotus of Marshlands.

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A tablet proclaiming victory over the Portuguese regime

My first trip was more about breaking free and de stressing in the rich, bursting greenery that sprung as moss from walls of forts and in the wind lashed trees. So, I didn’t much bother with the history part. I remember that as dare devils, we actually walked the narrow, slippery ramparts of the fort at Nani Daman, several dangerous feet above the ground. The only morbid consolation we had was of a graveyard below that assured us that even if we fell, we would at least have a grave.

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View of the cemetery from the top of the fort at Nani Daman.

Fortunately, since there were no casualties we decided to trip it to the Union Territory of Silvassa the next day (30 kms away). I have vivid memories of boating in the tranquil Ban Ganga Lake while the rains poured down on us. We were drenched, but the bliss was beyond compare. We ran out of time as we had to get to Vapi station for our train back (18 kms away), but other places worth checking out are the Silvassa museum, the Roman Catholic church, Mahuban dam, Dadra park, Dudhani water sports complex, Vrindavan and Balaji temple.

The second time I visited Daman was a year later as part of a research trip on the history of Parsi immigration into India. This time I journeyed by car as I had to visit the fishing villages of Sanjan and Nargol enroute, which are now sleepy villages but was once upon a time significant to the Parsis as they escaped here with their holy fire or the Iranshah. We further went on to visit Udwada, where the holy fire is currently housed in the Iranshah Atash Behram.

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Entrance to the Iranshah Atash Behram. Note: Non Parsis not allowed inside.

Udwada is a must visit for lovers of all things Parsi… arty old houses, delicious ‘bhonu’ (a traditional Parsi meal) consisting of mutton pulao daal, chicken salli boti, ‘boi’ fish and the classic finishing touch Raspberry soda. Udwada is very easily doable as a day trip from Daman (15 kms apart) and regular buses are available between both places if you plan to use public transport.

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The delicious spread at Ashishvang Hotel, Udwada.

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A colourful old Parsi house at Udwada.

On this trip, I visited the Jampore beach at Moti Daman which I thought was way cleaner than the Devka beach at Nani Daman. One can go horse riding on the beach or simply sit sipping on tender coconut water, watching the day go by. I also visited the Mirasol Water Park in Nani Daman. If you are travelling with your kids or have the inner child in you screaming for adrenaline, you could try out a range of water sports at this massive resort.

My third and hopefully not my last trip was with my husband on our anniversary in January 2013. This time I had a great time checking out the forts and old churches in greater detail, binging on great seafood and shopping.

Here is a quick list of places that we visited :

1. Fort of St.Jerome. The small fort with a giant gateway facing the river with a large statue of St.Jerome and two giant human figures, on either side of the gateway encloses an area of 12250 sq.m. The fort encloses a church Our Lady of the Sea (now used as a school) and a cemetery. The view of the small fishing fleet which anchors alongside from the fort is interesting.

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Front entrance of the Fort of St.Jerome

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Plane flying over the Fort of St.Jerome that I captured in the nick of time.

2. The lighthouse : One view that stands clear and is almost permanently etched in the memory of almost all tourists to Daman is the towering presence of the Light House and the magnificent view it provides if one is standing during sunset at the Daman Ganga River Bridge.

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View of the lighthouse from the fort of St.Jerome

3. The living Fort of Moti Daman houses all administrative buildings and churches. Soon after the conquest of Daman in 1559 AD, construction of this massive fort started and lasted till the end of 16th century AD. It encompasses about 30,000 sq. m. with ten bastions and two gateways – southern (land) gate and the northern (sea) gate. The fort is protected by a moat on the land side and also connects the river to the sea. The main street inside the fort runs north – south and all along the inner wall there are barracks of defense personnel.

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One of the entrances to the fort of Moti Daman.

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Traffic being manned at the living fort of Moti Daman. Photo courtesy : Aadil Desai

4. The famous Church of Bom Jesus. Started in 1559 but consecrated in 1603, the church of Bom Jesus was a Parish church in the early days of the Portuguese rule. The monument is a living tribute to the craftsmanship of Portuguese artisans in ornate and intricate design.

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Front facade of the Church of Bom Jesus

The main feature of the church is its painted and gilt wooden altar and pulpit. The richly carved main south door with the elevated facade, lofty ceiling, embellished with the statues of six saints are aesthetic and pleasing.

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The altar at the Church of Bom Jesus

5. Chapel of our Lady of Rosary. Against the fort wall is the Chapel of Our Lady of Rosary with guilded wooden panels illustrating stories from the lives of the blessed saints. The ceiling features charming carved golden cherubs. The statue of Mary of Rosary was placed on the altar in thanksgiving by the Portuguese commander for rescue from a Maratha attack by Shivaji.

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The altar of the Chapel of our Lady of Rosary.

6. The Church of Our Lady of Angustias built on the grave of Agostinho Xavier de Silva Vidigal is also a piece of master craft built by Portuguese artists.

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Front facade of The Church of Our Lady of Angustias.

Taking a break from monument hopping, we checked out Daman’s restaurant scene. Food lovers must try out the Dara fish, a local fish cooked in different preparations ranging from Goan curry to Fish biryani. Every second shop and restaurant on the arterial road of Nani Daman near the taxi stand is alcohol heaven. So whether you wish to take a sophisticated sip of wine or pop the champagne, this is the place. Well known restaurants are at Hotel Brighton, Hotel Miramar, Daman Delite, Nana’s restaurant, Tawakkal etc. A plethora of multi cuisine food is available and vegetarian food is no issue.

Walking the roads of Daman is sheer delight if you have an eye for history and quaint old buildings. Here are photos of some lovely old houses :-

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We accidentally happened to discover Hotel Marina, a quaint old Portuguese mansion converted into a tastefully restored hotel by a Parsi gentleman. So, if you are looking to stay in a place oozing with character, at a reasonable budget and in the thick of things, this is where you should stay. Check out their website http://www.damanbeachresorts.com/hotelmarina/index.php

Daman is shopper’s paradise with a lot of imported goods from Middle East and South East Asia lining the shelves of the foreign goods market opposite the taxi stand at Nani Daman. From chocolates to shoes and bags to perfumes, there is plenty on offer.

Weekends and public holidays are best avoided unless watching tons of people from Gujarat guzzling beer is part of the experience you are looking for.

Daman is the perfect destination for the discerning traveller and is absolutely safe for a woman traveller looking to take a quick break from Mumbai.

Caution: The stunts I tried on the fort wall in monsoon is not reccomended without professional supervision. If you find yourself in the grave, remember you were warned.

Daman in a Nutshell :

  • Getting there by public transport : 3.5 hrs train ride from Mumbai to Vapi. From there take an auto rickshaw to Daman (approx cost Rs.100/-)
  • Getting around: It is best to walk in Moti Daman as almost everything is inside the fort. Auto rickshaws are easily available to take you from Nani to Moti Daman or to Devka beach.
  • Stay : Unless sea view is an absolute must, staying near the market area of Nani Daman is reccomended for greater accessibility and more restaurant options.
  1. Budget – Hotel Marina
  2. Mid Range – Hotel Gurukripa, Hotel Brighton, Hotel President
  3. High Range – Cidade de Daman or one of the many resorts at Devka beach.
  • Restaurants: Well known restaurants are at Hotel Brighton, Hotel Miramar, Daman Delite, Nana’s restaurant, Tawakkal etc. Try out Daman’s local delicacy the Dara fish.
  • Day trips: Silvassa, Udwada

If Daman sounds like your kind of place and you need help organising a trip there, please fill in this form below :

 

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4 thoughts on “Damsel in Daman

  1. We plan to visit Daman in the end of November this year. I enjoyed reading the resourceful information that has been so meticulously compiled by you. Hope we benefit out of it.

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