Dom Jeronimo de Azevedo had stood there, four hundred years ago, where now we stood lacquered with sweat.
Daman and Diu was a former Portuguese colony which attained independence in the year 1961, fourteen years later than the rest of India; and contrary to popular belief, Daman and Diu aren’t twin towns, they’re fifteen hours apart. What cuts them apart is the overwhelming Arabian sea, or the Gulf of Cambay, to be precise.
It had been an old plan soiled by an act of God which led us to visit the place again: out of love and out of haste. I took out the old battered hand-drawn map again and set out again to explore what a flood had forbidden me to. I had the company of a round rotund guy who when placed alongside me, made us look like Baloo and Mowgli from the Jungle Book (with the exception of a red loincloth).
A six-hour journey from Pune and there we were, but alas, in the dead of the night. The taxis, as any Indian taxi at such an hour would were bent on charging us fabled chests of treasures from the stories of Peter Pan. We waited and brooded on what our further manoeuvres would be, and this went on for a while when we spotted a nice big car halting outside the railway station.
We went on and asked for a favour to drop us near Nani Daman taxi stand, in return for the payment of a more reasonable fare. Ten minutes later, I was seated alongside him and we were zooming through the roads of Daman. The car, we were told, belonged to an M.P. ( and he seemed to be screwing it pretty well on the holes and speed breakers).
All we were asked of in return for a ride was ‘two gold flakes and a Rajni-gandha tobacco’. He dropped us off and there we were, alone in the streets at night. A Bacardi bat glowed somewhere nearby. We tried seeking out the way to a resort with the aid of Google maps and the wretched application led us into a dog frequented street. I saw this eerily attractive glowing crucifix outside one of the houses.
The houses gave away an air of Portuguese architecture, with neatly propped balconies and balustrades. We, however, had bigger fish to fry.
The next day began with a visit to Udvada, a Parsi Zoroastrian settlement near Daman. It was a ghost town curled up in a comatose state with barely anyone on the streets. The streets were cobblestoned and paired with the architecture, gave the semblance of a European street. The town was yet to awake from its slumber and a bakery was being set up on the street.
And then we witnessed what was best known of the place: the majestic and easy-on-the-eye ‘Iranshah Atash Behram’: the oldest and holiest fire temple in the world, where a fire has been burning for more than a thousand years. Disappointingly enough, only Zoroastrians are allowed inside so I couldn’t let my eyes savour on the insides of the colossal temple.
Roaming the streets of Udvada we came across many comely things. The graffiti was done in an archetypal Parsi style. The Parsi community is a merry and likable one and takes pride in its culture, history, and customs. Scarf-wearing jolly ladies are engaged in little domestic-businesses like bakeries, kitchens and ice cream parlours opened up in balconies of houses. Every house looks like a whole museum in itself. An old lady had a souvenir shop facing the fire temple.
The streets of Udvada are clean as a kitchen and on the sides stand awe-inspiring structures. The Khurshid Villa with vines and creepers blanketing it entirely is a sight to behold. There are a few other ruined bungalows of the ilk. On the left one finds himself face to face with a half man half lion statue in an old and curiously disarrayed garden which once used to be ‘JRM Della Majestic’ hotel but is now reduced to a mere shed. It houses sculptures which are used in the ‘Udvada Utsav’ carnival. Further lie houses and amongst them, the Udvada Museum. The S.J. Sodawaterwala Dharamshala is a prominent landmark and one can rent air-conditioned rooms and enjoy spicy Parsee dishes.
At the end of the street, one can turn left to the shore( a forsaken one, again) to have a look at the Arabian sea.
Quickly we left the place and returned to Daman to have a lunch and catch our bus. We fed ourselves in a pure Veg hotel and were on foot soon. We made our way to Nani Daman jetty. At mornings one can take ferry rides. Nearby stand the fort of St. Jerome and a cemetery overlooking the river Daman Ganga that separates Nani Daman from Moti Daman (Nani means new and Moti means old). St. Jerome’s fort had been built by Dom Jeronimo de Azevedo. It took fifty years and was completed in the time of Dom Francisco da Gama.
Moti Daman is a comparably greener area and most of it is inside the walls of the far sprawled Fort Daman. Outside the Walls of the fort stands the stout old lighthouse.
Walking inside the fort walls under the shade of tall pines and coconut trees we came across lovely and lavish houses, opulent bungalows with lush green gardens. The remains of Dominican monastery is a good place to spend evenings in. A few turns away we found the cathedral of Bom Jesus.
The insides of this magnificent structure leave you spellbound, especially the detailed sculpting and filigree.
We sat in peace for a while and left for our bus. We were yet to scale a boomerang-shaped path across the Arabian Sea.
Pictures: Neelesh Chandra Chandola
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