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Mark Moxon's Travel Writing

India: Diu

The Arabian Sea battering the old fortress at Diu
The Arabian Sea battering Diu Fort

Diu feels like a frontier town; given both its distant and recent history, this is perhaps not surprising. Stuck out on a limb at the southernmost tip of Gujarat, the island of Diu was one of the few Portuguese colonies in India (the others being Goa and Daman). Between the 14th and 16th centuries Diu was an important trading post for the Ottoman Turks, but in 1535 the Portuguese took control on their second attempt, building a huge fort and settling in for a long old occupation. They finally left in 1961 as a result of Operation Vijay1, in which attacks were launched by air and land on the Portuguese territories of Goa, Diu, Daman and the Anjidiv Islands. The operation was a success, and all four territories, including Diu, soon joined the Indian Union.

A stone carving in Diu Fort
Diu Fort is decorated with wonderful relics of the distant past
Cannons at Diu Fort
Diu's cannons pointing out to sea

Exploring Diu

A carved stone slab with a skull and crossbones on it
You don't need to read Latin to know what the Portuguese were trying to say

I arrived in this outpost of colonialism and clandestine consumption during the most god-awful storm I'd encountered in India2. The rain drove into the bus, pouring through windows without glass and leaking through rivets in the bus roof, and even my umbrella proved scant protection inside the rattle-trap. Chai shops were flooded out, the whole state suffered from a power cut, and when I arrived in Diu late in the evening I couldn't see a thing. I wondered what on earth I'd stumbled into.

A carving of a man's grimacing face
Immortalised in stone, is this an early sufferer of Delhi belly?
Camels on Nagoa Beach, Diu
Camels relaxing on Nagoa Beach

Diu's Churches

A carved stone slab covered in Latin
Strange snippets of Latin litter the old fortress at Diu

The cliffs are also home to a number of large caves dug into the ground; they're the remains of mines where the Portuguese cut out blocks of limestone with which to build their edifices. The fortress is just one of the colonial constructions on the island, most of the others being (of course) imposing houses of God. Three huge churches tower over the town's skyline, but only one of them is still used as a place of worship, and that sparingly. Once again, it smacks of frontier colonialism.

Church marriage Rs50
Church baptism Rs20
Blessing of a new house Rs50
Blessing of a foundation stone, small chapels or crosses, vehicles, wells, nets, stakes Rs20
Blessing of fields, new plants, corn, invocation against noxious animals etc. Rs10
Pealing of bells (each) Re1
Assistance at funeral service Rs20
Any religious service at the grave Rs5
Fudham Church
Fudham Church

And tucked away at the end was this particularly Christian attitude, 'The poor will always be exempted partially or fully from the stipulated offerings/fees.'

School benches and a blackboard at St Paul's
Inside the school at St Paul's

A cyclone in Palitana
The cyclone battering Palitana just before I set off for Diu

1 For an excellent description of how Operation Vijay played out in Diu, check out Operations at Diu: The One Day War by Group Captain Kapil Bhargava (Retd), which is based on the personal recollections of Group Captain Micky Blake VrC (Retd), with input from Air Marshal Mally Wollen PVSM VM (Retd). It's a very interesting read.

2 I was to discover later that a cyclone had been approaching Gujarat from the south in the Arabian Sea for two or three days, and had decided to hit the mainland on the day I was travelling to Diu. It smashed the west coast of Gujarat, causing severe damage to roads, power lines, water supplies and life expectancy; in total over 1500 people would die, not as much as the official heat wave death toll of 2383, but still sizable. The cyclone would also cancel my plans to visit western Gujarat, the worst-hit area, which is fairly out of the way and challenging to travel even without the after-effects of screaming winds and flooding. It was a blessing that I was ignorant of the weather conditions when I left Palitana, or I might have not bothered with Diu at all.

3 This is quite unlike the inhabitants. Tourists and locals alike, everyone in Diu when I was there was fat. Beer bellies pushed shirt buttons to physical limits, sweat broke out quickly on even the most inactive brow, and fat middle-class drinkers ploughed through bottles of whisky, wine and beer at a rate that only the obese or the dedicated can manage. People don't come to Diu to get fat; they come here to get fatter.

4 'No leak, no leak,' said the man as I pointed out that my bike had a flat rear tyre. He pumped it full of air and promised me that it would be fine, which I didn't believe for one second. Nine kilometres away from Diu town and my teeth were rattling in my head as all the air shot out of my back tyre. My buttocks weren't designed to have a loosely padded razor blade inserted between the cheeks and shaken around for an hour, and they hurt. Still, what can you expect from an Indian bicycle?