Thursday, January 3, 2013


I reached Diu on 31st Dec morning at 10 and headed straight to the hotel I had booked via But when I reached the hotel, Vinayak Guest House, the owner denied me the room. He told me that all rooms were booked for New Year. I told him I had booked a good 20 days in advance, but he just would not listen. So I called makemytrip and told them the situation. After a few rounds of phone calls from me to the company and the company to the hotel, I was finally given a hotel room in a better hotel named Alishan. I must mention that makemytrip did a good job there.

As the ride to Diu had been quite a boneshaker, I took a nap before going out and discovering the city. The autofellow who took me from the bus stand to the hotels showed me a ratecard for a trip all around the main tourist attractions of Diu for Rs. 350. It sounded like a good deal, so I got onto his Auto. Our first stop was Diu fort. A sturdy 16th century Portuguese fort by the sea. It consists of three bastions overlooking the sea with bronze cannons. The fort had a couple of well laid out gardens and a light house at one end. But one of the best spectacles form the fort was a sea turtle that rose from the sea for a second and went back in. The second best spectacle was a structure in the middle of water, known as the Pani Kotha.

After spending a good amount of time at the Fort, the autofellow, Anand took me to the next destination, the church of St. Paul. A big imposing white European structure. It was good to see a Gothic structure unlike many others from that era, well maintained. Once out of the church, Anand took me to Chakratirth beach. We then got chatting and as we were out of the church, religion was a starting point. He said he was a muslim and people were surprised that he was a muslim after hearing his name. He then told me that the muslims in Diu were different from those in Ahmedabad and Mumbai. On asking him to clarify if it was a difference in faith or custom, he told me they had a different way of celebrating their festivals.

He told me that on Eid, they prepared large quantities of food and everyone gathered together. That did not seem one bit different to me. But then came the big difference, a bit of a shock in fact. Once the food is ready, everyone starts popping beer bottles, he said. I had a long laugh as Anand added that muslims elsewhere get shocked on learning about the custom. They call it 'najayaz'. Anand also told me that in Diu it's hard to say what faith a person belonged to. Hindus, muslims and christians lived next to each other, unlike say Ahmedabad where there is a clear demarcation of the muslim side of the town.

Anand's autorickshaw was also covered by stoles with Portugal written on them. He had put them up during the Euro cup 2012 in support of the nation that once ruled the island. He told that people in Diu could go to Portugal and live there, but the economy was low. To put it in his words, there were no jobs there, as everything was made in China. He pointed to the stoles and said, these stoles say Portugal but they are also made in China, so obviously all the jobs will also go to China. Pretty impressive statement, I must say.

By the end of the conversation, we were by a hillock. I climbed a few steps to see a round flat surface overlooking the sea. The area is known as the sunset point for obvious reasons. In addition, there is a memorial erected there for INS Khukri with a long list of sailors who had sacrificed their life while the naval vessel sank during the Indo-Pak war of 1971. On one side of the hillock was a small stretch, known as the Chakrateerth beach. It is one of the less crowded beaches.

From Chakrateerth, Anand next took me to the Gangaoshree temple, a cave temple by the sea. Anand told me that 5 shivlings were discovered there washed by the tidal waves. The temple had an interesting structure to it. It was located by the sea. You had to walk a few steps down to reach the shrine where the idols are partly submerged in the sea.

Our next stop was the Nagoa beach, one of Diu's most famous beaches, via a seashell museum. The museum was started by a retired naval officer with sea shells brought from all over the world. It also had interesting aquatic species in formaldehyde solutions. They were kept in jars and on the lid of the jar was a huge lens so one could see the marine beings in detail. Photography was not allowed inside, but the museum sure has some interesting specimen on display.

Next was the Nagoa beach. It was filled with people. Anand told me that 'Gujjus' from all over the state come during holidays. The beaches and cheap alcohol, or for that matter, alcohol are a big draw for people from the dry state. The beach is quite big, very crowded though. There's also a lot of water sports one can enjoy at the beach. Watersports did not seem so appealing as I was alone so I've saved it for another time.

From the beach, I went to this small resort called Hoka resort. Hoka, another interesting and unique Diu feature is a palm that branches out from one main trunk, like mythological monsters with many heads. It bears a fruit known by the same name. Hoka was brought to the island from Africa by the Portuguese. In India, the tree is only found in Diu and the neighbouring Kathiawad region of Gujarat. I bought a couple of hokas from the Nagoa beach and I still have no idea how to eat them. They are hard as wood. I was probably sold bad ones, but then, Anand told me that they never go bad. So i can try different ways to have the Hokas. 

Back to the resort, my friend, Shraddha told me about it. She told me the interiors are well done and that the place serves good food. And she was right to the t. Resort is too big a word for the quaint little place. With a very European look to it and the shade of trees, the small hotel made for a relaxing atmosphere. The food too was praiseworthy. I had grilled fish with rice for Rs. 350. Even though it was not very filling, it did justice to the price. Highly recommended.

Being 31st Dec, I asked them if the place would be open at night. The waiter told me that there would be a small bonfire and music. And so at night, I made my way back to the resort. With some good food, I welcomed the new year, chatting with random tourists at the quaint place. I was glad I had chosen the place for New Year, because the rest of the town was bustling with Himesh Reshammiya and people drinking and driving all over the city painting the town red.

The next morning, I caught my train back from Veraval, the nearest station to Diu which was actually farther than I thought. It took a good 4 hours by a share auto to the neighbouring town of Una and a bus to Veraval.

All in all, it was fun discovering the town of Diu. The town though very similar to Goa and Pondicherry has its own charm. It's not a great party place and is frequented more by Indian tourists. But then, there's sun, sand and many interesting monuments, besides of course cheaper alcohol, which to be honest, is not all that cheap too. Would highly recommend the place also as it has many things unique to it, Hoka to begin with. There's also a good bird sanctuary which i could not visit for lack of time, but I did see pelicans and flamingoes on my way.

Kutch Part 2

After an year of visiting kutch and returning without seeing the Rann, I decided to go again. So I booked my tickets on a weekend closest to a full moon day for me and a friend Prasad. We left Mumbai by friday night's Bhuj Express and reached Bhuj 3 hours ahead of scheduled time, at 4PM. We were clueless about how to reach Dhordo, the entrance to the Rann or about our accomodation there. We were all ready to try our luck.

So once we stepped out of the railway station, we enquired with autorickshaws and jeeps about how to reach Dhordo. They told us we could hire a car from the bus stop which was 3 kms away from the Railway station. But just as we were heading to catch an autorickshaw for the bus stop, we thought of trying our luck with a bus right outside the railway station. We asked the conductor if the bus goes to Dhordo. He in return asked us if we had a booking. When we said no, he asked us to stand at the turning ahead of us and to hop on to the bus from there.

So we both were on a bus that was actually part of a package tour. But instead of sitting with the passengers, we sat along with the driver and conductor. We would plan the rest of the trip en route Dhordo. The driver and conductor told us that all the tents in Dhordo had been booked. They were booked to an extent that tents meant for drivers and conductors were also full and that they had to sleep in the bus. We asked them if they could accomodate us too in the bus. They were more than happy. As the group from Mumbai, which we toured with, was already 3 hours late, we would be taken to the Rann straight away, after which everyone would be taken to their tents at Dhordo.

Being part of a government package,  the bus did not have to stop at the Bhendiari checkpost before turning to Dhordo. There where there was a long queue waiting for their pass to the Rann. As the area is sensitive, one is supposed to get a pass from the checkpost on showing identity proof and paying a nominal fee of Rs. 100 or so

The bus reached the white Rann at 630. We had half an hour to see the Rann before we left to Dhordo. As we drove into the open white space, we saw the sun set behind us. The sun was long gone when we entered the Rann but it was still bright. The play of colours that adorn the western side of the sky as the sun sets, was spread all the way to the east. The vast white expanse that lay before us was surreal. It was not plain white, it was a mix of white and brown. At most places, it was just a layer of salt on brown sand.

The vast expanse of nothingness was not completely flat. There were cracks, crevices and tiny shrubs intermittently on the ground. The only animals in the Kutch are Wild Asses and birds, but none were in sight. The white expanse resembled the surface of planets we see in pictures. It was like another planet. The sky appeared like a dome.

It was very windy. Me and Prasad had plans of staying back on the Rann at night. But we could not because the area is a sensitive area, it leads to the Indo-Pak border. Even though that is a good 170 kms away, there were Border Security Forces deployed there with security infra red cameras. Another factor that deterred us was the wind and cold.

We slowly saw it get dark and a couple of stars had come out. The moon we had been waiting for and planned the trip for, still did not show up. But nonetheless the white sands had a silver shine to it. It probably reflected lights from buses around, or any other light in the vicinity.

Our next stop was Dhordo, a village put up by Gujarat Tourism for tourism. Once we reached there, we saw the moon come out. Bad luck, but still no complaints. Our driver at Dhordo told us that the entire Rann festival was started by the tourism department of the state and suddenly saw an influx of tourists to the white deserts in the past 3 years. Earlier hardly anyone knew about the place. At Dhordo, an entire village resort had been spread out with an area for performing artists, special areas for indoor games, volleyball court, tribike tracks, stalls for shopping and tents for guests.

Once at Dhordo, we sat and ate food with the bus drivers and conductors. They were the jolliest bunch of people I have ever come across. I'm sure Prasad would agree. They might not have the best sense of humour, but they had an incredible attitude towards life. They were happy with whatever they had and it was all about sharing and being happy, for them. Once we were done with our dinner, they gave us their Rann Festival Staff Cards so we could go around the area.

We saw a couple of Kutchi song and dance performances and spent the rest of the time walking around the entire resort. The tents were very elegantly done and lit. The tents opened up to a vast empty space. Me and Prasad walked out and spent a good time in the cold desert sand talking, till the cold had the better of us. At night, we retired to the bus where everyone was watching Dabangg part 2. We reached there towards the last 10 minutes. And then everyone went to crash in their respective buses.

We were told the next day we would go to the Indo-Pak border as early as 730. And after that, we could head to Bhuj from where we would plan our way back, most probably via Ahmedabad. So we retired for the day as early as 1030. We stretched across the bus from one window to the other and slept a good sleep.  Only to wake up time and again to add another layer of clothing or bedsheet as it got colder with time.

We were up by 6. We walked around the Dhordo resort in anticipation, waiting for the rest to join us. But to no avail. They did not show up till 1030 or probably even after that. We spent the 4 hours whiling time around the resort, setting up a bonfire with the drivers and indulging in small talk with people everywhere. We were then seated in a bus till the Bhendiari checkpost from where we would catch a bus till Bhuj. We gave the driver and conductor who showed us around the Rann and who let us sleep in his bus a thousand rupees, which he reluctantly accepted. It seemed as if they would've been fine with it if we even did not pay them. But that was the least we could do for the priceless experience and amazing time they gave us.

We reached the railway station at 12:27 and were right on time for the 12:30 train via Ahmedabad. From there, Prasad headed back to Mumbai while I caught a bus to Diu.