Daman is a small town on the west coast of India – sandwiched between Maharashtra and Gujarat. But still managing to hold a niche identity for itself. Some of this identity is rooted in its past as it was a Portuguese colony along with Goa. You might remember the union territory of Goa, Daman & Diu from your school textbooks. A contemporary identity of Daman is a small island where you can drink your heart out – in the neighborhood of dry state of Gujarat. In fact, this is a big reason for the Gujaratis to visit Daman, especially over weekends and holidays.
Daman is situated on both the banks of Daman Ganga River that merge here with the Arabian sea. Another way to look at it is that Daman is divided into two parts by Daman Ganga river. Moti Daman on its South bank and Nani Daman on its North Bank. Moti means big and Nani means Small in Gujarati – a language that is largely spoken in Daman. The irony is that Moti Daman is the smaller of the two Damans but the one with older parts of it. Moti Daman offers more for the history seeker while Nani Daman is for the business traveler and thrill seekers in general.
Places to visit in Daman
I began my exploration with Nani Daman as that is where I was staying with The Deltin, Daman.
We started by visiting the Daman Ganga Estuary where on one side stands Saint Jerome Fort and on the other side Moti Daman Fort.
The tide was low so the boats seemed to be parked on the sand. But I was told every evening these part witnesses the high tide and boats start floating. Across the waters, we could see the black and white watch tower standing like a lone ranger keeping an eye on the sea.
Fort of Saint Jerome
A tired looking fort stands on the north bank of Daman Ganga River. Its entrance has carvings on it with a cross on the top. I do not understand these icons or stories behind them. But the inscriptions in Portuguese safely place this fort to the days when Daman was a Portuguese colony. Statue of St Jerome stands on top of the entrance arch. History books tell us that this fort was built about four centuries ago. To keep an eye on the maritime activity in the Arabian sea.
As soon as you enter the fort you see an open ground with the church in one corner, surrounded by the thick wall that wears an even thicker veneer of age. I chose to climb a staircase leading to the upper story that looked pretty much a rooftop from the ground floor. However, I was not disappointed by what I saw. There was a thick wall going around the ground. Wide enough for few people to walk side by side and keep an eye on the area surrounding the fort. There was small random construction and I could not find any documentation of what these could be.
Portuguese War Cemetary
As I climbed up, on the left was a reasonably well-maintained cemetery with a small church like room. A flowering Gulmohar tree gently showered flowers on the graves. I would later learn that this is a Portuguese war cemetery.
At one corner of the fort, I could see the rooms built around a small courtyard, but everything was locked, so you can just peep in and take guesses. My guess is that this may be the living quarters of the fort. I walked around the fort and came face to face with a platform on which stood a worn out wooden flag post. I assume this must have been used to keep the flag flying high.
Towards the sea, there is an ice factory belonging to the fisheries department but what intrigued me was the forsaken wooden boats lying all over the streets These are out of service boats and they have lots of stories to tell if only we can listen to them.
Today, Fort of Saint Jerome is visited more for the church of our lady of the Sea.
Samudra Narayan Temple
On the edge of the platform embanking the river, stands a small but colorful temple dedicated to Samudra Narayan or the Varun Dev. He supposed to be the lord of the sea. This is the first time I saw a temple dedicated to him. One would assume there would be many temples dedicated to the Varun Dev or lord of the sea. But I do not recall a single one throughout the bits of the coast that I have traveled.
This one would have also escaped a normal eye, but for its color and its near isolated location on the edge of the land.
On the small patch of sand, temporary stalls made their presence felt with fluttering cloths.
As we drove through Nani Daman, I could see many old buildings. Every time I asked about them, I was told – Oh, that is just an old building – nothing to see. Nani Daman being the business heart of Daman has bustling bazaars, with vehicles moving all around. And in the middle stands a clock tower with three lights.
Both the Daman’s have a beach each to themselves, for Nani Daman, it is Devka beach. Well, if you have seen beaches of Goa, you would hardly call it a beach. Having said that I must admit at low tide this beach reveals its rocky bed. You can walk through the maze and you can choose a rock to sit. Why should you sit – to see the sea receding or approaching the shore?
Somnath Mahadev Mandir
This is a small temple – white in color – looks as simple as a temple can. You have to step inside to see it shining and shimmering. The interiors are all made of glass. I have seen many Jain temples with similar work on their ceilings, but this one is made of glass around. Worth a visit. No photography allowed, though.
If you are a history buff, Moti Daman is where you can spend some time. There is, of course, Jampore beach that I had earlier written about. Cross the Daman Ganga River and on the other side, Moti Daman fort dominates. This fort is still a living fort and most of its buildings function as some or the other government office. This also means that they are out of bounds for a general tourist. You can admire them from outside and move on.
The most visible part of the fort here is its massive wall that can be seen from the Daman Ganga River. The most seem part thought it its gate that is still used to go in and out of the fort periphery.
Churches of Moti Daman
There are many Portuguese era churches here, their small size indicates that they are as they were originally made for a small population. 3 churches that I visited include:
Church of Bom Jesus
The Church of Bom Jesus reminded me of the church by the same name in Goa. This one though is much smaller, much quainter and more peaceful. Carved stone gateway stands out on the backdrop of a white wall that tries to touch the sky with its triangular tip.
Inside of the church is also simple but for the profusely wood carved balconies. With faded but still bright blue and red color, these carvings tell you a lot about the wood carvers of those days and of course about their patrons. If you visit this church, do walk to the side of this church to admire another stone door, that looks just lovely through the veil of fragile branches of trees around it.
Chapel of Our Lady of Rosary
This simple looking chapel is just across the garden from Church of Bom Jesus. When I visited this chapel was closed so I could just see it from outside. A board here claims that the chapel has very ornate interiors.
Convent of Dominican
You have to go through some narrow lanes to reach these beautiful ruins – yes, they are very beautiful. Standing in an obscure corner, with hardly anyone coming to visit them they seem to be enjoying their solitude.
In its hay days, these ruins were a Dominican monastery where catholic scholars came from all over the world. No one knows why and how it declined and why it was let to fall while most other churches in the vicinity are well maintained. My driver cum guide told me that last activity he heard here was the photo shoot of Kingfisher calendar. Must admire the location hunters of Mr. Mallya.
Church of Our Lady of Remedies
This is again a church that dates back to 1607 CE and has simple white exteriors with blue borders but an ornate altar.
Between the Church of Bom Jesus and Chapel of Our Lady of Rosary is a white building with many small windows, all of which are sealed. I asked around a bit and figured out that this was the Daman Jail. No wonder the windows are all closed. No clue if the building is still in use.
A small memorial in white and golden remembers 19th Dec 1961, when Daman along with Goa & Diu was liberated from the 400+ years of Portuguese rule and merged with the Republic of India. It read ‘ Daman was liberated by 1st Bn The Maratha Light Infantry on 19th Dec 1961 after a heroic fight thus ending the 450 years old Portuguese regime.
This is a tourist created ‘myth’ of Daman. The room that you see next to the fort gate is called Bocage house – there is a plaque on top that confirms this. However, if you look inside, it looks like a storehouse where some building material is stored.
From its position, it could have been the place where fort guards stayed or maybe a home. No one in Daman knows why this house is what all foreign tourists come looking for. No one knows, in fact not even Google at the time of writing. I assume it must be someone mentioning it in a popular guidebook that would be sending many tourists.
The Pergola garden stands opposite the Liberation memorial and quite close to the gate of Daman fort. It is a small garden with a circular seating and a rock structure in the middle. It was a rock memorial for the Portuguese soldiers but after liberation, it has been converted into a garden. You can still see some memorial plaques in Portuguese on the rocks dating pre-liberation.
You can see all these places in a day, but make it one night and two days to perfectly enjoy the place.
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