Silvassa – the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli is how I remember it from my primary school geography books. I knew roughly where it lies on the map of India but no one ever told me anything more about it. It had been on my travel radar for some time now – more for the curiosity I had about it, for not many people go there to travel. Last week, when I spent a day in Silvassa, I discovered a lovely garden city with impeccably maintained gardens. I also learned that Dadra & Nagar Haveli is home to Warli tribe – yes the same tribe whose geometric wall murals we love so much.
Business community loves the union territory of Dadra & Nagar Haveli for the low tax rates here.
History of Silvassa
Silvassa was a small village part of Nagar Haveli. Dadra & Nagar Haveli was handed over to Portuguese by Maratha Peshwas in 1779 as part of a friendship treaty. It was a cluster of 79 villages that paid taxes to Portuguese. In 1885 when the then Portuguese government decided to make Silvassa the capital of Nagar Haveli that it was given the status of a town. It is still a small town with a rough population of about 100,000 people. It was then re-named Vila de Paço d’Arcos after a town in Portugal near Lisbon. However, it is not easy to change names and the old name continued to be used.
The small church located right in the heart of the city dating back to 1897 probably catered to the Catholic community that would have come with Portuguese. This only church in Silvassa is a reminder of the Portuguese days this little town has seen.
You must see the wood panel painting of The Last Supper inside the church.
Portuguese rule at Dadra & Nagar Haveli ended in 1954 and it merged with the Republic of India in 1961.
Between 1954-61 Dadra & Nagar Haveli was ruled as a free state through a Varishtha Panchayat.
Dadra & Nagar Haveli is the tribal area bordering the states of Gujarat and Maharashtra. Warli tribe has been the original inhabitants of this region and it continues to be their area. You can see Warli art everywhere – on city walls, in parks, in offices – everywhere. Even the language spoken here is called Warli – a curious mix of Gujarati, Marathi & Konkani. I picked up a Warli souvenir from Silvassa but I need to go again to meet the tribals in their homes in forests here.
Gardens of Silvassa
Silvassa to my pleasant surprise turned out to be a blissful garden city. I almost found myself saying – move over Bangalore – Silvassa is the new garden city of India. Not only there are many gardens in Silvassa, but they are well maintained. It was a pleasure to take a walk in these gardens – even when the sun was shining brightly through the day. Here is a quick guide to these gardens:
It is a relatively new garden located just on the banks of Daman Ganga River. I walked into the garden expecting it to be a small 10-15 minutes walk and I ended up spending more than an hour. The garden is so organized that you connect the plants with the nakshatras or the planetary positions. There are plants associated with Nav Grahas or nine planets that are worshiped by Hindus. There are Plants associated with each of the 12 signs of Zodiac and arranged in the form of an astrological chart. And of course, there is a circular arrangement with 27 spokes and the 27 plants associated with each Nakshatra.
Lotus ponds with colorful Lotuses and Lilies add their color to the mostly green surroundings. One of the lotus ponds even has a small bridge. Covered gazebos provide the much-needed respite from the heat.
A watchtower at the edge of the garden lets you have the top view of the gardens below and that is how I spotted this Swastika.
The biggest surprise was a huge labyrinth-like herbal garden on a gentle slope. I saw people standing at various points and clicking selfies – must say it was a tempting place for selfies. It is quite a creative approach to building an herbal garden where people can walk around and admire each and every plant.
Nakshatra garden is still being developed. For a change, I found a garden that was soaking in Indian ethos – be it with the plants here or with the formations or even with the artwork on the walls of the information center.
Entry – Free.
Hirwa Van or Hirwa Garden
This is a garden located in the heart of the city. It was originally called Pipariya Garden after the area it is located in. This garden is smaller than the Nakshatra Garden or the Vanganga Garden.
Hirwa Garden is best known for its rustic rock wall that during some times of the day has cascading water falling from it, giving an illusion of it being a waterfall. As soon as I entered the garden I was welcomed by white birds flying across playfully. I walked around the garden passing by the stone arches, metal bridges and the well-laid path around the garden. I walked around the waterfall that was not functional on that day. There is a children’s playing area with swings etc.
The surprise element came in the form of brand new gym equipment in the garden. A neat long row of exercise equipment in white and green was such a welcome sight. I do not remember seeing such a sight anywhere else in India. Since the equipment was still wrapped in plastic covers, I am not too sure if they have been used. How cool it is to be in a garden and exercising with your friends in open.
Entry – INR 20 at the time of writing.
Vanganga Lake & Garden
A lovely garden surrounding a lake with an island in the middle. If you go around Vanganga lake for a walk you would be done with your daily exercise requirement. This lake garden falls in the town of Dadra and was earlier known as Dadra Park.
Warli art welcomes you at the gate of Vanganga garden and then the lake appears in all its serenity. I took a walk along the lake and thankfully there were enough sitting spaces with wooden benches. You can sit and admire the green surroundings or the visitors boating in the lake. Across the lake, on an island, you can see families on a picnic.
A walk around in the gardens during the day mostly told me that it is a happy place – where families come to parks, young couples find their quiet corner and tourists like me can walk around without feeling any anxiety.
In this park, I sat under a tree on the colored wooden bench and just soaked in the surroundings. There was hardly any noise, people were quite even in groups or let’s say conversations were polite.
Entry – INR 20 at the time of writing.
Other Gardens that I came across were Indira Priyadarshini garden. There was Vandhara Garden next to the Nakshatra Garden along the Daman Ganga River. I missed the Dudhni Lake Garden on this trip, but I am told it is quite like the Vanganga Lake & Garden
I was surprised to know that it is a popular location for Bollywood film shootings. On second thoughts they are not too far from Mumbai.
This is the first building I saw as soon we entered from Naroli gate. The color of the stone, the temple architecture, and the gardens were all around clearly announced it is a Swaminarayan temple – all their temples almost follow a template.
They are profusely carved, the ceilings are in geometric shapes, pillars are joined together with intricate torans and the idols are mesmerizing. These temples are always clean and a pleasure to visit.
I was incidentally there at the time of morning Aarti and I thoroughly enjoyed being there – admiring the temple and the devotion all around as the devotees sang bhajans.
The Tribal Museum is a small museum opposite the Portuguese church. It displays the lives of Warli tribals through some dioramas but mostly through the articles of their use. What I found intriguing was the giant face masks that I assume would have been either used for rituals or festivals. Another interesting item was the equipment for making local liquor which was strikingly similar to the one used for making Feni in Goa.
Outside there is a small souvenir shop that sells Warli paintings and small clay pots with Warli designs on them.
Next to the museum is the art gallery where there is a display of more and bigger Warli paintings, some of them with a contemporary twist as well.
Entry – Free.
Overall, I was happy to see the yet uncovered union territory of Dadra & Nagar Haveli and Silvassa. The gardens were a delight.
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