Published: October 14th 2009October 2nd 2009
Colourful market stalls in Ahmedabad
I arrive in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city, for a spot of 'sorting stuff out' before moving on. Home to 5 million people, Ahmedabad is a sprawling, noisy city, but one with history hidden in amongst the chaos. The old town contains some beautiful old mosques, the Teen Darwaja ('triple gateway') and a bustling bazaar. I wander amongst the market stalls, and my overriding impression is of a friendly city... the people are very inquisitive and polite, and on the backstreets, children vie for the attention of my camera lens (which, I should point out, is now in a fairly bad way... it won't focus properly and has attracted an army of bits, which I can't shift, creating a resident flock of birds in the sky of any photo I take!).
After doing my sorting of things in Ahmedabad, I catch a bus down to the island of Diu, an ex-Portugese colony at the southern edge of Gujarat state. After enduring ten hours of 'sleep' in my upper level bunk, I arrived at the nearby town of Una and caught a local bus to Diu. Diu is linked to the mainland by two bridges, one leading from Ghogla on the mainland
St. Thomas's church in Diu Town
to Diu Town, the principle settlement on the island. I found a room (well, it was more like a suite... four rooms including a verandah with sea views!) and switched myself into relax mode.
Diu is an intriguing little place. Run by the Portugese until it was forcefully taken by India in 1961, Diu is now run from Delhi as a union territory along with the mainland enclave of Daman. Diu Town is dominated by a Portugese fort, and contains many white-washed churches. The biggest difference between Diu and neighbouring Gujarat, however, is alcohol. Gujaratis flock to Diu to imbibe all sorts of alcoholic drinks which can't be purchased or consumed on the mainland. Consequently, the island is very definitely set up for the local, and not the international, tourist trade.
The great thing about Diu is that the Portugese influence has a positive effect on the feel of the island. There is no traffic, and consequently very little noise (no horns!!)... much less litter, less spitting... but still the colourful and friendly people, great food, beautiful architecture and laidback lifestyle. There are also the unmistakably Indian touches... like the cows which wander the streets aimlessly. The generally
Looking out from the fort lighthouse
better environment on Diu is probably explained partly by the greater affluence here than on the mainland. Most Diu citizens hold Portugese passports, which means they can work in Europe and send money home... the result is lavish (by Indian standards) two-storey houses, with bold architectural features and strong colours.
I spend my time on Diu wandering around town, eating ice cream, swimming in the Arabian Sea (the perfect antidote to the Indian climate... although one swim was marred by a mad naked fellow who seemed to delight in following me around... yuk) and generally relaxing. The fort in Diu Town is an impressive construction, with lots of big cannons and a network of tunnels that were used by the Portugese soldiers in 1961 to escape from the Indian aerial bombardment. There is also a lighthouse... but it is Diu's slightly dog-eared churches which really stand out on the landscape. Large, cavernous structures, all but one have now been converted to other uses. I stayed in St. Thomas's, which also houses the Diu Museum... built on a highpoint in the town, its rooftop offers fantastic panoramic views of the island.
Feeling fully relaxed and ready to dive back
Sunset on Diu's south coast
into India, I watch the sunset behind the Hindu temple at Sunset Point (thankfully, minus any naked men) before saying my goodbyes to Diu. I catch a rickshaw to Delvada, then board a local train to Junagadh. I had originally planned to visit Sasan Gir, the last remaining refuge for the Asiatic lion, but believing it was closed until 15th October, I planned to go straight past. Luckily, on the platform at Delvada, I got chatting to Ashish, who told me that Sasan had been opened early for a visit by the President of India... so after buying my ticket, I decided to hop off the train (I highly recommend travelling on local trains in India... I got off to stretch my legs at a small rural station, and was surrounded by about 20 teenagers asking me questions... great fun) at Sasan, and see if I could see any lions...
There are more photos below