The Union Territory of Daman and Diu is spilt into two parts – Daman which is near Vapi; Diu which is an island below the Southern tip of Saurashtra. I had thought of visiting Diu for New Year’s Eve but I was told that accommodation would be impossible. The fact is that Gujarat is a dry state. For the eve of New Year, many people head to the bars and wine shops of Daman and Diu. I have seen many bars in Silvassa as well.
I arrive at Vapi from Silvassa by a local bus. The bus is crowded with school children. At Vapi I get a bus to Daman without much of a wait. There are a few beaches at Daman but not really knowing where to get off, I wait till we reach the bus terminus.
Soon after stepping out, I can sense the sea. The skies are bright. I imagine the Arabian Sea reflecting all this light back into the skies. I can’t see the sea but I feel there is an openness to the horizon not far way. There is that faint smell of salt in the air. I do not recall seeing or hearing the call of sea-gulls; had it been the case, it would have completed the experience. Stepping out of one’s crowded cities and coming to an open landscape in India is always a privilege.
I head down to the beach nearby. I ask an elderly man for directions, just to be sure. He is returning from his morning walk. The day’s newspaper is tucked under his arm. His neck is wrapped in a woollen muffler. His waistcoat is dark grey. He takes his time in replying to my question.
His mouth is busy. I am not sure when he brushes his teeth but this is clearly the time for a morning paan. He is adjusting the contents. I imagine his tongue snaking behind his lips, between teeth and gums in an effort to make room for speech. He rakes up a voluminous amount of saliva, parts his lips and spits out the red-stained juice onto the road. He narrowly misses a cyclist passing by. The stain on the road will remain for days, perhaps months.
‘Where are you from?’ he asks.
‘Why are you here?’ he continues in the same tone but he is talking in English. It is quite strange. I am speaking in Hindi but he is trying to impress me with his questions in English. His words are not clearly pronounced. The paan is getting in the way.
‘I am on holiday. I spent some time in Gujarat. I thought I’ll checkout Daman,’ I reply.
‘What do you do?’ He is now testing my qualifications. It is clear that getting answer to my question is going to take time.
‘I am an engineer.’
‘Degree or diploma?’
This seems to satisfy him. I am worthy of his assistance. He chews a bit, rakes up another flood and releases it in a well-directed jet.
‘This beach is dirty,’ he points down the road. ‘You will not enjoy it. Go to Dwarka Beach instead. Or visit Jhumpore beach. You must visit the jetty near here. Don’t miss it.’
‘Is there a Portuguese fort here?’ I ask.
‘It is next to the jetty.’
I thank him and first look for accommodation. I check out a couple of places but they are above my budget. But why should I stay here if this beach is dirty? I think I’ll visit the other beaches and if I like them I will stay for the night.
I head out to the Nani Daman beach. Truly dirty. I walk along it to the jetty. Women are standing here with their empty baskets. A fishing boat has just docked. The fish is being unloaded from huge ice-boxes on the boat. Two women get into a fight over a fish. In the end, one of them has her way. Small fish are bargained for and purchased. The women carry their fish-filled aluminium baskets on the heads and walk away. The sea has given them enough for the day. Other fish are loaded into a tempo. The fishermen will sell them at the market through their proxies. This fishing boat, and many others, are cleaned. The nets are rearranged and neatly piled. The ice-boxes are emptied and closed. Excess water is hand-pumped and the boats dried. Flags on their posts flutter in the wind. The wooden bows wait with their painted eyes, beaks and tongues for another day out to sea.
Opposite this jetty are the small remains of the Portuguese fort. There is nothing remarkable at the fort except the gateway. Only the setting is Indian. Details on the gateway are European – the coat of arms, the image of a Christian saint, the Christian cross at the top, two men who appear to me as sea-gods flanking the entrance doorway. The other thing about the fort is groups of school children skiving from their classes and loitering in its grounds. I found a few of them standing next to their two-wheelers and smoking without concern. As I was leaving, a boy no more than sixteen years of age, entered the fort with a bottle of beer. It is only 10 am.
I walk back to town passing houses, gates and walls that look many decades old. I enquire about transport to Dwarka Beach but I am not serious about hiring an auto-rickshaw. The morning is beautiful and I am in the mood for a long walk. I walk the 4 km distance to Dwarka Beach.
‘Can you tell me the way to the beach?’ I ask a policeman.
‘This is it,’ he says pointing to the rocky beach running parallel to the road.
I put down my backpack and rest on a bench under the wavering shades of pines. The sea breeze is blowing in stops and starts. There is not much of white beach sand I had expected. The shore is rocky. The water of high tide is trapped in crevices and pools in the rocks. Green algae make their slimy statements on these rock surfaces. The real beach and the waves are quite a distance from where I am standing. I can hardly see the waves and certainly not hear them.
I am disappointed with Dwarka Beach. I lose my resolve to drag myself to the other beach. I have lunch nearby. Lunch is mediocre. They probably make lot more profit from the bar which I see is well-stocked with a variety of foreign liquor. The restaurant is just an extra. I walk back part of the way to town; then I get a shared auto-rickshaw going that way. I board the bus to Vapi. I have been at Daman for exactly three hours and no more. It is time to head into Maharashtra but should I start with Mumbai or Nashik? The question plays on my mind as the bus trundles across Daman.