A piece of Portugal in Diu, the Diu Fortress

The most fun part about taking a road trip is the luxury to take a stop whenever, wherever you want to. You can improvise the itinerary on the go & visit the places that you won’t visit otherwise. This is why I love road trips. On one such road trip to Gujarat, Diu became a possible detour alternative. We took the detour and in a couple of hours, we were inside the Diu fortress trying to piece the stories together. It was a weekday and as it happens on a weekday, we were the only tourists inside the fortress. Other than us, there were a bunch of school kids & a few couples cooped up in some corners, trying to disappear into oblivion.

The Fortress of Diu

A fortress is different from a fort on technical grounds. But to a pair of touristy eyes, it might look all the same. It’s only when you step inside, you realise it’s nothing like the forts you have seen everywhere else in the country. There are no Durbaars, no Deewan-e-aam or Deewane-e-khas, no places to hang the chandaliers or to watch the musical performances, no designated places for men or women i.e., no Mardana Mahals & no Janana Ghars either. Instead, what you see when you visit the Diu fortress is an establishment purely used for strategic & military purpose. You don’t find places to hang chandaliers but you do see impregnable walls, many canons placed on the top of the building, mounds of iron shells, store rooms for food, prison cells to keep enemies & a place to worship the gods.

Built during the 16th century, Diu Fortress was conceptualised as part of the defence strategy following the alliance between Bahadur Shah (the Sultan of Gujarat then) & the Portuguese.

Why?

The same thing that was troubling most of the country at that time. The Mughals!

At the time, the fortress was built, Babur’s son Humayun was trying to gather more & more real estate. He could not touch this place. Diu remained with the Portuguese until the very end. It was only after 1961 when it became a part of the Republic of India.

These buildings are a significant part of the rich history of India, which is why we travel to these places, talk about them & exchange stories. These are also lessons in strategy & warfare. After all, this fortress remained with the Portuguese for close to four centuries. On that note, did you know that Diu Fortress is one of the seven wonders of Portuguese origin in the world?

The Sea, the Lighthouse & the Moat

The location of the fortress is beautiful, and once you are inside, you can see why. Surrounded by the sea on the three sides, the place feels that it can’t be easily touched or interfered with. And throw in a lighthouse, it becomes spectacular.

We hired a guide who showed us around. At an age of 70+, he sounded more interesting than my office colleagues. He kept walking fast and I had to catch up with him. Yeah, I get momentarily embarrassed when this happens to me, but the embarrassment doesn’t last long enough for me to spring into action. Show me a bed or a couch and give me a book or a gadget, and I can spend hours without moving from that place provided you keep bringing me cups of tea. Dressed in Black Shirt & Pants, our guide kept talking & gesturing. He looked like someone who must be a force to reckon with in his youth. After every five sentences, he would dole out a pearl of wisdom. He sure had the age & experience on his side & I had a pair of patient ears. And thus began a series of stories about the life in Diu, many visits of political figures to the Diu fortress & the neglect that the fortress has seen in the last decades.

“Would you mind if I tell you that we were happy in the Portuguese rule?”, he said to me.

“Of course not.”

“We have got nothing. No good came out of it either.”, he talked about 1961 & the life after that.

I, of course, didn’t mind him complaining. And why would I? That’s the great thing about this country, everyone is allowed to keep and share their opinions. His was harmless anyway. When people see drastic circumstances and have seen two or more lives in a lifetime, the comparison is bound to happen. At that moment, I felt this intense emotion and a need to do something for him.

If you also want to do your bit, do hire guides whenever you go to these places. They get employment. Buy the local stuff. Purchase their art. Buy their services. The previous version of me would also have urged you to tip generously, but my opinions are shifting on the subject. Giving employment to people is more valuable than tipping them. So, if you can, hire them repeatedly and continue to give them opportunities where they can sell you either their products or their services.

This guy showed us the towers, talked about the history of the fort, showed us hidden & visible spots, took us on a walk on the parapet, talked about the pier and the jetty, appreciated the construction of double moat & shared his life stories inside the church. His wife was no more and he lived with his sons and daughters-in-law. He worked as a guide on some days and picked up odd jobs on others. That would cover his expenses for food & drinks (majorly drinks). I liked him. I liked his attitude. There was a certain independence in his personality. Not because he earned his own money (I think it’s perfectly fine to borrow money from family too; not everyone has to be in the business of earning money), but because he had a life of his own. He had his own interests. He had hobbies. And he had stories. Whether we wanted to hear his stories or not, he kept telling those. It didn’t matter to him whether we liked his stories or not either. And I absolutely loved this ‘free’ aspect of his personality.

Why is it that we meet the most interesting people outside the Metropolitan cities?!

Originally intended to protect the trade route, the Diu fortress today serves as a strong reminder of the colourful & extremely diverse history of this ancient country. Diu was ruled by many dynasties before it became a Portuguese colony. But all that you see today is a strong influence of the Portuguese rule. Opposite the fortress, you will find a bunch of shops that sell cheap liquor, expensive water bottles & a laidback life that’s also known by the fancy concept of slow living. We left Diu the same day & reached SasanGir the same day. Our safaris were booked for the next morning and I was hopeful that I would be able to spot some lions the next day.

Diu fortress is a combination of experiences: the lighthouse, ancient ruins, the jetty, the wide parapets, tall structures, stairs, wide views & the constant sounds of waves crashing against the cemented structures. If you can, do plan a visit to the erstwhile Portuguese colony that’s now a part of proud India.

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