Daman - The Portuguese Connection

by Sunil Vaidyanathan 1. May 2010 11:02



India’s colonial associations may have been camouflaged by 63 years of independence, but links with the former masters of her destiny have not been erased completely. To experience the faded grandeur of India’s past, especially its association with the Portuguese who preceded the arrival of the English (by almost a century), one only has to visit their former enclaves along India’s west coast. The most famous among these are Goa and the union territories of Daman, Diu and Nagar Haveli. Those who want to escape the madness of Mumbai and experience the charms of a quiet weekend away from the humdrum of the city should head for Daman. Just about 200 km from Mumbai, little seems to have changed here. Idyllic Portuguese-styled villages support a vibrant community of Christians who have zealously managed to preserve traces of their ancestry.

The character of any great historical site is manifested by its architectural and cultural heritage. If you walk through the streets of Daman, you are transported back in time, to an era when buildings were not just functional matchboxes. A time when the creative spirit was given free reign and public buildings bore testimony to the grandeur and the might of the colonialists. Except for the colour of the flags and the few monuments that have not withstood the vagaries of time, it seems as if time and space have stood still here.

Daman is divided into two unequal halves by the Daman Ganga River. Nani Daman (the smaller township on the mainland) is connected to Moti Daman by a bridge; however, making the crossing on a riverboat has its own romance.

Nani Daman, which is comparatively smaller than Moti Daman, is dominated by its river-facing fort that encompasses a church dedicated to Our Lady of the Sea. The bastions of this fort offer a panoramic view of the surrounding countryside and the ramparts of Moti Daman across the river.

The Portuguese conquistadors sailed to the east in search of spices and Christians! While occidental influences initiated an era of cultural exchange, pageantry and intemperance were its most visible by-products. Some of these traits still linger; every second shop in Nani Daman is a liquor store or bar. Cheap liquor is Daman’s biggest attraction, especially as it is on the periphery of Gujarat, where a mixture of Gandhianism and idiosyncrasy has led to total prohibition. The ever-proliferating hotels have also become a virtual eye sore. Weekends see the arrival of tipplers who descend on the bars and beaches of Daman in hordes. 

Crossing the river to the other side provides one with an entirely different perspective. Moti Daman, which was once the administrative headquarters of the Portuguese, is much quieter and cleaner than its less significant twin. The first sight that meets the eye is the massive fort walls that encompass an area of almost 30,000 sq. meters. The fort is surrounded by a moat, which also serves as a canal that connects the Daman Ganga River to the sea. Beyond the massive gates that were once protected by a battery of cannons, is a tiny garden that ironically serves as a monument to martyred Portuguese soldiers.

As you walk along Moti Daman’s wide avenues a series of spectacular buildings loom above the worn out cobblestones. Among the administrative buildings, the Secretariat and the Lieutenant Governor’s residence stand out for their architectural finesse. While the former resembles a gothic-styled casino due to its flashy multicoloured illumination, the later is a rather sombre structure. Although some religious structures from the old priory like the Dominican Monastery are in ruins, the restored churches of Moti Daman are well worth the visit. The intricately carved altars and ceilings are a visual feast for the artistically inclined.

However, other than its stately edifices, Moti Daman is also famous for its charming villages that have managed to preserve a slice of Portuguese history and culture. Many Portuguese festivals are still celebrated with great zeal here and residents still speak a local dialect that is heavily influenced by the Portuguese language. The best time to visit Daman is during Christmas and New Year when a carnival like atmosphere pervades the entire town.

Today, this historical township serves as one of the reminders of India’s transition from being a puppet of colonial excesses, to an independent Republic. However, history should be preserved and therein lies the challenge! Heritage structures are a link with the past and the history of the Portuguese dominion is engraved in every brick and stone of the many monuments spread over Daman. Nationalistic sentiments and unplanned infrastructure threaten these few discernible dictionaries of India’s historical realities. Heritage also comprises preservations of traditions and lifestyles. The traditional settlers of Daman have resisted the onslaught of modernity and materialism heroically; however, this former Portuguese enclave, once conquered, might still have to submit to the demands of an emergent nation that wants to delete a few of its historical facts.

Sunil Vaidyanathan


Where to Stay

Nana's Palace (A Unit of Hotel Natraj)

Sea Face Road, Nani Daman - 396210

Tel.: 2254410. Fax: 2254416 Mobile: 9712529078

Tariff - Between 1050/- to 1850/-


Hotel Royal Garden

Main Road, Dhabel, Daman- 396 210,

Hotel: (0260) 2243777, 2243999, Restaurant: 2243435, 2243148

Mobile No: 09824045633 / 09714746633

Tariff - between 1000/- to 1550/-


Hotel Marina

Behind police station, Nani Daman.U.T.

Tel.: 0260-2254420, Fax: 0260-2255945

Tariff - Between 800/- to 1000/-


Hotel Sai Kripa Imperial

Airport Road, Mashal chowk,

Nani Daman (Union Territory.)-396210. India

Tel.: (0260) 2261491, 6454493. Fax: (0260) 2261492.

Tariff - Between 900/- to 1400/-


Hotel Sovereign

Surface Road,

Nani Daman - 396 201

Ph: (0260)-255023, 250236

Tariff - Between 900/- to 1200/-


Hotel Ashoka Palace

Devka Beach, Daman 396 210

Ph: (0260)-254239, 254993

Fax: (0260)-254239

Tariff: Rs. 500/- to Rs. 700/-


Places of Interest: 

Kadliya Lake Resort: An island resort run by Daman Tourism, with beautiful lawns, gardens, waterfalls, fountains and boating— a great destination for families

Damanganga Lake Garden (Daman-Vapi Road): Lake facing restaurant with a kitschy, Mughal theme bar.

Devka Beach

Jain Mandir (Nani Daman)

Jampore Beach

A day can be spent in visiting the various historical monuments within the forts of Nani and Moti Daman.

The new lighthouse on Moti Daman beach is currently off limits for tourists.


Climate Advisory:

Summers: 22 – 38 degrees C

Winters: 10 – 20  degrees C

Best time to visit is between October and May


What to Eat

Choose between typical Gujarati vegetarian thalis or non-vegetarian coastal cuisine.  However, everything from Chinese to south Indian is also available.


How to reach:

Vapi is about 170 km from Mumbai and 90 km from Surat. The nearest railhead to Daman is Vapi (about 12 kms from Daman) on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad line of Western Railway. Long distance buses from Mumbai to Ahmedabad also pass through Vapi. Buses and unmetered taxis regularly ply between Vapi Station and Daman. 




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