Daman – A Wanderer’s Paradise

A quaint town perched between Maharashtra, Gujarat and the exotic Arabian Sea, Daman thrives on its rich heritage left behind by the Portuguese, sun-kissed beaches and lush greens. The Daman Ganga River separates the two Damans, Moti (Bigger) and Nani (Smaller) while a motorable bridge connects them. The town is known for its exotic seafood and different varieties of cheap liquor available. This also explains why the visitors from the “Dry” state flock here specially during weekends and holidays. For Mumbaikars, Daman is a perfect weekend getaway destination to relax and unwind.

Daman was never really a part of my travel bucket list till about a few months back, when my Dad expressed his desire to visit Daman. My dad’s Natal day was around the corner and my brother and I decided to celebrate the occasion in Daman. What better way to celebrate your Dad’s Birthday than setting off to a place of his choice? Unlike my usual travels, this was an impromptu trip with no detailed planning.

A 4-hour drive from Mumbai with brunch and tea breaks, got us to our Hotel Marina located in the heart of Nani Daman, very close to the markets, popular restaurants and a few meters to the Nani Daman Jetty and Fort. Once home to a Portuguese Royalty, now owned and run by a Parsi gentlemen Mr. Tehmtem Wadia the hotel retains the character of the retro era. The doors opened to a lovely courtyard with antique furniture on display. A steep flight of wooden stairs led us to a large lounge area and then into our rooms off this lounge. The aura of this homestead was such that we almost lost the sense of time. Sojourning amidst the hustle and bustle of this small town to be able to explore, yet unwinding in an atmosphere of peace and tranquility is all that we needed for this short holiday and we had scored a bullseye.

A few hours of nap followed by some snack and we set off to wander around. We tried to seek guidance from the staff at our hotel but unfortunately it just left us confused. So simply relying on some tips from google we hit the road.

Here is a travel guide to Daman based on the places that I explored:

Lazing around the Beaches

The coastal town is gifted with two beaches, the Jampore Beach and the Devka Beach, both being very distinct in character.

We started from Nani Daman towards the Jampore Beach with the idea of spending the evening watching the sunset coupled with some drinks and dinner. About 5 kms from the Moti Daman, the drive towards the beach instantly brought the goan ambience to mind. This wasn’t surprising since all the erstwhile Portuguese colonies usually have common architectural elements in their design. Covered under the shadow of the swaying Casuarina trees this golden sand beach looked esthetic. A cold breeze swirled around us sending our hair in all different directions. Up on enquiring about the shacks we were told that the shacks had been cleared up due to the increasing number of violence by visitors after drinking. Nonetheless, we settled for some chana and chai watching the horizon in the company of nature. No sooner we started walking along the shore, one of the camel guys approached us for a ride. My niece Khushee insisted on taking the ride and I went along. The ride was bumpy, bumpier than the one I had experienced in Jaisalmer. Dhinchak horse cart & bumpy camel ride, the breeze, the waves & the sand squishing our feet made our experience a truly enjoyable one.

About 3 kms from Nani Daman is the Devka Beach where the touristy action dwells with resorts dotting the seashore of the beach. A long parade of shops, arcades and eateries greeted us as soon as we hit the road running parallel to the beach. Like the Jampore beach, this beach too was massive, picturesque and quite unspoilt which also ensured that that the adjacent market too was quite clean echoing the very essence of the place. The long shoreline, the lush greenery and the colourful flea market endorsed enough beauty.

We called it a day after spending an evening at these tranquil beaches and parked ourselves at the Sea View Beach Restro to feed the mice in our bellies.

Getting lost in the Narrow By lanes of Nani Daman

The next morning, my brother Sandeep and I set off to explore the old quarters of Nani Daman on foot. At 6.30 am the streets were deserted reflecting the laid-back lifestyle of the town. The Portuguese and Parsi influences were evident in the remnants of the structures that lay scattered in these narrow lanes. Many of these structures were left abandoned with broken window glasses, the old pastel colors chipping off their walls and the courtyard full of weed. A few of these houses were still well maintained one of which was in fact the house converted in to a hotel I stayed in. Touring the narrow by lanes and getting a glimpse of the colonial Portugal architecture was indeed a delight.

Rejoicing the morning breeze at Nani Daman Jetty

Our morning stroll in the downtown led us to the Nani Daman Fort. The door of the fort was yet to open and so, we strolled around the Jetty capturing the picturesque view of the river and the Moti Daman Fort on our camera. A short walk ahead, we settled on a bench right opposite to a temple on the banks of the river. Lounging on the banks of the Daman Ganga river with the cool breeze filling the ambience and colorful boats docked around the coast, catching the sight of locals practicing Kapal Bhati (breathing yoga) or just taking walks gave us a glimpse of the everyday buzz of the town.

I asked one of the locals if I can take a picture of them practicing yoga and his response was prompt;

“Haan lelo ne ben, jitna chahiye lelo” (Yes Sister, take as many pictures as you want).

Interacting with the cheery locals and savoring the atmosphere surrounding us, we made our way to visit the St. Jerome’s fort which had opened doors for visitors by now.

Delighting on the view at St. Jerome’s Fort

Also known as Nani Daman Fort by the locals, situated next to the main fishing jetty, the fortress was built by the Portuguese in the 17th century. The facade of this fort is quite impressive with a Portuguese carved cross, sculpture of St. Jerome, carvings of two men on either side of the gate and Portuguese inscriptions.

An assembly of school children outside the Stella Maris High school, offering the morning prayers, caught our attention as soon as we entered the fort. Soon after, the kids gathered in groups to start their March past practice and then began the forward march. Haven’t we all done this? The left right Left, grouped in our respective house, red, blue, green and yellow? 😀 . We stood there for a while watching them in action, reminiscing our own school days before moving to the upper deck of the fort.

The precincts of the Fort also houses the church of “Our Lady of the Sea” standing right next to the school along with a bright blue-white chapel and a Portuguese War Cemetery laying adjacent to the school and the church. The fort has two entrances, one overlooks the Daman Ganga and the Moti Daman fort across the river and the other opens to the sleepy village of Nani Daman.

We took the stairway to move upwards for a rampart walk and it took us an hour to take a view of the surroundings of the moss-walked fortress. Standing atop this splendid structure, offered an unobstructed and breathtaking view of the confluence of the Daman Ganga river and the Arabian Sea.

Exploring the Shopper’s Paradise

The only thing that can buy happiness is shopping. So, when us ladies in the family had some time at leisure, we decide to enrich our shopping experience visiting the Nani Daman market. Fortunately for us the market was stone throw away making it convenient for us to just walk down the lane to indulge in some retail therapy. The entire street was full of shops with lots of imported goods lining the shelves, from electronics to bags to perfumes to chocolates, everything available in abundance and that too at affordable prices. The men, meanwhile, were off to get the car loaded with fuel to take us around the city later that day :D.

Another market that we visited that evening was the one adjacent to the Devka Beach. With the least commercial exploitation, the market created a perfect setting for us to shop and enjoy views of the beach simultaneously.

Wandering in and around the Captivating Moti Daman Fort

Also known as the Governor’s Palace, the fort is a township in itself, call it the lifeline of the union territory in fact. Once home to the Portuguese, the edifices are now converted into government offices, schools and sports complexes with their original architecture still intact. The main street of the fort runs from northern side, that is the land gate to southern side, the sea gateway. We entered the fort to be welcomed by a Bright Yellow and Red Post office building on our right and the Daman Municipal Corporation on the left. Walking down the inner wall of the fort passing through the barracks of the defense personnel, a vivid blue government school, a pristine white Secretariat building, the church of the Bom Jesus and a memorial marking liberation of Daman by Maratha we turned into many bylanes capturing the beauty of the buildings painted in pastel colours like ochre, blue and pink. Our walking trails in this intriguing fort admiring the colonial architecture was truly beguiling.

Driving besides the Moti Daman fort led us to the new lighthouse which acts as a beacon to the fishing boats. Visitor’s weren’t allowed to visit the lighthouse and hence we just spent time taking a stroll around the area enjoying the breezy ambiance and the view of the vast Arabian Sea. The old lighthouse built by the Portuguese inside the fort is open to civilians and offers a magnificent view of confluence of river and the sea.

Reveling at the Mirasol Lake Garden

We spent the later part of the evening at this man-made marvel surrounded by a beautiful lake and two islands connected by a bridge. The atmosphere looked very calm and peaceful with lush greenery all around and the duck shaped water vessels and fountains added to the beauty of this charming garden. We rented a family boat to sail across the lake passing through the beautiful fountains dotting the area and absorbing the aura of the landscape. A reminiscent ride in a toy train on Khushee’s insistence revived our own childhood memories, while feasting and resting by the lake in the restaurant with vibrant interiors revived our lost energies. Impressed by the alluring nature of this place we requested the staff to arrange for a quick tour of the Mirasol Resort on a buggy before heading back to Nani Daman for our last meal. This lake garden was a surprise treat for us and in fact one of our best experiences in Daman.

Soaking in the Aura of the Mystical Churches

Cathedral of Bom Jesus: The majestic grandeur and simplicity of Roman architecture comes alive within this imposing structure of the seventeenth century church. The richly engraved doorway led us to a massive hallway with ornate furniture and richly decorated interiors. The dramatic altar embellished with gilded carvings, painted in complimenting colours of red, blue and predominantly golden, featured the sculptures of six saints, set into arches and the main figure of infant Jesus with a statue at the top dedicated to Our Lady of the Rosary. At Noon, we had the entire church to ourselves and we spent time praising the lord in absolute peace and serenity.

The well-preserved church holds services each day and my mother and I were fortunate enough to be able attend the Sunday Mass the next morning to get in touch with our inner spirituality. We witnessed the priest reciting the script with the people responding in unison, we stood to hear the words of Christ proclaimed, we sat to listen to the priest’s homily, we kneeled in prayer at Communion and offered one another a sign of peace. If this experience isn’t gratifying, I don’t know what is.

Chapel of Our Lady of Rosario stands against the Moti Daman fort wall next to the Daman Municipal Corporation. This simple looking chapel is just across the garden from the Church of Bom Jesus. I attempted to visit this chapel twice between Saturday, and Sunday after the morning mass but it was closed so I could just see it from outside. A board outside claims that the chapel has very ornate interiors with the ceiling decorated with rose petals and golden angels.

The church dedicated to Our Lady of Remedies is located at Daman camp and is also declared as a national monument. We landed at this church just by chance and I am so glad we did. The church services much of Daman’s Catholic population and the congregation had gathered for the morning mass when we got there. Walking into the vast hall we were immediately struck by the sheer magnificence of the church. The main altar holding the portrait of Mother Mary looked impressive with intricate wooden carvings painted in aqua blue and gold adorning it. The walls of the prayer hall ornamented with frescoes, mosaics and carved figurines of angels and the chandeliers hanging down the lofty ceiling significantly added to its overall grandeur.Attached to the church is a garden known as hathibag, which is maintained by the church. We were in a rush and we couldn’t explore the garden much.

The church dedicated to Our Lady of Remedies is located at Daman camp and is also declared as a national monument. We landed at this church just by chance and I am so glad we did. The church services much of Daman’s Catholic population and the congregation had gathered for the morning mass when we got there. Walking into the vast hall we were immediately struck by the sheer magnificence of the church. The main altar holding the portrait of Mother Mary looked impressive with intricate wooden carvings painted in aqua blue and gold adorning it. The walls of the prayer hall ornamented with frescoes, mosaics and carved figurines of angels and the chandeliers hanging down the lofty ceiling significantly added to its overall grandeur. Attached to the church is a garden known as hathibag, which is maintained by the church. We were in a rush and we couldn’t explore the garden much.

Touring the Ruins of the Dominican Monastery

Formerly a Catholic place of worship, this world-renowned seminary of great honor fairly cries a testimony to its glorious past. In its heydays the Monastery served as the headquarters of theological studies and had attracted many catholic scholars from around the globe. Its downfall still remains an unsolvable mystery.

Passing through narrow bylanes inside the Moti Daman fort we arrived at the archaeological landscape to witness its curiosity provoking sight. Although only arches and bare tall walls of the Dominican Monastery were existent, this imposing structure had a mystical aura surrounding it. The inviting ambiance and the spiritual appeal were such that I could just sit here enjoying the solitude for hours, reading a book, meditating or simply engaging in a dialogue with a friend.

The Monastery also shares the wall with a horticulture farm. I stumbled upon the farm while mapping the bylanes of the Moti Daman Fort.

Exploring the churches, the forts, the lanes almost felt like walking through the pages of Daman’s rich colonial past. Daman is absolute delight for those who have an eye for history.

My Two Cents

Best Time to Visit: Daman has fairly even weather through the year, though the best time to visit Daman is between October to Feb. Summers (from April to June) can be warm while the monsoons (July to September) the weather is humid, with frequent showers. Aside, there isn’t much action during monsoons. The fisher men do not venture into the sea for fishing and so the sea food isn’t fresh either. To experience the cultural side of Daman visit during the Garba Festival (Oct – Nov), Nariyal Purnima (Around August) or Gangaji Fair. Daman is also very festive during Raksha Bandhan (specially Nani Daman) and Christmas

What to Eat: Non-Vegetarians, you get plenty of good non-veg food in Daman. Try Dara fish in a Damanese marination at Nana’s Restaurant and Daman Delight. Both restaurants are located in the heart of Nani Daman. There are plenty of good sea food options at Devka Beach as well. Vegetarians do not get disappointed 😊, there are plenty of options for you to savor especially Gujarati food. Try the Kathiyawadi food and Gujarati thali in Daman. The Jetty rolls, like the Kathi rolls are also a must try when in the Nani Daman area.

My parents posing at veere da dhaba

A place worth a mention is Veere da Dhaba. Based on a Punjab village theme the venue is vibrant and versatile. The enchanting ambiance and yummy food ensures an uncompromising experience.

Must Experience:

A Mass at The Cathedral Bom Jesus or The Church of Our Lady of Remedies

The morning breeze and the everyday commerce at the Nani Daman Jetty

A Walk around the Old Quarters of Nani Daman & the bylanes of Moti Daman Fort.

Where to Stay: Daman offers accommodation options to suit all pockets. There are options for the traveler, businessman as well as a luxury seeker. If you are a wanderlust like me and inquisitive about people, places & cultures then you must stay in the Nani Daman area, but if chilling by the beach or the pool is your thing then you should stay in a resort on the Devka beach road.

How to Reach:

Rail: Vapi is the nearest railway station, which is at about 15 kms. from Daman. From Vapi Station and auto will cost about Rs. 100- 150 to reach Daman.

Air: Daman has its own airport which is in Nani Daman area. There are regular flights from Mumbai and Baroda to Daman Airport. The nearest international airports from Daman are in Surat and Mumbai which are further connected to all the major cities by air. You can fly to Mumbai or Surat which will work out cheaper and reach Daman by train, car or bus.

Road: Daman has a well-built road network with proper highways and roads. The city can be easily accessed by road. While the town of Vapi is situated at 12 kms on the Bombay-Ahmedabad National Highway No. 8, Mumbai is approximately 170 kms. from Daman. Other cities like Ahmedabad and Baroda are 360 and 300 kms. away from Daman respectively. Many public and state-owned buses run to and from Daman as well connecting neighbouring towns of Mumbai and Surat.

Location Transport: Autos and Taxis are easily available. There is a bus stand in the Nani Daman Area as well.

Excursions from Daman: Silvassa, Ukhanda