Take a stroll around Diu during siesta time and you'll find it hard to believe you are walking in India. In fact, this tiny island is the essence of laid-back, which, as any seasoned traveler of this complex country knows, is like a rare gem in North India.
A cluster of young Carrom competitors play the country's popular board game near the town's wharf in mid-afternoon. A shop keeper sneaks home to a enjoy a soft breeze from the Arabian Sea while resting on his veranda, before opening up again in the early evening after siesta time. Others take their afternoon rest underneath shelter in the town square, only to be awakened later by whirring rickshaws, a bustling marketplace and operators taking tourists out on boat trips to view the 450-year-old Portuguese Fort that sits on the tip of the island.
Like its cousin Goa, Diu was a Portuguese colony for more than 400 years old. It was also a vital trading post from which the Ottomans controlled the shipping routes in the northern part of the Arabian Sea and the first place that the Parsis, from Persia, landed on the subcontinent. Crumbling European architecture and Gothic churches are just some traces left from its colonial days. Wandering around the town's winding streets as a sinking sun sets off the rich colours of its buildings and villas is a fantastic way to experience the slow pace of Diu. Not only is there Portuguese architecture to enjoy, but the sense explosion of India to sink your teeth into.
Diu reverted to Indian control in 1961. It is now considered a union territory and is governed from Delhi, instead of from the state of Gujarat. Colourful saris and simmering pots of dhal greet the eye along the town's industrious Bunder Road, which runs parallel to the waterfront. Hanging out at the town's marketplace offers an interesting slice of the world's second most populated country, with its multiplicity of religions, cultures and colonial histories. While the local population are mostly Goanese Hindus and Muslims, there are a handful of practising Christians left in the town, with some who still speak Portuguese. Although there are many Hindu temples along the coast, including a temple dedicated to the Hindu goddess of destruction and creation, Kali-Ma, Diu has many Christian houses of worship.
St Paul's Church boasts the most impressive Gothic faÃ§ade of any Portuguese church in India. It was founded in 1600 by Jesuits who originally built it as a seminary, and then later rebuilt it in 1807. It has now been converted into a school for the local children. Many of Diu's buildings boast this patchwork history. The Church of St Francis of Assisi, overlooking the Arabian Sea, has been converted into a hospital. Likewise, St. Thomas's Church has been transformed into the Diu Museum. This houses a collection of Catholic statues so big it almost rivals the vast pantheon of Hindu gods and goddesses. Four hundred-year-old wooden and marble statues of St Benedict and St Thomas are just some of the effigies on display.
When travelling through popular tourist states like Rajhastan, relaxed Diu is one of the only decent places to swim in North India. Otherwise it is a journey of more than 40 hours down south to visit the popular coastal centres of Goa and Kerala. Explorers of this three by 13 kilometre island, which is connected to the mainland by two bridges, can hire a moped for just 100 rupees a day. For those on an tighter budget you can rent a bicycle from places near the Main Square for just 25 rupees.
Then it is off to enjoy the island's string of sandy beaches and limestone cliff faces. One of the most popular of these is the horseshoe shaped Nagoa Beach, which is dotted with palms and coconut trees. Here you can take a leisurely ride on a camel or eat some peanuts, flavoured with delicious chaat masala, which comes served on dried banana leaves. After a dip at Nagoa, take a trip down to the industrious fishing village of Vankanbara and watch the locals weave their colourful fishing nets, since this is Diu's major industry. Then, finish off your round-the-island moped trip by watching the sun sink into the Arabian Sea off Sunset Point.
With such a melting pot of cultures, there is naturally some fantastic food to feast your senses on. Enjoy some Tikka Masala seafood at a rooftop restaurant, while watching fisherman cast out their nets to the sea at sunset. It is an equally brilliant full-stop to any day on this island.
Diu is the only place to drink alcohol legally in the dry state of Gujarat, making it understandably attractive to tourists and military officials thirsty for a drink over the summertime.
On a quirkier note, the island also has one of the world's biggest collections of seashells at the Shell Museum. This collection of 1900 different shells includes reading material on the history of shells as a form of currency in parts of Africa and in other parts of the world, and magnifying glasses to look closely at some of the shells, including cockle, spider, scorpio and abalone types.
Getting There: Air India, Gujarat Airways
When: Ideal between the months of November and March when India is cooler.
Accommodation: Range of cheaper guesthouses, mid-range hotels and beach resorts to choose from.
Independent Travel: Easy – you can hire a bike, moped, auto-rickshaw or car to get around the island.
Information: E-mail the tourist information office, government of Daman & Diu.