Gujarat Trip: Somnath & Diu

Somnath

Temple of Somnath

SIGHTS / RELIGIOUS

Location: Somnath , India

Opening hours: 6am-9pm

It’s said that Somraj (the moon god) first built a temple here, made of gold; this was rebuilt by Ravana in silver, by Krishna in wood and by Bhimdev in stone. The current serene, symmetrical structure was built to traditional designs on the original coastal site: it’s painted a creamy colour and boasts a little fine sculpture. The large, black Shiva lingam at its heart is one of the 12 most sacred Shiva shrines, known as jyoti linga.

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Somnath Temple

A description of the temple by Al-Biruni, an Arab traveller, was so glowing that it prompted a visit in 1024 by a most unwelcome tourist – the legendary looter Mahmud of Ghazni from Afghanistan. At that time, the temple was so wealthy that it had 300 musicians, 500 dancing girls and even 300 barbers. Mahmud of Ghazni took the town and temple after a two-day battle in which it’s said 70,000 Hindu defenders died. Having stripped the temple of its fabulous wealth, Mahmud destroyed it. So began a pattern of Muslim destruction and Hindu rebuilding that continued for centuries. The temple was again razed in 1297, 1394 and finally in 1706 by Aurangzeb, the notorious Mughal ruler. After that, the temple wasn’t rebuilt until 1950.

Cameras, mobile phones and bags must be left at the cloakroom before entering. Colourful dioramas of the Shiva story line the north side of the temple garden, though it’s hard to see them through the hazy glass. A one-hour sound-and-light show highlights the temple nightly at 7.45pm.

Prabhas Patan Museum

SIGHTS / MUSEUMS & GALLERIES

Location: Somnath , India

Prices: Indian/foreigner 5/50

Opening hours: 10.30am-5.30pm Thu-Tue, closed 2nd & 4th Sat of the month

This museum, 300m north of the Somnath temple, is laid out in courtyard-centred rooms and contains remains of the previous temples, some intricately carved, though many are very weathered.

Diu

Diu is different. This tiny island linked by a bridge to Gujarat’s southern coast is infused with Portuguese history; its major architectural landmarks include three churches and a seafront fort; the streets of the main town are remarkably clean and quiet once you get off the tourist-packed waterfront strip; and alcohol is legal here. If you’ve been spending time immersed in the intensity of Gujarati cities, or just really need a beer, Diu offers a refreshing break.

Despite its draw as a seaside destination, Diu is not a great choice for a beach-centric vacation. Most of its sandy strips are littered with trash, and the throngs of families make them better for people-watching than sun-worshipping. Add in the random drunk-guy factor and any fantasies you have of a tropical paradise will surely be dashed. Diu, however, is one of the safest places in India to ride a scooter, with minimum traffic and excellent roads, and zipping along the coast with the wind in your hair is a joy.

Like Daman and Goa, Diu was a Portuguese colony until taken over by India in 1961. With Daman, it is still governed from Delhi as part of the Union Territory of Daman & Diu and is not part of Gujarat. It includes Diu Island, about 11km by 3km, separated from the mainland by a narrow channel, and two tiny mainland enclaves. One of these, housing the village of Ghoghla, is the entry point to Diu from Una.

Diu town sits at the east end of the island. The northern side of the island, facing Gujarat, is tidal marsh and salt pans, while the southern coast alternates between limestone cliffs, rocky coves and sandy beaches.

The island’s main industries are fishing, tourism, alcohol and salt. Kalpana Distillery at Malala produces rum from sugar cane.

One custom of the Portuguese still very much respected by local businesses is that of the siesta, meaning you shouldn’t count on much being open in mid-afternoon.

Diu Fort

SIGHTS / MILITARY

Location: Diu , India

Opening hours: 8am-6pm

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Diu Fort

Built in 1535, with additions made in 1541, this massive, well-preserved Portuguese fort with its double moat (one tidal) must once have been impregnable, but sea erosion and neglect are leading to a slow collapse. Cannonballs litter the place, and the ramparts have a superb array of cannons. The lighthouse, which you can climb, is Diu’s highest point, with a beam that reaches 32km. There are several small chapels, one holding engraved tombstone fragments.Part of the fort also serves as the island’s jail.

St Paul’s Church

A wedding cake of a church, founded by Jesuits in 1600 and then rebuilt in 1807. Its neoclassical facade is the most elaborate of any…

Diu Museum

A spooky, evocative collection of old Catholic saint statues inside St, Thomas’ Church.

St Thomas’ Church

A simple church that now houses a museum.

O’Coqueiro

Here, the dedicated Kailash Pandey has developed a soul-infused garden restaurant celebrating freshness and quality. The menu offers…

Vanakbara

SIGHTS / NEIGHBOURHOODS & VILLAGES

Vanakbara information

Location: Diu , India

At the extreme west of the island, Vanakbara is a fascinating little fishing village and the highlight of the island. It’s great to wander around the port, packed with colourful fishing boats and bustling activity – best around 7am to 8am when the fishing fleet returns and sells off its catch.

Beaches

SIGHTS / BEACHES, ISLANDS & WATERFRONTS

Location: Diu , India

Nagoa Beach , on the south coast of the island 7km west of Diu town, is long, palm-fringed and safe for swimming – but trash-strewn and very busy, and often with drunk men: foreign women receive a lot of unwanted attention. Two kilometres further west begins the sandy, 2.5km sweep of Gomptimata Beach . This is often empty, except on busy weekends, but it gets big waves – you need to be a strong swimmer here. Within walking distance of Diu town are the rocky Jallandhar Beach , on the town’s southern shore; the longer, sandier Chakratirth Beach , west of Jallandhar; and pretty Sunset Point Beach , a small, gentle curve beyond Chakratirth that’s popular for swimming and relatively hassle-free. Sunset Point itself is a small headland at the south end of the beach, topped by the INS Khukhri Memorial , commemorating an Indian Navy frigate sunk off Diu during the 1971 India–Pakistan War. Unfortunately the region around Sunset Point is also a dumping ground, and any early-morning excursion will reveal that the tidal zone here is a popular toilet venue.

The best beach is Ghoghla Beach , north of Diu. A long stretch of sand, it’s got less trash and fewer people than the others, along with gentle waves and some decent restaurants behind it.

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