Set off the southern tip of Saurashtra is the tiny island of DIU, just 12km long and 3km wide. Under Portuguese control for more than four hundred years, until 1961, it is now governed as a Union Territory from Delhi along with its sister city of Daman. The combination of relaxed atmosphere, historic charm, broad beaches and lack of alcohol restrictions makes Diu one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. While its beaches are admittedly not as idyllic as Goa’s, most visitors stay longer than intended.
Diu Town in the east is the island’s main focus. A maze of alleys lined with distinctive Portuguese buildings form the hub of the old town, while the fort stands on the island’s easternmost tip, staring defiantly out at the Gulf of Cambay. Along the northern coast, the island’s main road runs past salt pans that give way to mud flats sheltering flocks of water birds, including flamingos that stop to feed in early spring. The route skirting the south coast passes rocky cliffs and beaches, the most popular of which is Nagoa Beach, before reaching the tiny fishing village of Vanakbara in the very west of the island.
The earliest records of Diu date from 1298, when it was controlled by the Chudasana dynasty. Soon after, it fell into the hands of invading Muslims and by 1349 was ruled by Mohammed bin Tughluq who successfully boosted the shipbuilding industry. Diu prospered as a harbour and in 1510 came under the government of the Ottoman Malik Ayaz, who repelled besieging Portuguese forces in 1520 and 1521. Aware of Diu’s strategic position for trade with Arabia and the Persian Gulf, and having already gained a toehold in Daman, the Portuguese did not relent. Under Nuno da Cunha, they once more tried, but failed, to take the island in 1531. However, in 1535, Sultan Bahadur of Gujarat, facing pressure from both the Mughals and Portuguese, allowed da Cunha to build a fort in Diu. Three years later an Ottoman siege of Diu was repelled, cementing Portuguese control of Diu. The Portuguese held sway for more than four centuries, making Diu one of the world’s longest-held colonial possessions. They were finally forced out in 1961 by Nehru’s government, which, after a swift bombing campaign, declared Diu to be part of India.