The best way you can get to know a city is by walking its streets.
Once you steer away from the popular tourist spots and start digging deeper, you discover the true colours of a city: one it reveals only to the more discerning travellers.
As for my part, losing my way accidentally in the labyrinthine lanes of Diu turned out to be a blessing in disguise, since it made me discover a truly different flavour of the city: one that was definitely not in my itinerary. Diu is mostly advertised as a beach destination, but it also offers exciting opportunities for heritage tourism for interested travellers.
Lost In The Streets Of Diu
Diu is a small island located in the Arabian Sea, off the coast of Kathiawad to the south of the Gir-Somnath and Amreli districts of Gujarat, India.
On the day before I was supposed to leave Diu, I had planned to visit Nagar Seth Ki Haveli, which was a small palace situated inside the city.
I started from crowded thoroughfares lined with souvenir shops, colourful clothes and street food with throngs of tourists in front of each one of them. Soon, the busy streets gave way to quieter alleys. Eventually, I found myself at the mouth of a two-point, each leading to an alley snaking scarily into the interiors of the city.
The city map had shown the Haveli to be snuggled deep in the heart of the city. Although I had studied the map thoroughly before setting out, the striking similarity between the streets muddled up my directions.
Standing at the crossroads, I was at a loss as in which way to go. There were very few shops on the streets – which were mostly packed with residential houses. Thankfully, I found some pedestrians and asked them to guide me to the direction of the Haveli. They gestured with a series of lefts and rights which confused me even more. However, I started walking along the road towards which they pointed.
After aimlessly wandering through the twists and turns of the bewildering alleys, I realised that I was lost. Till now, I had been so completely bent on reaching my destination that I hadn’t taken account of my surroundings. Suddenly, as I looked around, I stopped dead in my tracks.
Heritage Tourism in Diu
The narrow alley where I was standing was cramped with antique houses with awe-inspiring architectural beauty. I took a deep breath and took in the details of the buildings.
The houses comprised of traditional Gujarati architecture with British influences. They were part of the typical Gujarati pol structure of housing.
I looked at the house on my left (picture below), sunlight streaming in through its balustrades, still standing the test of time. The quaint piece of heritage architecture transported me back to another time. I was somehow reminded of the crumbling old houses of Kolkata that spoke, in a similar language, of lost glory reverberating through time.
The house just opposite (picture below) was equally beautiful. The sandstone façade proudly proclaimed its British descent whereas the wooden door (dwara in the local language) reminded of its Gujarati roots.
As I looked up, I saw two layers of colourful potted plants sitting prettily. For a while, I wondered whether I was in Rajasthan, as I had the feeling of wandering through the maze-like streets of Jaisalmer overlooking the Jaisalmer Fort (Sonar Kella for the Bongs).
I walked on and discovered another house (pic below) on my left. Nestled picturesquely in a corner, it beamed with its blue hues, charmingly beautiful in its antiquity. The clerestory windows (called vatayana) on the top caught my eye while the otla (entrance platform) reminded of the pyol in South Indian homes and rewarded a brief nostalgic retrospection of R.K. Narayan’s fictional town of Malgudi.
In fact, there was a woman sitting on the otla, watching her neighbour, a small kid learning to cycle. Her mother sat on the otla of her house and chit chatted with her. On the adjoining street, some children played cricket and sounds of their excited cheering floated in the air. I kept on wandering with a smile on my face, unable to believe my luck at this unexpected discovery. Emerging from the lanes back to the crowded streets, I felt as if I had come out of a time warp.
Historical houses are integral to the architectural heritage of a place. If tourism boards take the initiative to popularise these hidden destinations through heritage walks and photography walks, then it would be a big step towards the preservation of cultural heritage and promotion of heritage and cultural tourism in these locations.
Do you have any ideas on how to preserve the architectural and cultural heritage of a destination? Let me know in the comments section below.