We woke up late today, had a long, leisurely breakfast and then set out to see Nagar Sheth Haveli, which is within the older parts of Diu town. We had to ask for directions as it was in the center of a maze of narrow, endless lanes. But we were able to spot it from afar as it stands tall – 3 stories high – and more colorful than the rest of the grey buildings that surround it. It was within a gated compound and the gate, though unlocked, was closed. We stood outside, hesitating to walk in, as nobody seemed to be around and there was no sign identifying the building. That’s when Bharat Kamalia approached us…
At first he seemed a little rough and suspicious, especially since he came out of nowhere and asked us to follow him if we were interested in old buildings and architecture. Nevertheless, we followed him as he took us into an old, two-storied structure diagonally opposite to the Nagar Sheth Haveli. He opened the main door and led us into a small courtyard strewn with 3 or 4 large, ancient-looking, earthen urns that looked absolutely stunning! This was enough to excite Madhu and me, and we followed him more confidently. He took us into 2 small rooms that were to the left of the courtyard and they housed more antique stuff than I had ever seen gathered within someone’s living room, including a 100-year old bust of Nagar Sheth, whose haveli we had originally intended on exploring. Apparently, the property he had brought us to, belonged to some rich lady who was connected to his mother’s side of the family. His mother was a native Gujarati from a rich family who married the son of a poor Portuguese immigrant. So relations between the two families never worked out, which kind of strung his family out. But today he’s on a mission of acquiring everything that was related to his family and restoring it. He claimed to have family properties throughout Diu that were under restoration. I’m not entirely sure how he got a hold of all these properties but it was not our place to question.
The room we were in had an old gramophone, which was in absolute working condition (he played it to prove this) and a 100-year-old radio, which looked quite fascinating. It sat atop a solid, wooden chest, which was apparently built during his Portuguese grandfather’s time – the latch on it was ornamental and very beautiful. There were 2 huge, mirrored teak cabinets that were in top condition. The room itself looked dusty and very ancient – loved the feel of it. He showed us around a bit and then took us upstairs to view some of the work that was going on to restore the rooms. There were a few workers who looked up at us surprised, as we walked thru. Bharat had removed all the furniture and artifacts from the rooms because of the work. He claimed that he even had ancient jewelry that belonged to the family and showed me some pictures of it. There had been other visitors before us – he had pictures of some foreign tourists whom he had invited to see his place as they came out to see the haveli just like us.
He drove us to another property, which was just about 5 minutes away and within the town limits. This was in absolute ruins and we couldn’t even picture what it must have looked like in its original glory. He told us that roots of trees had started growing along the walls, cracking it at most places and thus causing them to crumble. The most amazing sight was a bunch of roots that had grown thru the ceiling of one of the rooms and had grown all the way to the floor – I’ve never seen anything like this before.
We are still not sure what Bharat plans to do with these properties. He doesn’t want to give them up to the govt as he sees them as part of his own heritage and wants it to remain that way. He talked about converting them into museums where visitors can view the architecture of the properties as well as the antiques within them. But seeing the condition of the structures, he has a LONG way to get there. Moreover, he lives in Rajkot with his family and comes down to Diu only occasionally to check on the progress of the work – I doubt that’s enough to get the work done quickly. And, of course, all of this costs tons of money so that could be another reason for slow progress. At first, when he was showing us around, Madhu and I thought that he would definitely expect us to tip him for the trouble. But during the course of the tour we realized that money didn’t seem to be his motive. He just seemed passionate and absolutely proud of his heritage. He said that he would never ever sell anything that belonged to his family. He was even saving the old wood that cannot be reused in the restoration, for family funerals (quite morbid!). Apparently, Nagar Sheth’s family had sold 35% of the property rights to the Union Territory of Daman and Diu so that it can be claimed as a heritage monument and opened to public for viewing. Bharat claimed that he would never do this. Someday, though, if things worked according to his plans, his family’s heritage would definitely be open for visitors to walk thru and view.
Bharat seemed to be a man of many talents. He said he owned a fitness club in Rakjot, which was his main job. He also showed us pictures of himself in Kerala, Himachal and Leh, Ladakh. Apart from the fitness club, he owns and operates a small, adventure outfit called All Adventures that arranges camps and tours of various places in Kerala, and adventure sports in the mountains of the north. He told us to give him a buzz if we are ever in the area and need anything organized. Overall, we were quite amazed with him. His stories about his family and the tour around his properties were absolutely fascinating. We felt lucky to have got the opportunity to view all this. This has definitely been our best time in Diu (apart from the lazing, eating and drinking, of course!).
Later we went back to Nagar Sheth Haveli. This time the gate was open but again no one was in sight. Why there were no signposts or information booth is beyond me! There was no way we could walk in to the haveli on our own – for its own protection, it shouldn’t be allowed either. So we just admired it from the outside, took a few pictures and left. We are now back to surfing the net and updating our blogs. Tomorrow we are heading out to Sasan Gir National Park, which means that we may not have internet access for the next 2 days. So got to get as much done tonight as possible!
Overall, it has been a fantastic day! This stay in Diu has been my favorite so far in Gujarat. The past 4 days here have refreshed us and we now feel ready to face the rigors of the rest of Saurashtra and the wilderness of Kutch in northern Gujarat.