Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Getaways from Bombay #1: Silvassa (Dadra & Nagar Haveli)

Silvassa is a dusty, sun-kissed town in the westernmost part of India. It is a small town with a permanent population of about a lakh, mostly comprising the indigenous tribes of the Konkan region, while another couple of lakh form its transient population - people who come in from neighbouring states to work and trade.

An industrial and commercial town, Silvassa is the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli - an erstwhile Portuguese settlement, now Union Territory of India. It is certainly not your typical tourist getaway, and indeed, is not found on most travellers' itineraries. Must be a rather boring place, eh, not to have been featured on travel guides and by many travel bloggers?


I'm here to tell you Silvassa is the perfect weekend getaway for every kind of traveller. 

A weekend picnic with family, a solo wildlife expedition, or just for a relaxing break from work life - this town will not disappoint. It is an especially easy getaway for people living in Bombay, its neighbouring areas, and anywhere in Gujarat and Rajasthan.
Let me show you the beauty of Silvassa from my camera's lens (and then I'll tell you how to plan).
Breathtaking view from the top of Madhuban Dam on the river Daman Ganga (the Ganga of Daman?) You can actually take a walk along this narrow road, provided you've taken permission from the project office 2 kms downtown.

There's a beautiful park and a lot of greenery at the Madhuban dam site. Found this jumpy little Black Drongo there.

Get up, close and personal (but not too much) with a mating pair of lions at the Lion Safari, Vasona. There's another lion on the premises, but it is sick/old and doesn't socialise with its human visitors.

Lioness loves to pose.

Apparently, so does the sleepy lion.

"Ho ho ho, Merry Christmas! No, I'm not a reindeer. I'm a Sambhar, you fool."

Spotted many of these gorgeous Spotted Deer/Chital on our open jeep safari at the Dadra and Nagar Haveli Wildlife Sanctuary.

"What are YOU looking at?"

Boat ride at the floating jetty on Dudhani Lake. Astonishingly peaceful experience.

Wondrous Dudhani Lake. And remember, this is Silvassa, in the middle of the piping hot state of Gujarat.

Our boatman belonged to one of the indigenous tribes of Silvassa and was quite happy to talk. These tribal boatmen aren't allowed to own these boats and are given measly wages to work for the boat-owners. We tipped him generously, but I'm not sure many people do.

Swaminarayan temple: I loved it for its architecture, but not quite for its gender-based segregation practice. Yes, men sit at the front, nearest to the idols, while women sit behind them in a cordoned-off section. Indian temples, heh.

Such views all around.

Are you convinced? Okay, then, on to more important matters of business.

How to reach
Silvassa is 27 kilometres from Vapi railway junction. Vapi is easily reachable by train from all major cities. (It took me 2 hours on the August Kranti Rajdhani to reach Vapi from Bombay.) From there, a mere 35-rupee shared auto ride will take you to Silvassa bus stand. The best thing about this town is that you can walk everywhere. And if you aren't a fan of exercising your muscles in the heat, cheap autos are always at hand.

Things to see and do
The entire city of Silvassa, with all its wonderful sights and sounds, can be covered in one day. We booked an AC cab at INR 1500 for 8 hours, and roamed about the city from noon to sunset. But that meant we spent less time at each location. If you're there for two days, I'd suggest you divide your sightseeing over two days and enjoy every site at leisure. Experiences not to miss include the Lion Safari at Vasona, the Madhuban Reservoir on River Daman Ganga, the Deer Safari at Dadra and Nagar Haveli Wildlife Sanctuary, the boat ride at Dudhani Lake, and the Tribal Museum (a very fascinating journey into the culture of the indigenous tribes of the region). While the latter is free, the tickets to the rest of the listed places are extremely cheap and won't affect your budget.

Where to stay
Silvassa has plenty of budget and luxury hotels to choose from (here's a list for reference). Personally, I'd suggest you do not stay at Hotel Pioneer. Its reviews on the internet may speak otherwise, but my experience was extremely frustrating. The hotel was fairly empty, and there was no further reservation for our room, but the hotel management insisted that we check out on time, despite repeated requests to let us stay a couple of hours more because our train was in the evening. The management had no qualms in watching two women travellers, one of them aged 50+, sit uncomfortably on the couch in the stuffy hotel foyer for 2 hours in the heat. You won't want to run into problems like these, knowing that the hotel staff will not help. There are hotels that offer much better service at the same price for the same kind of rooms in Silvassa. Look around and settle for one where you're most comfortable.

Pro Tip: Club Silvassa and Daman into one trip
In hindsight, I've come to realise you can fit both Silvassa (D & N Haveli) and Daman (Daman & Diu) into one weekend's itinerary. You can reach Vapi on Saturday morning, spend the day exploring Silvassa, stay the night, and then move on to Daman (30 km away) the next morning for a day full of Portuguese forts, churches, and a beach quite unlike your usual west coast beaches. An auto or taxi ride from Daman will take you back to Vapi on Sunday evening. Weekend successful? I'd say so.

Drop me a line if you're planning a trip to Silvassa anytime, and I'd love to help. Comment/Share/Connect on Facebook if you liked this travelogue and would want to see more.


(This post goes out to all those friends who frequently ask about my travels. I know I should do more travelogues, especially for my Bombay junta, and I am going to, soon. Keep watching this space, many more Getaways from Bombay coming up!)