Divar Island-Goa in a different light
I had always wanted to explore more of Goa to see the beauty of the state beyond its beaches.
I took a bicycle tour to Divar island on the Mandovi River, and it was one of the best things that I did.
I found out about the tour company from a flyer on the noticeboard at my hostel in Panjim. (It is one of the things that I love about hostels-there’s always news of something fun to do!)
It was a HOT HOT April morning that I went to Old Goa, to meet my guide who took me to try out an E-bike. I got used to it pretty quickly, and we set out to the ferry at Old Goa.
How to get to Divar Island
The ferry ride from Old Goa to Divar island is about half an hour.
An unexpected view
We reach Divar Island, and the first grand sight that I spot is of the churches of Old Goa! Though the buildings in its entirety are not in view, as most of it is hidden with trees, it was quite the beautiful sight that I never expected to see!
What to expect at Divar Island
We ride on past fishermen drying anchovies, prawns, and other fish on the roadside, past coconut tree lined lanes surrounded by marshes, and beautiful tradition homes with terracotta roofs.
Divar has three main villages, Piedade, Naroa, & Malar, and we ride through all of them, looking in on local life.
We stop at a few of the notable churches on the island.
1. Our Lady of Piety church
It was originally a chapel in 1541, the church as it is now was built in 1724. The church has a beautiful gilded altar which I couldn’t see in all its glory because I visited during lent (the period of 50 days before Easter), so the altar was covered.
The guide had access to the church, so he took me to the chancel, where the choir sings from, and got to see the church from above. We climbed a steep and narrow staircase to get to the chancel, above which was the bell tower. The staircase to the bell tower was even narrower, so I didn’t even want to try climbing it (though I don’t think visitors are allowed up there).
Since this church is located up a steep hill ( which I had a lot of trouble cycling up, even though it was an E-bike), the view from the grounds is spectacular!
There is a graveyard adjacent to the church.The wall of the cemetery is engraved with hundreds of names. The guide tells me that a few years after the burial of a person in the cemetery, they are dug up, and the remains put in the wall outside the cemetery.
He said that this is to make space for more people in the graveyard. I’m not sure if I understood this correctly, but I found this method very odd, as digging up a grave is considered unthinkable in Kerala.
Address: Divar Island Piedade Goa 403403
2. Sao Matias Church
This is a beautiful church built by the Portuguese, and was established in 1590. It was undergoing renovation work when I visited in April 2019.
Address: 288 Divar Malar, Panaji Goa 403403
3. Chapel of Our Lady Candelaria
We made a quick stop at the chapel of Our Lady Candelaria. This chapel was built in 1564, and is still in use. Its architecture is unique with a domed roof, but there are two other chapels in Goa with similar architecture.
Address: Naroa Goa 403403
Porne Tirth Tali with 108 Temples in Naroa
Meaning the old site of pilgrimage, this was the original site of the Saptakoteshwar temple, where the family deity of the Kadamba kings resided. The temple was inscribed on the coins of the Kadamba empire. The temple faced many attacks; first by the Bahmani kings in 14th CE. It was later rebuilt by the Vijayanagara kings at the end of the 14th CE, but the Portuguese completely destroyed the temple in 1540 AD.
The ruins are a protected archaeological site now.
A local home visit
I was taken to a home of a local family to have breakfast where I filled up on some delicious food- some of which reminded me of Kerala cuisine! The family sits & interacts with the guests who come to eat at & visit their home. The lady of the house said to me that they don’t go into mainland Goa that often, and they have lived in that house for decades. Their children study elsewhere in the country though.
We also visited the sluice gates at the mangroves to understand how the traditional Khazan system works. A Khazan is a traditional coastal zone management system that dates back 3500 years. It is a masterpiece of tribal engineering which is believed to have originated with the Gauda Tribes of Goa. They used their knowledge of the monsoons and the flow of the water during tides to build bunds, canals, sluice gates, & dikes to manage the water flow. They were then able to use the area for cultivating paddy, growing prawns, and panning salt.
We rode back to the jetty to catch the afternoon ferry back to the mainland. My jeans were soaking wet (as I said SUPER HOT day!), by the end of the trip- so don't wear jeans! But it was definitely worth the effort, and I loved being able to ride a cycle without the fear of a bus or car running me down.
For those who are in to visiting locations of Bollywood movies, apparently parts of Finding Fanny & Dear Zindagi were shot here.
Bonderam Festoval in August
A harvest festival celebrated in mockery of the past feuds over property between the two villages Piedalda and Sao Mathias. The Portuguese used flags to demarcate boundaries which the dissenters brought down by stone pelting. The flags used in the festival today is to commemorate these incidents, but in celebration, and to mock the Portuguese rulers.
You can book a guided tour of the Bonderam festival:
Where to stay in Divar Island
There are a few homestays on the island, which you can book online.
Divar Island was a refreshing change from the Goa that I’m used to. Life moved slower than I could have imagined. People sit around chatting or with a newspaper at the local coffee shop, & there are hardly any cars on the road.
Can you visit Divar Island or Bonderam Festival on your own?
Yes! You definitely can! There is no need to spend money (per head) on a guided tour of the island. If you have your own cycles/bikes/scooters/cars, (all of which can be rented for the duration of your trip from the mainland) you can take the ferry from the jetty with your vehicles for a nominal fee to Divar Island.
There is fairly good internet connectivity on the island, so use google maps to find the points of interest that I mentioned above, and go everywhere. Else, you can ask the locals for directions (like we did in the times without Google Maps!)
For the festival as well, there is no restriction, you can just join the crowds on the road.
Divar is the place you want to come to, if you want to slow down, and forget about how fast things move in your everyday life, and rejuvenate with walks through empty streets lined with coconut trees, and colourful Goan houses.