Divar is a scenic island in the Mandovi river in Goa. Mostly with a Catholic-Goan population today, but you will be surprised by the history of this place, which is quite interesting. Did you know that Divar was originally a place dominated by the Hindu Brahmins and was a place of pilgrimage?
Yes, Divar Island was the home to some prominent temples that attracted devotees from all over India. Shree Saptakoteshwar in Naroa, Shree Ganesh temple in Navelim, Shree Mahamaya temple in Goltim, and Shree Dwarkeshwar temple were some of the many temples present here. When Portuguese invaded Goa, they converted most of the population. Only a fraction of the population managed to flee and later ended up settling in Karnataka. With so much history, this place today is a symbol of 'all-things-Goa'. Right from the beautiful homes from the Portuguese era to the laid back, susegad vibes! You will fall in love with Divar Island, just like we did.
So, here are some things to see and do when in this Goan paradise.
1. St. Mathias Church
This church, dedicated to St. Mathias, is about 400 years old. The village Malar, where this church is located, derives its name from it. The church has pretty architecture and is also quite well known for its artistic graves. Due to lack of space in those times, they built graves in walls. This system is still visible in other Churches in Divar too.
2. Koti Tirtha Tali
The site that speaks of the history of Divar. This was the original place of the Shree Saptakoteshwar pilgrimage assumed to be the holiest shrine of the Kadamba dynasty, consisting of 108 temples built in the 12th century. It was first destroyed by the Sultan of Deccan in the mid 14th century, rebuilt by the natives in the later part of the 14th century, only to be destroyed again by the Portuguese in the 15th century. After that, the main statues and Linga were moved to Narve, Bicholim, across the Island, and with the help of Shivaji Maharaj, a temple was built there in the 16th century.
In the picture here. is the pond (originally part of the main temple and mostly the only remains) in which lay submerged 108 carved miniature temples with intricately carved niches to hold diyas. It is believed that the architecture of the temples that once stood here, was one of the finest in the whole of India and we can see a small glimpse of it in the wall carvings in this pond. People still light diyas on special occasions like the Saraswati Visarjan & Dussehra, in honor of its legacy. This site is now a government-protected, archaeological monument.
3. Our Lady of Piety Church
This church built in the 18th century is the first Christian structure in Divar. It boasts of a pleasing New Roman style architecture with baroque features. The church is perched on a hilltop offering a gorgeous view of the Mandovi river. It is believed that there was a Ganesh temple here in ancient times. One can also see the ruins of some structures belonging to the Kadamba era towards the south of the church.
4. Sunset over the Mandovi River
Just opposite the church is a promenade which boasts of some brilliant views. You can catch the ferries swooning from one coast to the other in the mighty Mandovi river below or just reach in time to catch a glorious sunset from here. The whole place and its vibe are quite serene and you get to relax with unrestricted panoramic views with hardly anyone around!
5. Visit other islands nearby
Did you know there are about 17 Islands in all of Goa? Well, Divar is one of them and you can reach two more from here. Visit Vanxim island - a tiny fishermen island where you could indulge in some fishing activities with the locals. This island is only accessible through Divar. The other is Chorao island - famous for the Salim Ali Bird sanctuary. This one is also accessible from the Ribandar port in Goa. It is so much fun to cross the waters by ferry and visiting these lands which are so non-touristy and raw!
6. Enjoy the beauty of Portuguese Homes
You have to see to believe the warmth that the homes here exude. Built typically in the Portuguese style of architecture, the pop of colors and the distinct structure of these huge bungalows are just so inviting. We wandered aimlessly, half the time only gawking at these beautiful homes lined up on both sides of the roads.
7. Visit some prominent Temples
There is a minor Hindu population existing on Divar islands and there are quite a many temples also you will come across. We visited three such notable temples which are worth a visit if you like.
Shree Shakti Vinayak Devasthan - It is a simple yet beautiful structure just before reaching the Piety Church. We could go in and visit this one. Since it is at a height, this temple also offers lovely views of Mandovi and the island.
Shree Ganesh Sateri Temple - This temple is in the Sateri Bhat area and is one of the prominent temples in Divar. It has huge occupancy. It was closed when we visited and no one was around, but we could peep in for a view.
Shree Hatkeshwar Temple - Dedicated to Lord Shiva, this temple is near the Kothi Tirth Tali. It is located at the east edge of the island and the spot was famous as 'Porne Tirth' meaning the 'old sacred point' in the olden times. It is believed that this spot was considered holy as it witnessed the meeting point of three water bodies - River Mandovi from Panaji, river Mhadei (Mandovi) from the east, and Cumbharjua canal from the south.
8. Enjoy lip-smacking, authentic sea-food
You have to, have to, have to try the authentic sea-food here. The fish is super-fresh, locally sourced. The restaurants are all very homely and serve piping hot, yummy sea-food. We enjoyed our meals here a bit too much.
Things to know Before you go to Divar Island in Goa
1. How to Reach Divar Islands?
There are a total of three ferry crossings to reach the Divar Islands. First (and the most preferred one) is the Old Goa ferry crossing. This is close to Panjim. The other two are Ribandar on the south-east side of Divar and Narve on the North-side (if you are coming from North Goa- Baga, Calangute, Mapusa, etc. you can use this ferry crossing). The ferries are operational from 6 am to 2 am. You can take your vehicles aboard too. 4-wheelers are charged a mere Rs.10/- while 2-wheelers and people can hop across for free! Isn't that awesome?
2. Can we stay on the island? If so, where to stay on Divar Island?
Yes, you can definitely stay on the island. There is a notion that people can only visit for a day but that is not true. There are a host of homestays, and a few resort-stays available on the Island. We would suggest staying at Moradia Dos Quadros, the homestay we stayed at.
An enormous Portuguese style home, with antique interiors and all modern amenities. More than that, you will meet Neves there, the host and owner, who is the warmest, most energetic soul in the whole of Divar. Read our review and see pictures of this place to know why we can't recommend this place enough!
3. Where and what to eat on Divar Island?
Restaurants & Bars - There are so many of these here. Our favorite was the Rock Inn restaurant. We had almost all of our meals over two days right here. One day we just casually asked the owner if crabs were available and he promised to source it if we were to come by in the evening. And voila- we relished 'The Best Crab Xacuti' that night. Bhal slept like a baby! :)
Bakeries - There are a few bakeries selling bread, buns, pastries, etc. which are great for a quick snack.
Ras-Omelet - A local street vendor puts up a shop every evening in the main center and sells these drool-worthy local dishes. You need to try the Ras-Omelet, a local preparation of Omelet served fully dipped in a bed of chicken gravy and topped with onion pieces and bread at the side. Oh, it is a delight not to be missed!
4. Other FAQs
Do I need more than a day's visit to Divar?
Yes, you most definitely do. Our original plan was to just go, visit for an entire day, and come back and stay at our hotel in North Goa. When we got further to the vacation day, we decided we didn't want to make haste and rather stay the night there and return the next day. We made arrangements accordingly. But you know what? We ended up extending even that and staying back one more day. Divar Island is so peaceful and beautiful that you can't get enough of it. Although tiny and doable in a day, you need to give into its slow vibe and stay here to experience it fully!
Are there shacks like in the other parts of Goa?
There are no shacks as such as there are no beaches here. The restaurants more or less make up for it. Also, there are some unique riverfront front properties that offer scenic views and you can look for staying or dining there if that is what you want.
What are some famous festivals in Divar Island?
Neves told us about two distinct festivals that are quite exclusive to Divar and someday we hope to experience them-
Bonderam - It is a carnival celebrated every year on the fourth Saturday of August. It marks the triumph of the villagers against the Portuguese tyranny. Bonderam is derived from the Portuguese word Bandeira meaning flag. It commenced when villagers threw stones at the flag-system set up by the Portuguese to resolve land disputes. The festival starts with a flag parade accompanied by a melodious band. Then comes the main highlight of the festival, the fancy dress competition, which is later followed by a float parade. This is quite a famous festival and people from all over Goa, as well as tourists, come over to Divar especially to witness this great pomp.
Potekar - This festival is similar to Halloween but unlike Halloween, it is held in the month of February-March, three days before the start of the Catholic lent season. The locals wear masks and costumes and venture around the village wearing cowbells around their necks. The participants then receive snacks and drinks from the homes they pass by.
Which is the best time to visit Divar Island?
It is an all-year destination. Goa receives tourists all-year-round anyways. But Neves told us, the greenery comes alive in the Monsoons. It is a sight and an altogether different experience to stay there in the rainy season. Well, we need to experience it, hopefully soon!
What should my ideal Divar Island itinerary be?
Well, you could see all the places mentioned above in a day also. But we suggest at least stay for 1 day. That way, you can space out the sightseeings and spend more time at each. Here is how our itinerary looked-
Day 1 - Reach Divar by 12 pm, settle at the homestay, rest, visit Churches in the evening
Day 2 - Visit the temples, Koti Tali, drive aimlessly exploring every inch of the island, visit nearby islands
Where to see the best sunset on Divar Island?
We've already mentioned the Piety church promenade. So, that is the number 1 spot for catching a breathtaking sunset. You could also catch almost similar views from the Shakti Vinayak Devasthan temple. Lastly, drive along the road leading to the ferry point taking you to Old Goa. Stop mid-way here, park your vehicle near the promenade and watch the sun going down!
It is a paradise. Just to know and experience a land so calm and composed given its troubled history and being in midst of a tourist destination, known to receive crazy crowd at all times, Divar is a welcoming change. We earlier thought South Goa is non-touristy but Divar changed the whole idea of non-touristy for us. We hardly found a few people who came here and stayed to enjoy the relaxing nature of this place. If you want to experience local Goa, you need to visit this well-preserved, beautiful island and you will definitely have some wonderful memories to take back.