Long after the British left India, the Portuguese still occupied Goa, Daman & Diu. After liberation from Portuguese rule, they were a common Union Territory till Goa became a separate state. Daman is also the favorite go-to weekend destination for people in South Gujarat as it’s a Union Territory (low taxes) where the dry laws do not apply (freely available liquor). A little over 3 hours from Baroda by road/train makes it convenient even if the weekend is just 1-day long. The tourism department also organizes a Half Marathon (http://damanwindmarathon.org/) around Liberation Day (19th December), where many runners from Baroda are regulars.
If you think they participate for the easy availability of liquor, you are mistaken. Many have achieved their PB’s & best performances at the Daman Wind Marathon. This year I was also part of the Baroda contingent at Daman (there were others too, who turned up late). And like the rest, my priority was also clear (though different)!!
They start the run very early at Daman, around 5:30 am. I was staying at my aunt’s place in Vapi which is just across the border in Gujarat. I didn’t wish to disturb my cousin’s sleep early in the morning to drop me off, nor was I adventurous enough to drive back into Gujarat after a trip to Daman. So the previous night had me arranging an auto to pick me up early in the morning. It’s a tough task & my advice for those who may want to go to Daman next year onwards is simple – Daman is the place to stay. If you find Vapi convenient, make sure you have your own conveyance (and a driver, if you enjoy your post-run drink). Of the many who refused, I came across an autowala who informed that he was also participating (along with some 10/12 of his friends) in the marathon. I simply love it when someone is willing to chuck aside productive economic time to indulge in a favorite pastime. Unfortunately, he was running the 5K which started much later & could not take me along on his bike!! But one manages to get an auto at the Railway Station, where those on the night shift are most willing to take you for some Rs. 250/-. Don’t haggle much as one doesn’t have much of a choice. That’s my advice #2 & #3 for those wishing to run in Daman!!
An early morning start is good, as Daman is never really cold even in December. However, one does feel the chill riding an auto at 4:30 in the morning. But alighting at the Daman Football Ground, it feels pleasant, and more so after one does some stretching & warmup. The Daman Fort is still decked up with the lighting put up for Liberation Day, or maybe it is always there (this is my first time here).
On the bridge, I come across Mr. Amarjeet Singh, a 60-year young visually challenged runner from Mumbai. Around 9 years back, he started taking part in distance running events, beginning with the 7K at SCMM. Since then, he has completed 43 distance runs. A week prior to Daman Wind Marathon, he was running the HM at Goa River Marathon & was scheduled to run the HM in Nashik the next week. His spirit is truly commendable! He has to run with an escort who runs with him. At Daman, it was Harshal from Mumbai who ran with him. But this is not the difficult part. Even traveling outside Mumbai is a task. He needs an escort for that too. He defines the spirit of running the marathon, or the half for that matter – overcoming the odds & breaking through the physical & mental barriers.
The bridge on Damanganga river makes a pretty sight too, with all these decorative lights creating a canopy as we moved. The Daman administration has opted for the best day to organize the event when not only the city is decorated but even the weather is helpful. No wonder, outstation participants become a regular at Daman. It was still dark, when the sound of waves crashing on the shore announced we were near the Devka beach. And then we come upon all these resorts & hotels. There is enough hydration available along the route as these hotels put up water stations for the runners. The organisers also don’t need to put up portable toilets as Daman is dotted with hotels who open up their facilities for us. May be this is also a reason why the entry fees here are so low!
A long stretch of the route is lined with coconut trees along the shore. In their welcome email, the organisers had informed that this piece of land belonged to one Sukur Narayan Bakhia, a smuggler who had, as one of his assistants, a guy called Haji Mastan!! Daman has history at every step, it seems.
We turn around at the gates of Wind World India, the event sponsors. They are doing a good job, putting this small Union Territory on the sporting calendar.
On my return leg, I come across Mr. Premshankar Pandya from Ahmedabad running on the other side of the road. At 75 years, he is 15 years younger than our Mr. Amarjeet Singh. He has been walking & running long distances for many years now. But that’s not what he is known for. He is recognized because he always runs barefoot wearing dhoti-kurta! He even ran the Vadodara Ultra barefoot, running so on the roads would be so much easier.
I always believed that Surtis thronged Daman for the beer & liquor. But coming to this stall, I realized Daman ,makes them feel at home. Of course, this gentleman doesn’t have the entire range of egg dishes that are served at a typical outlet in Surat, but has enough on the menu to get the Surti tourists get up & out for the breakfast.
Back in the city, we take the turn at the Clock Tower, still decorated with yesterday’s flowers & the dolphins at the top. Beware of this one, though. One look at the time & I was mighty pleased with myself. But once I took out my phone to take its pic, I realized it was around 55 minutes behind. I was totally deflated!
Back on the Damanganga bridge & the Daman Fort is still standing strong to welcome us back.
You would be well aware of what happens during that last kilometer. With not much distance left, and far lesser strength in those legs, runners pull up the last of the energy reserves that they can, to cut down the seconds. Now what will you do if you come across this sign at this stage? Would you still get ahead of that slowing runner ahead of you? Or would you just take it easy & wait till the turn ahead to move forward?
We finish where we began, just outside the Daman fort. May be the soldiers of the Maratha Light Infantry, at the end of the siege, felt as tired as we did at the finish line. We have to get into the fort for the medals & post-race breakfast (nothing to speak about). The fort now houses government offices. There’s also the beautiful Liberation day memorial, which made me wonder whether the cannon in the corner fired all these shots!! You can read more about the liberation of Goa, Daman & Diu at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Indian_annexation_of_Portuguese_India.
They serve you the breakfast on the banks of the Damanganga river, where there is also small park. The children had energy enough to play in the park! They were proudly wearing their medals & bibs. The fun doesn’t stop for the kids.
Returning back, I once again met Mr. Amarjeet Singh & Harshal (his escort) & we got chatting. A group of young boys reached & greeted him. They were all praise for him, especially the fact that he finished earlier than they did. It was sincere, truthful praise that they had for Mr. Singh. He inspired more than a few at Daman.
I came out of the fort & after more than half an hour, hunted down a small bar that was open at 9:30 AM. Well, that’s what I was here for. The medal found its perch at Daman too.