The Tribune - Spectrum


, September 29, 2002

Dadra and Nagar Haveli: A date with pristine beauty and tribal mystery
Usha Bande

IF you ask any person as to what is the capital of Dadra & Nagar Haveli, be sure even a person with encyclopaedic knowledge will fumble for a minute. The position of this Union Territory and its capital Silvassa, a tiny dot on the map, away from the bustle of modernity, snug amid its tribal ethos, gives it the charm of obscurity. Silvassa is small, sleepy and cheerfully green.

Fact File

Road: From Mumbai-Ahmedabad National Highway No. 8, Silvassa, the capital of the Territory is about 180 km from Mumbai, about 120 km from Surat and about 14 km from Bhilad.

Rail: The nearest railway station is Vapi. From Vapi regular bus/taxi services are available. Distance 17 km.

Climate: Pleasant from November to March.

Languages: Gujarati, Hindi, English.

Accommodation: Both Government and private rest houses, hotels and resorts are available.

Contact: Directorate of Tourism, Administration of Dadra & Nagar Haveli, tribal Museum, Silvassa -396230. Tel. 0260-641399.


The capital derives its name from the Portuguese word silva meaning woods. If you enter from the side of Maharashtra on the Mumbai-Ahmedabad Highway you cross Umbergaon and then Bhilad and encounter a big archway welcoming you to Dadra and Nagar Haveli. The Union Territory measures just 491 sq metres and comprises of only 72 villages. It is surrounded by Maharashtra and Gujarat.

An uncanny feeling of journeying through fairyland tickles you as you experience the strangeness of the ethos of the area — tall trees lining the road, no habitation for miles together except a couple of petite tribal huts with the simple tribal folks sitting in front of their cottages smoking their hand-made pipes (chillum) exuding an air of bliss. Sometimes a tourist taxi may whiz past you; otherwise the road seems to be meant for you only. En route, you cross part of a sanctuary and spot herds of deer and antelopes grazing freely in their open enclosures.

As you near Silvassa, the traffic increases but by the time you take note of the vehicles you reach the heart of the town. There, on your right is a bungalow-type, tile-roofed house that whets your curiosity with its statues and clay figures; a little farther is an old church snug amid thick trees. Soon you learn that it is the Tribal Cultural Museum that you are going to see first thing in Silvassa.

A view of the Tribal Cultural Museum, Silvassa
A view of the Tribal Cultural Museum, Silvassa


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Dadra and Nagar Haveli is a tribal belt, with the tribes constituting 80 per cent of the total population of the territory. The main tribes are Dhodia, Kokna and Varli with small groups of Koli, Kathod, Naika and Dublas scattered over the territory. Situated between the foothills of the Western Ghats and the Arabian Sea, this land of the colourful tribals has had a chequered history.

A model of a tribal working at the museum
A model of a tribal working at the museum

It was ruled over by the mighty Marathas till 1779 when they gifted it to the Portuguese for aggregated revenue of Rs 12,000 in return for the Portuguese friendship. In 1954, the territory was liberated and the local people themselves carried on the administration for about 8 years on August 11, 1961, Dadra-Nagar Haveli became a Union Territory. However, the essence of tribal life, its richness and variety, its myths, songs, legends and folklore still remain a part of life here. The Tribal Cultural Museum, therefore, is one of the not-to-be-missed spots of Silvassa, which preserves the tribal culture and gives us a glimpse of the rich socio-cultural heritage of the life of these simple, shy but brave people.

The simple entrance to the Museum is decorated with typical hand-made torans; in the courtyard is seated a scantily clad tribal busy winnowing; one may go ahead wistfully to accost him, but he would not reply because it is a mannequin. Taking off your shoes, you enter through a low door and there! A vast panorama of tribal life is opened before you — the exotic ornaments for both men and women, the models displaying day to day activities, household things, kitchen wares, fishing gadgets, farming implements, hunting equipments and musical instruments.

Sharp arrows and mighty bows, an old-fashioned musket, sabers and daggers, shields and rustic armors decorate the walls. In another room, village-deities carved on stone are reverentially displayed. One can see the different ways of life of the different tribes as exhibited through clay/plaster models.

Dhol dance: Rhythmic beats
Dhol dance: Rhythmic beats

There are photographs of the folk dances performed during various ceremonies and festivals — the Gheria dance of the Dubla tribe, the Bohada mask dance of the Koknas, the Dhol dance which has rhythm and aerobatics, the thrilling human pyramid formed by the Tur dancers, and somehow, you enjoy the cadence and tempo. In short, the quintessence of the tribal life of the area is unmistakably present here. The museum is small but the experience is enriching.

Silvassa and the surrounding tourist spots are imaginatively planned keeping intact the rustic ambience and natural bounty. Just 5 km from the main square Silvassa, is the lake garden known as Vanganga Lake and Island Garden with beautifully maintained lawns, motley-hued flowers-beds, thatched huts and boating facilities. It is refreshing to take a round of the garden and muse on the simmering blue lake and the singing birds. The garden, locals offer the information is a favourite spot for the cinemawallas — yes, dozens of film-songs, particularly of the Hindi movies have been picturised here. Its beauty and proximity to Mumbai could be a major attraction for the producers and directors to make a beeline to the place.

Vanvihar Tourist Complex, Khanvel, 25 km. from Silvassa
Vanvihar Tourist Complex, Khanvel, 25 km. from Silvassa

Hirva Van, a garden named after the local tribal deity "Hirva," meaning greenery or forest is at Pipria on the Silvassa-Dadra Road. Its charm lies in its misty cascades, rustic stonewalls and twin arches. This garden is mesmerising in early morning hours when the waterfalls and the rays of rising sun create magical rainbows on the Vanganga Lake.

Khanvel beckons you with its lush green hills and verdant landscape. This tourist complex, 25 km away from Silvassa is in the midst of a forest. Its green meadows, terraced garden, native-styled cottages and the murmuring Sakartod River make in a heavenly place. At Dudhni, 20 km further, is a Water Sports Complex on river Damanganga. The vast expanse of water spread up to Madhuban Dam provides a breathtaking view.

Apart from sanctuaries, gardens, lakes and rivers, Dadra-Nagar Haveli is rich with history and culture. "The history of Dadra and Nagar Haveli is carved in wood and stone," says a blurb. The land is dotted with stone and wood monuments from the past. 

Water sports at Dudhni are a major attraction
Water sports at Dudhni are a major attraction

Ancient, dilapidated ruins of huge havelis stand as silent witness to the flow of history. Interestingly, the intricate carvings on the doors have mysteriously remained intact, perhaps to remind future generations of an ancient, glorious past. Old churches and temples nestling side by side speak of the amicable co-existence of different religious faiths.

The Church of Our Lady of Piety, built in 1889 is one of the oldest churches in India. The Bindrabin temple dedicated to Shiva is on the bank of River Sakartod; it has great religious and historical significance. The tribal culture and heritage, their dances and folklore, the virgin natural beauty, flora and fauna, and the rich history make a trip to Silvassa and Dadra Nagar Haveli a memorable one.