Wednesday, October 22, 2014

A Visit to Udvada


Udvada is to the Parsis what Mecca is for Muslims, Kashi for Hindus and the Vatican for Christians. This quiet little village in Gujarat houses the holiest of holy fires, the Iranshah.

When the Parsis first landed in India, at Sanjan on the western coast, they established the first fire temple on Indian soil in memory of Iran and in thanksgiving of their safe journey to India. The holy fire was eventually housed in its current location at Udvada.  It has been tended since then and has never been allowed to go out and has been burning continuously for more than 1,100 years.

Devout Parsis visit Udvada as often as they can, offer worship at the Atashbehram, and then  amble off for some local shopping, and a good meal either at Ashishvang or at The Globe Hotel. You can also book rooms here and stay over. The rooms at The Globe have beautiful four poster beds, and a glimpse of those were enough to make me want to stay!


Lunch at The Globe - Mutton Dhansakh, Papeta Marghi, rotli, tareli boi (mullet), kachuber, brown rice.

I had an impromptu chance to go to Udvada because K was going there for some work. Of course, I tagged along and I took my camera too. This was another opportunity to go around taking pictures, a chance to practice, learn and improve. And a good way to stay out of K's hair too. I got the chance to check out the Irani bakery, to get in and poke around a traditional Parsi kitchen, to have a sumptuous meal at The Globe, and to wander the streets where I also bought some local products.

The Irani bakery is run by a gentleman called Rohinton Irani. He keeps traditional Irani baking techniques and recipes alive and has a limited but classic range of products for sale. Cookies, macrooms, khari, sweet khari, batasa, nankhati, mawa cakes, buns, brun, sliced bread and of course, ladi pav, are available at his shop.






Batasas waiting to be baked.

The Chulavati or hearth is rarely seen in kitchens these days, even in the villages. My mother in law had distinct memories of her great-grandmom Soonamai cooking at such a chulavati. She has written about them in her first book Jamva Chaloji, and I was thrilled to finally see one myself. In the old days the chulavati would be set into the floor but in later times many households had them built at table level to make it easier to use. Since fire is held to be supremely sacred, the chulavati is also revered. It is often decorated with rangoli and pictures of the prophet might also be kept nearby.


Torans hanging at the lintel of every door are a hallmark of Parsi houses and I saw  very pretty torans in Udvada. Traditionally made with glass beads, these days plastic beads are also used. A special frame is used to 'weave' the torans and this is an art that is slowly dying out. How sad.



Leela lasan na papad or papads flavoured with green tender garlic is one of the things every Parsi brings back from Udvada. These are delicious eaten with curry chawal, ras chawal, khichri kheemo, or even as a snack with beer.



Parsi tea must have mint and lemon grass to flavour it and if you're lucky, you might get your hands on fresh peppermint while you're in Udvada. I did!


I also bought embroidered head scarves as little gifts for my sisters in law. Though machine embroidered, the motifs are the same as were hand embroidered on the gorgeous satins and Chinese silk Garas. Parsis cover their heads with caps or scarves when they are in a fire temple and these were being sold at a shop just outside the Iranshah Atashbehram. The shop sells all manner of Parsi knick knacks, pickles, prayer books, kors or saree borders, and torans too. The torans were priced between 1,500 and 4,000 Rupees.


Udvada is not a bustling busy town. It's not a sleepy village either. There's a beach, there's great food, and there's Parsi heritage in every corner. There's plenty for non Parsis to appreciate here so if you do get a chance, go check it out. The Gujarat highway is excellent and it will take you roughly three hours to get there if you're based in Mumbai.

Marathon Bloggers Project 52

5 comments:

Purna Chowdhury said...

Thanks for giving us a rare insight into a rich culture!

Purna Chowdhury said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kurush F Dalal said...

What a lovely post Rhea ... you have beautifully encapsulated Udvada :)

Ruhi d said...

Lovely! Udvada tour in a gist.

Sayli Deshpande said...

Rhea the fish looks very tempting. Your blog is a clear reflection of your enjoyable journey. I am a food maniac and I must confess that I envy your luck to have eaten all those delicious items. Thanks for sharing the post.