As a kid, I grew up in the old city of Surat in Popat Moholla, which was a Parsi colony at that time. Since young age, we were surrounded by these peace loving, friendly people who followed a different religion, dressed distinctly, had different food habits and would speak Gujarati with a thick Parsi accent (which amused us as kids). I had Parsi neighbours and friends, teachers and doctors and our entire street was lined up with very old houses displaying unique architectural details and several wells (water wells), which was quite an unusual site.
For my friends from other parts of India and world, Parsis are a Zoroastrian community who migrated to the west coast of India from Persia (Iran) during the Arab conquest in 7th century. Presently, the small community only resides in a few areas in Mumbai, Surat and other cities in South Gujarat. They originally settled in Sanjan (Gujarat), later moving their holy fire (Atash) to Udwada. Ever since, Udwada (a small coastal town in south Gujarat) has been an important religious centre for the Parsi community.
I visited Udwada almost every alternate weekend in my childhood as my father would want to take the weekend off in Daman (Daman being the nearest UT and Gujarat being a dry state :D). Jokes aside, this little sleepy town always found a soft spot in my heart.
When I happened to visit it recently, I utilised my time walking around the narrow paved streets and discovering some beautiful houses and food (of course). Udwada has numerous lofty houses with minute details on their facades reminiscent of the bygone era. The steep slopping roofs, wooden attics, massive wooden staircases and the detailed hand railings in the foyer of the houses hit me straight in my heart. To top it all, the very warm and welcoming Parsis will most definitely make you fall in love with them.
A visit to Udwada/Daman can be a perfect quaint weekend getaway for people staying in south Gujarat or Mumbai (as it is just a few hundred kilometres away).
Planning the day:
* Take a morning drive on NH8 to the coastal town of Udwada, which is about halfway between Mumbai and Surat.
* Once you reach the destination, hit the Iran Shah Fire Temple (Atash Behram as the Parsis call it). Only Parsis are allowed inside the temple complex but all you other non-Parsi beings can stroll around in that street and just relish the ambience.
* I would definitely recommend you to buy a handful of freshly baked coconut macaroons and other homemade bakery items baked by Parsi women while you await your friends (that’s what I did when I was waiting).
P.S. – I did get a chance to sneak inside the temple complex only because it is under renovation these days. However, it’s always better to ask around and not violate any rules.
* Another must try are homemade ice creams that are available at a couple of places on the main temple street. Enjoy your cup of ice cream on a sunny afternoon sitting on a vintage swing and talk about whatever interests you (its mostly wine and more food in my case). 😀
* You can opt for a traditional Parsi Bhonu for lunch and relish the delectable veg and non-veg dishes on the platter.
Note: I am a vegetarian and I am so bummed to have not tried the super famous Patra ni Machhi but recently I had a vegetarian version of the dish which is Patra nu Paneer and I absolutely loved it. Also, a veg/non-veg Dhansaak with brown rice is a must try Parsi dish.
* A little siesta in the noon will keep you charged for the rest of the evening. I definitely suggest you to take a room in one of the old Parsi hotels/dharamshala housed in vintage buildings. Although only a few of these will entertain non-Parsi crowd.
* You can take a short drive to Devaka in the evening and enjoy the sunset from the beach with a chilled beer in either of your hands 😉 followed by a dinner.
* I suggest you start your next day tad bit early as the morning sunlight makes some beautiful pictures. And don’t forget to drink a glass of NEERA (palm nectar) straight in the morning.
* Head to Café Farohar for some delicious Parsi-style breakfast. Follow it up with a few/many glasses of Milk Puff (a sweet cardamom flavoured mil concoction that you just cant miss).
* Go beach exploring or settle on a beach shack in Daman. Relax and unwind for the rest of the day and keep yourself hydrated with more beers.
Fun Fact: Daman being a Union Territory, one only pays 40 bucks for a pint of beer.
Please note that I am a highly opinionated soul and would not write about things just for the sake of it. Many of my friends suggested me to instead write about Daman (as it is more known with tourists and travellers alike), but I personally like Udwada much more. Through this space I am trying to convey and share my best travel experiences and that doesn’t always necessarily come from taking the travelled path. I have never been drawn to commercial places with a lot of tourists and visitors, which is exactly why Udwada’s discrete charm had me writing for it.
Now go grab your backpack and leave already.