A recent road trip to coastal Gujarat from my city of Hyderabad took me through many cities, towns and villages in the course of an almost thousand kilometer drive. When Zoroastrians first came to India from Persia, they brought their sacred fire with them in a boat. They were given shelter by Jadav Rana in Sanjan and the Holy fire was moved from Sanjan to the Barhot Caves until it finally got its home at the Iranshah in the sleepy village of Udvada.
For most Parsis, a trip to Udvada is a must after their thread ceremony, marriage and many other happy occasions. Visiting the holiest flame is always combined with ‘pet pooja’. Udvada is the place where one can eat the freshest of fish, be it Pomfrets, Bombay Ducks or the local Boi fish. One cannot imagine returning from Udvada without sampling the legendry local Fried Boi. I ate this fish for lunch and dinner and would have happily eaten it for breakfast too if I hadn’t been sidetracked by the many cups of milky tea to which mint and lemon grass was added, the sweet ‘sev’(vermicelli), Parsi ‘Pora’ (omlette) and liver fry which was that day’s breakfast menu at Ashishvang Hotel where I was staying. A visit after breakfast to the Iranshah where the fire has been burning continuously since 1,250 years and to the nearby Pundole ‘agiari’ (fire temple) took me past local vendors of dried ‘ber’ (Indian Plum), home made pepper and green garlic pappads,
the famous Irani bakery which sells the famous ‘nankathai’ and ‘batasas’ (biscuits), sandal wood vendors and small shops selling methia nu and libu nu achar (mango and lime pickles) and gharab nu achar( fish roe pickle). We stop to buy the ‘dhansak’ and ‘sambhar’ ( different from the South Indian ‘sambar’) masalas that give lentils their distinctively Parsi flavour.
The next stop is Navsari, 77 km away. The sprawling old Navsari Atashbehram was built in 1765. Directly opposite it is “The Kolas.” Praying is thirsty work and we end up sampling the falooda, ice cream, raspberry and double lemon sodas plus scoops of handmade ice cream. I liked the mango and chikoo flavors the most. Buying the famous Navsari saris is next on the agenda and then we head back to Udvada for a late lunch comprising of Pomfret curry, fried boi (I was happy to note that they were large: their heads and tails spilled out of the serving dish), papeta nu gosh (lamb and potatoes) and fried chicken cutlets.
More tea and we were all set to drive to Daman, the ex Portuguese colony which is only 12 km away from Udvada on a very scenic and narrow road. But this time, I am very sorry to see the beautiful old trees hacked and chopped to make room for wider roads. The old tree lined curved road winding past old Parsi owned bungalows seemed to be a thing of the past. Daman’s main claim to fame is its sale of alcohol as the rest of Gujarat is a ‘dry’ state.
I love Daman for its Old Portuguese buildings and churches. The town is divided by the Daman Ganga River. The northern section is known as Nani Daman, or Little Daman, and contains the hotels, restaurants, bars and so on. In the southern part, known as Moti Daman, or Big Daman, government buildings and churches are enclosed within an imposing wall.
We are back in Udvada in time for dinner. There is more fresh fish on the menu and Chicken Farchas. We had passed the fisher women in Udvada market earlier that evening and were taken pleasantly surprised at just how inexpensive the fresh shrimp and seafood actually was.
After another hearty breakfast, we set out for our return trip to Hyderabad via Nasik and Aurangabad. I realize that we have spent more time eating and sightseeing in coastal Gujarat than we have spent praying. This is just my kind of a pilgrimage.