Road trip from Mumbai: Driving down to Udvada and Navsari
In Udvada stands the Atash Behram (entrance of which is pictured above), the oldest and the holiest fire temple and is a pilgrimage site. Due to its proximity from Mumbai, the city that houses the largest number of Parsis in the world, Udvada welcomes several Parsi pilgrims almost every weekend. It is this fire temple that drives the economy of Udvada.
How to reach Udvada
The easiest way to reach Udvada is by road. Udvada is about 200 km from Mumbai along the well-maintained National Highway 8. We drove down in Maruti Celerio‘s new automatic gear shift model and reached Udvada in about three hours. With its classic ‘Maruti mileage’ the entire journey was easily completed on a full tank.
Udvada is also connected by rail. As many as six trains depart from the western railways Mumbai Central station and stop at Udvada. That journey will take you about two-and-a-half hours and will require you to take an auto rickshaw from the station to Udvada.
Where to eat en route Udvada
Two of the best places to eat along the NH8 stand next to each other and are on the right hand side of the road when you’re heading to Udvada. So you’ll need to turn around and drive back a kilometer or two to access Parsi da Dhaba (+91-88062-79379) and Dairy Land Parsi Dairy (+91-80079-62862). Both these outlets offer the best of Parsi cuisine outside of Udvada.
At both places, stick to ordering Parsi specialty dishes — from salli-boti to dhansakh daland salli-par-eedu to patra-ni-machchi — but when at Dairy Land, also consider theirpaneer pakoda and batata vadas.
What to do in Udvada
1. Photograph the large and beautiful houses that go back over a hundred years
2. Get lost in the narrow lanes of the town
3. Hit the beach in the evening
4. Savour Parsi cuisine
In very many ways, Udvada is like any other pilgrim site. The economy revolves around a temple and nothing else happens here. But the town offers fascinating insights into the life of the small and dying community (the Tatas and Godrejs are two of the most prominent names that come to mind) that has contributed a great deal to the progress of the nation. Note that the fire temple can be accessed only by Zoroastrians but the town and its businesses remain open to all.
Indeed Udvada is not your stereotypical weekend destination: there’s nothing to do per se. But if history and architecture interests you, you can spend hours in Udvada photographing large homes that date back to the 19th century. What Udvada also offers is some great lip-smacking food and a slice of Parsi culture.
Udvada also has a pretty beach. When you are done photographing and being in awe of the spectacular architecture that has stood the test of time head to the beach and watch the sunset.
Where to stay and eat in Udvada:
Ashishwan Hotel (+91-99255-58138) and Globe Hotel (0260-2345243) are the traditional favorites.
Don’t get fooled by their plain exteriors, they offer everything from dormitories to air-conditioned rooms. Ashishwan will put you back by about Rs 2,000 per night while Globe will cost you about Rs 2500 or so. Note that the tariff includes ALL meals!
Menus at these hotels change at the whim of the chef but fried boi (deep friend mullet),machhi ni curry (fish curry), bheja cutlets, roast chicken and mutton pulao dal are some of the specialties of the community and both the hotels make them very well. Since you are eating Parsi style, don’t forget to order a bottle of Raspberry soda and wind down the meal with a scoop or three of handmade sancha ice cream. Dudh na puff, which is basically chilled milk froth topped with nutmeg and cinnamon and is served by local vendors who chill it in an earthen pot overnight, is yet another Parsi specialty that you simply cannot miss. Note that this is best had in the mornings and goes perfectly with your breakfast of akuri on toast!
On your way out of Udvada head to the market opposite the Atash Behram for some fresh mint leaves and tea leaves (key ingredients in Parsi chai), hand-rolled dry papadsand pickles EF Kolah, a prominent but local Parsi food brand. Hormuzd Bakery offers delightful mawa cakes and batasas, nankhatais and khari that will melt in your mouth. Pack them all!
Home to some of the most prominent families that shaped not just India’s history but also its economy, Navsari today is a town that is trying to hold on to its once-glorious past even as it attempts to find its place in the future of an ever-changing India. Here, Subway and Dominos franchisees jostle with local Neera shops and Kolah outlets and multi-storied glass façade buildings stand out in stark contrast to quaint traditional Parsi homes. Even so, Navsari retains much of its traditional charm.
How to reach Navsari
Navsari is about 75 km to the north of Udvada and it takes a little over an hour-and-a-half to reach. Several public transport buses connect the two towns. We discovered that our ever-reliable Celerio was good car of choice for the trip as it helped us negotiate Navsari’s particularly narrow and crowded roads.
What to do in Navsari
1. Visit the First Dastoor Meherjirana Library (pictured above)
2. Drop by at the homes-turned-museums of Jamsetji Tata and Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy
3. Cool off with Kohla’s Rose Falooda
As is the case with Udvada, there isn’t a lot to ‘do’ in Navsari either and your sole reason to visit it should be the First Dastoor Meherjirana Library and the homes-turned-museums of Jamsetji Tata and Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy.
The construction of the building of the First Dastoor Meherjirana Library was commissioned back in 1872 with the donation of Rs 225 by a wealthy Parsi called Navsariwala Seth Burjor Bamanji Padam. Named after one Meherji Rana, who explained the Zoroastrian religion to Akbar during a special audience with the emperor, the library building harks back to an era when life was simpler and people took great pains to pay attention to the minutest detail.
Apart from an extensive collection of immaculately preserved manuscripts (one of which is pictured above), the library’s greatest possession is the Mughal firman that granted land to Meherji Rana that has been signed by the legendary Mughal chronicler Abu’l Fazl himself! (Sadly, the weekend we travelled to Navsari, the firman had been transported to New Delhi for an exhibition.) The trustee, Behzad Suraliwala, maintains regular office hours and is a reliable source of information about the library and its history.
Just a few steps away from the library is this majestic fire temple (pictured below).
Indeed there are several buildings consecrated to Zoroastrianism and if you are someone who’s interested in learning about a new culture that’s very much part of India’s tapestry, you’ll find yourself being lost in the lanes of Navsari.
The homes of Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy and Sir Jamshedjee Tata are the other two must-visit places in Navsari. Both the homes are similar in structures and very much in the same neighborhood. Both the homes are now run as museums by family trusts and offer a fascinating insight into the humble beginnings of the men who went on to define the history of an emerging nation. Note that both these museums are closed between 1pm and 3pm and while you will most likely be guided by a Good Samaritan present there, do not expect any expert insights.
Where to stay in Navsari
Royal Regency (Juna Thana, Opp Seth RJJ High School, Navsari, +91-97275-20000) is arguably the best hotel in Navsari and will set you back by at least Rs 1500 per night.
If, however, you are looking for a local touch, Deboo House Homestay (Agiary Street, Navsari) is the place to camp at. Set in a sprawling bungalow, Deboo House (pictured above) offers large well-ventilated rooms with four poster beds that take you right back in time. A room in Deboo House will cost you anywhere between Rs 2,000 to Rs 2500 per night. They also let out the entire house on rent for as little as Rs 8,000 to Rs 10,000 per night. The entire house can accommodate up to 25 people.
Where to eat in Navsari
Unlike in Udvada, Navsari has almost no Parsi restaurants. While the best Parsi food is indeed cooked in homes, a restaurant, simply called The Parsi Food (Mahavir Society, Navsari +91-98980-57973) located on the outskirts of Navsari serves a pretty mean fare.
Cheragsam Gandhi (02637-240131), the caretaker of Sohrab Baug, a wedding venue about 50 ft south west of the Atash Behram, also serves meals but you will have to call a day in advance to place the order.
No trip to Navsari can be complete without a trip to Yazdan Cold Drink House (Mota Bazaar, Navsari, 02637-231577). Owned by the Kolahs, the tiny shop is almost always crowded and serves its trademark faloodas and ice cream. They also sell flavored concentrates. Our recommendations: try rose, raspberry and mango.
Despite their proximity to Mumbai, Udvada and Navsari remain largely unexplored by non-Parsis. If it’s ‘off-beat’ you’re looking for, head down the NH8 and these two little hidden gems might just surprise you.