Udvada is a town in Gujarat, celebrated for the Iranshah ?tash Bahr?m, the oldest and most famous of the Parsi (Zoroastrian) Fire Temples. Udvada is a coastal town, 200 km north of Mumbai, approximately 8 km off the national highway NH8. Udvava literally stands for 'grazing ground of camels', which was actually the town's condition, prior to becoming a fishing village. People are of the faith that the holy fire of the Parsi community is kept in Udvada, that was also brought directly from Persia. This fire is also an instance of one of the oldest. Udvada is precisely located in the district of Valsad, with its geographical co-ordinates as 20° 29' 0" North, 72° 53' 0" East.
History of Udvada, Gujarat
Whenever one thinks of Udvada, one is sure to be reminded of the few remaining Zoroastrian community in the country, about their customs, their religion and of course their valiant history. The term 'Parsi' is not a religious, but an ethnic group. It refers to the descendants of the original band of Persian refugees who fled from the Arab conquest of their homeland, and arrived on the shores of Gujarat during the 8th century A.D.
Arrival Information for Udvada, Gujarat
Udvada can be accessed by all the three primary communications.
By air: The nearest airport to Udvada is Mumbai, located at an approximate distance of 200 km.
By rail: Udvada is well connected to Mumbai by trains. Trains like Feroze Janta Express and Gujarat Express halts at Udvada station. Udvada village is 20 minutes from the station.
By road: Udvada si 8 km from Mumbai, off the National Highway NH8. Buses run from Mumbai Central to Vapi. One can get auto rickshaws or taxis to reach Udvada.
Accommodation in Udvada, Gujarat While Parsi pilgrims can choose from a number of low-priced lodges like Sodawaterwala Dharamshala and JJ. Dharamshala, non-Parsi visitors to Udvada have the option to stay in hotels situated near the Atash Behram. Globe Hotel situated near Pandol Agiary, offers sanitised AC and non-AC rooms with hearty Parsi meals thrown in. At 5 minutes walk from the temple towards the seashore is the Paradise Hotel. Closeby is the Ashishvang Hotel, with 8 rooms, a travel desk, doctor-on-call, STD-ISD, cable TV and other up-to-date amenities.
For those keen on sea-facing and relaxed accommodation, there is Devka Beach, approximately 8 km away (a 10-minute drive). The only Parsi establishment here is Dossabhai Oliaji's Duke Hotel, started in 1936. Governed more like a homestay, Oliaji is especially known for his breakfast spread among Parsi visitors. Other hotels here include the swankier Miramar, Other high-end hotels include Princess Park with 27 AC rooms, a gym, sauna and Jacuzzi and a sea-facing restaurant and bar, and Sandy Resort, with 46 AC rooms, a swimming pool and four restaurants (poolside, garden, AC and 24-hr coffee shop).
Travel Guideline for Udvada, Gujarat
Udvada, being close to Surat, remains exceedingly scorching and humid during the summer months. Winter temperatures also keep on fluctuating, and the monsoons are never a recommended time to visit a place. Threfore the best time to go to Udvada is between the months of October to March. The place, attracting and managing such a mass of Parsis from the country, is bound to be well accommodated with healthcare and monetary facilities. Udvada town possesses the contemporary facilities in hospitals and banks for tourists in emergency need of both. A host of tour operators also guides a person to his or her preferred destinations, catering to them day and night, without much hassle.
Tourist spots in and around Udvada, Gujarat
Reminiscent of the curious culture and heritage, the visiting places around Udvada speak an entirely different language, just like the history and customs of this hugely minority community. The spots carries a separate breathe of their own, which were also admired by legendary mighty rulers and kings from significant dynasties. They have however, regrettably been reduced down to banality, with the dazzle and sparkle of the community almost gone forever.
Where to eat in Udvada, Gujarat
There are no stand-alone Parsi restaurants in Udvada. But all the four Parsi-run hotels mentioned above offer veritable Parsi meals with a few Goan favourites like vin-daloo fish curry etc. Since the menu is not set, it is possible to request the dishes one would like to experiment, preferably a day in advance. On offer through the year are lip-smaking dhansak, sali margi or ghosht, chicken chops, chicken farja, aleti-paleti, mutton keema, tarkaris, katorma ghosht, fish cutlets and patrani fish to name a few. But the most sought after dish on the menu is the sweet-water boi (mullet) served fried. But sadly enough, the food is served without toddy, the favourite draught of the Parsis because of prohibition in Gujarat. If, however, one is keen to taste some - it is best to head for Patalia (also known as Vankad) on the road to Daman, barely 2.5 km from Udvada, where toddy tappers have set up temporary stalls.
If one arrives in Udvada by train, it is advised to stop by Bharat Bakery at the railway station for a taste of nankhatai - the melt-in-the mouth sweet biscuit. The bakery also puts up a stall in front of the Fire Temple between morning and noon. Seasonal specials include doodh puff, sold by locals between October and March. A sweet milk delicacy, it is prepared by fermenting milk in earthen pots nightlong and whipped the next day to form light foam. This puff is then added to chilled milk seasoned with almonds, cardamom and nutmeg.
Shopping in Udvada, Gujarat
If one is an addictive shopper, one is bound to suffer withdrawal symptoms in Udvada. Unlike other pilgrim centres, it is not abound in pseudo-religious souvenirs. At the most one can find home-made bhakras or hand-rolled pappads flecked with coriander, garlic, chilli or pepper. If one wishes to take back something more lasting, one can try a votive divo, the prayer lamp. Its small glass is encased in filigreed German silver with the Prophet's gentle face embossed on it. However, one must be sure to buy the floaters and wicks along with the lamp.
If one decides to buy a divo, it is pleasing to remember that this is a votive object, and should be treated with respect. It should be lit with a clean body (and mind). The glass should be filled 3/4th with oil and water in a proportion of 3:1. The wick needs to be put into the cork floater, and lighted with a match. The glass must be placed in the German silver casing. The flame should last for approximately 8-10 hrs. For further uses, the glass needs to be cleansed and the oil, water and wick should also be replaced. The same floater can be used for a month of regular use, or longer.