A trip to Udwada and Navsari Atash Behram (there are eight such places of worship in Zorastrian religion; the highest in the hierarchy of Zorastrian Fire Temples) is always looked forward to, so when the Divine call comes, I pack my suitcase and rush to Bombay Central in time to catch the Gujarat Express at 6.45 am, like I did today, with Mamu (my neighbour Pheroze Bhathena, 79). The train was on time and by 10.00 or so we checked into a hotel there.
A sumptuous and delicious breakfast greeted us. Besides the magnificent Atash Behram, Udwada is also known for good food. The food, though, in most of the hotels is quite good. Unfortunately, the two most popular Parsi breakfast items Rava (better known as Sheera or Rava Kesari and made with Suji, milk and sugar) and Sev (fried vermicelli cooked in sugar syrup and sprinkled with raisins and lot of almond slivers) were not there at the place we went. But fried eggs, bread butter and jam, and hot tea were served. Stomach worship done, it was time for GOD's worship.
The Atash Behram is getting renovated, so I prayed in the adjoining building, home of the smaller of two Fires. The place was as serene and beautiful as ever (which place of worship isn't!), though crowded than usual as it was a Sunday. One good thing that Mamu, I and my cousins who we later met that day in Navsari, were discussing that these days we are seeing a lot of young crowd coming back to the Fire-temples, especially in Bombay. This is a reversal of trend of happening when the last decade was seeing most youngsters drifting away. Not that that was wrong, so long as you practice Good Thoughts, Good Words and Good Deeds - also, the tenets of Zorastrian religion. But it sure is nice to see so many young boys and girls praying diligently in the Temples.
Soon, it was lunch time. After a heavy breakfast, I thought I would not be ready for an early lunch - since we had to catch the afternoon train to proceed to Navsari - but the aroma of Dhansakh being cooked in the hotel's kitchen changed my mind. I had the fried mullet fish - Parsis call it Boi, Chicken with gravy and mutton dhansakh; no mutton, only chicken for me. To say it was tasty would be an understatement. I felt like I could just take a nap there after lunch. It's always a pleasure to have food in Udwada; i think partly it tastes much better than in Bombay, because in Udwada they cook food on charcoal stoves instead of cooking gas.
Udwada is also famous for toddy - fermented juice taken out from palm trees. (Alcohol is banned in Gujarat.) The juice taken out is fermented in the sun to get the intoxicating quality. This, when you drink, gives you a kick like alcohol. It is also supposed to be healthy when pure and original. After you drink, you either vomit the whole thing or pass it off as loose motions; it cleanses your inside system. I find this disgusting, and I also do not like its smell, so I do not drink toddy. Those very close to me would know that right from childhood, the food's aroma or its presentability would decide whether I like the dish or not. Unlike others who first taste and then ascertain, I go by the aroma and the looks of the dish. Sounds stupid, but everyone is allowed to have some stupid thing; more so if you are Parsi. This is mine.
I am teetotaller. Actually, I am not; I just like this word and like being associated with it. But I am not a social drinker either. I do not drink at all social occasions, but do so only when I am in the mood. At Parsi weddings and navjotes, as soon as the bar opens, there's a long queue. My cousins/relatives sitting next to me, would ask me, "Kayezad, what will you drink?" "Nothing", I say immediately. "Have something ne, wine or beer perhaps", he/she would insist. "No".
"Take, take. Don't feel shy. Once you get a glass, soon you will also get a girl". "No", I would persist, refusing much like the brave king who succeeded in guarding his fortress from enemies, whilst others guarding thiers', fell by the wayside like falling pins. But I do occasionally have wine or beer. My problem is that due to a rare drink here or there, my capacity is very low. I feel high after just a half a glass of beer, and I fear about embarrassing myself in front of others. My office colleagues can gulp down bottles and bottles of beer like I can have water after coming home from hot sun. Rajesh Gajra at Starters & More, anyone?
We caught the afternoon train to Navsari. Though we went by First Class, it was crowded with people, especially ladies and children holding second class tickets. No ticket checkers throughout the journey. Discipline is a rarity in Gujarat whether you travel by road or rail. We had difficulty in getting down at Navsari, especially Mamu since he is old and has a stick, thanks to one stupid woman who just wouldn't let people to alight first.
Anyways, 10 minutes and Rs 25 later, we were at Jamshed Baug - a rest house or dharamshala at Char Pool (literally translated as four lakes, though there's none nearby) for Parsi travellers. The place was done-up three years back and it now looks like a 3-star hotel. Spotless clean, large and spacious rooms and well-lit up and very airy, Jamshed Baug was very welcoming. Much better than all Udwada hotels and apart from the Delhi Dharamshala, this is the best parsi Dharamshala that I've been to, so far. Thanks also to its very efficient and ever-smiling manager, Ms Niloufer Mandviwala and her hard-working staff.
Later in the evening, we went to my cousin Hutoxi's house. Hutoxi is Kashmira's sister. Like Kashmira, Hutu's cooking is great. Both sisters are teachers and do a great job at managing their hectic and demanding jobs, students, as well as their home and family affairs. GOD bless them. Boi fish yet again, but gladly, and potato & chicken with paper chapattis you can't keep a track of when eating, rounded off with yummy cornflower dessert was served with lots of good hospitality. I can't ask for a better dinner when away from home. Now I am told Hutu's younger son Hanosh who is studying catering at the Taj Aurungabad institute is also doing well and is well on his way to becoming a great chef. He prepares yummy chocolate mousse. For those of you who do not know, if you want to seduce me, give me chocolate mousse!
End of a tiring, yet very profitable day. Nothing compares to a visit to the Udwada Atash-Behram. Yatha Ahu Vairyo!
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