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Mumbai to Gholvad: A cultural surprise

A chance encounter with Warli

Take a camel ride on Bordi beach. Photo: Ankita S
Take a camel ride on Bordi beach. Photo: Ankita S

When driving through border towns, it is fascinating to straddle two states, wending from one to another every few kilometres and encountering road signs in both languages. That’s exactly what happened on our way to Gholvad, a village in Maharashtra, bordering Gujarat. My husband and I were on a weekend break from Mumbai, hoping to savour the town’s Parsi heritage, and some authentic cuisine. Given that our holiday was smack-dab in the middle of the monsoon, the countryside was cloaked in green.

We made a quick stop for photographs at Dahanu, where the strip of beach and the menacing grey clouds upped the ante in the picture-postcard stakes. The less feted beach comes around half an hour before Gholvad.

We had chosen to stay at Master’s Courtyard, a home-run property that belongs to a Mumbai-based Parsi architect, Porus Master. Gholvad is full of Parsi ancestral homes that have been converted into guest houses. Most have red-tiled roofs, high ceilings and large, airy verandas. These atmospheric homes apart, the tasty batasa (a typical Parsi savoury biscuit) and Irani chai are also draws for vacationers.

Without much ado, we made our way to Crazy Crab, the town’s favourite restaurant, a mere stroll away. The menu had Indian and Chinese dishes, but no Parsi food. The constant march of tourists is slowly stripping the village of its Parsi culinary heritage, though the town is still dotted with small bakeries where delicious mawa cakes feature prominently.

Exactly when Parsis arrived in India has always been a matter of speculation, but historians confirm that they first landed in what is now Gujarat. Their settlements stretched from Dahanu, Gholvad and Bordi to Umbergaon, Sanjan and Udvada—a 70km stretch.

Gholvad, which translates to “round tree", probably refers to the first chikoo tree in the village, planted by an Iranian family in 1901. Gholvad was once a leading producer of the fruit but environmental changes have taken a toll. Walking through the streets, we realized that although Gholvad has a Parsi lineage, it is now more a melange of Maharashtrian and Gujarati cultures. Your best bet for an authentic Parsi experience is at a home-run accommodation.

We spent the rest of the afternoon taking an auto ride to Bordi beach (4.5km) and walking on the flat sand. The monsoon had kept away the crowds so it was delightfully deserted—a perfect stretch of grey sand, bookended by boulders and a copse of palm trees.

The following morning, we decided to explore Gholvad with the caretaker’s nephew. It is a small village and nearly every other person we passed on the way paused to greet him. Along the village road were still green ponds at the base of chikoo orchards. Clearly, the wild undergrowth had had a free run. We were met with disarming smiles, enthusiastic hellos, and even an invitation to have a cup of tea in a village home that belonged to our guide’s friend.

As we walked through a cluster of mud houses, gorgeous Warli paintings in white stood out against dull-brown thatched roofs and rust-coloured walls. The designs looked familiar; I had seen them on countless fabrics in the city. Circular motifs and conical stick figures going about their daily duties, dancing or playing music.

Parsi cuisine may have been a little difficult to find but we returned richer in our knowledge about this tribal art.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @trailstained.

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