A chunk of Parsi Population is found within and outside Maharashtra. Beginning from northern stretch of Mumbai i.e. Kelwa, traces of Parsi culture, Parsi homes and food is found in Dahanu – Gholvad – Bordi – Umargaon – Sanjan and all the way till Udvada. The Parsi stretch is absolutely famous and spoken about for the Parsi Cuisine in these locations. Gholvad which literally means ’round tree’ has been around for a long time. The old fire temple, Jain dharamshala, and Parsi-Irani homes are also proof that this village-town has been inhabited for very long. It is situated just 155kms North of Mumbai, in an ecologically fragile zone and only tourism is encouraged as an industry here. This discouragement for industrial development has enhanced the beauty and value of Gholvad. When in Gholvad, one can find chikoo orchards, a serene beach and ancient Parsi-Irani bungalows.
How the place derived its name:
Famously known as the ‘Chikoo Bowl’ of Maharashtra, the history states that it is here where the first sapling of chikoo was planted by an Irani family in 1901. And thus the name Gholvad which literally means a ‘round tree’. The nature lover Ardeshir Irani cut a few chikoo saplings from a garden in Bombay’s Dinshaw Petit Lane to plant them in his village about 114 years ago. It is their love for trees, that Gholvad is today known as leading producers for its chikoo plantations.
Growth & survival of Parsi Community in India:
Parsis are a people who uprooted themselves from the province of Parsis in Iran and moved to a different part of the world to save their religion and culture. The followers of Zoroastrianism left their country forever by sailboats, to seek refuge and freedom to practice their religion in the far off land of India over one thousand two hundred years ago. They landed at the port of Diu in Kathiawar (Gujarat) in the year 716 AD. However, the soil and climate was unsuitable for the form of agriculture that they practiced, and so after about 19 years they once again set sail southwards when a great storm arose and few sailboats were washed ashore some 25 miles south of Daman on the west coast of India. Liberal Hindu king, Jadi Rana, ruled the area that time & he on request granted the Persian refugees a stretch of land that had not been cultivated. With a lot of hard work and toil they were able to convert the land into farms of fruit trees and vegetables.
Before moving northwards and into the interiors of Gujarat, due to their increase in numbers, the Parsis remained at or near the village of Sanjan for nearly 300 years. The landing of Parsis at Sanjan has been commemorated by a pillar erected in 1903. As they prospered they acquired more land, and with the help of the locals, developed these into orchards, fruit farms, fields of cotton, sugarcane, and various species of millets.
How Gholvad became the Chikoo Bowl of Maharashtra:
Gholvad is just 2 kms away from the scenic Bordi beach and therefore serves as a chief link between village-town. The road from station up to the beach is lined with chikoo orchards & so this region is known as the ‘Chikoo Bowl’ of Maharashtra. Elsewhere in the world, the chikoo is known as sapodilla, and the drab oval fruit traces its origin to Central America. But in India it is said to have got the fruit from Spain. If the sources are to be believed, in 2014, the state-run MTDC conducted a festival in Gholvad & Dahanu to promote tourism centred on the fruit. An all-season fruit, grown over 1,100 acres of land in and around Dahanu, the fruit has spawned an industry, giving livelihood to thousands in this region. At one time, the economy of Dahanu and Gholvad survived on the chikoo. Now the scene is dismal and alarming. Earlier, the Gholvad and Dahanu chikoo farmers had three crops of the fruit every year. In November, April and September. Now, with environmental changes, which they blame upon the BSES’ thermal plant on the Dahanu coastline, the chikoo season is unpredictable. Many of the Parsi-Irani chikoo farmers have migrated to other cities and different professions. And now there must exist not more than 50 of them in the coastal belt who continue farming chikoos. Incredibly, despite the environmental changes, the proximity of the sea and mountains, still favour the growth of chikoos in Dahanu and Gholvad.
Not just the environmental changes but also the political communists about 30 years ago targeted Parsis in this region and the tribal population came to the rescue of this migrated community. They learned the art of cultivating chikoos and thereby protected & sustained the fruit’s popularity. Chikoo is the main crop plant within and around Gholvad but litchi and mango trees are also well grown by the Parsi/Irani community. Banana and other crops are grown as intercrops because a chikoo plant takes five years for good fruits and during the first year chikoo requires shade for plant growth. Thus intercropping helps the chikoo trees in their early stage of development.
About food & drinks in Gholvad:
Taari, or toddy, is an all-time favorite drink of the Parsis and Iranis living in the coastal areas of southern Gujarat. It is a drink they would dearly like to have everywhere they go or settle down. The date needs the climate of a coastal area, the sandy soil, and brackish water, for it to blossom and fruit and in towns of Dahanu, Gholvad, Nargol, and Sanjan, on the west coast of India the conditions are perfect. And almost every Parsi family used to own a wadi or farm where the date palm tree grows. From these trees, the families tap the toddy juice and harvest it before dawn every day. If anyone visits them for breakfast, they are more likely to offer a glass of neera (i.e., toddy before it ferments) rather than a cup of tea!
The Parsis and Iranis believe that their taari has great medicinal values as well. They make ‘ooni keedheli taari’, which is a mixture of warm toddy with ginger and jaggery aid to be an excellent cure for stomach upset. Some Parsis are also known to prepare a drumstick dish in toddy. The drumsticks are heated in a pan with ghee and ground spices and then simmered with toddy for a while. Parsi bakers use toddy in the doughnuts called bhakhra. Some Parsis use toddy like Gujaratis use yogurt, to make a curry served with khichdi and papad.
More about this region:
If you are an art admirer, you’d want to visit at least one Warli Artist’s home in Bordi. The tribals of this area traditionally decorate the walls of their homes with an art form unique to coastal Maharashtra-Gujarat. Warli paintings are dominated by squares, triangles and circles. If you would like to experience the peak chikoo season, visit towards the end of May.
Reasons to visit Gholvad:
- Quaint bordi beach in close proximity
- Weekly haat, an assortment of stalls selling art & craft, vessels & groceries
- Go cycling amid the chikoo orchards
- Sip on the cup of a tea by the dam gazing at the sunset
- Stay at an old parsi bungalow & enjoy the yummy Parsi food from local eateries in the town
- Bordi beach where you will be alone wandering with your thoughts.
- Walk around the chikoo orchards, admiring the old Parsi houses with tiled roofs and shaded verandahs.
- Zai pronounced as Jhai, is 3kms from Bordi. This northernmost village of Maharashtra’s coast is a home to hundreds of fishing boats.
- Asvali Dam, about 6kms from Bordi is a lovely spot to visit. Photography is prohibited here, but given the beautiful location of naturally formed green lake at the backdrop of 1,160-foot-long dam, nobody returns without clicking a picture or two.
- Umergaon, about 10kms from Bordi is famous for its Kalpataru Botanical Gardens and Vrindavan Studios where the bulk of the TV epic Ramayana was shot.
About the Author: Keenjal Patel, a reader at mind, a writer at heart, a believer at soul and an achiever overall, is what she want to be. She loves to express through words. She’s a firm believer that imagination rules the world and the day this world absorbs the essence of her words, that would be a day of pride for her!