Homestay: Storeys Like Goa In Uran
Ticket bought (for only Rs 55!), it’s with some trepidation that I stare out at the ferry pulling into Mumbai’s Ferry Wharf, the one that’s about to take me to the small, Maharashtrian coastal town of Uran. For a few days now heavy rains have been playing havoc on my plans to visit Fernandes Wadi, a quaint homestay run by Jharna Thakkar and Rohan Fernandes. The couple packed up their life in Mumbai sometime last year, only to unbox it in Uran, and by January they were ready for guests.Thankfully the skies stay clear this morning, and along with a dozen gossiping Koli fisherwomen, I finally set sail.
The first thing I notice about Uran when I alight on Mora Jetty 45 minutes later, is how absolutely quiet it is, almost as if someone has muted all the hubbub of Mumbai. At the pier itself, I am greeted by Rohan Fernandes, who proposes an interesting detour: to go birdwatching in Uran’s wetlands. I accept, gladly. As we drive towards the wetlands, Rohan fills me in on the fascinating history behind Fernandes Wadi and the man who built it—his grandfather, James Heredia. A significant voice in the Goan independence movement, he was exiled to Mumbai when his role was discovered. Heredia’s longing for Goa is what prompted him into buying his “slice of Goa” in Uran.
As we near the wetlands, we meet Parag, a professional birder to the T, this I can tell from his demeanour and the way he’s dressed; baseball cap and all. After a polite nod in my general direction, Parag wastes no time in exchanging pleasantries, instead, raising his binoculars, he starts scanning the sky for migratory birds. Two hours later, I am on my way to the Wadi, happy after sighting more than what I had hoped for this afternoon…Egrets, hornbills, kingfishers, and a flock of Eurasian Curly’s.
The drive up to Fernandes Wadi is fascinating. Houses with remnants of Portuguese architecture align the roads, with new shops looking out of place in the colonial town centre. Fifteen minutes later, I arrive at the property that seems to sprawl out endlessly before me—one half of the land disappearing into an expansive vegetation of green, the other leading down to the Uran beach. There’s an almost freeing character to the Wadi, with dozens of coconut trees planted personally by Heredia, whispering high above me. At the Wadi, I meet Jharna, who tells me that she’s named each tree on the property, her favourite being a 1970’s drama queen—Celeste Holm! She shows me to the master bedroom, the Private Balcão Suite, whose most distinctive feature is (unsurprisingly) Goan: a lovely balcão that affords a clear view of the dip-pool outside the room and of the Arabian Sea, shimmering in the distance.
As I walk out to the main hall where the dining table is, I am taken with the simplistic style of the interior of the Wadi. The Rosewood chairs in the corner, the artwork donning each wall, right up to the wrought-iron twisted staircase leading up to the first floor—are precious items once owned by the couple’s family and friends. A blue-and-white-themed reading corner reminds me of a quaint café in South Mumbai, and just as I begin to explore the titles on the shelf, Jharna announces lunch.
With many years of working in the hospitality business and later reporting on food and drink in Mumbai, Jharna knows how to whip up an eclectic mix of dishes. Along with various Marathi dishes, food at Fernandes Wadi is influenced by her Kutchi roots and blended in with Rohan’s Konkani ones, she tells me. A prime example of this is the spread that I’m about to raid—gauti thecha (field green chillis), a Kutchi pickle called athela marcha (green chilies dipped in a mustard marination) and mangoes mishkoot, a Goan pickle made with a baby mango. For main course we have a Kutchi-style green tomato bhaji with peanuts, a Konkani-homestyle prawn curry and some Kolhapuri mutton masala gravy. To scoop up these yummy mains, there’s bhakhri(a kind of flatbread) andkollam bhaat (rice).The malai kulfi at the end is perfect to deal with both, a hot day and a heated stomach.
After a quick afternoon siesta, Rohan gives me a tour of the Wadi’s personal farm, where I pluck sturdy okras from their stems, de-husk a Sri Lankan-style coconut and pick a bright-pink hibiscus, whose juice we later extract to use in a delicious punch. At night, I set out with Jharna and Rohan to uncover three of Uran’s local bars for their unique Dive Bar Trail, where local Uran culture and politics are discussed over a crisp rava bombil fry that I am sure to remember for days to come.
The next morning, I wake up to the peaceful medley of soft waves and chirping Egrets. Walking around the property with a steaming cup of coffee in my hands, I take a deep breath void of the pollutants ubiquitous to the Mumbai air. And just then my nose picks up the delicious waft typical to scrambled eggs—a Rohan specialty, Jharna proclaims. We settle down to chomp and chatter around an eclectic breakfast spread of homegrown bread, jams made from fruits gifted from a neighbour’s farm, dhoklas and green chutney. Despite the plan to leave right after my last gulp of coffee, I linger on, already missing the welcome peace that comes with a weekend at the Wadi.