Idyllic, pastoral and charming. These are some images that come to mind when I think of spice farms. We have a fair sprinkling of privately owned spice farms in Kerala and Goa. Since both places fall in the Western Ghats region, they are soil rich and humid in nature, which makes them fertile places for growing spices.
For the uninitiated, it’s enough if we understand spice farms as countryside sanctuaries or riverside rustic getaways that exude the sharp aroma of spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and vanilla grown on the property. A spice farm lacks the formal trappings of a hotel like wi-fi, grand staircase, opulent reception and chock-a-block full of rooms.
Usually the owner lives on the property and has a hands-on involvement with the spice cultivation. Rural folk from the neighbouring villages work in these farms. Depending on the size of the farm, the scale of activity varies. Nonetheless, guests can enjoy a slice of spice farming.
Some spice farms encourage day tours; others welcome house guests. Spice Coast of Kerala specifically Periyar (Thekkady) in the east, Alleppey in the middle and Wayanad in the north are dotted with farms that cultivate cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and pepper. Guests can tour the farm on an elephant (unique to Kerala). Guided walking tours are a great option because as one hears geese gaggle in the background, the atmosphere is thick with the heavy scent of the spices. It’s a voyage of discovery, where guests learn about spices intercropped with coconuts, betel nuts and pineapple. The beauty of the tiny cardamom flowers, winding pathway and the gentle breeze that sways the vines and creepers make it a lingering romantic experience. Other takeaway lessons include cash spice crops like pepper or the king of spices which starts flowering during monsoon and is harvested from November-January. Hailed as the queen of spices, cardamom is a perennial plant. It’s also an opportunity to see men skillfully downloading coconuts from the coconut trees. Farms that are close to water allow guests to do angling.
Guests begin to appreciate nature as many farms have a nursery which attracts birds. Besides spice farming practices, people get a firsthand experience at the spices being powered and distilled. Sometimes, they are packaged and retailed in the farm.
The scene in a farm in the Ponda region of Goa is no different. Except that in Goa the farm may be close to a cashew distillation unit while in Kerala, there may be a cardamom processing factory which calls for a different experience. Of course, while in Kerala, travelers are exposed to spice-based Ayurvedic medicines made with ginger and turmeric. Sometimes, Ayurvedic doctors accompany guests on a tour of the medicinal plants, besides offering Ayurvedic massage therapy.
Honestly, such distinctions blur when we look at the freshness that the spices offer. And let me tell you, these characteristic spices make the cuisines of Kerala and Goa so distinct. Farms encourage guests to select their spices and settle down for a flavourful barbecue served with a herb-spice drink in the midst of sylvan surroundings.
These farms are eco friendly, they grow their own spices without pesticides, use natural resources and provide livelihood to the rural people.
So the next time you visit a spice farm, you know what to expect. And yet again, you must prepare yourself for some more pleasant surprises.