October 8, 2009

In A World Of Spices: Sahakari Spice Farm, Ponda

In my previous post I had asked if anyone could identify that little white flower. Arundati, Tejal and Ria were right. It is the flower of the cardamom plant. And if you didn't know that's just fine. I wouldn't have recognized that flower myself if you had asked me that question a month back!

Last week, after ages it seemed, my husband had a long weekend off from work when he was actually free. This is not to say that he doesn't have time off, but that his work invariably tends to follow him home! This time, however, was different.
Usually whenever such occasions present themselves, we go on one day driving trips to places nearby and explore. We have seen a bit of Goa that's not really on the tourist map this way. Even so, we're yet to really explore the more popular tourist destinations here.

A lot of Goa that the regular tourist heads out to see is just not our scene, for various reasons. Then again, we have a tendency to avoid a lot of North Goa and South Goa where all the star resorts are because of this is where most tourists head. This stretch does have some very lovely beaches.
Don't get me wrong. We have nothing against tourists (well, most of the time) and have been tourists ourselves in other places but a "touristy" destination is sometimes the last place you want to go to when you want to get away from it all.

Spice farms are a plenty in Goa and very much on the tourist map. Many tour operators include a visit to one of them as part of their conducted tours. By now you must have guessed that of course, we had never been to one before.
Coming from the Indian state of Kerala, we're not new to many spices in their natural state but it seemed a good idea to explore a spice farm here. Akshaya had been to one as part of a school study visit sometime back so we decided to spend our day at another one. We decided on a spice farm at Ponda, which is not too far away from where we live.

The drive to the spice farm took us just a little over half an hour from our place thanks to some very new roads with a couple of mind boggling intersections on the way. Those intersections left us wondering which school the engineers who designed the whole thing studied at!

The entrance to the Sahakari Spice Farm is just on the main highway. We were directed to the parking area and bought our tickets from the counter. This ticket includes the services of a guide who takes one on guided tour of the farm and lunch (vegetarian and non-vegetarian).

As soon as we went down the lane as directed, we were approached by two ladies. One held flower garlands and the other had the traditional welcoming thali with vermilion for applying a tikka (red coloured mark on the forehead), to welcome visitors to the farm. We chose to give this ritual a pass. The two ladies were probably seeing crazy people like us, who didn't want to be "welcomed", for the first time ever. One of them actually asked us, "You don't want the tikka either?"
In case anyone is wondering, this seems to be the way of greeting tourists and giving them a feeling of a traditional Indian welcome.

We were then taken to a thatched sit out where we were offered very hot lemon grass tea and roasted cashewnuts. I must say that the tea was excellent.
I was told by our guide that a bit of crushed lemon grass, some cardamom and ginger boiled in 2 glasses of water is a good remedy for migraines, if sipped throughout the day. I'm trying this out for sure.

Over the stream, one of the many walkways.

Our guide took us on a 45 minute long walk through the farm showing us the coconuts, arecanuts, bananas and various spices (all except saffron, according to him) grown there, explaining how all these were planted and processed while filling us in on interesting information, some of which was new to us.

Here's one such bit of information.
Did you know that coffee berries (or cherries as they're known) can be sorted into male and female? The male ones have two halves/ beans in them and these are dried and processed into coffee. The female ones have a single one and kept aside for re-planting.

The arecanut, nestling in it's natural cover.

Arecanuts drying in the shed.

The cardamom plant. The small fruit contains the seeds.

Cinnamon. The bark is dried into sticks. The leaves are fragrant too.

Pepper in the natural state.

Coffee "cherries"

Kaanthari mulaku/ Thai Peppers/ Bird's Eye Chillies: Small, pretty and very potent!

We also got to see some big, rather harmless spiders and huge mosquitoes of the male species (they only drink plant sap and have no vampire-like desire for blood unlike their female counterparts!).

Scary but harmless!

The tour ended with a ladleful of cold lemongrass oil scented water being poured down one's back. We were told it was supposed to be rejuvenating and rejuvenating it was, if it meant being shocked by the sensation of cold liquid running down your back and being soaked to the core!

Being rejuvenated!

Once the shock had worn off and the wetness dried and disappeared, I must say we all agreed it felt quite nice being surrounded in faintly lemon scented goodness. That's not to say I would go through it again as I think I'd prefer milder forms of rejuvenation (like a cup of that lemongrass tea), but I'd certainly recommend it for a (shocking) experience.

Once the tour was done we sat down and just enjoyed watching people coming and go. We then explored the farm again, this time on our own. There is a lovely little stream running through the farm which provides them with enough water for their needs. At some point we realized it had been a while since breakfast and headed back for lunch.

Lunch is served buffet style, vegetarian on one side and non-vegetarian on the other, in a largish open shed with wooden tables and benches.

Our vegetarian meal was simple but delicious fare consisting of pav (small soft bread rolls), potato bhaji (a potato curry), plain rice, fried rice, a spicy coconut based vegetable korma, salad, raita (cucumber in yogurt), pappads and pickle. You are free to serve yourself as much as you can eat!
Dessert was fresh fruit (watermelon, papaya and pineapple). A glass of cashew feni is also a much favoured additional option with many.

Post-dessert banana from the bunch!

If after this very filling meal, you are game for a little more, there is a huge bunch of bananas hanging outside from which visitors could help themselves. Most people do.
The farm tour usually includes a visit to the cashew processing unit and feni distillation but that happens only during cashew season in summer.


There are added attractions at the farm in the form of some elephant rides which we didn't do. We got to see Ganga the elephant though. For an extra fee, I understand it is possible to go down to the river (which flows through the farm) with the elephants and help scrub them down for a bath.
The farm also has a shop where visitors can buy the various spices and essential oils, all of which are produced on the farm.

Walking through the farm

We spent a very nice relaxed half day walking through the through the farm along the tree shaded pathways. This is definitely a place we would recommend to anyone who has the time to spare and interest in seeing something like this.

The Sahakari Spice farm is spread over 130 acres and grows cashewnuts (with a processing factory and feni distillery, traditional style), arecanuts, coffee, chillies and spices including cloves, cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, all spice and vanilla to name some.
The farm also has a diary. Everything on the farm is organically grown and they generate enough energy to meet all their requirements using renewable energy resources.


jayasree said...

Thats one lovely writeup. Thanks for the virtual tour of the farm. I think I will come to Goa to see the spice farms more than the beaches.

Happy cook said...

This is a wonderful post, i would have nevr thought goa had spice places like this.
Is tha tyou with the long hair :-)

lata raja said...

Nice way to spend a weekend. I was given the info on coffee beans by the manager of the farm in Saklespur where similar crops are grown.I am tempted to go thro' the shocking experience too!

arundati said...

what a lovely way to spend the weekend. way better than sleeping thru half of it!! sounds like a lot of fun. lovely post aparna

sra said...

Did you pass up the welcome drink too? :-D We didn't get ourselves anointed with all that stuff either.

We went to this place when we drove to and around Goa in 2007. I enjoyed myself hugely. We saw Ganga being bathed, passed up the lemongrass rejuvenation and did all the other stuff that you did - it was really a different outing. Some of the pix from there, including the arecanut and cashew, are on my blog, tho' I didn't name the place.

jayasri said...

That's a good write up, one thinks they are visiting it in your words, I always loved Goa and its beaches long time ago, may be someday I will visit again, I have seen these cardamom plants very long back when I used to visit sringeri long back I have friends in sakleshpur and chikkamagalur where you can find these they grow with their tea and coffee plantations with lot of other spices like arecanut in our village, but I have completely forgotten, Your meal seems to be very good too.., I made some crunchies I want to post them before date for your high tea, waiting for my kids to download the photos!!!

♥♥♥Ria♥♥♥ said...

Lovely write up A! Is that your hubby and A in the last pic? If so, she is really tall for her age :)

Ben said...

That looks like paradise to me. I love the pictures :)

Mishmash ! said...

very nice post, Aparna....pics are so refreshing.....wonder if this is the same farm that got featured in the travel channel!

Muneeba said...

Oh I'd LOVE to visit a spice farm! And I had no idea that's what a cardamom plant looked like ... good to know. Thks for sharing your pics .. want to give Ganga a big hug :)

Aparna said...

Jayasree, there's a lot more to Goa than beaches, seafood and feni. :)

F, no that's not me with the long hair.:)
That's one of the tour guides on the farm.

Our welcome drink was the lemongrass tea, Sra. ;-D
Yes. it was fun and something quite different. Must check your pics.

Haven't visietd that side of Karnataka, Jayasri though we want to.
Will wait for your entry.

Yes, Ria that's them. She is pretty tall for her age, almost as tall as I am. :)

Guess Goa is a kind of paradise on earth, Ben. :)

Shn, I'm not sure as I haven't seen that episode I've seen the one featuring the spice shops in Cochin.

My pleasue, Muneeba. Yes, I would too though I'm not sure how Ganga would view that. ;-)

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

I agree with Muneeba, a trip to a spice farm sounds wonderful, and the elephant does look huggable.
Thanks so much for sharing your adventure with us. In Canada the only spice we get to see in its natural state is mustard!

ABowlOfMush said...

what a fantastic post.
I was fascinated by all the photos of the spices I use everyday in their natural habitat!

The elephant is too cute.

The Cooking Ninja said...

What an interesting tour! I would love to go on a tour like this - very informative. I have a bird's eye chili plant at home :) It's giving us more chili than we can use them.

Cham said...

I just feel how aromatic should be the air :) I never seen the cardam plant and informative post

Suma Gandlur said...

Good informative, virtual tour. Got to see many of the spices in their natural states.

Priya said...

Lovely post, never seen cardamom plant, thanks for sharing these virtual clicks, feel like visiting this natural site..

vegeyum said...

What a lovely post. It brought back memories of my first visit to India - I visited a spice farm in Goa too. I was shown around by a farm owner. It was an amazing experience, and I was astounded by both the ecological farming practices and the relationships between the farm owners and the workers on the farm as well as all the spices. It was fantastic.

vegeyum said...

What a lovely post. It brought back memories of my first visit to India - I visited a spice farm in Goa too. I was shown around by a farm owner. It was an amazing experience, and I was astounded by both the ecological farming practices and the relationships between the farm owners and the workers on the farm as well as all the spices. It was fantastic.

Srivalli said...

What a lovely post Aparna, thanks for sharing. Though I have seen pepper cinnamon, never seen a cardamom!..that's so beautiful.

A surely looks taller to her age, I was imagining a lil girl!..:))..and you happily managed to hide..not fair!..

This farm is marked for our visit, thank you!

Curry Leaf said...

Nice write up Aparna.I too was wondering what it the flower was.Nice pics.Greenish and I too would visit the spice farm rather than beaches.Informative post

Chitra said...

Wonderful photographs!! Nice insight to the regularly used spices. Thanks for giving a glimpse to a different side of Goa.


Sunshinemom said...

What a lovely post! Very informative and interesting. Thanks for showing us the other side of Goa:)

VS said...

Lovely writeup! Enjoyed reading them. Nice clicks too!

Dhanggit said...

Hope I could enjoy same educational activity but for the moment I just content myself with this virtual tour!! thanks i've discovered lots of stuffs :-)

Chow and Chatter said...

wow what a lovely place to visit love India nice blog


Avanika [YumsiliciousBakes] said...

What a lovely write up A! This is exactly the same place where my boy went and bought vanilla for me :) Its great that you went too!! The write-up gives me a foodie's perspective!! Did you like the lunch? Boy and family cant stop raving about it!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for showing what else Goa has to offer. Been there every year but have yet to see a spice farm. So going there the next visit. Thanks again. Angela

Dhvani Desai said...


I really liked reading about your experience at the sahakari spice farm. Just a question. What time of the year did you visit the farm. What was the temperature like.
It would be great if you can let me know, as I plan to visit this farm in this month.
my email id...