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
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!
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.