I know I am taking aeons to complete this series on Goa. Also, I am purposely postponing those beautiful beaches Goa is world famous for. First I want to write about other things which many of us may not be aware of. One of them is Spice Farm. Well, I wasn’t aware of existence of any such farm.
The Sahakari Spice Farm is nestled within a lush, tropical forest in Ponda covering 130 acres. Travel agents at the main beaches operate day trips to Sahakari (yes, if you are interested in enjoying every bit of it, it is definitely a full day trip). We could spend only half a day mainly because of rains disturbing the rhythm. So, one more trip to this place is very much viable. 😛
Local buses also run regularly from Panjim to Ponda, which is 3km from this place. One can either walk down (I would have done that) or take a taxi (50 INR) or wait for another bus heading towards it. We had hired a private taxi.
The tickets are Rs 300/- per head (plus a 20 rupee service charge) and includes an eco-friendly buffet lunch.
Our guide Satish
As we entered the main area through a small wooden bridge, we were greeted with a traditional dance, a garland of flowers, a shower of flower petals, sprinkle of some herbal perfume.
After this we were taken in a coconut leaves shack by our guide Satish. He gave a short presentation on the history of the plantation accompanied by a cup of tea comprising of lemon grass, ginger, and cardamom; and handfuls of cashew nuts in a coconut bowl.
A guide makes a group of 10-12 people and assigns himself to it.
The 40-minute guided tour that takes place is only a small fraction of the estate’s 130 acres but is extremely interesting, During the walking tour Satish delighted us by his wonderful style of narration. There were some tourists from Portugal in our group and he spoke to them in Portuguese ! When enquired, he told us that most of Goans who are interested or are in tourist business speak the language.
He showed us most of the fundamental spices in Indian cooking such as black pepper, cardamom, turmeric, ginger, vanilla beans, cinnamon bark, cloves, chilies, coriander and cashews beetle nuts, which we take for granted. The cinnamon tree was the easiest to anticipate several metres away, drawn by its scented bark. Black pepper turned out to be quite green, while nutmeg was a sturdy tree. There was plenty of exotica around. There were some Portuguese herbs as well. I don’t remember the names.
He not only explained their flavours, tastes and economic value but some of their medicinal uses as well.
He also told us how till 1982, they used to plant sugarcane, bananas and coconuts. Then In five years, the spice plantation took place and it was crowned Goa’s best spice farm. To chop your trees for wood, you should check what is the best log splitter is available in the market.
The impressive scenic route meanders along Khandepar, a river that flows gently by the spice farm across wooden bridges where you can see spice trees on both sides. The pace of the tour is very easy with lots of stops to view the spices.
Another highlight is watching the resident elephants take a bath in the river but as rains were playing hide & seek that day; elephants were not interested in entertaining us with their usual bath sessions.
Then came the making of famous Kaju (cashew) Feni. Feni is a local Goan alcohol drink brewed from cashew nut fruit. The simple contraption method is used to distill the fermented alcohol. This unregulated drink is loaded with as much as 40% to 50% alcohol !
Tree climbing. There is always a person waiting to show his expertise in climbing tall beetle nut and coconut trees. He made it look so easy. As these trees are hollow they can be swung by leaning on them at the top. Then like Tarzan he moved from one tree to another with very little effort.
At the end of this tour before heading for the buffet lunch, we were given a ladleful splash of spice water on to the back of the spine. It provided an explosive burst of exhilarating chill, running down the spine. And as usual I was the first one to volunteer. 🙂
Buffet Lunch– The farm provides an eco-friendly buffet lunch served in coconut shell bowls and betel nut plates with coconut ashtrays and bamboo napkin holders giving company. The metal cutlery looked so out of place. The nutritious food has variety and filling with a choice of veg /non-veg both. Dessert tray comprised of watermelon and pineapple slices and you can pick your own bananas from a big bunch hanging nearby.
The washrooms were clean and the cashew shaped soaps were hanging above the wash-basins. 🙂
There is also a farm shop adjacent to eating area from where one can buy the spices & other herbal things.
Although it is also made to lure tourists, this plantation is a fascinating contrast to the beaches. We saw tourists hanging out there in wooden restaurants and sipping fenni.