Goa is a small state along the western coast of India that features over 63 miles of stunning beaches, dense and beautiful forests, sacred temples and worship sites and an agricultural heritage that is unique and illustrious. Rice, cashews, areca nuts, sugarcane, pineapples and coconuts are all grown and harvested here, but it’s the spices that attract the tourists — both those who love the taste of Goan cuisine and those who are looking for natural healing medicines.
A hotspot for biodiversity, Goa has a history that reaches back over 20,000 years. Stone engravings, art, tools and more reveal that the earliest records of human life in all of India were in and around Goa. Over the years, many different cultures influenced the area, so these days, travellers on holiday to Goa will find a place unlike any other: a jungle, beach haven, spice kingdom and farmland whose way of life has been influenced by everything from Portuguese and British rule to Hinduism and Catholicism. Throughout it all, those who farm spices have been diligent in their cultivation of health and taste. Turmeric, myriad exotic peppers, kokum, ginger, mustard, tirphal, anise, coriander, vanilla bean, fenugreek clove, lemongrass — the staples of Goan and Indian cuisine are carefully and lovingly tended in this region, especially among these three popular and fertile spice plantations.
Tropical Spice Plantation
Tropical Spice Plantation is perhaps the best known of the Goan spice farms, which means they do a great job of providing a memorable visitor-centred experience. Guided tours of the farm consist not just of seeing the plants in various stages of growth, but guests are given the medicinal highlights of spices like black pepper, nutmeg, cinnamon and coriander. Elephants are proffered for rides and bathing — really. Bring a towel and a change of clothes so you won’t be tempted to miss out on being showered by an Indian elephant. After the tour, the elephant ride and the elephant bath, guests are served a traditional Goan meal in the plantation’s open-air restaurant. There are dishes for vegetarians and non-vegetarians — Goan cuisine often includes fish — and it’s all served on a banana leaf.
There are upwards of 25 different bird species that make their home on the plantation, which doubles as a sort of bird sanctuary. If you’re really into birds, the staff will see to it that you’re paddled around their lake so you can get a good look at kingfishers, birds of paradise, cuckoos and more. The Tropical Spice Plantation is a truly remarkable Goan farm, and it caters perfectly to visitors.
Highlights of the plantation include:
·Cashew, areca nut and palm trees
·Star fruit, jack fruit, custard apples, bananas, and papayas
·Five Spice plants
Sahakari Spice Farm
This organic spice farm is known as a place of relaxation. Situated on 130 acres, 60 acres are completely dedicated to the cultivation of spices, medicinal plants and herbs. In addition to guided tours, Sahakari Spice Farm offers guests a number of ways to be entertained and educated about the region. Traditional Goan folk dances like the Fugdi, Jagor and Dhalo are performed by the staff and their children. In addition to dancing, guests are instructed in climbing betel nut trees and given a demonstration of traditional betel nut gathering, which involves swinging between the trees. Guests are even given the chance to try swinging. This farm also has a trio of elephants — a male, a female and a youngster — and arrangements can be made for riding and bathing with the elephants. Lunch is served in the plantation restaurant in earthen pots and on banana leaves.
Savoi Plantation is owned and operated by the family that started it over 200 years ago. It covers roughly 100 acres, and has been, and remains, organic in all its farming efforts. Guests are treated with a traditional welcome of flowers as well as snacks and drinks. From there, they are given a guided tour of the farm, its many fruit trees, its bird species and, of course, its spices. Savoi also includes a demonstration of traditional betel nut picking and tree swinging. If you’re looking for a less touristy spice plantation experience, Savoi Plantation is the farm for you; their day-to-day is still very much about the work of farming.
The next time you head out on holiday, stop off in Goa. A land of rich history, culture, taste and health, its spice plantations will enliven your senses and imagination like nothing else in India.
Spice image by sara marlowe on Flickr’s Creative Commons.