There’s a lot to Goa than just the beaches and casinos”, a local tells me, few days into my stay there. “Just hop onto a bus and explore.” So there I was, one humid Sunday, making my way to Goa’s taluka known for its spice plantations.
Out of a cluster, I picked the Sahakari Spice Farm in Curti, some 2 km from Ponda. This farm, like the others, is spread over hundreds of acres, where spices, fruits, medicinal trees and herbs are cultivated. The origins of these farms lie in the practice of kulagor (mixed cropping). These farms became ‘eco-tourism’ destinations after 2000.
After a traditional garland welcome, my guide for the day, Cyril, hands me coconut water and a bowl of fresh cashews. But warns me to keep it light — there’s a buffet lunch to follow. Sitting on wooden benches under a canopy of trees, it takes a good hour sampling the traditional Goan spread. We were served in betel nut plates, bamboo spoons and earthen pots. Despite an enormous meal, you don’t feel the famous Goan ‘susegaad’. And thankfully so: next up is a two-hour long tour of the farm. And Cyril coolly hands me a large fresh Feni shot to begin it with.
As we proceed on our leisurely tour, gingerly stepping across a small leafy bridge, he thrusts a tiny bunch of leaves under my nose. The Feni was heady, “I can’t guess.” “Bay leaves or tej-patta,” he says, before breaking off a stem to reveal bright yellow turmeric. We check out pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, clove and nutmeg, pop sour berries, examine young pineapples and stare up high jackfruit trees. After quick reckoners on each, Cyril explains their medicinal properties. The innocuous kitchen spice-box has suddenly come to life.
There are bird-watching pockets on the plantations and there are believed to have 80 different species. We break for a short elephant ride. Here, you can feed and bathe the family of three and have them squirt water on you in return. I was just happy with the ride. Back on our feet, Cyril takes me to their Feni distillation unit. Here, the juice from cashew apple is fermented for a week and then distilled. About 30 litres are churned out every 10 days.
The one-and-half-hours are up. It’s time to head home but before that I pick up a bagful of farm goodies, which come with a handout explaining natural remedies for depression, diabetes, weight-loss... even oils for men ‘curing’ sexual debilities, while the ones for women claim to ignite desire and enhance their physical assets. ‘No Side Effects, No Addiction’, they promise. Later in the rambling state bus, I sniff long at the fragrant vanilla sticks from my bag.