Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Goa Diaries - III

It's been four months since the Goa sojourn, and yet the tiniest of details are as fresh in my mind as if it were just last week that I was lounging on Baina beach. Over the years I've been on trips and holidays to different parts of the country, with everything planned and all things in place, yet somehow I have come back disappointed and not very rejuvenated from some of those trips. This one, however, was a class apart. The beautiful weather, the sun and the rain, the sands and the sea, coco-palms and the cool breeze - they don't seem ready to leave my thoughts as yet.
In the first two days, we visited a 16th century fort, a number of beaches, explored the local market and also went on two cruises. We even found out a couple of decent vegetarian restaurants in Vasco to dine at.

It was a bright sunny morning that dawned on our third day in Goa, so we consulted the only reliable local person we knew, our driver, on where to go for the day. His name was Nagraj - Telegu by descent but born and brought up in Goa - and for his ever-so-pleasant temperament, perpetual smile and humble mannerisms, he became my favourite person for the duration of our trip. He suggested we drive out to the Sahakari Spice Farm in Curti (Ponda district), some 35 km from Dabolim, and spend a day getting to know all about spices - how they are grown, their various uses and health benefits and how they taste in a traditional Goan meal savoured in the backdrop of a lush green plantation setting.

I admit I had my doubts. I was rather sullen after the family decided in favour of the spice farm and in fact planned to stop over at a well-known local temple on the way too. I was mentally cursing Nagraj to have even suggested the place, for as I perceived it, it was going to be a boring educational tour of a dark humid spice farm followed by an obviously 'spicy' meal (I have a severe allergy to spicy food). And at the steep fee of 400 rupees a person, it seemed like a raw deal to me. And hence that stone face I put on throughout the drive. Until we stepped into the driveway to the farm.

We were welcomed in the traditional Indian way - with a generous shower of flowers, a vermilion teeka on our foreheads and marigold garland around our necks. From there, we were led on to a shed where the courteous staff served us a welcome snack and asked us to join a group of foreign tourists that was being taken on a tour of the farm. I learnt a little later that our group had its fair share of German, Swedish and Finnish tourists, all excited and ever ready to be mesmerized by the extravaganza that is Indiaaah.

We were given a walking tour of a section of the farm by a short, exceedingly sweet lady who kept cracking jokes and had us all in splits. She pointed out to various spice trees and shrubs on the way and enlightened us about their uses, special qualities and trivia. We even spotted an elephant in the woods. It was a really interesting sight, watching the foreigners get both awed and scared at the elephant's appearance.

The welcome snack - a glass of lemongrass tea, a handful of cheeslings (yum), accompanied by pamphlets on the health benefits and curative effects of various spices

Those tiny little fruits are coffee beans - red in color, really small, growing in tufts. I took away a few with me as keepsakes :D

Those tiny brown holed pods hidden behind all the leaves are cocoa pods that have been harvested for the season. Chocolate, coming from a 'spice' farm - who'd have imagined!

The Portuguese Piri Piri peppers - believed to be about 2800 times spicier than our common Indian chilli. Aaaah someone fetch water!

One of the farm's own herd of elephants, used for travelling and tourist recreation purposes.

And that would be yours truly, followed by her sister and the rest of our group.

That is a vanilla climber, if I remember correctly.
For the love of ice-creams and cakes :D

Somewhere along the way, we were met by another of the farm's staff members roaming about the plantation. He had a unique talent that he wasn't shy at all to put on display - he could climb up tall palm trees and jump from one to another with such ease as to make you think he were born and bred in the jungle. He did it twice in front of us and it was such an amazing sight to behold! The floor was then thrown open to anybody who'd like to try doing the same. A daredevil of a woman tried her hand at it...a failed attempt :P but she received a lot of applause by everyone.

The pride of the farm - their very own Tarzan (or Mowgli, if you prefer). A sure visual treat! 

For INR 600, you could opt to be bathed by an elephant for a good 10-15 minutes. From the looks of it, you wouldn't have to take another bath for at least a week thereafter. It was real fun to watch this foreigner couple get repeatedly drenched by it.

There was another unique tradition at the farm (and a rather chilling one at that). When the tour was over and we assembled back for lunch, our lady guide (in the picture above) asked each of us to turn around as she poured a cup of cold water down our spines, doused with some special oil (the name of which I can't remember now) that is said to relieve pain and fatigue. Refreshing or not, it definitely was a bone-chilling and fun experience!

The lunch was simple but sumptuous. It was served as a buffet and only organically grown farm produce had gone into its preparation. It was so delicious that I, otherwise a very picky eater, took as many as three visits to the buffet table to satiate my senses. :D We were also served shots of the locally brewed Cashew Feni (a kind of liquor) which burnt the throat but left a great taste on the tongue. It was quite potent too, making me realize why it is such a major attraction of Goa.

After having had our fill, we proceeded to purchase a few bottles of essential oils like lemongrass and almond from the shop within the complex. Upon leaving, we were each presented with a cute little packet of dried spices like Fenugreek, Betelnut, Cardamom, Chilli, Cashew and Cinnamon, as a farm souvenir.

The souvenir - a very sweet gesture and the perfect parting present.

Having cast a doubt upon the wisdom of visiting this place in the first place, it would be prudent for me to admit now that I stepped out of the Sahakari Spice Farm with a big toothy grin and a lot of traditional knowledge and experience in my kitty. I recommend a mandatory visit to this place for anyone who plans on visiting Goa.


And with that, the Goa Diaries officially come to an end. Read the entire series in chronological order here. Feel free to share with fellow travellers and travel enthusiasts and/or leave behind comments if you liked what you read. ^_^

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