It was while we were enjoying the pleasant climes and soaking the seemingly endless verdant tea gardens at Munnar that our guide popped a question at us that completely caught us off guard. He just wanted to know when we were scheduled to visit Thekkady/Kumily and when we answered that we had not included this spot in our itinerary, it was his turn to react. A visit to Kerala without the mention of a spice garden!!! â€“ this was beyond his imagination and he expressed his disbelief as vocally as possible in his limited English vocabulary.
Seeing his reaction, we realized that may be we were missing something truly spectacular and the very next day, after having made several inquiries, Kumily along with a spice garden was included in our Kerala adventure. If you go through travel guides pertaining to this region, you will find mention of several spice gardens, thus implying that growing and cultivation of spices is as much a way of life here as is rearing of elephants.
Located in the lap of greenery, Kumily is a relatively small town in the lap of Cardamom Hills which has stepped on to the doorway of urbanization without compromising on its rural character. As you explore the locale, on one hand you are likely to come across shops that serve as commercial outlets for locally grown spices and on the other the rustic charm of a village wherein time seems to have stood still. Because this region has traditionally served as farm land for spices, there is no dearth of spice gardens that you can visit with each of them providing the same degree of accessibility and freedom.
Soon after we were settled at our resort, it was time to venture out and what better way to start than by paying a visit to a spice garden? We opted for an establishment named Kerala Spices not just because it had been recommended by our guide in Munnar but because it was the closest to our accommodation. Having paid the entry fee and bought tickets, we were ushered beyond the gate and suddenly found ourselves surrounded by a green canopy. Our guide began the tour by introducing himself and went on to emphasize the importance of balanced and sustained development for creation of an eco friendly world.
As we followed our guide through the maze of trees, something that we realized was that trees or plants bearing spices looked very much like other plants, meaning they could blend well with any kind of foliage around them. This could be the reason as to why these are a little difficult to identify unless you have a trained eye to be able to discern them. Being novices in this matter, we could not make out any of the species till our guide pointed it out to us and explained in detail the part of the plant from which the spice was derived as also its manner of harvesting.
For the first time we saw the origin of pepper as we have it in our homes and were amazed on being told that both black and white varieties of pepper were products of the same plant. The pepper tree bears fruit in form of red berries which add a dash of vibrant color to the green surroundings. If harvested at this stage, the seeds within are powdered into white pepper and if left on the tree to ripen, they turn green. Beyond this stage, they can either be preserved as green pepper and used for flavor or dried till they turn black, namely peppercorns, and then utilized for spicing things up.
Cinnamon was another revelation for us as we were shown the tree and briefed on how its bark was extracted and dried to form the rolls of cinnamon that are wonderfully aromatic and a pleasure to behold. Cardamom, cocoa and vanilla are some more wonders that we enjoyed learning about, especially the fact that vanilla is one of the most expensive spices in the world owing to its unique method of pollination. It so happens that vanilla flowers undergo pollination only by a particular method and even after that the fruit takes its own time to mature and ripen.
A pod that particularly held my interest was that of cocoa owing to my love of chocolates. Harvested from cocoa pods which start off as green, then turn yellow and eventually turn brown on ripening, cocoa thus obtained is pure and organic and hence one of the most sought-after in the world. There is a by-product too, namely cocoa butter which serves as a base for skin care products courtesy of its ability to moisturize as also emanate a delicious scent.
What rendered our trip truly memorable was handling of spices wherein every few minutes our guide would keep a few specimens on our palm and ask us to feel, smell and even taste. When we stepped out of the gates after about 2 hours, it was not surprising to feel accompanied by a heady feeling of having inhaled so many delicious aromas within a short duration.