– Sudipto De
The spice markets of Kerala have been known since times immemorial.
One of the important ports on the Malabar coast, Kochi was one of the most richest places with the intense amount of trade that it used to do with Mesopotamians and Romans dating back to 3000 B.C. The Arabs had established a naval route which allowed them to trade spices and they were later followed by Portugese and rest of Europe. This is one of the main reasons behind the multi cultural cosmopolitan face of Kochi. But as we are moving towards the modern way of life, we are losing our touch with nature. Although spices are the essence of Indian food, but most of us buy spices in packets without being able to appreciate their aroma and essence. There can be no better place to rediscover the essence of spice other than Kerala. On a recent visit to God’s Own Country, I reconnected with that essence in a way never before experienced. Our search for a spice takes us to the hills of Thekaddy, a five hour drive from Kochi along the lush green landscape of Kerala.
Although the way is dotted with plentiful of plantations and shops selling spices, our target is the hundred year old Green Land Spice Garden in Thekaddy. I meet up with Shinoj Kallunmakkal, the owner of the spice plantation as he rolls up his lungi and tucks his children in bed for an afternoon nap. The 20 acre plantation has been in his family since it’s inception. Our walk has been designed in a path around the house without delving deeper into the plantation. The shade of the trees offers us a respite from the sun as Shinoj sets out to show me the spices in his armory.
The medicinal qualities of Turmeric have been expounded since the time of the vedas. It is one of the strongest anti-inflammatory agents which packs a load of antioxidants. Finally we reach our prize, the Green Cardamom. Tiny stems of green pods erupt from the roots while another part shoots skyward. The green cardamom grows pretty freely in the wild in these areas but the advent of new sources in Guatemala are forcing Indian farmers to adopt new strategies. I also find some Vanilla and fall in love with the intricate process needed to extract it. It takes multiple episodes of drying, wrapping in cotton to produce the vanilla pods and extract, making it the 2nd most expensive price. One of the newer things that I learn about is Cinnamon. There are actually two types, the outer bark which is more straight and has equal amounts of spice and sweet.
The inner bark of the Cinnamon is curly and gives off a much more sweeter flavour. He also shows me around a few of the bright coloured orchid flowers in his garden. These help to attract the bees so needed for the cross pollination of the crops. His whole plantation is an unique amalgamation of colours and aromas that will totally refresh you. Their is a shop outside for you to buy the best of these spices at dirt cheap prices. I buy up my fill of Cardamom and Black Pepper before heading back. We end our tour at Shinoj’s house where he invites me in for a cup of his plantation’s coffee.
The best season to visit is from July-Feb. The Monsoons starting from July make the colours pop out even more. Wear sturdy footwear as you may be climbing small mounds of dirt. Price for the hour long tour: INR 100 Address: Springvalley, P.O. Kumily, Kerala. The plantation is right next to Niraamaya Retreats Cardamom Club.