There are a number of spice gardens on offer around the Thekkady and Periyar district and you will be offered a number of options from the different tour operators and hotels. The gardens we visited provided a superb short outing and we absolutely recommend adding a visit to your tour. The main photo for this article is a really lush rice paddy field within the garden.
A quick rickshaw ride takes you to one of the many Spice gardens open to public viewing and prevalent in the area. Rs 100 pays for an entrance ticket but the gardens we visited were not like a garden centre in the UK for example, these were eco gardens developed by the owner some 6 years ago and it was he who conducted our visit.
This is as much an educational and informative visit as a simple wander round in a lovely environment. The owner is such a passionate and very well informed personable guy and right from the outset it was apparent that this was not just a walk in the park.
Spices don’t start off in Jars and Packets
We in the western world often think of spices as purely commodities purchased in jars or packets from the local supermarket or for slightly rare instances, from Asian or Chinese retail outlets. The fact that you walk around this eco garden and see the spices growing and sample the tastes before any commercial refinement was really exciting for me. Understanding what a cardamom plant looks like and how the seed pods are harvested and then finding out that cinnamon is in fact the bark of a large variety of Bay tree were just examples of the wealth of knowledge available in this 3 acre garden.
Eco-culture and Sustainability for your honeymoon?
The site is set up for full sustainability and the family and workers live on the proceeds from spices cultivated and sold from garden along with the visitor fees for conducted tours. Speaking with the owner, I found out that he had invested some £0.5m in the land and another £0.5m in the development. This is somewhat surprising in light of the level of tourism to this area however it does at least demonstrate the commitment to make this a viable and eco sustainable project. He even had a tree house development where, amongst others, honeymoon couples could rent this unique accommodation (complete with en suite) for their special occasion…..price? Rs 10000 per night…not cheap for sure but very unique and I am sure it could be negotiated down.
There are a number of other spice gardens in the Periyar area and some of them offer differing standards of accommodation. An example is Camelia Haven Resort which also offers honeymoon packages but in terms of a pure spice garden experience you cannot go wrong with Abraham’s Spice Garden.
Cocoa plants, coffee plants and a fully functioning rice paddy were some of the other elements here but there are simply too many species (recognisable and not so recognisable) to list. The project also generates its own methane from organic waste to run all cooking needs and grows all the vegetables to compliment the spices in the cooking within this eco friendly concern.
Honey is produced by the honey bees existing on the wide variety of plants on the site and this is harvested and sold in the project retail outlet at the exit (a low key affair so no pressure sales here) Interestingly there are a variety of bees here which are so small you can barely see them and the hives used by them are only about the size of a hardback book, you will need to look carefully at most of the photos to recognise the hives.
Ayurvedic (like homeopathy) remedies and medicinal uses of spices
The owner understands the importance of the plants and spices in the treatment of ailments which might otherwise require artificial medicine or indeed intrusion surgery to rectify. He is a qualified Ayurvedic practitioner (traditional Indian homeopathy type whole life practice) and explains the benefits of each of his charges.
Experience the taste of India
One of the extremely interesting plants was the allspice tree whose leaf tasted of a fusion of cinnamon, cardamom, clove and a number of other exotic tingles on your taste buds. Chilly plants with fruits smaller than your small finger nail, with a really fiery hot zip to them, were some of my favourites.
Much akin to the community farm experiences in the UK where those not used to farms and livestock have the opportunity to see, feel and touch and experience animals close up; this project is self sufficient in the animal aspects and visitors are introduced to how these breeds allow the project to remain eco friendly and self sufficient. The project has a number of rare breed of cows, rabbits, chickens, quail, goats and a number of other animals and birds (all producing milk eggs or meat and of course the waste products to fuel the methane de-composter) Along with this you will see how the different spices are harvested and dried; all in this small community.
The tour itself lasts about an hour and is worth every penny of the Rs 100 entrance fee. You can purchase all forms of Ayurvedic oils and lotions along with spices, balms and honey all produced in the gardens.
The whole area of the project is some 5-8 acres but the host only takes you around many of the sample plants and trees, the rest is planted out to grow the spice yielding plants and trees to allow for the maintenance and sustainability of this eco aware culture.
To get to the rental accommodation and honeymoon suite you use an aerial walkway high above the gardens and get a good feel for the extent of the project and great fun for the kids if they are in tow.
A shining example
This is a prime example of living correctly off the land and using the wondrous plants around us to maintain your health and fitness; a great concept to take back with you and use in some small form back in your home country.
A MUST DO tour if you are in Periyar, Kerala and is an excellent stop gap following one of the other longer more active organised tours in the Wildlife reserve.