The last I told you was of us visiting the small cottage industry where elephant poo is made into paper. After an awesome visit to the elephant orphanage and the paper factory, we moved on with our journey.
One the things that strikes your mind whenever you hear Sri Lanka is definitely its spices. I had heard of them and when R mentioned that he will be taking us to a spice garden we got pretty excited. Visiting a farm or factory or just about any enterprise is just so exciting. I have come to realize that this is something I enjoy a lot. So much so, that everytime we travel or consider travel, I look out for small social enterprises or a speciality fruit farm. I wouldn’t be lying if I said that, more often than not, there always is something of this sort to go gape at.
Travels are full of unexpected stuff. You can’t really complain coz’ that is what makes them so appealing. Well, in this case, we just kind of bumped into an unexpected spice garden that had nothing of interest. A poor guided tour by someone who claimed to be an Ayurvedic doctor was not something we looked forward to. I clicked umpteen pictures of this tour in the hope that it will turn interesting but alas!
You know that the spice garden is not really a garden when someone points to a bottle of jasmine “extract” (we wouldn’t know if it was an extract or essence) and says, “This is jasmine.”
You also know that this is not a spice garden when in the end, they just set up a small shop of all the oils and offer a free “sample massage”. Alright, alright, I did get the free sample done but honestly, we were quite dejected. We do try our best to see every little experience as fun and in this case, we just ended up making fun of the whole visit to a garden that wasn’t.
K pulled R’s leg and said that this was a funny trip. We were pretty hell bent on visiting an actual spice garden and so, R being the sweet chap agreed to take us to a bigger and better place. Once again we got pretty enthusiastic at the prospect of seeing a garden but tried to keep our expectations in check.
It is amazing how sometimes, first impressions can be so wrong. Sometimes you meet highly talkative and extremely confident people who claim to know pretty much every thing there is to a subject and then you meet really humble people who greet you with a smile, make you feel welcome, call themselves a student and amaze you with the way they handle the whole process. And this is the feeling we walked out with after the second spice garden tour. We met one of the most humble and also learned guides here.
That’s him with the vanilla pods.
This young guide quizzed us, spoke to us animatedly, teased our knowledge of medicinal herbs, put our olfactory senses to test by asking us to smell an extract and name the source and kept us super entertained!
We saw different types of ginger, nutmeg, jackfruits, vanilla, peppercorns, banana plantations (red bananas, robust bananas and what not!), eucalyptus trees, a couple of mango tree, mint etc etc. Now, this felt like a garden.
Sometimes you know stuff subconsciously. I mean, most of us are aware of the fact that many herbs are medicinal and that there are plants where every part has an application. Then there are ambrosial flowers that have your soul waft in the divinity. Yet, when you see all of it at once, you are awed.
We truly felt like having visited a spice garden. The mixture of all the best smells in the world was tantalizing and we felt heady at certain parts of the walk. One could just be in the biggest dilemna trying to decide what he/she wanted to follow – the refreshing mint or the heavenly cinnamon. I felt like I was the mistress of spices and fantasized myself prescribing the various magical spices to those who came to me with desires and troubles unspoken of but felt.
They did run a small educational class thingy after the trip where they spoke of the benefits of different extracts and their use (I have a copy of it) and then encouraged us to ask questions. We had a very good time looking at the various medicinal herbs and thoroughly enjoyed the learning. By the end of it all, we were taken to their own shop where these extracts are sold for reasonable sum of money. We did not think a lot before buying anything because this was a Govt. aided nursery and run by Ayurvedic doctors. We got a few bottles of vanilla extract that we later shared with our parents and some red banana extract. Even though we were interested in the various tailam for K’s grandma, they were not available in below 75 ml bottles (that are flight friendly) and so had to sadly give them a go.
Recently, both our parents called us to say that they liked the vanilla extract and it lends a great original taste when used in halwa and kheer. So yay! Not that much can go wrong with vanilla anyways.
Having had a very good tour, we were both extremely hungry. R seemed to have been very hungry as well because he was waiting for us and the minute he spotted us, he gestured “Shall we eat?” eagerly, relieved to see that we were out at last. It was almost 3 P.M. While R drove us down to the restaurant, we spent all our energy talking about Sri Lankan food and sports. Very soon we found ourselves getting out the car and walking into a totally quiet restaurant with absolutely nobody around. R said that it was well past lunchtime. Now, that got us worried about the availability of food but we soon saw a central area that had an all-vegetarian buffet just waiting for us to devour.
The restaurant overlooked an open green space and we just went and made ourselves comfortable.
R told us that their speciality as a raw mango curry. Now imagine someone talking of a tangy dish when you are already drooling for food! We kind of helped ourselves to big heaps of pretty much everything.
And that, my dear buddies, is a piece of heaven.
For the next few minutes, nobody spoke. No plans were made. Only om-nom-nom-nom-mmmmm and crunch seemed to be the sound in the cool, sweet air.
P.S. Coming up next is a visit to a cottage tea industry and tea estate