Kerala is also known as the spice garden of India and its beauty cannot be experienced in its true sense until and unless you indulge in trekking through its dense green forests that are full of planted as well as natural exotic spice trees. Kerala produces 97% of the national output of black pepper. Coconut, tea, coffee, cashew, and spices including cardamom, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg are the main agricultural products. If you want to breathe the smell of these exotic spices nothing can be more satisfying than a place called Idukki.
Idukki is one of the 14 districts of Kerala state (India), created on 26 January 1972. It is the second largest district in area but has the lowest population density. It has a vast forest reserve area; more than a half of the district is covered by forests. Idukki is considered as a heaven of natural spices such as black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, nutmace, ginger and clove. This place has moderate climate and receives heavy rainfall that is well suited for the spices grown here.
Mostly these spice plantations are owned privately and amidst of these huge plantations you can find big bungalows with attached servant rooms. A processing plant is also set at close quarters. The bungalows are so huge and made so aesthetically that you will be able to get a glimpse of British lifestyle.
During my visit to Idukki I happened to stay in a similar private bungalow. The plantation owner has specialization in cardamom cultivation therefore complete area was covered by planned and systematic cardamom plantation. When we drove down to that place, it was quite dark and it seemed as if we have reached some haunted place of British times. Nothing was visible as we kept on driving for a long distance and suddenly we could see the bungalow. We went inside and were warmly welcomed by the staff there.
After settling down a bit we went to the first floor of the house where our bed was made. In the adjoining room the cardamoms in huge quantity were spread for drying. The smell of cardamom was all over and I just loved it. The rooms were huge and even the attached bathroom was as big as a badminton court!
When we got up next day we were not able to believe that the place that looked so scary at night was breathtakingly beautiful in the morning. The estate was located amidst misty Blue Mountains, full of seasonal springs and streams. It had rained in the morning and every tree and plant seemed to have taken morning shower. The dew drops were shining like pearls on the green leaves.
We got ready and had sumptuous breakfast that consisted of local specialty. The dish was made from the rice powder steamed in a barrel shaped utensil. Thereafter, we got ready for unique trekking among the spice garden to cover and witness the flora and fauna. For the first time in life I saw and touched cardamom plant, Black Pepper plant, coffee plant and cinnamon tree.
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I learnt that cardamoms are plucked in a special manner. You cannot empty the entire tree at one go instead you can pluck only one piece from one bunch and rotation continues. My most amazing experience was taking out cinnamon bark from the tree myself. Cinnamon tree is probably the only tree whose every part can be used for consumption starting from bark, leaves, fruit, etc.
Idukki has been a place where I indulged in many things for the first time. I did fishing for the first time in my life. There was a reservoir near the bungalow where we did fishing for a long time. It was an amazing experience under expert guidance of one of the staff members. However, in the end it was a mixed feeling. Although we enjoyed the process of fishing we didn’t like the idea that a fish once caught in hook cannot be put safely back into the water. I, being a vegetarian, did not personally like the idea of fun at the cost of any life.
Thereafter, we took the visit of the production unit where the plucked cardamoms are dried up. It is extremely hot in certain sections. The staff told me that even the clothes can be dried up here in few hours if it is raining outside. I also learned that the spices which we purchase from the market are priced according to the oil content present in them. The spices whose oil is not extracted are costliest whereas the price goes down with the percentage of oil extracted.
Overall the stay at Idukki was probably the best we had in our exploration of South India. We would love to relive the memories again. The place is serene and scenic. If one really wants to escape from the hustle-bustle of city life then Idukki is definitely a place one can head for. There are certain other private estates which also host tourists and provide them the glimpse of wonderful spice garden.
Escape the madness and rat-race of city life and spend some quality time in this meditative place for rejuvenation and creation of everlasting pleasant memories. Idukki for its misty Blue Mountains, salubrious climate, warm hospitality and rich variety of spices is an ideal interface with nature and this experience is worth longing for.
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