IN 1498 the Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama landed at Calicut, south of Goa, seeking Christians and spices. “He didn’t have much luck finding Christians,” says the 7th edition of Lonely Planet Goa & Mumbai, “but there were certainly spices in abundance.” It took half a century for the Portuguese to conquer Goa and win control of its spice trade with Europe. They ceded sovereignty of the colony to India in 1961, but the importance of the region’s spices continues.
The small, “workaday” city of Ponda is the centre of commercial spice farms in Goa. Several are open to the public, and the guidebook recommends these four:
• Savoi Plantation, 12 kilometres north of Ponda. “The cream of the crop in the region,” “the least touristy” and 200 years old. “You’ll be welcomed with fresh pomegranate juice, cardamom bananas…and find knowledgeable guides keen to walk you through the 40-hectare plantation at your own pace.” It also has a couple of cottages for overnight stays.
• Sahakari Spice Farm, 2 kilometres from Ponda, near Curti village. “Well-touristed…a good place for elephant rides.” www.sahakarifarms.com
• Pascoal Organic Spice Village, seven kilometres east of Ponda. Tours, lunch, bamboo river rafting, elephant rides and “innovative mud cottages” to stay overnight in.
• Tropical Spice Plantation, five kilometres north of Ponda. “An entertaining 45-minute tour of the spice plantation is followed by a banana-leaf buffet lunch.” Elephant rides also available. www.tropicalspiceplantation.com
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