A visit to the kingdom of spices in Kumily

As we strolled in the market of Kumily, scent of freshly cut spices, sold in every nook and corner of this small town increased our urge to visit one of the many spice plantations on the outskirts. Our guided tour to the kingdom of spices offered us the sight of lush green vegetation and the smell of aromatic air.

Latex getting collected in coconut shells

In places like Kerala, where coconuts are in abundance, the shell of half a coconut is used as the collection container for the latex. The shells are attached to the tree via a short sharp stick and the latex drips down into it overnight. This usually produces latex up to a level of half to three quarters of the shell. The latex from multiple trees is then poured into flat pans, and this is mixed with formic acid, which serves as a coagulant resulting in rubber crump. After a few hours, the wet sheets of rubber are wrung out by putting them through a press. Later on these sheets are sent onto factories where vulcanization and further processing is done to it. I closed my eyes and saw these white sheets were spread for our royal white carpet welcome to the “Kingdom of Spices”.

On the auspicious occasion of our visit to the spice kingdom we were offered betal nuts.

Beetal Nut

The first dignitary to meet us was the charming “Prince of Spices” – Vanilla. Who would not like to be in the company of this prince charming with pleasant flavors? Ice creams and custards look naturally elegant in his company. When I have to choose an ice-cream flavor and I am in no mood of experimentation, the safest and surest bet is Vanilla. Vanilla is a climbing orchid and needs supporting trees for its cultivation. It can be cultivated as an intercrop in coconut and Pepper farms. Ideal time for planting Vanilla is when the weather is neither too rainy nor too dry and it requires shade for its growth. For it’s flowering artificial Pollination is done. After pollination the bean takes 9-11 month for their maturity.

Vanilla

From there we were invited to the audience of The King of the Spices” – Pepper. As a kid I always avoided facing the King. Now as an adult I can face him. I know that he would be a little harsh initially but would have medicinal effects on my throat later on.

This King is a climber and for its success & its kingdom to flourish, it needs strong bishop like Coral tree to support it. The berries are separated from the spike by thrashing. After drying in Sun for three days they turn into black and hence are called Black Pepper. The green and white Pepper is also made from the same plant but the processing is different.

For making white pepper the ripe red pepper berries are plucked and immersed in running water for 8-12 days and then through thorough wash the outer skin is removed and dried in the Sun. After a few hours, it turns into white and thus we have white pepper.

The pepper berries for green Pepper are collected before they ripe and taken to the factory. By means of dehydration the green color and the fragrance can be retained.

Pepper

From there we were invited to the Private chambers of the “Queen of the Spices – Cardamom. The presence of queen adds grace to everything, be it a cup of tea, kheer (rice pudding) and for that matter any sweet dish.

Cardamom Cardamom[/caption]

Yield from Cardamom starts three year after its plantation and continues up to 10-12 years. Cool humid weather is necessary during the flowering season for forming the fruits. The flowers are formed at the bottom and it takes 90-120 days for fruit maturity. Harvesting is done once in 30-45 days. September to March is the main picking season.

Drying is very important, done in specially designed curing chambers called Cardamom store. 24-36 hours of drying is required at a temperature of 50-60 degree centigrade to retain the green color. After drying polishing is done by rubbing against hard surface or using polishing machines.

After that we saw the glimpses of the “New born Princess – Clove. It is the dried unopened flower buds of the clove tree. Unopened mature flower buds are carefully collected by hand and dried in sun for 3-5 days till they become crisp and dark brown in color. I don’t know whether the princess cried or not at her birth, but I know that when I was about to cry with my toothache, a single piece of clove in my mouth had the effect of most effective pain killer.

The Clove

As we came out of the royal Palace, we started hearing the waxing and waning sound of the night guard at duty – “Jaagte rahoo, jaagte rahoo.” That was the aromatic coffee – our companion of those many night outs. Robusta and Arabica are two main varieties of coffee commercially cultivated in Periyar region. The ripe fruits are hand plucked and dried in sun for 7-12 days till the seed rattle within the husk. Then it is taken to coffee mill and the husk is removed. While roasting the color changes to brown and the aroma is produced.

Coffee beans

Then we saw the gracious Lady Love in red. For few moments we could not take our eyes away from her. We were told that she was the colorful Helicornian Flower. Her beauty is preserved longer in vase than any other flower. Can anyone remain not attracted towards her?

Heliconia Flower

Then we noticed “a magician” performing his tricks on the audience. We were warned not to go too close to him. We were told that he hypnotizes people and keeps them under his spell. That was cocoa, a papaya like fruit. From the dried and partially fermented fatty seed of the cacao tree, sinfully delicious chocolates are made. Cocoa is grown in hot weather with abundant rains.

The Cocoa

In one corner we saw that person with rough look and mannerism. We were told that if we go close to him and probe him hard, the upper roughness gives way to inner sweetness.

The Pineapple

I was expecting that the pineapple/Ananas grows on trees like that of palm or coconut, but was surprised to see that its plant was medium tall herbaceous perennial plant.

Then we met a person who started his life being very open in nature and once he became aware of realities of life, closed himself and have stories hidden around him that can be revealed one day layer by layer.

The Cabbage

Beautiful leaves

This beautiful leaf in the spice kingdom convinced me that the “Painter GOD” enjoys his miniature paintings equally as much as HE enjoys painting on bigger and wider canvas.

Ladyfingers

In that wonderland of Spices we saw ladyfingers growing on trees and not on the herbaceous plants. We spotted little “Dennis the Menace – the red chilies. It looks innocently small and cute, but one bite of it and I can bet that its red color would be visible on my face.

Red Chilly

No story is complete without villainous character in it. We too met a treacherous character planning a murder. My body shivered when I came to know that for years this tree is waiting for Newton to sit under it, to observe and propose the gravitational force.

Jack Fruit tree

Close-up of the jack-fruit

With agricultural land shrinking, traditional way of paddy cultivation is no longer viable. Many of these farmers have moved to massive cultivation of pepper, cardamom, coffee, tea and vanilla. Previously these spices were always intercropped, but the lure of higher income made farmers to go for it in big ways. Spice plantation involves huge funds and any reduction in prices or farm failure due to diseases leaves farmers in penury. In recent years there are some incidents of farmers committing suicides in this part and that is the cruel and saddest part of the Spice plantation.

24 Comments

  • Philip Mathai says:

    Hi! Manish,

    You have done a wonderful collection. I have never thought of photographing any of these as they are so common in every home. Except Cardamom and Cabbage (which grows only in High ranges) all others are grown in almost all homes. We even prepare Home made coffee for our daily use. Cloves, pepper, areca nut, jack fruit are all seen everywhere. The colored leaves are also very common. Its leaves reproduce the plants. But to us it is so common that no body particularly notice it. You have only mentioned how rubber is produced. I have got detailed photographs to show exactly how Rubber Sheets are produced from Trees. In some areas of Palakkad the yield is so high that special plastic cups bigger than coconut shell are used. I have seen big plants of Lady Fingers but never trees. That must be an exaggeration. Coco is not like Papaya. It has a shell like Pomegranate. The seeds with the pulp are removed and kept for one or two days for fermentation. Then seeds are removed, cleaned and dried before selling it. It can be processed by big processing units only. Without fermentation the seeds are useless.

    Philip

  • nandanjha says:

    Manish – You are becoming a literary-traveler and getting the knack of weaving stories around the sugg which ordinary people like me would pass as a routine. From the history in your Sikri story to this fabulous collection of spices and vegetables, its getting richer and bigger.

    Not sure about others but I am definitely evolving as a reader and lot of it goes to writers like you. What pics, what text. lovely.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Dear Philip,

    Thanks for the detailed informative note.

    For you which is so common is so exotic for many of us. I can still see many of my colleagues, including me, wondering that oh this spice grow this way.

    For lady finger it might be an exaggeration or may be its a different species, similar to Ladyfinger. I am looking for more suggestions. At present I think its making more sense to me that it was a big plant :)

    Will you share with us the photographs of how rubber sheets are produced, I think it would be interesting for many ?

    When I said that Coco resembles Papaya, I meant only in its look. But look for any reader there are more detailed information than what I provided :), thanks for it.

    Once Again Philip, thanks for such an informative/detailed note. I can feel that how informative and guiding our seniors are for us :) Please feel free to criticize the writing style (and suggestions to improve it) or may be suggestion about how to take better photographs will also help(as I can see that you are a very good photographer), and of course we are looking forward to learn from your vast knowledge. You can guide us about the past of the places, cultures and so many things & I have seen that you have already started sharing so many things with us.

    So thanks for being around :)

  • manish khamesra says:

    Thanks Nandan, as always for being so inspiring & encouraging.

    I saw your comment about the choice of this site’s name as ghumakkar in post on “Rohtang La” . I was expecting it to be suggested by someone who is well read of hindi literature – so its not a surprise that its Smita.

    This site is also a tribute to the biggest ghumakkars of all , Rahul Sanskritiyayan, who has also written a book by the name ghumakkar shastra.

    I didn’t want this comment to vanish on those 64 comments (Sorry Kshitija) :) and hence not commented about it there.

  • Ram Dhall says:

    Manish, you have done it again. You took us to an amazing journey to spiceland. Beautiful write up supported by some excellent pictures. We all know about rubber, pepper and coffee beans. You have very articulately described the various stages through which these plantations go.

    I was also little surprised to see the growth of “bhindis” on trees. Normally, we see ladyfingers on small plants.

    A Keralite friend just mentioned that owing to the higher commercial yield on rubber plantations, most of the farmers are diverting their resources to this plant, thus distrubing the environmental equilibrium. May be you or Mr. Mathai might like to comment on this.

    Yes, I have read Rahul Sanskritiyayan’s “Ghumakkar Shastra” – one of his best works.

  • Gyana Meera says:

    That’s an interesting post!
    I like your idea of description with the concept of spices and i love your pictures. What camera do you have?

    I’m sure you felt great after that, nature is so beautiful. I feel good just looking at the pictures of those spices. The different shades of green, the contrast of the bright red and the green!! Truly a wonderland of spices!! Just awesome. Thanks for sharing that.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Thanks Ram uncle for your as ever encouraging comments.

    I feel that the rubber plant disturbing the evironmental equilibrium should be true. I feel its happening all over the country. Farmers are shifting to the crops with more commercial income and in general its bringing changes that may affect the environmental equilibrium (effects of which may be visible after several years). For sure I would like to hear about it more from others, who have more knowledge than me on the subject.

    I have read only one book from Rahul Sanskritiyayan. These days I was searching for the book “Ganga se Volga tak” but I could not find it in any book store, may be its out of print. Its nice to know that you have read “Ghumakkar Shashtra”. I have heard lots of praise of MahaPandit’s travelogues from my mother.

  • manish khamesra says:

    Meera,

    Thanks a lot for your kind words. Let me tell you, this is one of the few posts that I posted without my editor-in-chief(My wife Jaishree) reviewing it. So I was really anxious about the responses. She is a ruthless editor, but I feel more confident about the posts once she review it :)

    I have Canon Powershot A710.

    You are right Meera, we enjoyed a lot our spice plantation tour and came to know of so many wonderful things we were not aware. Thanks again for going through it and for your praise.

  • Patrick Jones says:

    NOOOooooo!! You can’t do this to me, Manish!!!

    I was relaxing in the hills and the frantic call told me that Manish did it again. I sensed you did something bad but never imagined it would be this bad! Think cassava is the only item you so graciously left out for me to write about.

    From now on, your entry into Kerala is banned. :-)

    However, I have to admit (grudgingly) that youve got a beautiful collection in there. Very informative too.

    Kumaly is the correct form. Lady finger plant grows tall to about six feet but its still a plant.

  • manish khamesra says:

    I am not doing the correction of Kumaly, though I feel that this should be the right pronunciation, only to comply with the way its written at many places ( I felt that may be its more popular this way).

    Lady finger tree – May be a little exaggeration, but it was surely much bigger than our expectation :)

    :)

    Such a nice comment Patrick, that it made me think that will I be able to write an equally beautiful response to this beautiful comment, no…So should I leave it un-responsed. I think yes …, but still I end up writing one …

    Thanks again for bringing a smile on the face that may remain there for long time.

  • Celine says:

    In one of the farms in northern Kerala, once I was shown a plant on which was Allspice. One of it was plucked and handed over to me, and it was interesting to note that it is a spice that has a combined flavour of other aromatic spices such as cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves etc.

    Interesting post Manish. I have seen the cultivation of these in the ghats of Chickamaglur too. Nice pictures, and I like that of Heliconia.:)

  • manish khamesra says:

    So the lady love in red attracted you ;)

    Thanks as ever, for going through the post and leaving informative comment and for the generous appreciation.

    I read about Allspice, but was not aware that it has combined flavour of so many other spices and hence is called AllSpice. Thanks for this information.

  • Vivek Sinha says:

    Hi Manish,

    Great to see Kumily post – full of beautiful pics of “source of spices”.
    Yes, it is indeed rare to see such a literally ‘piquant’ collection in one place, as someone remarked in his comments.

    Pleasure to see your posts.
    What is very nice & distinctive about your posts, is the abundance of exotic photos. Would other readers agree?

    Thanks,
    Vivek

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Thanks Vivek for going through the post and also for generous appreciation. Its a pleasure to see your comment :)

  • Jerry Jaleel says:

    Another good post, Manish .

    It was the spice that attracted the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French and the English to Kerala’s Malabar coast and later to other parts of India. Most of them left the shores with ship full of peppercorns, cardamum and coconuts. The foreign merchants also introduced breadfruit, cashews, casavas or tapioca, coffee, tea, guava and banana plants to several parts of India.

    Kerala is also blessed with hundreds of herbal plants and trees which are used for healing for centuries. Thanks for the excellent photographs. I was told that some jackfruits could weigh up to 10 kg or more and they very seldom fall from the tree. If failed to harvest once the fruit is ripened, birds will eat them and only discarded seeds and the prickly skins would fall to the ground.

    Jerry Jaleel

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Another very informative comment Jerry :-)

      I am really very surprised and happy to read about Jackfruits, Nature is Great.

      Thanks for your comment.

  • I have many problems with my browser Flock on your internet site. The gremlins are in the page :).

  • nandanjha says:

    MK – Most likely the last comment is made by a web-bot (short for web-robot). Its a method people use to sprinkle their links all across the web, hoping that Google would count them as ‘references’ and up their value, put them on top of searches, in-turn increasing the traffic and so on. :)

    Ignore.

    • Manish khamesra says:

      Nandan,

      Who cares! I learnt the meaning of gremlin. If it was a genuine reader, I replied him as well ;-) But I liked elias’ comment

  • Hi I love your post and it is so good and I am definetly going to bookmark it. One thing to say the Superb analysis you have done is greatly remarkable.No one goes that extra mile these days? Bravo! Just another tip you caninstall a Translator Application for your Worldwide Audience !

  • Some interesting information about clove from an article by “Suranjana Nandi” in Spice Route – In flight magazine of spice jet.

    ” Clove originated in Ancient China. The ancient Chinese Han Dynasty lasting from 207 BC to 220 AD gave us the first traces of association of spice clove with human society. According to historians, the court visitors in the ancient Han Dynasty were made to hold clove in their mouths while addressing the ruler.

    The word clove comes from the Latin word Clavus meaning nail.

    According to folklore, sucking on two whole cloves without chewing on them or swallowing prevents the urge to consume alcohol.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *