Smiling lady on a bamboo ladder
Food & drink,  Kerala,  Sunday Stills

Gallery: in the Cardamom Hills of Kerala

There’s a clue in the name! The Cardamom Hills in Kerala are famous for the growing of their namesake spice and many others besides. Peppercorns, vanilla, cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and more are grown on the small farms here. But also coffee and different fruits such as banana, avocado and jack fruit.

The main town of the region, Kumily, is surrounded by plantations. Many of them offer tourist visits, and their advertising hoardings lined the road as we arrived. Our tour company had arranged something slightly different for us. Their local agent here, Manu, has his own small plantation, which has been in his family for three generations, and he met us there to show us around.

The scent of spices hung in the air, so of course I’m sharing this visit with Terri for her Sunday Stills aroma theme.

We had arrived towards the end of the harvesting season for two of his main crops, pepper and coffee, so we only saw limited amounts of both still growing in the plantation but enough to be of interest. We also saw jack fruit, bananas, cloves, papaya, chillies, nutmeg, cardamom, cinnamon and vanilla. Our host explained how each was grown and harvested. Vanilla, for instance, has to be pollinated by hand as there are no natural pollinators; and the beans once picked must be fermented for days at precise temperatures; hence the high cost. And cardamom doesn’t have a specific harvest time as its berries ripen erratically. Some women were harvesting pepper as we passed, perched rather precariously on ladders propped against the trees up which the pepper vines climb.


After our walk Manu asked if we would be interested in seeing the small selection of spices they sell directly and we agreed as it seemed much better to make our purchases directly from the vendor (many of the spice shops in town sell produce that isn’t local but which can come from anywhere in India or indeed beyond). So we were invited into a room in his house, where we met his wife and daughters. He had lots of different spices, all grown on his small farm. We bought some black peppercorns and dried chillies as these were two of the crops we had seen growing.

We thoroughly enjoyed our walk with Manu and felt this was far better than the sort of commercialised guided tour we would have got at one of the other places we had passed.

I visited Kerala in 2017


  • wetanddustyroads

    Oh, many of my favourite spices are mentioned here – great to see the peppercorns on the trees! Jack fruit is something I’m not familiar with – do you know the taste of these?

  • photobyjohnbo

    I would have sworn there is another name for cardamom, but a short Internet search turned up nothing. In any case, I enjoyed reading about this spice that I have only heard of. 🙂

  • Leela Gopinath

    Well Sarah….you are in my home state of Kerala this time. Happy that you had a “spicy” trip. What you said is true, a trip with a small time farmer will be more authentic than the well advertised commercial ones. Lovely pictures…as usual


    A spice garden/spice farm tour is a kind of must-do when you get the opportunity, even though they’re sometimes a bit of a tourist trap. It’s impossible to make a visit without learning new stuff and coming away feeling edified and educated. Your point about buying there is very sound – I remember a farmer in Sri Lanka listing the “local spices” available on the market which aren’t grown anywhere on the island! We didn’t do Kerala on our one India tour so far but it’s definitely on our list.

  • leightontravels

    The Cardamom Hills (a lovely name) with its host of aromatic spices and tropical fruits must smell divine. Lovely photos, Sarah, that tell the story of your visit there. It is always good to know that small farmers are managing to survive and thrive in a world that does not favour small-time producers.

  • margaret21

    Ah, this was the Kerala I was fortunate enough to become acquainted with too. It’s good that these small producers still find their place in this world of Bigger is Better.

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    How cool to actually see the spices and herbs growing and understanding more about them and how their grown, Sarah. I’ll bet it smelled amazing with all the scents hanging in the air. If you can believe, I don’t know what cardamom smells like, but I know it is a popular spice for many foods. Years back when we were on the Big Island of Hawaii, we toured KAU coffee plantation that grows Kona coffee alongside macadamia nuts. Wow, those smells were incredible, so your experience sounds wonderful. Thanks for sharing your aromatic post today!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Terri – for the comment AND for the inspiration to share this 😀 Yes, the smells were wonderful, and it was really interesting to see these things growing, also to meet Manu and his family and learn about their lives here.

      • Veronica Rossi

        Hello Sarah, I’d love to know where exactly is Manu’s plantation please? I’m travelling in a month time and i’d love to visit Cardamom Hills!

        • Sarah Wilkie

          Hi Veronica! I’m really sorry but I can’t say – our toru company arranged the visit and a guide took us there. I only know it wasn’t far from Kumily. In any case, it was early 2017 when we visited, over six years ago, so it may not even still be there. But I know you’ll have a great time in this area and hopefully will find an interesting plantation to tour – there are so many there.

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