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


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