Goa is known as a tropical tourist paradise for its beaches. Goa has other faces, less visited, but no less significant. We took a trip to a spice plantation, a spice farm, in Goa, taking a boat up the Mandovi River from Panaji. This post shows that journey.
Below is a map that shows the route we took. We boarded the boat in Panaji, near the center of the map, and went up river, around the big island, and further upriver, then took a car to the Sahakari Spice Farm (Shown a “A” on the map marker). This trip took most of the day, and seems well worth it.
We visited Goa early this year, while Carol’s adult children were visiting us in India. This day, we let them go to the beach, and ventured out on our own. We figured this trip would be too slow paced for them.
We boarded the boat near the center of Panaji.
These boats also go out at sundown. Many have bands, so there is live music. They sail down river towards the ocean and sunset.
Ahead there are two white cruise ships.
On the far bank is a fleet of fishermen’s boats, at anchor now.
We pass under the car bridge. This is the main road to the north, and to the Goan beaches most frequented.
Ahead is a church.
This is a big building!
You can see how the church is designed to face the river (and I suspect for easy boat assess).
We start to pass some kind of barge. We have seen many of these on the river. When going downstream, they are low to the water, with a heavy load. This one is higher in the water, so unloaded I guess, going upriver.
They don’t spend extra money on a nice paint job. This is a working boat. I think it is a barge, an open boat. The color theme seems to be rust.
Another barge comes downstream, low in the water. Black dirt rises from it. This must be what they carry. Dirt?
All along the river there are ferry docks. This ferry has room for two autos, along with motorbikes, people, etc. Life lived at the pace of a river, using ferries for transportation has a certain rhythm, one from a different age than modern city life. You are not going to be moving fast.
Another building built to face the river.
On the crest of the hill above the river are two big buildings. One is a big hotel, I think. The other is yet one more big hotel under construction.
Further upstream, we start to pass big, old buildings, shrouded with trees. These are in what is now called, “Old Goa.” Old Goa is pretty old. The Portuguese made this their Asian headquarters in 1510, after conquering the locals. In those days, in terms of European conquerors after the Indian spice trade, it was the Dutch vs. the Portuguese. The Portuguese were here first, after the ‘discovery’ of India by Vasco de Gama in Kerela in 1498. Goa was the ‘crown jewel’ of the Portuguese empire in Aisa. The city was one of the world’s largest during Portuguese control, growing to more then 200,000 in the 1540’s.Immigration and the diseases that accompanies the immigrants brought Old Goa to its end, with epidemics devastating the population until there were only about 1500 remaining in 1775 (the year before the American Declaration of Independence). At this time, the center of Goa moved to Panaji, where it still is today.
With us today on the tour to the spice plantations, were maybe 30 other people. These we mainly Indians, with a smattering of westerners. The Indians included families with children and women wearing sarees, as well as this young Indian couple. They seem like young lovers, our for an adventure together. If this were the est, I would say newlyweds. Here, I don’t think people take honeymoons right after the wedding.
Here there is a low bank covered by trees.
The ferry and another landing.
Then we started see what looked like some kind of fishing boats, with many men and long poles.
Many boats here.
But they have piles in the boats, not fish. I think it is sand.
These are sand dredgers.
Dredging the sand makes the river channel better for the barges and other commercial boats that ply these waters.
Sand is also a key ingredient to building construction, or anything that uses cement.
So they dredge the river channel with buckets on long poles, hauling up one bucket of sand at a time. Then when the boat is low in the water, full of sand, they unload the sand, to be sold for cement construction. Notice the trucks parked by the river? I bet they are buying loads of sand. I wonder what a boatload of sand is worth? In Tiruvannamalai, you can buy a truckload of sand for about rs 5000. This is to get the sand delivered to your building site. These ‘sand fishermen’ must sell wholesale. Maybe the boatload is worth rs 1000? Maybe they get rs 150 – 200 per day each? Anyone know more about this?
Now the hills and dense forests that cover them are higher. Palm trees line the edge of the riverbank.
We pass a shipyard. This must be some kind of fancy boat for tourists.
Now starting to line the banks are ramps, about 20 feet tall, with construction around them.
Palms line the river bank.
As we approach one of the ramps we see a barge docked beneath it.
And trucks are dumping loads a dark red dirt into the barge.
When I researched this after the trip, I found out that Goa has one of the highest per capita incomes in India, over rs 50,000, more than twice the Indian average. The biggest money maker for Goa is tourism. After that is it the export of Iron and other ores. This is what we see on the river. The barges are filled with ore, which is loose dirt, easily ‘mined’ with heavy equipment, loaded into trucks and dumped into the barges.
I talked to a Goan man who said there is enough Iron ore in Goa that they can mine it at the current rate for more than 100 years, so for the next century the Goan economy has a solid basis in iron ore.
You can see how long the barge is. It is high in the water, not loaded yet.
We start seeing, in the midst of the palm trees enormous piles of red dirt. How tall is this pile? Maybe 30 – 40 feet?
We see houses near the river. These are small communities, I think of iron miners and their families. It is a remote life, living on the river, miles away from anything.
We pulled over and docked. We are to leave the boat. Though we have been going about two hours on the river, the tide is out, and the boat is low. the level of the river depends on the tidal flow. To step out of the boat, they have placed a chair on the deck. We climb onto the chair and then further onto the dock.
Here is the boat at the dock.
Next we have to walk a few hundred yards. The path starts out through palm trees.
Water buffaloes graze near the path.
At the end of the path there are a few houses, and two or three cars waiting for us to take us to the spice plantation.
We drove maybe 20 – 30 minutes, up from the river into the hills. I notice on the dashboard that the driver is not missing any bets. There is a head of Jesus (from on the cross, I think), and to the left, pictures of Hindu deities.
After the drive we come to a parking lot, with many cars in it. I am surprised by all the cars. Later I found out that you can make a driving tour to the spice plantations, too. I am glad we took the cruise, though. We saw the life on the river, which showed a lot about Goa that most tourists never see.
We walk down a hill into a protected valley. Ahead of us is a lagoon, with a footbridge over it. The bridge leads to some kind of structure.
This lagoon is so beautiful, unexpected in India.
The structure is an eating area, with tables, covered above with roofs, to keep the sun out.
Another group is on the other side of the eating area, at the end of their walk.
We are going to take about 30 minutes and walk through the spice plantation. I have seen nothing like this before.
There seems a riot of plant growth, with tall trees, and low vines, and creepers climbing the trees.
We have a guide, with good English and an outgoing personality.
This is a pepper plant, climbing some other tree.
The leaves are luminous in the light.
Sprigs of pepper corns hang from the leaves.
Here is a man rolling beedis. These are Indian cigarettes, short brown smokes, very low cost. About half the cigarettes smoked in India are beedies.
The sky is filled with tree tops. Below is the kind of mixed shade that I guess is needed for the spices to grow.
Grown in this mixed spice farm are:
- Black pepper
- Betel nut palm
Next we were shown an odd contraption, made from two clay posts, one on tops of a clay oven, with a hollow tube running down to the other pot. This is a feni still. Feni is an alcoholic drink make from cashew fruit, and is the traditional Goan alcoholic beverage. You crush the fruit, let it ferment for a couple of days, then distill it.
Distill it once for feni wine. This way women can drink this. Distill it two or three times for feni brandy. This is a man’s drink.
Betel nuts, hanging from a palm.
Aloe. I expected something more exotic.
A worker’s house, in the midst of the spice forest.
These tiny spots of red are the world’s hottest chilies. I did NOT try to eat them.
The guide made a big deal about the worlds biggest grass plant. This is a kind of giant bamboo.
I do not remember what this red flowering plant is.
Some of the spices grow in mounds of broad leafed plants on the forest floor.
I loved the tall trees, and green shade below them. What a pleasant environment.
These are vanilla plants.
Then, at the end of a walk, a man comes and starts climbing up the trees.
He made it up quickly, then stopped at the top. Then he started the tree swaying, and jumped from one tree to another 30 feet off the ground. Good trick!
Then, on command from our guide, he slid down, almost in free fall. He braked at the last moment, so he didn’t snap a leg bone.
One last look back at a path through the spice plantation.
At the end of the walk, our guide said that he was going to let us participate in “an old Goan tradition.” I put quotes around this, because I am sure he just made this up, to play a trick on us, a trick we would remember.
I volunteered. I walked in front of the group. He had me turn around, then he pulled back the neck of my shirt and poured cold water down my back. Yeah, I will remember this all right.
Carol went up to. You can see from the photo that she was a bit surprised by the experience.
Then we had a nice meal of various traditional Goan dishes.
We sat at edge tables, near the water.
And looked out over the cool, peaceful lagoon.
Then it was time to go. Cross the bridge again.
One more photo of the lagoon.
A pair of ducks swim by.
At the end of the bridge was an elephant. Had we known about this, we could have set up an elephant ride. Now there is not enough time left.
The little girl is interested in the elephant’s trunk.
Up the hill to the cars, and we are off again.
Here is a blurry picture on the drive down. You can see we are at some elevation above the surrounding countryside.
At the bottom on the hills are verdant rice fields. Here this is one big field. Around Tiruvannamalai rice is grown mainly by village farmers in small plots, and you never see a field this big.
We walk by the houses again. I just love this photo, with the grays, whites and faded blue of the house, and the yellow leaves to the left. It is very ‘arty’. This means it was taken by Carol.
Back down the path to the boat.
Notice the boat now rides higher against the ramp, almost three feet higher. The tide is coming in.
We board, and are on our way.
The river starts out pretty open and peaceful.
As we go further though, it is a traffic jam, of barges going up and down the river.
Here is another ore loading platform.
More ore being dumped into a barge.
In the middle of all the barge traffic there is two small boats, people crossing the river. Watch out for the traffic!
Two barges, both low in the water. One is passing the other. This is a big production. The river is not that wide here, and there is traffic coming the other way, and it takes a long time for one barge to pass another.
The river is lined with green plant life. Now the tide is up, so you do not see the banks.
A few more sand fishermen.
I think they are taking their day’s ‘catch’ home.
A few boats, parked by a ferry docking place. I guess these sand men live in town.
Another small village of sand men. There are women outside. It looks like they are waiting for their husbands and sons to get home for the day.
We pass Old Goa again. We are getting near to Panaji and the end of the trip.
If we come back here, I will want to see Old Goa from the ground. Certainly Goan history includes the boom and bust cycles of International commerce. I wonder how much people remember of their history, and the tourist business has grown so much in the last 20 years? Now 12% of tourists coming to India, go to Goa. It is just a tiny state, but has 1/8 of all visitors to India.
The cruise to the spice plantation was a worthwhile way to spend the day. We saw much that we would never have seen otherwise, and I got a different idea of Goa than I ever would by visiting the beaches.
I also wonder what lessons are to be gained from understanding the history of Old Goa?