Walking into a spice grove for a foodie is like taking a pilgrimage of sorts. My fascination with spices stems from the Indian style of cooking whose cuisines are so diverse that knowing how many spices exist in India can be none less than making an spicopedia. When I moved to Dubai, that’s when I got to explore so many spices, because now what they’re selling is Spices from all over India, not just from one particular region. Because I’ve spent my growing up years in North India, I had been only exposed to spices that we see there, mainly the North Indian spices (which anyway aren’t too many). A grocery store like Al Adil opened up my horizons as I saw jars after jars of spices, whose names I hadn’t even heard of before. Having friends from different regions also helped, as I understood the spices they use, and how important a spice mix could be that varies from every city/village in the same region. A trip to the spice market in Dubai also opens up the floodgates to the spices used in the Gulf region. The only thing left now was to see where & how they’re grown.
The trip to Sri Lanka was planned just few days before my birthday last year by Saloni, who painstakingly did all the visa formalities, tickets & hotel bookings for a surprise family holiday. But a visit to spice grove was accidental, as our cab driver/guide who picked us from airport made a detour as he learnt that we are mad about food & spices. It is worth chatting up with cab drivers, as they give you a deluge of information and stories that you’d remember for a lifetime.
The Island Spice Grove is a haven of spice trees, and a heaven for city-dwellers who haven’t seen so many types of trees, spices, natural products, besides large spiders hanging in air like drones. The establishment is a non-profit, as there is no entrance fee, while a Ayurveda practitioner/biologist/guide will take you through the stretch of a small forested area educating you through the process of cultivation.
The walk through this forest was informative as we saw the plantation and cultivation of cocoa, spices, herbs, vegetables, fruits and other natural items. It’s a serene place, almost like a cocoon that shields you from the pollution, noise and speed of the city life. The smells will fill up your senses, while they also make you taste/sample different products. It’s a long walk that takes you down the hill through the curvy paths of thick vegetation, then shows you foot paths that go uphill through shrubs and make you anxious. Sunlight rarely seeps in because of tall trees, and a breeze can actually give a shudder.
An extremely special & generous treat await after the walking tour, which is a foot & head massage. In the serene, open environments, the guide gives you a medicinal Ayurvedic massage. These guides are actually medical students who’d learnt Ayurveda as well, and now have dedicated their life to preserving nature. They ask you for all your ailments, allergies, objectives and then choose an oil appropriate for that specific task, like I wanted a massage to soothe my nerves and also help me dispel my ever-present cold & flu. From a table that had over 30 types of oil, the guide chose two of them, mixed and then gave a head massage. This massage, in a natural environment, under the shade of trees, in an open hut, was the best massage I’d ever had. This soul-stirring experience lifted my spirit and brought a calmness that could not be described in words.
While all these services were complimentary, they do run a store where they sell natural products. It’s futile to explain why we went berserk buying so many spices, spice mix (Curry powder), herbal oils, teas, cocoa and so much more. The highlights of our shopping are the Green Oil, Sandalwood Oil (purity is a rarity!), Herbal Balm, Aloe Vera Gel and Jojoba Cream. The Green Oil mixed with Herbal Balm prevents headaches, cold and improves vision. The Sandalwood Oil, Aloe Vera Gel and Jojoba Cream are great for skin related problems (acne, marks, eczema, wrinkles, tan, dark circles, etc.). They even give you a flyer that explains the ingredients, their importance, usage etc.
There are many spice groves in the region, and I recommend adding a tour in a spice grove in your itinerary if you’re visiting Sri Lanka. It would be the best start to your trip, spicing things up from thereon!