Thursday, 16 January 2014

India, Spice plantation and boat trip

After a weary week of new information, fast cars, beeping horns, yelling children, spicy food and flashing colours I was curious as to how our 'free-time' at the weekend would feel. I learned that the Australians were already booked on to a day trip and after a dreaded feeling of FOMO ('fear of missing out', I've just learnt it from Sally) I paid the extortionate amount of 700 rupees (7 pounds) to come along and explore the spice plantation. I was dubious as to what to expect, a part of me thought it would merely be a field full of growing crops, similar to the copious crop fields surrounding home in England. I was very wrong.

As soon as we arrive you could tell it was going to be special, partly because of the tall, beautifully lush trees towering over you like majestic beings and partly because there was men with guns guarding the entrance...

We drifted along a fairy-tale path, winding amongst sparkling greenery that seemed to gently bend over you from every direction in a welcoming way, as if the land itself was hugging you. Across a bridge tunneled in vines we approached the entrance to this garden of Eden, the tranquil stream reflecting patterns on the tree branches that gracefully hung over the sparkly water.

Some gorgeous Indian women were dancing in a circle, singing and clapping, clearly for the benefit of all the amazed tourists rather than a spontaneous act of culture, but it was lovely all the same...

Walking along a golden path sprinkled in sunshine yellow flower petals we were greeted by women sprinkling petals on our hair, giving us flower garlands and pressing red paint in a dot on our foreheads, a bindi. We were then herded towards shady wooden benches and given warm, herbal tea and these funny little savoury snacks...

The spice plantation's slogan is 'In Nature We Trust' and really tries to emphasize the benefits of nature and herbal remedies. I found this really interesting because in England everyone is so quick to dismiss herbal remedies and the power of nature, but then there are people that truly believe that what we find in nature can cure so many maladies. For ages people would ridicule the use of leeches and other old-fashioned practices in medicine and now they are making a really big comeback, so perhaps we should start to put a little bit more trust in nature! 

After wandering around for a while in a daydream of colour and flowers (and also a quick detour to the toilet) I was finally told we were about to set off on a tour of the plantation, with the promise of a buffet lunch upon return.

I have such a massive adoration of trees and love ambling around the tall, thick forests at home, where the sunlight reaches you through a filter of various shades of green. Being in this plantation full of such wonderfully tall and bright trees was the most I've ever felt like I'm in paradise...The earthy smell and shady canopy, the vivid colours and gentle heat... the whole experience was incredibly peaceful and stunning.

the bridge to paradise

I like to think this is the ant equivalent of he Taj Mahal

Green cardamom flower

cobwebs in sunlight

While we went around, our guide told us about all the different spices they were growing there and all the different health benefits they hold.There was a cure for just about anything here. I would tell you all the various health benefits but then they wouldn't be secret, you will just have to visit yourself if you want to find out the secrets to long, healthy lives.

Cashew nuts grow like this inside these fruity looking things. This large pepper shaped fruit holds one single cashew nut. Who knew!?

At the end of the trip, as we ended the blissful walk, the guide poured a scoop of water down our backs, supposedly to refresh us but I think it was just a cruel reminder that you have left your short stay in paradise and now you are back in the real world where people do such cruel things, like pour water down your back!

We sat down and were all brought a shot of the local alcoholic drink called Fenny. Supposedly your visit to Goa doesn't count if you haven't tried Fenny. I'm glad I've got this initiation shot out of the way, because I never want to drink this rancid stuff again. It was the kind of liquid that burns your insides and twists your face into hideous shapes and leaves an aftertaste of regret and nausea.

To soak up this shot of hell we all rushed to the buffet line. The plates are made from dried leaves from the plantation and once again we filled them up with ridiculous amounts of curry and rice. The food here was nice enough, but the food we receive on camp is so ludicrously delicious that our standards are particularly high now.

Free sample of the spices

After hearing about the wonders of good old mother earth I had a nosy at the natural wonders they were selling. I bought some coconut oil for my hair for 100 rupees (one pound) and some lemongrass oil and almond oil which is supposed to be a great facial cleanser. Whether you think it's a waste of money or not, it's so incredibly cheap here that it seems crazy not to at least try it! Apparently chewing on cardamom seeds is really good for mental distress and anxiety, so I've been chewing on them quite a lot since and I don't know if it's working but I haven't turned green or collapsed yet so that's a positive. The facial oils have been amazing. My face smells lemony and fresh and is smooth and lovely, although if you get it in your eyes it stings so, so, so much...

Apparently even in paradise there's a litter problem

Nearby there was a place doing elephant bathing and so some of the Aussies climbed in the river and played with the elephant, but with a sort of 'been there, done that' attitude I happily became photographer and terrifyingly had responsibility of other peoples expensive phones and camera as I tentatively leaned over the water.

Made sure I didn't leave without giving him a good old pat first though....

Next we all piled back into the cars and set of to Panjim for a spot of shopping. I have been tactfully sitting up front as it's the only seat with a seat belt. However as soon as I put my belt on the driver told me off and told me to take it off because I didn't need it, which makes me nervous as to what sort of lunatic I have driving me around that he actively makes you take your belt off... (he seems lovely really.)

Sweets in Panjum

Blossom on the roof tops

pooped little pooches

indoor fruit and veg market

Scary cosmetic surgery clinic

As the sun was setting we sat in the solid traffic and listened to the symphony of car horns as we headed to the dock to catch the boat.

We followed the lights and found ourselves on the what seemed to be the Indian equivalent to Butlins... on a boat. Not sure what to expect we all sat down on the plastic chairs in a curious yet cautious herd and watched as dozens of Indian families on their holidays packed in. The chairs were positioned around a stage area and dance floor with a DJ booth playing really bad dance music, presumably to warm up the crowd. The DJ then introduced a group of dancers that was four gangly teenagers, two boys and two girls, I'm guessing relatives of the boat owner being bribed to be there. They performed various 'traditional' dances throughout the night in peculiar outfits, half giggling at each other the whole evening and fleeing the stage the second the music stopped. Between these 'performances' the DJ made it his mission to make sure everyone felt uncomfortable as he would call up all the couples to the dance floor. Eager Mum's dragged along reluctant Dad's as their little children laughed and pointed and their teenage children hid their faces in shame and stared out at the black, cold water and wondered what they were doing here.

It was actually so interesting to watch though as there is definitely a very different culture regarding dance here. All the couples seemed to know set routines and once they were up on stage they were all so enthusiastic and expressive with no sense of embarrassment. We all said that the only way you'd get people to dance like that back home was to get them really drunk first.

A couple of the Aussie girls put up their hands as a joke to go dance as a couple and the DJ was very adamant: "no, just man and wife, no two girls, no two boys", but then as soon as the music started women came running down and grabbed the girls' hands and pulled them up to dance with all the couples, which was so welcoming and lovely.

The night ended with a questionable buffet where I ate only the watermelon and then sat out and shivered in the cool breeze as I watched all the lights blink and ripple off the water.

By the end of my 'quiet' day-off, I was absolutely exhausted.

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