Spice Gardens of Sri Lanka – by E F Mac Intosh
There are about forty spice gardens within a fifty km radius of Kandy, which is the second largest city in Sri Lanka. Matale about 30 km north of Kandy, and Mawanella about 50 km west, are prominent spice growing regions where most of the spice gardens are located.
The “spice gardens” should not be confused with spice plantations. These gardens are better described as “show gardens” with a primary focus on retailing indigenous Ayurveda medicine and small quantities of a variety of spices. The Ayurveda oils and medicines are derived from a mixture of the spices and herbs which are grown locally.
The spice gardens are not self-sufficient in either spices or herbs; they source Ayurveda products from a few centralized processing facilities, and they buy spices from the wholesale spice markets, albeit they package the spice in-house and label it with the garden brand name. Although these spice gardens cultivate a wide variety of spices and herbs, the amount of production is insignificant; the garden plants are primarily for show.
The Spice Journal visited many spice gardens in the area and found there is a common theme throughout. A group of tourists are greeted by a guide with some knowledge of Ayurveda medicine and cures, and with some knowledge of the spices and herbs from which the medicine and oil is extracted. The tourists are then taken on a tour of the gardens which emphasizes the medicinal value of each plant.
Each garden has spice plants and trees of every variety, as well as herbs. The plants and trees are marked with attractive signage depicting cinnamon trees, cloves, cardamom, sandalwood, ginger, pepper, aloe, etc.
The guide dutifully describes the chemistry of the spices and herbs, and the oil that is extracted and mixed to produce the Ayurveda medicines. All the while the guide weaves a bit of history of spice into the presentation and tells about natural remedies used long before modern day medicine existed.
Foreign tourist, mostly from Europe and Japan, are the best customers of the spice gardens, and the purveyors of the gardens ensure that the guides are somewhat conversant in many of those languages.
In most gardens, the tour includes a stop in a chalet style clinic with a display of oils and medicines, where presentation and demonstration of the various cures are offered. Massages are also available there.
The final part of the tour is the retail center which is well staffed with sales people who are trained to keep the cash registers ringing.
Our journalists who mingled with the tourists, noticed the significant amounts spent by the foreigners, and in one garden The Spice Journal was informed by the manager that his establishmant attracted an average of two hundred foreigners per day.
Many of the gardens also have chalet style restaurants with buffet facilities offering Sri Lankan cuisine, as well as a la carte menus of sandwiches, fish and chips, and other light lunches.
The spice gardens of the Kandy Area obviously provide a significant boost to the local economy, perhaps generating as much as $10,000,000 per month.
The Sri Lanka Government – Department of Tourism, which is primarily responsible for the existence of these enterprises, should be commended.
Unfortunately, The Spice Journal was informed that there are a very large number of tourist complaints about the spice gardens. It was said that the complaints about the spice gardens and complaints about the taxi (three wheelers) drivers represent more than 90% of all complaints received by the Department of Tourism of Sri Lanka.
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