The good and the bad of the Sri Lankan spice gardens
Road tripping in the hill cities of Sri Lanka, especially in the neighbourhood of Kandy, gave us an interesting experience: we saw plenty of spice gardens along the main streets. We thought it was where spices were cultivated, prepared, bottled, and sold but later on, we learnt the truth, their real background.
When finally our driver stopped in one of those spice gardens in Kandy, we got inside for a brief visit. There were no entrance fees and that made our decision to enter easy. Upon entering we saw a group of guys chatting under a palm leaf hut; one of them came over to us and guided us through the garden, explaining clearly. We stopped in front of each plant, smelling and trying the benefit of that particular plant. Our guide said he was an Ayurveda medical college student doing a part-time job there in the spice garden to earn his pocket-money. We didn’t know if it was true, certainly he was well informed and knowledgeable. Thanks to him, we learned the medicinal and culinary uses of the spices, the scientific and familiar names of the plants and the way they are processed. We can say that it was actually very interesting to see their role in the life of the Sri Lankans.
After the visit to the spice garden with a guide, we were given a massage: nothing to criticize with this demonstration as well. It was relaxing and the products they used left our skin soft and smooth. After this wonderful massage, we were given a cup of sugar-free tea prepared with vanilla and ginger. It was delicious. They really welcomed us in a friendly and professional manner. It was a great example of Sri Lanka’s well known amazing hospitality. The worst part of our visit came only after handing out some tips to the guy who did the massage to us. We were taken to the shop where some Ayurveda medicines were sold.
At the first glance, prices seemed equivalent to Europe, but after two calculations on the exchange rates, we realized that it was even more than what we would have paid in Europe. Absolutely overpriced! The shop was disappointing and above all, the products didn’t seem to come from their own garden. They showed us a list of people living abroad reordering their products by post but I strongly doubted it. Some of us ended up with spending more than €200 .00 for a few medicines but some others left the place extremely confused, doubting the quality of the products themselves because it was slightly seen that the way things were displayed in the shop was crafted to catch the interest of westerners.
They sold medicines which could make you thinner, depilatory cream, medicines that could purify the entire body, could heal diabetes and other diseases, could keep the skin younger and so on. They didn’t pressure us to buy but they were smart enough to make us buy.
Don’t get caught up in the excitement, if you don’t pay attention you come out with a lot of stuff that you will later wonder why you bought and probably you will never use it once back at home. In my opinion, it was the number one tourist trap I have seen in Sri Lanka. I’m writing here about the one I visited but I know that this place was the same as so many similar spice gardens that I might get in to (visit of the garden, massage, tea, pulse reading, lunch, and shop). However, I’m here to suggest that you take this tour, first of all, because it is free and also because it is well explained.
I suggest that you don’t buy anything in the spice gardens in Sri Lanka. It was obviously not a real spice garden, but a kind of exhibition which has as its main purpose the sales of products at the highest price. Why don’t they ask for an entry free and let the tourist buy at a more honest price? Anyways, if you can’t avoid buying I strongly suggest that you use cash and not credit cards or POS payments because you don’t have enough time to realize the real amount and you end up with spending way too much without realizing it. Remember that converting from Sri Lankan Rupiees to Euro or vice versa is not immediate so the risk to spend much is high. There are plenty of other shops in Sri Lanka where spices or Ayurveda medicines are available to buy in a much more relaxed atmosphere for reasonable prices.
One more important thing that is to be said is that the taxi driver who took us to the spice garden in Sri Lanka earned a percentage on the sales so it was in his own interest to try his best to drive us there. In case you want to visit one of the spice gardens in Sri Lanka, google and select the one you want, not the one where you are taken by the driver.