Friday, February 27, 2015

Pulau Pinang - The Spice Island...

Our last day in Georgetown in the lovely island of Penang has finally dawned upon us and we woke feeling sad that our sojourn in the spice island was kind of drawing to a close. There could not be a better farewell to Penang than to revisit how how this island really came into being. And that means discovering the role tropical spices played in Penang's evolution as an important colonial trading outpost...


We planned an excursion to the Tropical Spice Garden on the north western side of Penang island...


Before heading for Teluk Bahang, we tanked up on the incredible breakfast that East Indies Mansion had on offer...


There could not be a better place to have breakfast...


Traditional Malay and Chinese kitchen implements...


Our breakfast is being prepared by two lovely Malay ladies...



The classic East Indies breakfast, with omelette, toast, baked beans and chicken sausage...


It was roti-bakar for Neeti - this is the quintessential Singaporean breakfast of kaya toast and soft boiled eggs but called by a different name here...


And then began our driver along Gurney and Batu Ferringhi down to Teluk Bahang where the spice garden is located...


We were driven here by an elderly but very energetic and loquacious Peranakan, Lee. Mr. Lee told us he was of mixed-Cantonese and Malay ancestry. His grandfather had emigrated from the Pearl River delta area to Penang and married a Malay lady. Lee lamented how Penang in particular and Malaysia in general had deteriorated from a welcoming society to a society that caters only to the bumi-puteras. He attributed this deterioration to the lower birthrates of the Chinese and Indians, and their general disinterest in politics.


We finally reached the Tropical Spice Garden...



The pond with the giant lilies at the entry gate welcomed us in...


We were repeatedly told to spray the exposed areas of our bodies with citronella, to repel mosquitoes...




A layout of the garden...
The Tropical Spice Garden was once an abandoned rubber plantation. The founders of the garden, David and Rebecca Wilkinson, envisioned a serene, tropical garden, spread over 8 acres of jungle. The garden was designed maintaining the original topography of the site to give it a natural feel. The existing rubber trees were left undisturbed, to give shade and shelter to the spice shrubs as well as visitors to the garden...
The garden was opened to the public in November 2003, and today, it showcases over 500 species of exotic fauna with an emphasis on spices...


A sampling of the spices that grow here - ginger, turmeric, torch ginger, lemon grass, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, star anise, cinnamon, etc...


We were taken on a walk around the garden by an elderly gentleman who goes by the name of Uncle Danny. He mentioned that he has been conducting spice appreciation walks around here ever since the gardens opened. He also mentioned that his fascination for spices had taken him to Kerala in India last year. He felt Kerala had the potential to market its spice heritage to tourists. Indeed there's someone who recognises India's soft-power...




The garden is itself like an oasis of calm and tranquility, seemingly distant from Penang's party hub, Batu Ferringhi (which literally translates to "foreigner's beach"), even though it is about 2 kilometers away...










Stepping Stones...



Uncle Danny shows us the betel nut. A little known fact is that the origin of the name "Penang" can be traced back to the betel nut. The earliest name of the island was “Ping-lang-yu” (or the island of betel nut, or Pinang), which can be traced to the navigation charts used by the legendary Chinese admiral, Zheng He during the 1400s...
Over time, Penang's strategic location between India and the spice islands made it a trading and shipping hub, which attracted many races - Armenians, Chinese, Indians and Europeans...





Uncle Danny shows us stevia leaves, which had been used by native South Americans as a natural sweetener for centuries...




A herb from the ginger family...


Torch ginger...



Laksa leaves - these give the laksa curry its distinctive flavour...


Tulsi or Holy Basil, a herb which has a great religious significance back home in India...


The ginger family...







Uncle Danny's treatise on the usefulness of ginger...





The turmeric plantation...



Ali's Umbrella...




The rubber tree, Malaysia's original cash crop...


Indian pennywort or the famous gotu kola of Sri Lankan cuisine...



A memorial for the Tsunami of 2004...








Time for a refreshing brew - chrysanthemum tea sweetened with stevia...



Pound your spices and savour the aromas...


A quick round of the souvenir shop before we head to our next destination...

1 comment:

shilpi3005 said...

Such a wonderful post with serene pics! Loved it.

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