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A walk through the 'Khazans' of Goa

Updated: Dec 24, 2020

A conversation around Goa, it's heritage and depleting natural resources led architect, Tallulah D'Silva to take me on a little weekday morning walking tour to the 'Khazan' lands which before then, I had only heard and read about. The 'Khazans' of Goa are a marvel of sustainable approach innovation. I'll attempt to elucidate what they are and how they work, and to really simplify.

Goa has this amazing system of communidade land, land which is owned and cared for by the entire village or community. In the villages that lay close to the estuaries, around 3000 years ago, the Portuguese realised that the mix of saline and fresh water held great opportunity and they figured out how to make the most of it.

When the tide overflowed the banks of the villages, it brought in plentiful fish spawn and sea minerals with it in the form of fish spawn and minerals. They practiced pisciculture, agriculture and salt farming. The khazans were a criss cross web of bunds, banks of earth which people could walk on, sluice gates, wooden dams that allowed for the stoppage or flow of water, pans or demarcated fields for growing paddy and harvesting salt.

Sluice gate, Goa
Sluice gates that control the flow of water

Salt pans, Ribandar, Goa
Salt pans or Mittache agor

Standing on the bunds observing mangroves

The sluice gates held back water creating pools that had aquatic plants and the perfect conditions for the spawn to flourish. Once the fish came of age, the villagers caught them for food. The minerals in the water infused the soil with fertility making the fields just right for growing certain local varieties of rice that thrived in brackish water. And when the summer came, the sun did the work of evaporating the water in the pans to reveal a shiny white ice like surface that was then cracked and raked in to use for cooking and preservation.

I was quite moved by this trip - while I understand technological advancements and new ways of doing things are essential, I don't agree that we need to fall prey to everything new age without questioning whether it even makes sense, The salt pans I visited stand unassuming on the side of the road going to Ribandar, they would go unnoticed even if you drove right past them. And here, one family of 5-6 members toils all day long in the sweltering heat to harvest pure sea salt which they sell for a fraction of the price you would actually buy it at in supermarkets. From December to January is the time when the salt pans are prepped. The prepping is a long and tedious process that involves emptying out the water from the pans, then kneading it with feet and then using a simple equipment to flatten out them out.

Call for Salt
Bird spotting

Once the salt pans are prepped, the water is let back in and needs to be controlled in such a way that it stands at just a few inches. From March until June, the hot sun evaporates the sea water bit by bit to make salt. The harvested salt is then stored in sacks to be sold for the rest of the year until the process starts once again.

Have a read at a shorter version of this experience that I wrote first, on the day I visited here.

Salt pans / Mittache Agor

I’m awestruck, I marvel at the Khazans of Goa. Over 3000 years old and a work of pure thought. The old Portuguese learned to take from Mother Earth everything that she would give joyfully and in abundance. They used their hands to prepare the land, caught fish, grew crops and harvested sea salt. They taught their children how to do this too. I meet the family who toils all year-round to manage the salt pans and rake in this gift of the ocean and the sun. They are saving a tradition milleniums old. Taste it, savour it. Then share it with your friends. This is our heritage. Let us preserve it.

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