During late autumn, people from Saffron town, Pampore, in South Kashmir start picking saffron flowers and heaping them into wicker baskets. Their chatter and laughter rings through the clear air add festive mood to the occasion. The sacks of flowers are taken home, or to laborers who toil through the night, stripes away the insides of the flowers. Kashmir Life’s Bilal Bahadur captures the harvesting season of world’s precious spice.
At Dawn: Saffron is a flower. The dried stigmas (thread-like parts of the flower) are used to make spice. It can take 75,000 saffron blossoms to produce a single pound of saffron spice. Saffron is largely cultivated and harvested by hand. Due to the amount of labor involved in harvesting, saffron is considered one of the world’s most expensive spices. The stigmas are also used to make medicine.
Precious Picking: Kashmir is considered one of the three prominent cultivating places of saffron all over the world.
Collective Harvest: It is believed that Saffron has been grown in the fields of Pampore near Srinagar for close to 2500 years.
Floral Heap: According to historical evidences, saffron was brought to India by the Persian rulers around 500.B.C. The Persian rulers transplanted the Persian saffron crocus corns to the Kashmiri soils, once they conquered Kashmir.
Reaping Time: According to the traditional Kashmiri legends, saffron was brought to the region by two sufi ascetics, Khawja Masood wali (r.a) and Sheikh Sharif-u-din wali (r.a) during the 11th and 12th centuries A.D.
Helping Hands: Legend has it that both the foreigners having fallen sick beseeched a cure for illness from a local tribal chieftain. When the chieftain obliged, the two holy men reportedly gave them a saffron crocus bulb as payment and thanks.
Marching In: To this day grateful prayers are offered to the two saints during the saffron harvesting season in late autumn. The saints indeed have a golden-domed shrine and tomb dedicated to them in the saffron trading town of Pampore.
Motherly Touch: However, the famous Kashmiri poet and scholar Mohammed Yusuf Teng, differed from this history of saffron and stated that the plant had been cultivated in Kashmir for more than two millennia.
Tender Collection: The Kashmiri tantric Hindu epics of that time mention about saffron cultivation as well: “In the beautiful valley of Kashmir, fields of crocus sativus have heralded the dawn for close to 2500 years.”
Festive Karewa: The ideal environment for cultivation of saffron is cool dry climate and rich soil with excellent drainage and organic content, and Kashmiri land is famous for all these rich qualities.
Precious Purple: There are three grades of saffron available in Indian market and they are known as Saffron Lachha, saffron Mongra and saffron Zarda.
Tender Picker: Saffron is not grown on any of the other fertile alluvial plateaus of Kashmir, and the people of Pampore are fond of saying there is a certain magical element in the soil of Pampore which helps the flowers to bloom and the stigmas to be imbued with aroma.
Floral Fun: While Iran accounts for about 70% of total world production, the quality of the Kashmiri saffron is considered the best and the finest.
Basket Out: Besides Pampore, Saffron is also grown in Kishtwar valley in Jammu and in some parts of Charri Sharief in Kashmir.
Pooling Basket: The rich aroma of saffron marks all celebrations in Kashmir, as the Saffron Kehwa a traditional Kashmiri beverage is a must on such occasions.
Standing Spectacle: No festivity is considered complete without Saffron.
Precious Bed: The history of Kashmiri saffron reveals India’s age old affair with saffron.
Packing Time: No other civilization in the world has been influenced so profoundly by saffron and its amazing properties.
Family Action: Nothing is wasted. The petals are sold for medicinal purposes and in aroma industry.
Fielded Neophyte: Saffron is known as spice of life.
On Task: Saffron’s aroma is often described by connoisseurs as reminiscent of metallic honey with grassy or hay-like notes, while its taste has also been noted as hay-like and sweet. Saffron also contributes a luminous yellow-orange colouring to foods.
Single Out: Almost all saffron grows in a belt bounded by the Mediterranean in the west and the rugged region encompassing Iran and Kashmir in the east. The other continents, except Antarctica, produce smaller amounts. Some 300 t (300,000 kg) of dried whole threads and powder are gleaned yearly, of which 50 t (50,000 kg) is top-grade “coupe” saffron.
Beeing Around: The Saffron fare poorly in shady conditions; they grow best in full sunlight. Fields that slope towards the sunlight are optimal.
Heaping It: Kashmiri saffron has an extremely dark maroonish-purple hue, which suggests the saffron’s mind blowing flavor, aroma and coloring power.
Glaring Camp: Kashmiri saffron is valued all over the world for its fine quality and a large part of the saffron produced in Kashmir is exported to various countries.
End Product: The stigmas of saffron cultivated in Kashmir are extremely long and with a thicker head. They are also of a deep red color. The size of the stigmas indicates the inherent suitability of the soil and climate for this product.
Note: Captions used in this visual story have been taken from #kashmirkesarkingdom