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It's the saffron season in Kashmir
Mukhtar Ahmad in Pampore | November 04, 2003 09:06 IST
It is that time of the year again, when the Pampore Karewa plateau, a few kilometres southeast of Srinagar, presents a breathtaking sight. The fields are full of small purple-coloured flowers that produce the most expensive spice in the world, kesar, or saffron.
There is joy in the air, as hundreds of men, women and children pluck the flowers and put them in their wicker baskets.
They have to work fast; the flowers have to be picked hours after they reach full bloom. Once they wilt, they are useless.
Plucking the flowers requires extreme care, but picking what is inside them requires more dexterity.
Every flower has three red stigmas (the female part), two stamens (the male part), and a long white stem connecting all of this to the main flower.
The stigmas are carefully dried in the sun to remove excess water. Impurities are removed by winnowing and passing it through sieves. It is then graded for different qualities and packed in moisture-proof containers.
The stigmas represent the purest saffron; stamens next. The other things don't go waste; the petals are eaten and animals are given the stems.
The kind of hard work that is required can be gauged from the fact that it is only after stripping about 150,000 flowers that a kilogram of saffron is obtained.
The moonlight nights of November in this region have melted many a hearts in this valley of flowers.
The last king, Youssuf Shah Chak, who went on a nightly stroll on his royal stallion in the saffron fields, was mesmerised by the magical verses of a village poetess, Zooni.
The combined effect of the unending blooms of saffron and the heartrending verses was too much for the king to bear. He christened the poetess 'Habba Khatoon' and made her his queen.
Earlier records refer to saffron as the spice of lovers. It is a spice, a condiment, an aphrodisiac and a colouring agent.
The Kashmir saffron is second only to that grown in Spain, but the low cost of processing and cultivation makes this spice much cheaper than its competitors from Europe and Iran.
But even then a good crop means a fortune for the grower, who grows nothing else on his saffron fields.
Nowadays they are bitter because irrigation facilities are dwindling and the government is not doing anything about it.
"Our saffron fields need a healing touch. We have been demanding sprinkle irrigation, which will increase the yield four to five times. Second, there is no support price to sustain the growers' endeavour in times of slack market," says Abdul Rashid Massodi.
He, however, adds, "We are waiting for nature's healing touch. A gentle shower these days will work wonders and increase the yield."
"We consider a tilak of saffron highly auspicious and that makes saffron a sacred crop for the Hindus," a tourist from Mumbai who visited the fields in Pampore said.
Muslims, on the other hand, consider saffron flavoured kehwa as auspicious during many religious get together.
More reports from Jammu and Kashmir
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