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Kashmir's saffron story: Spice with a touch of romance

Last updated on: November 22, 2011 12:09 IST

Kashmir's saffron story: Spice with a touch of romance

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Mukhtar Ahmad

The government's Rs 372-crore 'Mission Saffron' has given Kashmir's farmers every reason to smile. They strive to regain the state's lost glory as the purple blossoms bring back memories of the 15th Century romance between a royal horseman and a Kashmiri poetess, writes Mukhtar Ahmad

Swathe of pretty purple saffron blossoms in Pampore's Chandhara village, about 23 km from Srinagar, brings alive the 15th Century romantic folklore between a royal horseman and a Kashmiri poetess every autumn.

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Image: Saffron cultivation in Chandhara village
Photographs: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com
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Kashmiri King Yusuf Shah met a poetess Zoon on a moonlit night in October when he strayed into the saffron fields in Pampore. For the king, it was love at first sight; Zoon was disenchanted by her marriage.

The king summoned her husband to the court and after obtaining divorce Zoon, became the poetess queen under the name of Habba Khatoun.



Image: A saffron worker plucks the flower in a field in Pampore
Photographs: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com
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Kashmir's saffron story: Spice with a touch of romance

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The whiff of these blossoms has now put Pampore on the world map. Plucking saffron flowers has become a way of life for the villagers here and hundreds of families depend on them for their sustenance.

The yield of crop has been steadily falling over the last few years. But this year, the flowers have brought cheer to the families, thanks to the Rs 372 crore National Saffron Mission.



Image: The government has started National Saffron Mission to revive the sector
Photographs: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com
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Kashmir's saffron story: Spice with a touch of romance

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In a major initiative to safeguard the saffron crop and enhance its production and marketing, the Jammu and Kashmir government said it will distribute Rs 8.70 crore as incentives under the National Saffron Mission among over 1,800 farmers in Pamopre. 

Saffron growers in Chandhara village are a busy lot these days -- plucking the flowers. The purple flowers are then spread on large sheets to expose them to the mild winter sun so that they dry up without damaging the delicate stigmas, from where the spice is derived. The flower is then separated from the stigmas.


Image: A family seperates saffron flowers from their stigmas
Photographs: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com
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Kashmir's saffron story: Spice with a touch of romance

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Saffron, one of the costliest spices of the world, is the only spice derived from a flower.

Clearly, saffron cultivation, which is developed as a family business over the years, is no easy task. "Every member of the family is involved from picking flowers to drying them and finally packing the famous spice," said Abdul Rashid, a saffron grower. 



Image: Kashmiri children pluck flowers from the field
Photographs: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com
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Kashmir's saffron story: Spice with a touch of romance

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Saffron has traditionally been used as spice sought for its colouring effect, fine flavour and also used by some as an aphrodisiac.

World's best Saffron is produced in Kashmir and Spain. Today, many other European countries and Iran are also major producers of the spice. However, over the years cultivation of saffron in the Valley has suffered.


Image: World's best saffron is found in Kashmir
Photographs: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com
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But with the ambitious National Saffron Mission in place, villagers are hopeful to revive the Valley's glory. "The mission focuses on digging bore wells for irrigation, 'rejuvenation and re-planting of saffron corms. Thanks to the implementation of the mission and timely rains this year the yield of the crop has gone up significantly," said Firdaus Ahmad, another saffron grower.

With modern technology and better agricultural management, saffron is also grown on a limited scale in parts of Pulwama and the central Kashmir district of Budgam.



Photographs: Umar Ganie/Rediff.com
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