THE RED GOLD OF KASHMIR
Located in the far north of India, Kashmir is part of the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir, one of the most neglected by tourism due to the high tensions between India and Pakistan. It is famous for its high-quality saffron and is one of the three largest producing countries in the world, along with Iran and Spain. It is in Pampore and its surroundings that crocuses have been cultivated for more than 2500 years.
Saffron is a precious spice with various medicinal properties that covers the soils of the valleys, all the way to the foothills of the Himalayas. It is extracted from the crocus flower. The bulb, once planted in the ground, blooms every autumn to let six beautiful amethyst-coloured petals bloom. As in a box, these will protect, until full flowering, three yellow stamens and a single pistil, the latter splitting into three bright red stigmas: saffron.
Taken from the Persian language, the word saffron "za'farân", means yellow and refers to the colour of the dye that is extracted from it and which colours many dishes wonderfully. On the spot, I met different families with whom I had been in contact several months before my departure and I was lucky enough to be welcomed by Mr. Abdullah, from the Royal Saffron Company based in Pampore, which employs about forty women. The harvest lasts only three weeks and varies from year to year.
Picking is done entirely by hand. 200 flowers for a single gram of saffron. The pickers, women, men, children, rake several square meters in a few minutes. This year, due to lack of water, the harvest was poorer than in previous years. The flowering is very sparse, but in spite of this, the baskets of flowers, as delicate and light as the wings of a butterfly, fill up quickly. Each encounter was beautiful, with curiosity, sharing and a handful of flowers already harvested as a welcome.
India, November 2013