Amidst the towering snow-capped mountains of Pampore, Kashmir, lie fields covered in a blanket of purple crocus flowers. This is the flower that produces the precious spice known as saffron. Pampore, a small village located around 14 kilometres from the state capital, Srinagar, is known as the ‘saffron capital of India’, with more than 20,000 families associated with saffron cultivation.
The saffron produced in the region is of superior quality and can fetch as much as Rs 2,50,000 per kilogram in the market. The laborious task of cultivating saffron is what makes the spice so valuable.
The process begins with the villagers picking the delicate flowers and collecting them in wicker baskets. Each flower is then sorted according to its three parts — the petals, the yellow strands and the red strands. Pure saffron is derived from the red strands. More than 1,50,000 flowers are sifted and scanned for a kilogram of the crimson spice. After this, the strands are dried over a charcoal fire.
Across India, this spice has many names — zafran in Urdu, kesar in Hindi, kong posh in Kashmiri and kungumapoo in Tamil. Alongside the multiple names it is known by, there are numerous accounts of how the spice came to India.
One such legend dates back to the 12th century, which says that while travelling through the country, two Sufi saints presented a local chieftain with a saffron bulb after he cured them of an illness. Another claims that the Persians brought it to the country from Iran in 500 B.C during their trades. A third dates the spice back to the Mughal Empire, and says the spice was used extensively in cooking.
Watch this video to know more about how this spice, known as red gold, found its way to the valleys of Kashmir: