PAMPORE — Misty morning in early November, and the air is redolent with the fragrance of Crocus sativus, the flower that produces the precious spice known as saffron, or Zafran by its Persian name.

The Kashmir valley has nearly 3,715 hectares (75,000 kanals) under saffron cultivation. Pampore, the saffron town of Kashmir in Pulwama district, has the major chunk of that area under saffron cultivation, nearly 3,200 hectares.

‘Red Gold’ as it is called, the cultivation of saffron is a lifeline for thousands in the Himalayan region. A good harvest is what they are all looking for, and there is a feel of festivity in the air as saffron is harvested, for processing and its onward journey to ultimately spice up palates.

Against the backdrop of towering snow-capped mountains and a road lined by willow trees and fields bursting with purple blooms. Hundreds of men, women and children have descended on Pampore meadows with its undulating plains to pluck the saffron flowers, carpeting the floor.

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Around 30,000 families in the Pampore area are associated with saffron cultivation. The town’s saffron is considered to be of superior quality because of the presence of a higher concentration of crocin. Its crocin content – which gives the saffron its darker colour and medicinal value – is 8.72% as compared to the Iranian variety which contains 6.82%.

Kashmiri saffron is known to have the edge when it comes to aroma, making it the costliest. The spice is mostly used in Kehwa, a green tea infused with spices like cinnamon and cardamom and garnished with almonds. Saffron is also used in Wazwan, a traditional Kashmiri wedding meal cooked by special chefs that includes more than 30 dishes.

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A good yield and GI tagging that has been introduced for the saffron has increased the earning prospects of the farmers.

“This year the produce is much better than last year. We are hopeful the market will grow since we have a lot of production this year. The saffron rates are not growing, and we want the government to intervene to increase the rates. It’s very expensive to grow saffron and we need the government to revise the rates. We have been demanding it for a long time now,” said Sahil Kuchay, a farmer.

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