Pampore, my hometown, is known as Kashmir’s “Saffron Town” for its precious high-grade spice. The blossoming of the saffron crocus marks the start of winter in Kashmir, turning vast fields into a purple canvas.
The flower, which blooms for a week or two around early November, is plucked after the sun rises, and its three stamens – the saffron threads – carefully picked by hand and dried. The spice is used extensively in medicines, beauty products and food preparations. The labour-intensive process and the delicacy of the bloom make saffron the world’s most expensive spice, often compared in value to gold.
Every family member gets involved in the saffron harvest, from collecting the flowers to wrapping the blooms in a cotton sheet and taking it home, where the stigmas are separated by hand before they are dried. The land under saffron cultivation in Pampore is declining day by day, though, due to the unabated pace of residential construction.
The town of Pampore lies a half-hour drive south from Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. Saffron is grown commercially primarily in India, Spain and Iran. First cultivated in Greece, saffron has been grown on karewas (plateau-like silt terrace deposits) in the Kashmir valley for hundreds of years. Persian rulers brought saffron to India around 500BC, but local traditions date the cultivation of the spice to around the 11th century AD. As the legend goes, two Sufi ascetics, Khwaja Masood Wali and Hazrat Sheikh Shariffudin, were cured of illness by a local chieftain, and gifted him the saffron crocus bulb in gratitude. During the saffron harvest, prayers are offered at the joint tomb of the two Sufi saints.
Orientation: Pampore is located 13km from the capital city of Srinagar, approximately a 30-minute drive away.
Getting There: Pampore lies on Srinagar-Jammu National Highway, and has its own railway station. A one-way cab ride from Srinagar – connected by rail, road and air to the rest of the country – will cost about ₹300.
Season: The best time to visit Pampore is from the end of October to mid-November, when the whole landscape is covered with the purple hues of the saffron crocus.
Good To Know: The locals are quite friendly and visitors can roam through the fields without a problem. While visitors from Srinagar can spend the day there, a few hours should suffice to enjoy Pampore.
Sajad Rafeeq is a civil engineer and a passionate travel and documentary photographer. He is also the winner of Nat Geo Mission Covershot 3, a photography competition conducted by National Geographic channel.