Pampore, Nov. 9: Fields full of saffron blossoms have brought smiles to the faces of hundreds of growers in Pulwama district of Kashmir by signalling a halt to the gradual decline in the yield over the last four to five years.
The good crop means a fortune for the growers as 10 gm of high-quality saffron — obtained after picking nearly 10,000 flowers — costs Rs 450 in India. The saffron from Kashmir is second only to that from Spain, which costs $30 (approximately Rs 1,500) for 10 gm, but is much cheaper because of the low cost of cultivation and processing.
However, the farmers, who cannot grow any other crop in the fields, are bitter that no attention is being paid to their plight and complain of scanty irrigation facilities, which hits them more in years of low rainfall. “Our saffron fields need a healing touch. We have been demanding sprinkle irrigation, which would increase the yield four to five times,” says Abdul Rashid Massodi.
“We are waiting for nature’s healing touch. A gentle shower these days will work wonders and increase the yield,” asserted Massodi. “Besides, there is no support price to sustain the growers in times of a slack market.”
Records refer to saffron as a condiment, a colouring agent, an aphrodisiac — and a lovers’ spice. Saffron, which blooms in the end of October, is said to have a magical effect on people.
Youssuf Shah Chak, who ruled Kashmir in the 14th century AD and used to ride through the saffron fields at night, is said to have been so mesmerised by the combined effect of the saffron and the verses of Zooni that he christened her Habba Khatoon and made her his queen.
Most tourists go to see the riot of purple in Pampore, 17 km from Srinagar. “We consider a smear of saffron on the forehead highly auspicious and that makes it a sacred crop for Hindus,” said a tourist from Mumbai.
Muslims considered drinking kehwa, a saffron-flavoured local brew, highly auspicious during matchmaking parties and religious get-togethers.
The plant, which is bisexual and self-pollinating, is grown in karewas — highlands where there is no waterlogging. The picking continues till the middle of November.
The high-quality saffron is obtained by meticulously isolating the anthers — the male portions of the flowers. These are then dried in the autumn sun. The quality of the produce drops if the anthers are mixed with the other male parts — styles — or the female parts — ovaries.
With so much effort going in to get small quantities of saffron, farmers beam when the fields turn into a carpet of colour.