Wearing traditional attires and enacting 16th century Kashmiri poetess and queen Habba Khatoon, students from south Kashmir’s Pampore on Tuesday put the spotlight on the ongoing saffron harvest to attract tourists for social media reels and unique experiences amidst the elevated table-land known for one of the costliest spices in the country.
“These karewas (elevated table land) are home to Habba Khatoon. I am wearing the traditional attire to imitate our queen. Saffron has not only been a crop of Kashmir but also a source of poetry. We hope tourists will come here and enjoy the harvest season,” Zeenat, a student from the Degree College Pampore, said.
The Kashmir tourism department had invited students and local farmers to join the saffron festival organised in Pampore’s Ladoo area on Tuesday to highlight the whole process of saffron cultivation. Traditional songs, sung in chorus while picking these flowers, were also played on the occasion.
These days rows of purple flowers of saffron, a spice widely used across the country, dot the vast undulated highlands of Pampore. There is a festive look with hundreds of family members joining hands to pick the flowers and separate the petals from stigmas, thread-like parts. Around 30,000 families living in 226 villages, about 90% of them in Pampore, in J&K are associated with the spice business.
“We started to collect the saffron flowers early in the morning. It will be followed by separation of petals and sticks. Thereby, we are sundrying it till the stigmas attain a particular shape,” Ibrahim Nabi, a lawyer by profession, said. He is joined by his sister who is a student, and his mother, a house-wife, to pick the flowers, like hundreds of other landowners in Pampore.
For the tourism department, the sight of purple saffron fields could add to the list of spots visited by potential tourists, with Kashmir already hosting the highest 22 lakh tourists this year.
“Pampore will add to the experience of tourists travelling to Kashmir. Pampore could be a major stopover for tourists to have a visual treat of saffron fields. This could be a major spot where tourists could shoot their fun-filled reels for their social media accounts, as is the trend with tourists these days,” Kashmir tourism director Faz-lul-Haseeb told The Hindu.
After facing moisture stress, disease-ridden saffron corms, nutrient depletion and delayed stigma separation in the past, there is hope this year that the yield is likely to see a 15% increase compared to last year, according to the agriculture department.
Saffron production was dwindling and the area under saffron cultivation declined from about 5707 hectares to 3715 hectares in the past. Productivity had equally declined from an average of 3.13 kg per hectare to 1.88 kg by 2010, the agriculture department figures suggested.
Saffron is one of the world’s most costly spices by weight. Around 75,000 saffron blossoms produce a single pound of saffron spice and the cost varies between ₹2 and ₹3 lakh per kilogram.
Ensuring better quality
Despite the high rate, Kashmir saffron producers have a reason to smile this year. “The India International Kashmir Trade Centre (IIKTC), Pampore, is monitoring the procurement of 45 kgs of fresh saffron flowers by Tata Consumers Product Limited this year,” Chowdhary Mohammad Iqbal, Director Agriculture, Kashmir said.
“The adoption of latest technologies will not only increase the production but will also ensure better quality. The GI (geographical indication) tagging of saffron has increased its importance. Online marketing facilities have made it easy for buyers and sellers to trade with a wide range of market options available,” Mr. Iqbal said.
Besides the profit, it seems the world-famous saffron is all set to spice up the stay of tourists, keen to have reels while travelling, in Kashmir too.