The Magical Saffron Harvest Of Kashmir

A visit to a war-torn land with a special purpose

As we continue Fantasy Travel Week we bring you a dispatch from chef and cookbook author Jody Eddy, who traveled deep into the heart of Kashmir to learn about the sacred saffron harvest.

The saffron farmer handed me a burlap bag of crocus before we said goodbye after a long day of harvesting in Pampore, India — a village renowned for the quality of its saffron. He instructed us to take our bounty back to our hotel and pluck from the center of each purple flower, extracting three saffron stamens. He promised us the same gratification he had from a harvest that lasts for a fleeting two weeks in the fall.

We thanked him and his family for illustrating so beautifully the life cycle of the crocus from bulbs to violet petals withering on parched fields, discarded once the flowers have been plucked of their saffron; no more use to the farmers who diligently cull every last bud from their dry but nurturing soil beds.

It was the final chapter of a trip to Kashmir that began in exhaustion and ended in red stained fingertips and hands caked in dirt. I waved goodbye as we drove away from the family who so generously gave us their time and shared expertise handed down through countless generations.

Kashmir is a predominantly Muslim region where the men don skullcaps and loosely fitting tunics called pherans and the women wear flowing pherans and intricately embroidered veils referred to as tarangas. The thirsty brown saffron fields were a glaring contrast to the vibrant colors the family was wearing, as brilliant as the famed pashmina scarves they told us they weave to make ends meet between saffron harvests.

The saffron harvest lasts only two weeks of the year.

Their pastime equated to 50 weeks of weaving and waiting for the bulbs planted the year before to sprout, bloom and finally open their petals to reveal their treasured cargo; stamens so precious the livelihoods of the people bound to them ebb and flow with their fluctuating value.

Kashmir is a state in northwestern India that has seen more than its share of conflict in an ongoing, decades long battle with Pakistan. The clashes have lessened in recent years but show no sign of abating completely. Everything in this cool, mountainous region felt a little more difficult than it does in the rest of India, a nation notorious for its crippling bureaucracy.

Even purchasing a SIM card is virtually impossible for a tourist in Kashmir since only citizens are allowed to procure them due to the threat of Pakistani terrorists anonymously using them to transmit messages with their cohorts across the border, about six hours away from Srinagar, the region’s capital.

I was told that the conflict was a thing of the past when I decided to book the 16-hour car ride from Amritsar in the state of Punjab to Srinagar. The sprawling city ringed by snow-capped mountains is famed for Dal Lake, a seemingly endless body of water renowned for its ornately carved wooden houseboats and punting boats called shikaras. The gondolas of Kashmir.

The Magical Saffron Harvest Of Kashmir

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