On a cool morning in Pampore, India, the fields have become a purpledotted canvas. Haji Ghulam Hassan Bhat, 65, walks toward his farm carrying a small willow basket, called a zaen, that his grandfather had gifted him when he plucked his first saffron flower at the age of 6. His callused hands are soiled, and the cracks in them are a testament to his deep attachment to his trade.
Bhat has farmed here for nearly 50 years. He has a great deal of saffron land compared with his neighbors, and, until recently, it has provided him with a good living. Popularly known as the “saffron town,” where the world’s best saffron grows, Pampore sits 10 miles southeast of Srinagar, Kashmir’s capital city. Like many, Bhat believes the land of Pampore has been blessed with “saffron gold” because of the benediction of two famous Sufi saints. Cultivating the spice is not merely his livelihood, but also a meditation.
Around 19,000 families in Pampore are dependent on saffron farming. Traditionally used in medicines and perfumes, at around $2,000 per pound, it is the world’s most expensive spice. Kashmir’s terrain, soil quality, and weather have long been conducive to the growth of a robust crop, and farmers have, at times, harvested three rounds of saffron crocus flowers from the same bulb in a single season, which is usually shorter than one month long. Though the fields are plowed in the low-moisture months of March an