One of the most precious and expensive spices in the world, saffron is predominantly grown in the state of Jammu and Kashmir in India and the Kashmiri variety is considered to be of the best quality. Believed to have been brought to India by the Persian rulers around 500.B.C, the conquerors planted saffron corms into the local soil after taking over Kashmir. Local folk lore, however refutes this theory and according to traditional Kashmiri legends, saffron was introduced to the region during the 11th and 12th centuries A.D by two Sufi ascetics. The locals believe that Khawja Masood wali and Sheikh Sharif-u-din wali, upon falling sick, requested cure for their illness from a local tribal chieftain. They repaid his kindness by gifting him a saffron crocus bulb and this charming story is heartily accepted throughout the lovely vale of Kashmir. The ascetics have a golden domed shrine dedicated to them in the saffron trading town of Pampore and even today, in late autumn, the residents of the saffron community offer thankful prayers to the two saints. However, not everybody accepts this theory and many scholars claim this herb to be nearly endemic.
The famous Kashmiri poet and scholar Mohammed Yusuf Teng, is one such person and he states that the plant has been cultivated in Kashmir for more than two millennia. The Kashmiri tantric Hindu epics of that era too, have well documented mentions of saffron cultivating traditions and Yusuf Teng writes, that “in the beautiful valley of Kashmir, fields of crocus sativus have heralded the dawn for close to 2500 years.” For a valley as beautiful as Kashmir, it seems quite befitting that the precious flower should be growing there for centuries and during peace time, it has high potential as an eco tourism prospect. Found to be growing in small patches throughout entire Kashmir and Kishtwar valley of Jammu province, this expensive herb is a specialty of Pampore, Khrew and Shar villages. Pampore even has an exclusive saffron or zaffran colony and that was my first destination upon landing into Srinagar.