Saturday, May 23, 2015

Saffron, Kahwa and Cricket Bats

After visiting Jyeshteswara Temple and Shankaracharya Cave, the next tourist destination is Pahalgam.  Pahalgam is a town in Anantnag District of Jammu and Kashmir.  The distance from Srinagar to Pahalgam is around 90 Kilometers and is covered in about two to three hours, depending on the stopover to see Awantipora Temple ruins on the way. This journey from Srinagar to Pahalgam itself has many interesting interludes and is an enjoyable ride.  The road from Srinagar to Pahalgam is laid on the sides of Jhelum and Lidder rivers. Jhelum's original name (in Sanskrit) is Vitasta river. Viewers of the noted serial "Chanakya" would have heard this name repeatedly in its first few episodes.  King Porus or Raja Purushottama, who ruled the land between present Chenab and Jhelum rivers known as Paurava, did his best to defeat Alexander and stop him from crossing Vitasta river.  Story about Vitasta says that Godess Parvati took the shape of a river at the request of sage Kashyapa to liberate these parts of land from the bad practices of Pishachas. She is believed to have come out of the higher worlds as a river through an opening created by Lord Shiva, about the length between the wrist and forefinger (vitasta), less than one feet. Jhelum flows in the middle of Srinagar city and the road to Pahalgam is along the side of this river. Vitasta also means a "Perennial river". This river is a very important player in the lives of people and economy of Kashmir. The river joins Chenab in Pakistan and Chenab itself gets merged with Sindhu (Indus) later on.

As we move from Srinagar towards Pahalgam, we can see Saffron fields on either side of the road.  Saffron is a spice derived from the flower of a plant known as "Saffron Crocus".  The plant grows up to a height of one feet from the ground.  Cool and sunny climate is required for its growth and the areas near Srinagar and Bijbehera are suited for this. They say each plant gives out up to four flowers. Saffron flowers have the crocus threads in them as can be seen in the accompanying picture, taken from the internet. These threads are manually collected, dried and packed for sale.  This provides jobs to hundreds of farm workers. Saffron is one of the costliest spices used as a seasoning and coloring agent in choice dishes.  Saffron growing is said to have started in Greece and later moved to other parts of the world.  Presently Iran is the biggest producer of Saffron in the world. High quality saffron is sold at up to Rupees 250 per gram! Saffron sellers can be seen almost everywhere; while riding Shikaras on Dal Lake or roadside stops on the way to Pahalgam. Each one claims that what he sells alone is good quality saffron and the others are fake.

The drivers of vehicles carrying the tourists from Srinagar to Pahalgam stop for having a cup of tea in the roadside tea stalls.  This is also to encourage the tourists to buy saffron and dry fruits from the shops in the area.  Along with traditional tea, an interesting drink called "Kahwa" is sold in these stalls.  Kahwa is a traditional green tea served to guests in the Kashmir valley.  It is made by boiling Tea leaves with Saffron strands and adding Cinnamon bark and cardamom pods.  Sometimes Kashmiri rose petals are also added.  The cup of Kahwa served to us was photographed and is given alongside.  Honey, crushed almonds and walnuts were also added to the Kahwa served to us.  A cup of Kahwa is charged at twenty to thirty rupees, depending on whether the consumer is a local or tourist.  It is a refreshing drink and should be enjoyed on the trip from Srinagar to Pahalgam.

As we proceed towards Pahalgam after sipping hot Kahwa, we can see huge piles of wood cut to standard size and arranged systematically on both sides of the road. These are Pine wood pieces cut and arranged for manufacture of cricket bats. We are told that Kashmir Cricket Bats meet international standards and many famous cricketers like Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag were fond of bats manufactured here. We can see a number of bat manufacturing factories on both sides of the road.  It is like a cottage industry in Anantnag, Baramulla and Pahalgam districts of Kashmir.  Linseed Oil is applied to these bats and knocked against cricket balls for hours for "seasoning" the bats.  Bats cost anywhere between 500 to 10,000 rupees depending on the quality of bats. This industry provides jobs to hundreds of workers.

Walnut trees could be seen on either side of the road on further drive to Pahalgam. During April, all the apple orchards on both side of the road are full of flowers. For enjoying Kashmir Apples one has to go there in the Autumn months of September to November.  You can also have pears, apricots, almonds and of course, walnuts then.

The local guides do not know the history and details of the places that they are supposed to explain to the visitors.  They are more keen about giving out information about the various movies that were filmed in different locations and the stars that acted in those movies.  One such information given to us was that in the nearby Sangam (confluence) of Lidder and Jhelum rivers, the song "Mere man ki Ganga, Tere man ki Jamuna....." from the film "Sangam" was filmed in the early sixties.  Of course, most of the tourists are also interested only in such details.


  1. Wah! Nice to know about beautiful Kashmir and its products.

  2. Pleasently surprised to know of the origin of Jhelum River, but what intrigued me is that you mentioned cool and sunny climate is required to grow saffron, and yet Iran, a middle eastern hot country is the biggest producer of saffron today. How come?

    1. Iran has different climates in different regions and during different parts of the year. North-west Iran has very cold winters with heavy snowfall and sub-zero temperatures during December. In these areas, spring is relatively mild, sunny and cool. The climate in these parts is very similar to Kashmir saffron growing areas. Hence Iran is one of the biggest grower and exporter of Saffron!

  3. Sir,
    we went to pahalgam through bus so were unable to know all these details.
    While reading your article i felt as if i have not even visited the place.

  4. Nice to read your blogs on kashmir sir!!hope it would guide me on my upcoming piligrimage to Amarnath ji...