Gulzar Ahmad Kuchay has been farming, harvesting, and selling Kashmiri saffron — known to be the best variety of the spice — for over 30 years. Every autumn, his family comes together for the annual saffron harvest in the Pampore region of Kashmir, and embark on the delicate and long process of preparing the spice, which can sell for as much as $3,400 per kilogram.
After planting seeds in rocky, dry soil in August, Kuchay sees his saffron flowers sprout throughout October and November. During the harvest, Kuchay and five to 10 of his family members pick hundreds of flowers by hand, and spend the nights separating the petals from the stigma that holds the saffron.
The saffron then gets added to an earthen clay pot, which is imperative to the drying process since the pot naturally absorbs moisture without damaging the spice. The saffron is spread out on a wool sheet to dry in the sun for two days. The dried saffron is shaken through a strainer to remove any remaining pieces of stigma or extra husk, and packaged to be sold. Kuchay and his family repeat this process several times a week, until the entire crop has been picked and processed.
“This is our inheritance — our grandfather, his father, my father,” says Kuchay. “I am also continuing this trade so our kids, small children, get excited in the season of harvest.”