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In pictures: take a virtual journey to the beautiful Himalayas where saffron is produced

Kashmiri farmers pluck saffron crocus flowers on a farm in Khrew, south of Srinagar
Kashmiri farmers pluck saffron crocus flowers on a farm in Khrew, south of Srinagar   -   Copyright  Dar Yasin/AP Photo
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The Saffron Crocus (Crocus sativus) blooms in Kashmir Valley, surrounded by the Himalayas on all sides, for only two weeks a year.

At the end of autumn, usually in November, local families race against the clock to harvest its flowers to produce one of the world's most precious spices: saffron. It can sell for more than 3,000 euros a kilo.

Widely used in Persian, Indian, Arab and European cuisine, this spice’s scents of honey and hay are a journey through time and culture.

The process for saffron production is very meticulous and labour-intensive.

First, the delicate flowers are hand-picked and placed in wicker baskets. To get a kilogram of saffron , 150,000 flowers have to be picked.

Then the purple petals are carefully removed from each flower, also by hand, which reveals three delicate stigmas that are later dried in the sun or with special machines.

Dar Yasin/AP Photo
Kashmiri farmers collect saffron crocus flowers on a farm in Khrew, south of SrinagarDar Yasin/AP Photo
Dar Yasin/AP Photo
A Kashmiri farmer collects saffron crocus flowers on a farm in Khrew, south of SrinagarDar Yasin/AP Photo
Dar Yasin/AP Photo
Tasleema Banoo gathers saffron crocus flowers on a farm in Khrew, south of SrinagarDar Yasin/AP Photo
Dar Yasin/AP Photo
Tasleema Banoo walks with a jute bag filled with saffron crocus flowers as she walks home from a farm with family membersDar Yasin/AP Photo
Dar Yasin/AP Photo
Kashmiri farmer Mohammad Ramzan, center, along with his family members separates stigmas from saffron crocus flowers inside their house in KhrewDar Yasin/AP Photo
Dar Yasin/AP Photo
Stigmas of the crocus flowers are grouped together after being separated from the petals before they are dried, at India International Kashmir Saffron Trade CentreDar Yasin/AP Photo

There are alternatives to families working to produce the spice. Modern factory facilities have been set up to increase the quality and quantity of saffron production. Most of the local famers, however, still prefer to use centuries-old techniques for picking and drying the material.

Dar Yasin/AP Photo
Employees of India International Kashmir Saffron Trade Centre spread the stigma of crocus flowers on trays before drying them in a machineDar Yasin/AP Photo
Dar Yasin/AP Photo
A Kashmiri shopkeeper Shabeeh Farooq displays saffron boxes inside his showroom in Lethpora, south of SrinagarDar Yasin/AP Photo

Besides being irreplaceable in the kitchen, saffron is used in a wide range of other products, including medicine and cosmetics.