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Red gold: The rich tradition of Kashmiri saffron

1 kg of the prized spice can fetch as much as $4,000

Separated saffron stigmas are collected on a plate next to the flowers during the drying process in the Kashmiri village of Pampore, the "saffron capital of India."    © Reuters

PAMPORE, India -- It is a misty morning in early October, and the air is redolent with the fragrance of Crocus sativus, the flower that produces the precious spice known as saffron, or zafran by its Persian name.

Against the backdrop of towering snowcapped mountains and a road lined by willow trees sits a field as big as a football pitch, bursting with purple blooms. Villagers in traditional pherans, or woolen gowns, pick the delicate flowers, filling their wicker baskets.

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