At first sight, Srinagar is a colourless mess of mud and silt. Six weeks after the floods that swept through the city, people still wade knee-high through stagnant pools of water, trying to salvage what they can of their belongings. Houses have collapsed. Debris hangs from broken electrical wires. Cars lie abandoned beneath layers of dirt. Three hundred people lost their lives in these floods; 3,000 were made homeless.
As winter hovers on the edges of the wind, there is a sharp sting in the breeze that blows down from the snow-capped Himalayas. It seems a hopeless place. A desolate place. Soldiers still line the streets, loaded rifles and grenades swinging from their belt buckles, alert to the troubles on the Pakistan border and in the fragile state of Kashmir. There are tanks, barbed wire and barricades. And then there's us: a mother and her two young sons, looking for, of all things, the colour yellow.
"Yes, we will find your colour," says Khursheed Butt beneath his green cap, the only person to answer my pleading emails all those months ago. "Yes," echoes Nazwa, a moon-faced man whose houseboat we are staying on. "Certainly we will find you your colour. Kashmir is full of colour."
We move out of the city, climb up and out into the country to hills of almond trees and fields of ploughed soil. And there we find them. A scattering of tiny saffron crocuses, their purple petals delicate and breeze-blown, stretching out into a hazy white distance. "The best saffron in the world," Khursheed declares. "We have lost 90 per cent of our crop to the floods. So these are a wonder."
We clamber out across the soil and kneel to look at one of the most expensive spices on Earth. Three red stamens that sit in the centre of the flower and, once dried, feel like strips of cut silk in the palm of your hand. They will flavour perfume, lassi, tea and sweets, and if you place them in a cup of warm water they will produce a sunbeam of yellow pigment that will not fade. It has coloured the gowns of monks, the kilts of Irish pipers.
"Like the Kashmiri people," Nazwa says behind us. "They fight to find the light."Reuse content