Photographers' Blog

Among the fields of saffron

Pampore, Indian-administered Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

On a cold autumn morning Abdul Rashid Mir and his 7-year-old daughter Ishrat, wearing traditional attire and carrying small baskets, arrive in a field in the Konibal area of Pampore to collect saffron flowers. Rashid and Ishrat are happy to see their field covered with saffron flowers in full bloom. As the temperatures warm through the morning the saffron fields are abuzz with activity.

Saffron has been grown in Kashmir since the Mughal period, which began in the 16th century when saffron bulbs — a species of crocus — were brought from Iran. The bulbs of the Crocus sativa flower are sown on an estimated 3785 hectares (9352 acres) of well drained clay loam land in May and June and the flower is harvested in November.

Ishrat started plucking flowers with her henna-adorned hands. Rashid kept a close eye on his daughter to ensure that the flowers, or the stigmas, were not damaged by the young girl.

Cultivation is an elaborate and painstaking process: The flower’s reddish three-part stigmas are hand-picked and sun-dried before they find their way to the market. It takes some 170,000 flowers to get one kilogram (2.25lbs) of saffron, a precious spice. One gram of saffron is sold for 200 rupees ($3.64).

Kashmiri saffron, known in old Kashmiri texts as lover’s spice, was once the toast of every gourmet kitchen in the country. The spice is used extensively in Mediterranean, Mexican and Indian cuisine. Though saffron is grown in other parts of the world, the growers say Kashmiri saffron costs more because of its superior quality and the labor-intensive process of picking, drying and packing.

Healing Kashmir’s wounds

Srinagar, Indian-administered Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

When I saw four young Kashmiri boys at a music contest perform English and Urdu tunes in Srinagar, I could not believe my ears and eyes that it was really happening in Kashmir.

Kashmir’s centuries-old music was silenced by the sounds of bomb explosions and booming guns after a bloody revolt against Indian rule broke out in this disputed region over two decades ago. Music schools, liquor shops, beauty parlors and cinemas were closed in the Valley in 1989 and conservative Islamic ideas were propagated by armed militant groups.

The sounds of drums and guitars and the singer’s voice caught my attention, driving me to want to meet them after the performance. I met them back stage and found myself wanting to know more about them. So, I planned to do a story on the youths. I received a call telling me they were planning a jam session in their house. Excitedly, I went to met them immediately. I was received warmly and taken into an old building in an uptown locality of Srinagar. There was little light in the room with just two lamps that weren’t working properly. As I tried to help fix the lights, the music began to get louder and I started taking pictures.

Highway Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

As I started my journey from Srinagar to cover the aftermath of a heavy snowfall along the 300km (186 mile) Srinagar-Jammu highway, the early morning chill was bone biting. Though I had a heater in my hired taxi, it still could not cope with the outside cold but as we drove along, the heat started to pick up.

A recent heavy snowfall across the Kashmir region had snapped electricity transmission lines, telephone lines and internet services plunging the region into darkness and cutting it off from the rest of the world; compounding the misery of around seven million people who live in the valley. The mountainous Srinagar-Jammu highway, which connects Kashmir with the rest of India, remained shut for a fifth day on Tuesday after heavy snowfall.

As we approached Qazigund, the main town in south Kashmir, I could see long lines of stranded trucks on the left side of the road. Some drivers were busy trying to keep the engines and fuel tanks of their trucks warm with bonfires. Some tried to remove snow from around their trucks and others prepared late breakfasts inside empty trucks. Many told me about the problems they faced while being stranded and wanted me to highlight them in the media.

Nerves of peace in troubled Kashmir

By Fayaz Kabli

As the year nears its end, the Chinar trees have turned a crimson red and the water in the Dal Lake is still and calm. The peace in the troubled Kashmir region has a hold of the nerves of the Kashmiri people.

From 2008 to 2010, Kashmir saw its worst period of unrest which claimed hundreds of lives and destroyed much of its economy.

This year, the scenic valley has been relatively peaceful. Although residents who witnessed the previous three years of violence were apprehensive at the beginning of this year, the trouble they had expected didn’t materialize.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 7 August 2011

After rioting in Xinjiang left 11 dead at the start of Ramadan the Chinese authorities stated that the insurgents who started the trouble had fled to Pakistan. Security forces quickly deployed in numbers to ensure that any further trouble was prevented or quickly quelled. Shanghai-based Carlos Barria travelled to Kashgar to shoot a story on the renovation of the old Kashgar centre, an example of China's modernising campaign in minority ethnic regions. A busy week for Aly Song, who is also Shanghai based, with taxi drivers on strike over rising fuel costs while Lang Lang had local fishermen preparing for typhoon Muifa to hit. In both pictures, the eye is cleverly drawn  to the distance to show in one image, a line of  striking taxi drivers, and in the other, rows of boats bracing for the imminent typhoon.

Ethnic Uighur men sit in front of a television screen at a square in Kashgar, Xinjiang province August 2, 2011. Chinese security forces blanketed central areas of Kashgar city in the western region of Xinjiang on Tuesday, days after deadly attacks that China blamed on Islamic militants highlighted ethnic tensions in the Muslim Uighur area.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria

Armed police officers are deployed at a square in Kashgar August 2, 2011. Chinese police have shot dead two suspects being hunted for a deadly attack in the restive western region of Xinjiang, which an exiled regional leader blamed on Beijing's hardline policies towards her people. The two suspects, Memtieli Tiliwaldi and Turson Hasan, were shot by police late on Monday in corn fields on the outskirts of Kashgar city, where on Sunday assailants stormed a restaurant, killed the owner and a waiter, then hacked four people to death, according to the Khasgar government website.  REUTERS/Stringer

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 27, 2011

The World's gaze at events in the Middle East was broken last week after an earthquake of 6.3 destroyed many buildings in Christchurch, New Zealand; the death toll now stands at 147 with 200 still missing. This was the latest disaster covered by Tim Wimborne. In recent weeks he has been to Toowoomba and Brisbane for the floods, Cairns for the typhoon Yasi and now NZ to cover the earthquake.  Tim worked closely with stringer Simon Baker to produce a file that saddens the heart, buildings normally seen on holiday postcards now forming the tombs of those who have died and as yet have not been pulled from the rubble. For me one of the strongest images is that of a  man picking through the rubble of what was once his home. With Tim's birds-eye view we see that nothing is really worth saving amid the dust and rubble, a photograph, a smashed lamp and a model boat.

NEWZEALAND-QUAKE/

Resident of the beach-side suburb of New Brighton, Julian Sanderson, searches for personal items through the remains of his house, destroyed by Tuesday's earthquake, in Christchurch February 25, 2011. International rescue teams searched through the rubble of quake-ravaged Christchurch on Friday for more than 200 people still missing, but rain and cold were dimming hopes of finding more survivors in the country's worst natural disaster in decades.  REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

NEWZEALAND/QUAKE

A rescue worker (R) looks through the rubble of the Cathedral of Blessed Sacrament in Christchurch February 24, 2011. International rescuers intensified their search for earthquake survivors in New Zealand on Thursday, spurred on by reports of a faint female voice heard beneath a collapsed church, even as the official death toll of 71 looked certain to climb. REUTERS/Simon Baker

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures February 6, 2011

Cyclone Yasi statistics were impressive, bigger than Katrina that killed more than  1,200 people in 2005, winds of 300 km (186 miles) per hour, more powerful than Cyclone Tracy that hit Darwin in 1974, killing more than  70 people and probably the most powerful in recorded history ever to hit the coast of Australia. The satellite pictures seemed to support all these claims. The expectation of devastation was high. I even began to fret about the claim that the concrete hotel that photographer Tim Wimborne was staying in was actually cyclone-proof. Experts had started to say that  cyclone proof buildings might not be. But Yasi passed and only one poor soul died (asphyxiated in his home by fumes from his own generator), a few homes had their roofs torn off, caravans were swept aside and minimal flooding. The only lasting effect that will hit us all are the increased insurance premiums, devastated banana and sugarcane crops; price rises are promised.

aus combo

(Top left) A hand painted board protects the front window of a cafe in the northern Australian city of Cairns February 2, 2011. Category five Cyclone Yasi, expected to be the most powerful storm to cross Australia's heavily populated east coast in generations, is expected to make landfall late on Wednesday night. Thousands of residents fled their homes and crammed into shelters in northeastern Australia as the cyclone with a 650 km (404 mile) wide front barreled toward the coastline on Wednesday. REUTERS/Tim Wimborne

(Top right) Cyclone Yasi (top) is seen approaching the coast of Australia, at 2300 GMT on February 1, 2011, while Hurricane Katrina is seen with its outer bands lashing the Gulf Coast of the U.S. a day before landfall, August 28, 2005, in this combo of satellite images created February 2, 2011. Yasi, which has been upgraded to a maximum-strength Category 5 storm, is now moving with winds of up to 300 km (186 miles) per hour and has a 650 km (400 mile) wide front. Yasi's current strength is similar to Hurricane Katrina, which reached maximum Category 5 in the U.S. Gulf before weakening a little as it made landfall near New Orleans, causing altogether approximately 1200 reported deaths.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 12 December 2010

This week the blog should be called A Week (and a few extra hours ) in Pictures as I wanted to share a couple of images that came in late last Sunday and evaded my net as I trawled through the file. Both are from Thailand and both were shot by Sukree Sukplang. The first is a strong portrait of Thai King Bhumibol Adulyadej as he leaves hospital in a wheelchair to attend a ceremony to celebrate his 83rd birthday. The picture seems to me to mirror the respect that the Thai people have for their King. What makes me think this I am not sure; maybe its the side light which creates studio-like modelling on the king's face highlighting every detail of his appearance, the crispness of the clothes, the beauty of the ceremonial medals and the rich colour of the royal sash. Or maybe it's just the way he is looking back into the lens, his eyes full of dignity and determination.

THAILAND/

 Thailand's King Bhumibol Adulyadej leaves the Siriraj Hospital for a ceremony at the Grand Palace in Bangkok December 5, 2010. King Bhumibol celebrates his 83rd birthday on Sunday.   REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang

 The picture of people releasing balloons into the air has amazing diagonal composition with the eye being led up into the darkened sky by the use of the disappearing lanterns as they float up into the darkness, the black space on the left holding in the picture so we don't float away too.

A job to do on the Srinagar streets

After offering special Eid prayers to mark the end of Ramadan, I got myself ready to cover the large Eid prayer congregation at Eid Gah in downtown Srinagar where senior separatist leader, Mirwaiz Umar Farooq, was scheduled to address thousands of Muslims.

Kashmiris attend an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.  REUTERS/Danish Ismail

Soon after the end of Eid prayers, Farooq called for a protest march to Lal Chowk, the heart of Srinagar. Continually shooting pictures I followed the tens of thousands of demonstrators shouting “we want freedom”. When they reached Lal Chowk, the shouts turned to violence and I saw protesters damaging the clock tower. Again Farooq addressed the people calling for anti-India protests. I ran to the office nearby to file the pictures.

A protester holds an Islamic flag on Kashmir's clock tower as he shouts anti-India slogans during an anti-India protest in Srinagar September 11, 2010.   REUTERS/Danish Ismail

As I finished filing I received a call from Sheikh Mushtaq, Reuters Kashmir correspondent, he told me protesters had set fire to police and government buildings. I rushed out to take more pictures. By the time I finished transmitting them I had worked 14 hours straight and, having fasted all day, was extremely hungry.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures September 26, 2010

A tough week for India as athletes began arriving  for the start of the Commonwealth Games. On September 21, a pedestrian walkway outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi collapsed; the very next day a portion of the ceiling in the weightlifting arena also collapsed. Social and mainstream media showed pictures of blocked drains, dirty bathrooms, soiled matresses and unfinished work in the athletes' accommodation.  Team members started to pull out of the games, undermining the status of the event. The enormity of the clean-up task seemed insurmountable, this concern beautifully illustrated by Parivartan Sharma's picture of a man sweeping dust in the streets with a hand brush - a seemingly pointless task when CWG president Fennell said that there was still "considerable work to be done". Have a close look at Reinhard Krause's picture of the roof of the weight lifting arena and make your own judgement on the workmanship of the construction.  As someone who has not got a great head for heights I fear for the safety of the workers walking on the roof of the building.

GAMES/

A man sweeps under a flyover in front of the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said on Saturday there was still a considerable amount of work to be done and there was great concern about the security and safety of athletes and officials. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma

GAMES-INDIA/ROOF

Workers climb down the roof of the weightlifting venue for the upcoming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, September 22, 2010.   A portion of false ceiling in the Commonwealth Games weightlifting venue in India's capital caved in on Wednesday, a day after 27 workers were injured when a footbridge collapsed near the same sports complex.  REUTERS/Reinhard Krause

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