KO Photos: Annual Walnut Fest in Kashmir

A Kashmiri grower sundrying his walnut crop. KO Photos by Abid Bhat.

The walnut season starts every autumn and engages growers across the valley for the organic harvest.

Text by Sayima Dar
Photos by Abid Bhat

WITH the arrival of autumn in Kashmir, Zameer Qadir gets eager for the ‘labour of love’. By that time of year, dozens of his walnut trees in his hometown Harwan Srinagar bear the organic fruit.

The harvest season sends out festive vibes and engages most of his community members.

But this year, the fatal fall from trees has made it a somber season for his grower clan.

Half a dozen death slips within 10 days have made Zameer’s farming class a bit worried about the occupational hazards.

In the face of these deaths, many are batting for adopting scientific methods to sustain the industry spread over 89,000 hectares of land in Jammu and Kashmir.

With an export commodity worth Rs 120 crore a year, walnuts constitute almost 98 per cent of the annual dry fruit in Kashmir.

But even though the deaths have casted their shadow on the harvest season, Qadir and clan are going traditional about it.

The harvest cycle starts with the tree climbing. The grower plucks the walnuts by either shaking or striking the nut-laden branches.

Some strike the tree with stick from the ground itself—but climbing, as Qadir explains, ensures maximum produce without much damage to the tree.

But this is where the entire process has become perilous in the ongoing harvest season.

Tree slips and fall of growers on the hard surface below has created the death distress.

The end result of the climbing looks like this — the gathered mass of green walnuts in a wicker basket.

“The very eagerness to relish these fresh nuts often leaves hennaed stains on one’s hands and lips,” Qadir says. “They’re being relished for their rich taste and content.”

But for the larger commercial purposes, the growers skin their green shell shortly after plucking.

The process, Qadir says, is painstaking — testing the very patience of the grower class.

However, like in everything else in Kashmir life, the female folk remain at the forefront of this process as well.

“They make the job much easier for us,” Qadir asserts. “They’re best in separating chaff from grains — given their regular household habits.”

Once skinned, walnuts are taken out from the green stack and assemble separately. This is the beginning of the new cycle — the cleaning process.

But before taken out for washing, the end result after skinning the entire green stock looks like this.

Collected in wicker baskets, the walnuts then pass through the cleaning process at the fresh water stream. The growers huddle around the baskets to ensure the meticulous cleaning.

But the ‘hard nut to crack’ is known to leave behind the greasy strains as visible in this frame, and thus makes the entire cleaning process quite an arduous task for the growers.

However, to avoid foot-staining, the walnut growers wear a fresh pair of footwear during the cleaning process.

Once done with washing, the growers seep out water through porous basket base and take the harvest ashore.

A basketful of washed walnuts are then taken out from the banks for the next step.

The growers then take walnuts for the sun-drying in a handcart.

The crop is left on the sunny floor for drying.

One of them spreads them carefully on the ground to achieve the desired results.

Once dry, the walnuts are then fed to the market.

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