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Apricots: A sweet delicacy from Kargil’s cold desert

Post by on Sunday, January 9, 2022

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Kargil town, located equidistant from Srinagar and Leh, is the gateway to frontier Ladakh region. The town is famous for its apricot production which is mostly transported to Kashmir through Zojila pass.
The apricots known for their sweet taste are first harvested, dried and then transported outside the region and are also sold in Kargil’s main market known as Lal Chowk.
Muhammad Ali, an apricot grower hailing from Gargardo village of Kargil said they have at least 20 apricot trees. His wife and son are associated with the business for a long time.
He is among hundreds of farmers in Kargil market who are dependent on the apricot business for several decades and make their livelihood out of it.
For the first time in the past 35 years, the apricots from Kargil have found their way to international markets. A consignment of 150 kg of fresh apricots was sent to Dubai from Kargil last year. Earlier a ban was imposed by the erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir government in 1986 on export of apricots on an assumption that due to codling moth (Cydia pomonella) emerging on apricot, its export will pose danger to fresh fruit in J&K and outside.
Apricots are the main fruit trees of Kargil, widely grown and are highly perishable within the short summer season. Therefore, fresh fruits need transportation soon after harvesting.
The decision of the Government of India to allow export of apricots has been widely welcomed by farmers associated with its production.
M Abdullah, a roadside vendor, has been selling apricots in Kargil’s Lal Chowk market and has been associated with the business for ten years. He sells different varieties of apricots throughout the day in the busy market and it is the only source of income for him.
Abdullah, who owns a small apricot orchard in their village at Goma Minjee, is among dozens of vendors and shopkeepers in Kargil market who sell apricots here for decades.
“This year the prices of apricot have gone up due to the export. Otherwise, the rates were very less compared to previous years. It has really encouraged the farmers,” he said.
Reacting to the fresh export, Abdullah said the export will provide more profit to the farmers in the long run saying that it is the only source of livelihood for many families here.
“We are hopeful that more apricots get exported outside Ladakh which would be a sort of healing touch for the farmers,” he said.
Apricot is the first and lone produce in Ladakh. Apricots are found in both the districts- Kargil and Leh of Ladakh. However, the best quality is produced in Kargil. There are 40 varieties of apricots in Ladakh region.
Harvesting is done by collecting apricots from trees manually in August. However, due to the introduction of harvesting, net picking of fruits has been made easy but it is laborious.
As per official figures, Kargil district has 129 villages out of which only 64 villages are under fruit cultivation. Out of the 64, there are 10-15 villages producing a sizeable quantity of apricot.
The places which are rich in apricot production in Kargil include Gargardo, Darchiks, Chulichan, Batalik, Garkone, Shilikchay, Hardass, Karkitcho, Chanigund.
On the other hand, apricot kernel (seed of an apricot, which is located within the fruit‘s endocarp) is also famous not only in Ladakh but in Kashmir as well. The kernel is processed to extract oil, which is an economically significant byproduct of fruit processing.
Akhoon Asgar Ali Basharat, President of Fruit Growers’ Cooperative Marketing and Processing Society Kargil said the export to Dubai is a landmark development in the history of Ladakh.
Kargil started sending apricot produce to Srinagar in 1986. In 2006, the government allotted 4 kanals of land for the society in Kargil and installed machinery for drying of apricots.
“With the help of the machines, damaged fruits are also processed to get oil which is being used locally. It has also improved the economy of the local farmers,” he said.
In India, for decades, the people have consumed it. A part of local culture, dry and fresh apricots are served as desserts, particularly during traditional festivals and functions. Many people here send apricots as a gift to their friends and family members outside the region.
Packed with vitamins but low on calories, Yakpha Karpo (as these apricots are known) is also rich in Sorbitol – a natural glucose substitute that can be consumed by diabetics. And that’s not all, the oil from its seed is known to relieve backaches and joint pain.
 

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