Syed Tuffail

Apricot to Ladakh is what apples are to Kashmir. The brief season of apricot harvest is upon us, and many fruit enthusiasts will soon bite into one of these small, delicate, yellowish-orange fruits.

They say travel makes a man richer and I say travel completely changes you, especially if you are travelling for food. It reveals to you the immense bounties of nature. I recently decided to take a short trip to Ladakh. As a Kashmiri, all I was seeking was to experience the rugged yet beautiful terrain but what I ended up finding was something even better.

Drying apricots the Balti way
Drying apricots the Balti way

Well before I reached Kargil, a sweet fragrance greeted me. As I moved a little further into the area, I was left mesmerised by a brilliant display of green and orange apricots. Ever since my childhood, I have always heard praise and appreciation for Balti apricots. Therefore, I decided to explore and find out a little more about these sweet little one biters.

I visited quite a few households in and around Kargil, a district of Ladakh division of Kashmir and erstwhile part of Baltistan now under Pakistani control.  At every house the first thing served to me were apricots and it turned out that it is a tradition to welcome guests with apricots especially in the harvesting season. A little interaction with the locals and I came to know that Apricots are called ‘chulli’ (non dried) ‘faddeng’ (dried ones) in the Balti  language.

Apricot in Ladakh, is believed to have been introduced a century back from Central Asia. Since then, it has become one of the most preferred and commercially cultivated fruit crop of the region and has become an integral part of the people there.

It has a wide range of distribution in different parts of Ladakh with particular abundance in Sham areas (lower Ladakh) including Dha-Hanu, Garkhon, Skurbuchan, Domkhar, Wanla, Khaltse and Timosgang and also in Kargil.

Having luxuriously adapted to the extreme environment of Ladakh, the apricot tree can attain a height of about 4-7 meters. The trees bear heart shaped leaves, and bloom in spring to subsequently give fruit in summer. With the onset of breezy spring, these trees overcome the long terrible winter dormancy and start producing young healthy leaf buds, and by the month of April-May, they produce beautiful white or pinkish flowers that not only ensures the continuity of their population but also give a unique look to the sandy desert of trans-Himalaya.

By the month of August-September, they start producing yellow-orange, rounded or oval shaped fruit which are juicy and sweet in taste with a peculiar flavour associated with apricot.

There are many varities of apricot
There are many varities of apricot

There are many varieties of apricot grown in Ladakh. The varieties differ from one another in taste (sweet, bitter, sour), size, shape and physical appearance. Some of these varieties include Halman, Laktse-karpo, Safaida, Khanteh etc. Halman and Laktse-karpo are the most preferred one for commercial purpose. Even though farming in Ladakh is generally difficult due to extreme temperatures and poor soil quality but apricots are an exception. Due to their unmatched suitability and synchronization with the environment the apricots do not need any fertilizers or pesticides, thus are 100% organic. This makes them an excellent choice for a commercial crop as the investments are low and yields high. low investments and high yields.

Apricots are the major source of income for many Ladakhis who are engaged in the cultivation and marketing of this fruit. Halman and Laktse-karpo are the two prime varieties that have a good demand in the market and are profitably sold at Rs 400 – 1000 per kilogram.Besides, the kernel of the apricot is also consumed and marketed by locals. The seed with the sweet kernel is consumed as dry fruit and make for a good market price of Rs 500-1000/kg while the seed with bitter kernel is used for oil extraction.

Apricot oil (locally called tseghumar) is a multipurpose oil with a peculiar apricot flavour and is sold at a remarkable price of Rs 1000-3000 per litre. Traditionally, the oil is extracted from the semi-roasted kernels by crushing them in a large wooden mortar, locally termed as Thorn, followed by heating and compressing them with few drops of water on a flat stone, called as Tsigg.

Besides the oil, several other products such as apricot jam, squash, jelly and apricot cakes are also produced for commercial purposes.

As per the locals, most of the produce was either consumed locally or goes to waste given that the region remains cut off from the rest of the world for quite a few months but this scenario has seen a drastic change in the recent years due to better connectivity and improved communication. Now a considerable portion of the fruit is being exported to many parts of India, thus fetching a better price for the producers.

Even though the local apricot growers have the knowledge of cultivation and drying, but, they are devoid of any modern technical skills for proper preservation,storage,transportation and marketing of apricot products. Another major challenge is the lack of a proper network for processing and supplying apricot products elsewhere in India. This results in a huge loss not only to the poor farmers but also to the economy of Ladakhin general.

While the challenges of growing apricots may be numerous yet the region is a must visit for any fruit or dry fruit enthusiast as the growing apricot season brings with it a mesmerising display of colours and a sweet fragrance that will forever linger in your memories.

Organic apricot Vs apricot treated with supher diaoxide
Organic apricot Vs apricot treated with supher diaoxide

BENEFITS OF MIRACLE FRUIT

It prevents cancer, prolongs life and does not add weight

Apart from strengthening the body, protecting the eyes and contributing to the health of bones, it has been proven that apricots reduce the risk of cancer and prolongs life. Fresh apricot abounds with vitamin A, C and B and various minerals.

Just by eating walnuts and dried apricots, most of the inhabitants of the Hunza Valley experience deep old age. However, the influence of modern foods has reached these mountainous regions. Therefore the younger inhabitants of this tribe are prone to sitting and inactivity.

What is particularly intriguing about this fruit is the fact that it contains a compound that comes from the apricot seed – amygdalin. From which, by simple extraction, it is obtained by Leatril or B17. In 1971, the B17 was banned in the United States, and it is precisely what some call it a real cure for cancer. The ban came because it allegedly contained a dangerous dose of cyanide. Some experts reject these claims and say that it is important for the pharmaceutical industry to exclude from the market all real, natural, effective and cheap drugs.

What is contained in the apricot?

Apricots contain 10 times more magnesium than other fruits, by which they affect the improvement of brain functions due to the high levels of magnesium and phosphorus. These elements can help in normalizing blood pressure.

They are an excellent source of polyphenols, strong antioxidants that neutralize the harmful effects of free radicals and prevent cardiovascular disease. Fresh apricot abounds with carotenoids and xanthophils, sodium which protect the eyesight, prevent muscle degeneration and weakening of the eyelid muscle in old age.

Lutein, which is present in this fruit, also protects the retina. It is a great source of catechins, a kind of flavonoids that enter into the composition of green tea, and have anti-inflammatory properties. Apricots contain a high percentage of nutrients that are beneficial to the digestive organs and prevent constipation.

Effects of apricot on your body

Apricots will not get you fat, and they are especially recommended to people who want to lose weight. They also help in the treatment of various infections, prevent heart disease, repair damaged tissues, reduce the level of bad cholesterol and stimulate the development of teeth and bones.

To maintain bone health, a number of minerals, such as calcium, phosphorus, manganese, copper and iron, are needed, and the apricot contains a huge amount of it. Therefore women who have entered menopause should consume apricots as much as possible since they contain a lot of calcium in order to prevent osteoporosis.

Fresh apricot juice is recommended for people suffering from anemia, and apricot is also used as a medicine for fever and skin diseases, because it relieves irritation and eliminates the symptoms of inflammatory processes. The health benefits of this fruit include its benefits to regulate digestion, constipation, ear infections, flu, skin disorders, anemia, and even cancer.

The apricot is mostly used for the production of juice, jam and compote, but it can be dried and consumed too.

SOURCE: (Syed Tuffail is a travel enthusiast and loves to write. He can be reached at syedtuffail@gmail.com)

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