The people of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK) are sitting on a treasure chest: millions of rubies, estimated to be worth up to half a billion dollars, are lying beneath them.
But archaic tools and a lack of investment in infrastructure and techniques are hampering efforts to transform the area into a significant player in the gem industry.
"Mining is done by small blasts – and we lose 40 to 50 percent of the value of the stones, and secondly due to lack of investment in our corporation we are not making the most of our resources," said Shahid Ayub, Azad Kashmir Mine and Industry Development Company director general.
Just one mine and an exploration site are operational in Kashmir.
It's hard labor at more than 3,500 metres above sea level. But for miners working on the mountains, it is valued work.
"I have been working in this mine for the past four years. For the first two years, I worked here as an intern and after that I got a job. We work here four months in a year,” said Muhammad Azeem, a mine worker.
“I have earned enough money to lead a good life," Azeem added.
The rubies are sold in their raw form at a highly-regulated annual auction.
Many change hands informally too. Last year, a government training center was launched to develop the trade.
"We are providing training and assistance to these people about mining and gemstone development. God willing, soon all of them will be able to extract precious stones by themselves. With the availability of skilled workforce in this field, Azad Kashmir will shortly become an international hub of gemstones," said Imran Zaffar, principal Pakistan Gem and Jewellery Training and Processing centre.
The stones are said to account less than one percent of the region's tax revenue. But hopes are high these rubies will one day help Kashmir sparkle in the international gem industry.