With the month of June drawing to a close, the fresh apple crop from Himachal Pradesh is beginning to find its way to the markets. While apples are nowadays available pretty much throughout the year owing to imports and efficient cold storage, yet the fresh crop always has its charm. Being from the apple growing country, I have had a long drawn affair with apple orchards and thought that part of the story of apples in India might be worth telling. Though apples besides Himachal are grown in Kashmir, Uttarakhand and some states in the North East; Himachal with its apple cartons often displaying ‘Himachal Apples- Crisp and Crunchy’ remains most firmly associated with apples in popular psyche.
Talking of Himachal Apples, if you continue beyond Shimla towards Rampur and at the scenic hill station of Narkanda, leave the national highway to continue towards Khadrala, Baghi and beyond to Rohru complete with Pabbar river and bounding Trout fishes, you will come to Thanedhar, which is where the story of Himachal Apples started. British had found Shimla hills early and as early as 1843 had built a church at Kotgarh. Samuel‘Satyananda’ Stokes, an American came to these hills to recuperate in early 1900s. Scion of a rich family manufacturing elevators, scion took up the task of comforting leprosy patients in Punjab, where his health having taken a beating, he was sent to ‘Kotgarh’ area to recover his health.
However rather mysteriously he somehow, not only fell in love with the people, the area, their concerns and their dreams. He married a girl from the area, and became a beacon for the area with his involvement with freedom struggle to the extent of being jailed by the British and his contribution to the economy and culture through apples, schools, temples and vision. Later having been influenced by Hinduism and particularly Arya Samaj, he became a Hindu and adopted the name of Satyanand Stokes. He built a beautiful temple in Thanedhar called ‘Param Jyoti Mandir’ in Thanedar. The temple is a fine example of story telling in architecture with inscriptions from Indian Scriptures all around it in wood and stone. Stokes also started a school in his house where many of the early ones to be educated from the area went. Satyanand Stokes died after living an extremely rewarding life sometime before independence. His family continues to be politically and socially active with his youngest daughter Satyawati later marrying first Chief minister of Himachal Dr Y S Parmar, and another lady from the family, ‘Vidya Stokes’ having handled many political assignments, could indeed find herself at the helm of affairs in Himachal some day.
Apples were grown in Himachal even before Stokes. Captain R. C. Lee grew them in Kullu Valley in later half of the nineteenth century, and Alexander Coutts grew them near Mashobra. These were generally sour English varieties like Pippins and were not very popular. However Stokes during one of his trips to America came across a new hybrid called ‘Red Delicious’ and brought a few saplings along that he planted in his orchard at ‘Barobagh’ in ‘Thanedhar’. These were followed by more saplings that came to fruition in late 1920s. The orchard at ‘Barobagh’ with Stokes house in it is a popular destination with tourists in the area. With their looks and colour, people took to them instantaneously and the new fruit became a preferred fruit of both growers and consumers resulting in transformation of the agrarian economy of the Shimla Hills region.
The area once one of the poorest in the country is today one of the most prosperous and progressive in economic sense as well as most other development indices. Today, apples is a major crop in Shimla, Kullu and Kinnaur districts of Himachal and is also grown in small tracts of other districts such as Solan, Sirmur and Chamba.
The apples besides being an important cash crop lend themselves to enhance scenic charm of the area with their blossom and fruit laden trees, rich in colour and fragrance symbolic of the bounty of the nature and harbingers of good health. With their likeness to rosy cheeks of hill children apples fit so well in the local landscape that staying in an apple orchard is one of the most authentic peep into the culture and economy of the area, with delight for all senses and participation in the lives of local people.
The Other Home’ offers numerous options in this regard through its offer at Apple Orchard Farm And Camping(Sangla), Treetops Cottage (Naggar) and Nancy Orchards & Homestays (Solan). Experiences like these are equivalent of experiences such as wine tourism of Europe and for example a stay in apple season at a vacation rental such as ‘Dwarka Residency’ at Shelapani in ‘Baral’ region of Shimla district (stated to be the source of best apples produced in the country), could be much like a stay in the area around ‘Pouilly-sur-Loire’ in Burgogne region of France (famous for its quality wine puilly Fumee) in the grape crushing season.