We were on our way to find out more about the apple that started it all! No, not the one that started our alphabets in English and certainly not the one shared by Adam and Eve! This was about the apple that was introduced in 1920s by Samuel Evans Stokes in Himachal Pradesh in India, a step that had literally sowed the seeds for the apple revolution in the country.
The apple bowl of Himachal surrounds Narkanda, a smallish town 82 kms from Shimla on National Highway 2. The places to look for are Kotgarh, Thanedar and Kumarsain. Narkanda is more popular as a skiing destination in winter but you must visit this area in April to see the apple trees covered with clusters of delicate blossoms – white flowers tinged with pink. The apple blossoms offer a visual treat and lend a subtle but heady fragrance to the air. You must again visit this place in September or early October, when the trees are laden heavily with red apples just waiting to be plucked.
Narkanda is just the right place to stay and experience the world of apples all around. Himachal Tourism’s Hotel Hatu is located at a secluded vantage point, offering great views and comfortable rooms. Kotgarh, Thanedar and Kumarsain are all within a radius of 15 to 20 kms from Narkhanda. Hop on and off the local buses to explore these areas and get a real feel of himachal.
Stokes, an American, came to India in 1904 as a missionary but stayed on in the country. At some point he got interested in hindu scriptures, married a pahari and was renamed as Satyanand Stokes. He decided to grow apples commercially with a view to boost the economy and provide livelihood to the people of the region.
Stokes procured the first apple seedlings of the variety “Red Delicious” from Louisiana and started apple cultivation in 1919, and the first yield hit the markets in 1925.
An apple tree takes 6 to 7 years to yield fruit and Stokes enrolled the farmers of the region to take up apple cultivation, providing them with free seedlings and the necessary support. There has been no looking back since then and today, a continuous line of trucks ply the national highway during harvest season, carrying cases of apple to different parts of the country. Stokes is a revered name in the region and his home – Harmony House – atop the Barobagh hillock in Kotgarh and the paramjyotir temple built by him in pahari style are landmarks that remind us of the initiatives of one man which provide livelihood to millions today.
We walked through the apple orchards of Kumarsain, and Thanedar and were mesmerized by the cluster of white and pink flowers. It is best to view these in morning light or late evening light when the petals take on a luminous hue. Cherry cultivation is also catching up in these areas as it provides faster and better returns to the farmer. The taller cherry trees are also covered with white flowers, though the flowers are smaller and not half as enticing as the apple blossom!
While at Narkanda, do not miss the invigorating 6 kms trek to Hatu Peak which is at an altitude of about 11000 feet and has a temple on the top. In April, there was still a lot of snow on way to the top.
If you have missed the apple flowers this spring, don’t fret. See the fruits first in the coming autumn and there would surely be another right time to be with the blossoms!