Apple out to Prosperity – Story of Himachal Apple


Drive a little North of Shimla during the monsoons and all you see is Apple orchards – trees laden with Apples going from green to red. If the hailstorms are expected, trees wear a soft cover of net making it look like a series of soft huts all over the hills. When I started my Himachal Odyssey in early July, Apples were still green, too young to be plucked or eaten but big enough to tempt me all the time. We drove from Shimla to Thandedar via Narkanda and we kept stopping to admire the raw apples while our driver kept telling us that this is all we would see for next few days, have patience. First sight has that impact before the familiarity takes over.

We reached Thanedhar at a lovely Banjara Orchard Retreat on a ridge overlooking the valley surrounded by the layers of Himalayan ranges that for most of our stay remained hidden behind clouds and mist. As we sat on the balcony overlooking the valley, we heard the story of the Himachal Apple and how this region gained prosperity courtesy this cash crop and how the destiny and character of this region got defined as Apple orchards came all around.

We reached Thanedhar at a lovely Banjara Orchard Retreat on a ridge overlooking the valley surrounded by the layers of Himalayan ranges that for most of our stay remained hidden behind clouds and mist. As we sat on the balcony overlooking the valley, we heard the story of the Himachal Apple and how this region gained prosperity courtesy this cash crop and how the destiny and character of this region got defined as Apple orchards came all around. 

Apples & Satyanand Stokes

In the early 20th CE a young American called Samuel Evans Stokes, who belonged to a wealthy family of Philadelphia, came to India to work with leprosy-impacted patients near Shimla. He landed up in a church in Kotgarh, not too far from Thanedhar, for rest and here he falls in love with the place and its people. He married a local Rajput-Christian girl and decided to live here for the rest of his life. On one of the trips back home, he brought the sapling of Red delicious apples to Kotgarh and planted them. His mother sensing his love for this adopted country bought him 200 acres of land that was a tea estate originally. She also sent him another shipment of saplings of golden delicious apples. In about 5 years the apples bloomed and were an instant hit with the local population. They continue to be hit with apple lovers till date.satyanand-stokes-bust

Now Apples did exist in India before the American Apples brought by Stokes family took over. Kashmir used to grow apples but it did not come out of the valley much, so you had to visit the Kashmir valley to be able to savour its apples. Remember I am talking about late 19th / early 20th CE. Britishers who were in control of India and were fond of hills, did plant Apples in the Kullu region but they were the sour variety that did not go too well with the local taste buds. Red Delicious apple brought to Hills by Stokes family provided the perfect taste for the locals and this matching of tastes was to change the destiny of the region. Once the Stokes experiment was successful, people around his estate got inspired and they started planting apples instead of their usual crop of potatoes and plums. Over a period of time the whole of Shimla & Kinnaur region became one huge orchard sending its apples across state, national & international borders, bringing in cash and prosperity in return.

Apples trees covered to protect from hailstorm
Apples trees covered to protect from hailstorm

The socio-economic impact of apples is more than obvious in this region. You can see prosperity and happiness all around. Migration out of these regions is very low as there is ample employment at home. During my morning walk I could see the fruits being packed in boxes and being shipped in small trucks. People lead a relaxed community life with no major worries about either their lives or their children’s lives. They know the apples and other fruits would provide for many years to come and the demand for apples in the rest of the world is only expected to go up.

Apples – Organic or Not?

When you are sitting surrounded by the apples, with apples hanging at an arm’s length, the obvious question that comes to your mind is – Can I just pluck this apple and eat? Is it safe to eat? Would they have sprayed any pesticides on it that must be washed before eating? There were droplets all over the apples – that could have been mist, raindrops or pesticides. I asked our storyteller Mr Sharma of Orchard Retreat and he said – well pesticides are used to protect the crops but not on the fruits. Made sense. I asked if they do anything to make the color of the apple blood red, for in their penultimate ripe state the apples looked quite green. His answer was no and he said as the fruit ripens it gets its red color.

Legacy of Satyanand Stokes in Thanedhar

Stokes is said to have spent a lot of time with Sadhus who used to use the Indo-Tibetan road, on which Thanedhar lies, to go for Kailash Mansarovar Yatra. He was so influenced by them that he converted to Hinduism or rather Arya Samaj to be precise. He changed his given name to Satyanand though retained his family name.

Paramjyoti temple located on a vantage point next to his family home ‘Harmony Hall’ is a symbol of his adoption of Vedic culture. It is a simple room with pillared corridors all around it overlooking the valley that is now full of Apple orchards. The walls have Sanskrit Shlokas written all over them. I tried reading some of them but could not figure out which scripture they are from. Some readings on the net tell me that they come from various Upanishads and Bhagawad Geeta. The room is locked as of now but I was told that it is nothing but an empty room to perform Havana. I could only imagine sitting on a ridge, surrounded by the peaks of Himalayas and performing a Havan could be an ultimately meditative experience.


Harmony hall is a lovely old house. Visitors are not really welcome here but you can admire it from a distance. You can also see the school that was setup by Stokes and is now run by the government. Stokes family continues to be active in Himachal Pradesh politics. Daughter of Satyanand was married to the ex-chief minister of HP and his daughter-in-law Vidya Stokes is prominently active in state politics. A guesthouse of the family overlooking the Sutlej flowing through the valley is dedicated to Satyanand Stokes and his bust sits in the verandah. A huge hall at ground floor is probably used for public functions.

After hearing and reading the story of Satyanand Stokes from many sources, I am not sure if he brought in the Apple saplings with a vision in his heart and mind. I think he experimented with it and he let the people around him benefit from his successful experiment. To me this is a great study of how a pioneer can influence a change by inspiring and encouraging people. This is a great example of experiments that must be carried out, for you never know what would trigger a change and change the destiny of millions for many generations to come.

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NGT directs Govt. to ban tourism activities at Rohtang Pass

The National Green Tribunal has directed the Himachal Pradesh government to ban all commercial and tourism activities in and around eco- sensitive Rohtang Pass with immediate effect.

The Green Tribunal in its order said that all dhabas, tea stalls, skiing, sledging, horse riding, snow scooters and all-terrain vehicles should be banned on Rohtang Pass as these activities are harming the fragile ecology of the area.

The orders of the NGT came after the report of the deputy registrar of the Tribunal, who had visited the route between Vashisht to Rohtang Pass on June 22 along with local commissioners, and found discrepancy in the implementation of Green bench orders. As per the report, Govt. has miserably failed to implement Tribunal’s orders of restricting vehicular movement to 1,000 per day and surprisingly over 5,000 vehicles were regularly plying to the Rohtang Pass.

The report further revealed the state government has failed to provide proper infrastructure, machinery and staff at its check posts. Even travelers/tourists were crossing eco- sensitive zone on two-wheelers, and surprisingly no pollution check were conducting, report says.

The Tribunal observed that the main source of pollution around the Rohtang Pass are vehicular traffic, fuel burning, open burning of waste, forest fires and pollution caused by human interference and activities in addition to the waste that is thrown in this area indiscriminately.

It further observed that the Glaciers around Rohtang pass have been receding at the rate of 19-20 metre per year. Black carbon and aerosol optical depth have been found to be high, and PM 2.5 was found to be beyond prescribed limit in 2012, particularly during tourist season. The Green further observed

There is complete chaos at the Rohtang Pass and its adjacent glaciers, which, as per the statement made by the experts

Tribunal slammed the state government for failing implementing its orders and issued show cause notice to the state government for failing to restrict its earlier passed order of restricting vehicular movement, and thus creating a ‘traffic chaos’ on the Rohtang Pass.

The green bench has asked representatives of all departments linked to the case to appear before it on July 16. The NGT has also directed the state’s chief secretary to file an affidavit within one week as to why it should not order attachment of treasury of the state until complete compliance of the orders of the Tribunal.

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The best places to trek in Himachal Pradesh

Here are the most splendid trails in Himachal

#1 Malana Village Trek

Image Source: Flickr
With an origin story that dates back to Alexander the Great’s men and an alternate one to Akbar, Malana has its fair share of legends and history, albeit hidden and tucked away at an altitude of 2652 metres in the Kullu Valley. Atrekking bliss that begins 21 kms from Manali, passing through Naggar and carrying a bit of Himachal’s history with Roerich art Gallery, Nicholas Roerich Art Museum, this moderate trek takes you to the picturesque Rumsu(2300 m) accompanied by forests of oak and pines, trailing through meadows of wild flowers to Nauya Tapru, below the Chanderkhani Pass(3600m). Once over the Chanderkhani Pass  – it’s a slow show of captivation with the snow-capped Dhaula Dhar ranges and the Hanuman Tibba before you begin your descent to the reclusive village, the social structure, the strict customs and religious beliefs of Malana.
Duration: 3-4 Days
Maximum Elevation: 3660 m
Preferred Season: May to November

#2 Bara Banghal and Bir Trek

Witness nature’s bare beauty and indulge in thrills as you take on the journey from Kullu valley to Dharamshala. Nestled amidst the lush green backcountry of the Western Himalayas, this trekking trail is for those looking for anoffbeat yet challenging trek experience. The eleven-day trek journey takes you over the Kalihani and Thamsar passes, offering splendid views of the Pir Panjal, Bara Bhangal and Dhaula Dhar ranges. The trek culminates inKangra Valley; from thereon you can get a ride to Bir or even paraglide, if you are still craving more thrills.
Duration: 11 Days
Maximum Elevation: 4878 m
Preferred Season: June to September

#3 Hamya Herbal Trek

Image Source: Flickr
Manali Hamya Herbal Trek (4268 m) is a moderate level trek that unleashes an 8 day magic spell and is suitable for anyone who wishes to try on a different trial that offers something more than scenic views of the surrounding mountain ranges. The breathtaking landscape spreading from Pandu Ropa all leading the way down to Chikka (3000 m) and Balugera (3800 m) is inundated with exotic varieties of herbs or herbal plants (some medicinal and some magical) along with the flourishing fauna that will leave you in awe, especially if you are a nature enthusiast. So, pack your bags and get ready to venture outside the city limits to experience what nature has to offer.
Duration: 8 Days
Maximum Elevation: 4268 m
Preferred Season: June to September

#4 Hampta Pass Trek

Image Credit: Gypsy Shack
The Hampta Pass trek takes you from one camp site to another from a walk through the village culture ofBanhara to the beautiful meadows and tantalizing ambience of Lama Dugh to paradise in the shadows of the Deo Tibba Mountain at its very base – this trek is a Camper’s paradise. The narrow valleys of the Hampta Pass(4297m) when adorned with the hues of snow are sure to give you that Artic region feel along with close up views of the Himalayan foothills, the Indrasan peaks. You’d also be lead to the plain sand grounds of Balu ka Ghera(3627m) and the cold sheaths of Shea Goru in this 8 day moderate level blizzard of awe and amazement.
Duration: 7-8 Days
Maximum Elevation: 4297 m
Preferred Season: June to September

#5 Jogini Waterfalls Trek

Image Source: Flickr
One of the most memorable day hikes from Manali – the Jogini Waterfalls trek begins from Hadimba Temple and its stretches onto the quaint edges of the Vashisht Village. The waterfall marks the village boundary and is regarded as a sacred place with attached beliefs and the sweet sound of solitude gushing from the falls. The trek route is a pleasant uphill walk towards the Vashisht Village, its temple and revitalizing hot water springs leads you to Jogini that greets with its cascading song of sacred waters and a pool formed below to take a dip and feel like heaven.
Duration: 1.5 – 3 hours
Maximum Elevation: 3980 m
Preferred Season: April to November

#6 Deo Tibba Base Camp Trek

Image Source: Gypsy Shack Files
The Deo Tibba Base Camp is a 5 day moderate level trek leads you into a blitz of scenic views of villages, settlements, grazing pastures, and the vast mountain ranges from the Bara Bangal ranges to the Dhauladhar Ranges to Deo Tibba mountain and Hanuman Tibba Peak. Beginning with a drive from Manali to the picturesque Jagatsukh, the Deo Tibba Base Camp Trek graces you with its pristine trails through tall pine treesand shady oak forests and leaves you stunned with its grazing pastures, hanging glaciers, glistening blue waters and of course – the cool shadows of the Deo Tibba Peak.
Duration: 5 Days
Maximum Elevation: 3475 m
Preferred Season: June to October

#7 Beas Kund Trek

Image Source: Flickr
Beas Kund (3690 m) is where the sacred river Beas originates. This trek encompasses all that you’d look out for aeasy-normal trekking experience – suitable for all age-groups, camping by the river, trekking through meadows and forests, panoramic views of the mountain ranges such as the Pir Pangal range, the Dhauladhar range and trails following the banks of the river Beas. This trek begins with a drive from Manali to the skiing slopes and adventurous spirits of the Solang Valley to the alpine meadows of the scenic Dhundi, through birch trees atBhoj Patra only to feel lost like a crazy heart in the divine embraces of the Beas Kund.
Duration: 4-5 Days
Maximum Elevation: 3690 m
Preferred Season:  April to October

#8 Brighu Lake Trek

Image Source: Vic DiCara’s Astrology
This short and moderate trek from Gulaba, near Manali to the immaculate surroundings of the Bhrigu Lake is adorned with beauty that of a paradise. It begins with a drive from Manali to the bustling tunes of Gulaba and thereon a walk to the solitary confines in camps at the serene Bhrigu Lake (4270m) bestowing a panoramic view of the Kullu valley. On your way down, visit the temples, hot water springs, the old-world architecture of Vashisht Village and don’t forget to capture all those moments on film!
Duration: 3-4 Days
Maximum Elevation: 4270 m
Preferred Season: June to October

#9 Lama Dugh Trek

Image Source: Bharata B Rao’s Blog
Off through the oak, fir and deodar, we blaze our trekking trails through dense forests and move on an uphill climb to Lama Dugh – a popular grazing pasture. But for us – it’s the scenic views of the Indrasan, Deo Tibba, Hanuman Tibba amidst the meadows of wild flowers that entices. A pleasant 5 hr trek that begins from the Hadimba Temple and steadily guides you into the tall pine tree forests and the sinister wild cherry trees to the meadows of Lama Dugh (3170m) and back.
Duration: 3-4 hours
Maximum Elevation: 3170 m
Preferred Season: April to November

#10 Chandrakhani Pass Trek

Image Source: Flickr
A relatively easy trek with a moderate climb, Chandrakhani Pass (3660m) is another gem in the majestic crown of the Kullu Valley. Beginning at Naggar, it leads you deep into the pine, chestnut and deodar trees guarded trails of Rumsu to the alpine meadows to Nayu Tapru (below Chandrakhani). The scenic onslaughts of alpine forests and meadows is a treat for any nature lover and with the spectacular views over the Chadrakhani Pass of the Pir Panjal and Parbati mountain ranges, this trek is sure to be etched in one’s memory and photographs forever. From the Pass, there’s a descent to the secluded Malana Village before you head for Jari that will lead you back to the heartbreak kid – Manali.
Duration: 5-6 Days
Maximum Elevation: 3660 m
Preferred Season: April to October

Courtesy – The Gypsy Diary