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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The Untold Story Malana – India’s Cannabis Country

Malana is an ancient village to the north-east of Kullu Valley. This solitary village in the Malana Nala, a side valley of the Parvati Valley, is isolated from the rest of the world. At an altitude of 9,938 feet above sea level lies the village of Malana also known as the village of Taboos. This village in the state of Himachal Pradesh is a magical green rimmed village that overlooks the Deotiba and Chandrakhani Peaks. Malana village is connected to Kulu by three mountain passes. Once in the state of Himachal Pradesh it can be reached from Parvati valley across the Rashol Pass and Chanderkhani pass. The easiest way to reach Malana is from Jari by hiring a taxi since no public buses ply to the village of Malana, which is 23 km away.

photo10The village of Malana is considered as one of the oldest democracies in the world. It is also known by the drug mafia for its hash which is extracted from the Cannabis plant and travels the world which is also the main source of income for the Malanese.

If one decide to visit this village of Taboos it is advisable to not touch the walls or belongings of any of the Malanese people as you will have to pay a fine if you touch anything. ‘Kanashi’ is the local language of Malana and does not sound like any of the dialects spoken in its neighboring villages and the language is also considered to be one of the secrets of the village that outsiders from other villages are not allowed to use.


Malana has a history and it goes back to Jamlu rishi (sage) who inhabited this place and made rules and regulations. It is one of the oldest democracies of the world with a well organized parliamentary system. All of this is guided by the their devta (deity) Jamlu rishi. Although Jamlu is currently identified with a sage from the Puranas, this is a relatively recent development. Jamlu is believed to have been worshiped in pre-Aryan times.

Malana also known as the village of Taboos
Malana also known as the village of Taboos

Malana is considered to be one of the first democracies in the world. According to tradition, the residents of Malana are the descendant of Aryans, and they acquired their independence during the Mughal reign when the Emperor Akbar walked to the village in order to cure an ailment that he was afflicted with; after having been successfully cured he put out an edict stating that all the inhabitants of the valley would never be required to pay tax. An alternative tradition suggests that Malana was founded by remnants of Alexander the Great’s Army.

Malana’s Crème

Malana’s crème has a notorious legacy in international stoner culture. It has won the Best Hashish title twice, in 1994 and 1996, at High Times magazine’s Cannabis Cup. Marijuanaphiles the world over have since made this region a popular weed-tourist destination, branded in travel and ganja-hunting literature as the exotic and alluring “Malana and the Magic Valley.” It was inevitable that the farmers would start to realize the global potential of their plants—and that the cops would take any and all measures to prevent these rural agriculturalists from increasing production. The most effective tool in authorities’ arsenal is satellite technology, but the farmers have found a workaround.


Since the mid-nineties dozens of tourists have gone missing in the valley, many have turned up dead, many haven’t turned up at all. Stories of tourists heading to the valley, then getting murdered are all too common. Bodies get washed up on river banks and in various decomposing states have also been found in the mountains. No one speaks about it and the police struggle to solve any of these cases, often finding it difficult to even pick up any leads. Travel within the valley alone (without a guide) is dangerous and has been proven to be deadly all too regularly. Locals are reluctant to speak, and a few years ago the Guardian (UK) sent reporters to find out why people were going missing without any real sense of investigation. Locals shut them out, they were spat at and even foreigners seemed annoyed and hostile of their presence. What they uncovered was something of conspiracy theories, something they could never envisage and something that when first warned by the local paper they dismissed as ridiculous. They were told by a local paper that actually, those foreigners who had been found dead may have crossed the wrong people. The drugs trade is rife in the mountains, and a survivor who saw his 14 year old son and female companion slaughtered was testament to the fact that there were robberies in the valley.

Malana Village
Malana Village

Malanis (the inhabitants of Malana) admire their culture, customs and religious beliefs. They generally do not like to change though some traces of modernization are visible. People in Malana consider all non-Malani to be inferior and consequently untouchable. Visitors to Malana town must pay particular attention to stick to the prescribed paths and not to touch any of the walls, houses or people there. If this does occur, visitors are expected to pay a forfeit sum, that will cover the sacrificial slaughter of a lamb in order purify the object that has been made impure. Malani people may touch impure people or houses as long as they follow the prescribed purification ritual before they enter their house or before they eat. Malanis may never accept food cooked by a non-Malani person, unless they are out of the valley (in which case their Devt can’t see them). Malanis may offer visitors food but all utensils will have to undergo a strict purification ritual before they can be used again.

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