The next time you bite into a juicy apple from Himachal Pradesh, thank American Samuel Evan Stokes for it. He came to India on a leprosy mission in 1904, and was advised to recuperate in Kotgarh near Thanedar in Himachal when the heat of the plains got to him. With time to kill, he experimented with planting the apples we know today; the success of his efforts transformed the economy of the state, flooding the Indian market with apples in the following decades. Many a doctor has since been kept away.
The Barobagh estate still bears fruit – it is the site of Stokes’ first plantations. Located a few miles from Narkanda beyond state capital Shimla, Thanedar is the original apple country. And an all year destination for travellers.
Spring is the time when the area is resplendent with apple blossoms. Summers are for respite from the heat in the plains. And soon enough, it is time for apple plucking in August and September. No one will mind if you volunteer to pick the fruit and pack it in crates – or help make chutneys and juices. Remuneration will be a few bites of the fruit. A crisp but enjoyable cold sets in from late-October onwards with some snow in peak winters. Roads and services stay open, ensuring you have a great time.
While in Thanedar, just being in the fruit bearing orchards is joyful enough. You can also take walks in the forests, go up to the nearby Hatu peak at 11,000 feet (3353 metres) to admire the panoramic views of the surrounding snow-capped peaks or just picnic in the plentiful meadows. You may drop in at the St. Mary’s Church, built in 1843, where Stokes first stayed or at the Parmjyotir Temple built by him. Consider a day hike to the Tani Jubbar Lake, 6 kms (4 miles) away with a Nag Devta (Serpent King) temple around it. Indulge in all of these and your cup of joyful experiences shall spilleth over!
Thanedar is a hidden gem, tucked away from any noise and pollution, but easily accessible.
The little bird says…
We recommend you stay at the Banjara Orchard Retreat in Thanedar; it is a gorgeous property set amidst orchards. The owner Prakash Thakur makes for a wonderful host and will delight you with stories and history of the place.
* Weather: Pleasant summers with rain from June – August. Spring and autumn can be cold in the evenings. Temperature can drop to freezing in winters along with some snow.
* Best time to go: All year round. You may need to watch out for days of heavy rain or snow.
* How to reach: Drive up or catch a flight to Shimla and go by road from there. Or take the Toy Train from Kalka to Shimla.
* Distances: Shimla: 64 kms (40 miles); Delhi: 466 kms (291 miles).
* Accommodation: Your best option by far is Banjara Camps. There are a few other hotels and guest houses for all budgets.
* Recommended Stay: At least two days.
* Nearby Attractions: Visit Narkanda, Kufri, Chail, Shimla and Mashobra – all a half / full day excursion away. Or head further to Shoja, Sangla or even Lahaul Spiti for an extended trip.