Wednesday, May 19, 2010


Dear Friends,

Thank you for keeping up with the blog. This is to inform you and those who have been extremely kind to follow that the blog on KOTGARH has moved from to

I would like to apologize for the inconvenience and hope you will like the new look and feel of the blog.

Appreciate your feedback!




[older posts are still available]

Thursday, May 13, 2010

What’s killing my apple tree?

Manoj J , shimla: May 19 2008 [from Insta Blogs]

What’s killing my apple tree?

As a child it was a joy to visit my apple orchard. Planted by my grand father it grew and flourished under the tender care of my father. Today maintaining it has been an uphill task. New trees simply don’t survive and older ones are dying fast. This is the story you will hear all over the apple-growing belt of Himachal Pradesh and farmers attribute this to climate change.

Over the years, fruit growers in Himachal have observed significant variations in climate. This awareness of climate change is based mainly on the associated impacts on the apple crop especially on blossoming, fruit setting, yield and increased incidences of pests and diseases.

Over all the climate is described as being much warmer and people perceive a definite reduction in snowfall over time. Not only has the actual amount of snowfall decreased but changes in timing of snowfall have also been noticed. Snowfall in December and January has become rare and the period of snowfall now extends through the months of February-March. There is also a perception that weather has become more erratic. For example the hottest month is no longer the traditional month of jeth (May-June) but has shifted ahead. Similarly, spring is colder and winters warmer than the usual.

Warmer climate has made it harder to get a decent crop in the lower and middle elevation belt and apple orchards have shifted to higher altitudes to find a cooler place to grow. Bajoura, located in the lower part of the Kullu valley, produced good quality apples about a few decades ago. Today, there is a general consensus that the lower limit of apples has now reached Raison about 30 kilometers up the valley. Similarly in the Kotgarh region, villages in the middle elevation belt produced some of the finest apples during the 1970s and early 1980s. Today farmers here are struggling to replant their orchards. A similar trend is noticed elsewhere in the state. Apple growers also attribute climate change to the increase in plant diseases and pests and an increasing numbers of sprays are now required for the routine control of pests.

As temperature continue to rise and rainfall becomes more erratic, apples are struggling to survive and cope with increasing stream of new pests and diseases. Large orchard owners may well survive this onslaught initially, but it is the small and medium farmers who are a worried lot.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Starry Starry Night.

Most people rarely stop to gaze up, to see the wonder of the night sky, except maybe to wish upon a star, every once in a while. The myth goes, that when bodies die, they die; but the souls and spirits live on, perhaps turning into stars. "For my part, I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars, makes me dream." I can still remember, my grand father teaching me how to find the North Star, when I was a little girl. He said to trace the "Ursa Minor" till you get to the tip of it, and to stop at the brightest star. One thing is for sure - if you learn to do that, you will never be lost.

There's nothing quite as magical as the cover of sparkling stars on the never-ending setting of the 'Kotgarh' sky. The woody scent of the pine resin is soothing and you know, that the forest isn't very far away. The night is quiet, occasionally broken by the shrill cry of an owl, or the grunt of a bear, digging up its favorite root. The smell of burnt firewood in the distance, carried along with the faint breeze, totally consumes your senses. You lie there in the still of the night, gazing at the marvelous sky, so clear and bright, as if attempting to relay some sort of a heavenly message.

Gosh! It feels so good to be home.

Apple Growing Stages

It is fascinating to watch the growth of an apple from bud to mature fruit.

Dormant apple buds begin to swell in the early spring. The buds show a silver, fuzzy tissue then a green tip develops. This is the beginning of leaves; the leaves start growing, and as they fold back, they are called "mouse ears." After a few days, closed, hairy flower buds become visible.

The Flower Grows
As the flower buds grow, five green hairy sepals surround red petals. The flower stalks grow longer as the flower buds get bigger. White flowers tinged with pink burst open. The first flower in a cluster to open is known as the "king bloom." It often turns out to be the largest apple yielded from that cluster of blossoms.

Pollination Follows
White stalks flare from the center - these are the stamens, and they are topped with tiny yellow anthers that bear pollen. To lure honey bees, the blossoms produce a sweet nectar at the base of the petals. Bees move from blossom to blossom collecting pollen from the anthers on their hairy bodies; as they visit blossoms on other trees, the pollen rubs off on those blossoms. Stigma - When the blossoms have shed their pollen, the petals begin to wilt, and the anthers begin to shrivel. The female stigma becomes visible; this is where visiting bees deposited pollen. The stigma makes the pollen available to the ovary so that it can begin growing into an apple.

From Ovary to Apple
The petals begin falling.
The green sepals are still attached - as the ovary grows, the flared sepals turn upright, and the stamens shrivel and dry up. Below the sepals, fuzzy apples begin to grow rapidly. In about June, smaller apples drop from a cluster; this is called the "June" drop.

The Apples Mature
Several weeks later, soft hairs disappear from the developing apple. The expanding apples begin storing sugar. They get larger and turn green then red. Their weight makes them hang from their stems.

Visit Kotgarh and experience the richness of culture and the juicy apples straight off the trees.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

A full day drive to Thanedar


- by barunroy on December 28, 2008

Hidden away in the Shimla hills, Kotgarh is famous for its apple orchards but very few knows about the inspiring feature that makes an excellent spring-summer destination.

Close to Narkanda, the hill range known as Kotgarh is just 16 kilometers from National highway that heads into the valley through Kumarsain, Rampur and Kinnaur and towards the Indo-Tibetan border. A branching spur breaking out from the Hatu peak Range that is splited by the fault line carved by the Satluj river, deep in the valley, makes up for what is known as the Kotgarh region.

Hatu peak can be accessed by a narrow motorable road from Narkanda that is functional during the summer months. Alternatively, the 8 kilometer of trek through dense pine, spruce and oak forests are a better option for reaching the mountain top that also mark the tree line of the Himalayan terrain. The view from Hatu Peak is breathtaking. Besides the perennially snow capped chain of the greater Himalayan ranges, very few peaks in the vicinity match the grandeur on display from here. The rarified air and the clouds gliding by, give Hatu peak a surrealistic setting. In early May, hundred of people from near and far villages trek it to the mountain top to savor of a spring fair held at Hatu.

Pre-dating the advent of British settlers in the early part of the 19th century, Kotgarh was overrun by Gorkha warriors. These hardy warriors are said to have established a fort on Hatu peak to maintain suzerainty over the surrounding territory which they held by force. Today, no traces of the fort can be seen as nature has reclaimed the remnants.

An 8 kilometer drive from Narkanda on the road to Thanedhar takes you to a ridge-top lake, popularly known as Tani jubbar, ‘a meadow within a Lake.’ This is a tranquil point, offering solace. A temple in a pahari architectural style sanctifies the lake as a holy one. The enclosing deodar forest keeps the spot shaded and hidden away. Trans-continental migratory birds sometimes do spot the water body and there have been some occasions when some of them have rested by a week or more during the winters.

On the last day of May, a spring festival held at Tani jubbar and this is a good occasion to witness local celebration and gaiety. The local deity, carried in a palanquin, with believers dancing to drum beats is integral to this local fair held amidst scenic settings.

Further on the road beyond Tani jubbar is Thanedhar which used to be the market centre of Kotgarh till it burnt down in the mid 1970′s. Long before this, during British rule, it was a major transition station for those heading into or out of Tibet.
‘Barubag’ is the ridge top at Thanedhar. This was where the American Quaker missionary, Samuel Evans Stokes chose to settle down. He bought the property from an English lady, married a local girl, converted to Hinduism and built Harmony Hall, the name he gave to the house that still stands on the spot. At a little distance from his house, Stokes built a temple, which perhaps is one of its own kinds in the whole of north India. The Gita Temple that Stokes built does not have ant idol protected in its sancto-sanctorum. In place of this, there is a sacred fire place (Havan Kund), where amidst the chanting of mantras, a sacred fire was lit where Stokes attended the ceremony religiously every morning.

The temple and Harmony Hall still mark the presence of the man who introduced commercial growing of apples to the hills. In less than a hundred years, apple as a cash crop has become so successful that it gives a livelihood to over a million people and churn up an economy of Rs 1,500 crore, each year. A summer fair held in mid-June ia a good time to be around Thanedhar.

Other than the Hatu peak, Tani jubbar and Barubag there is the locality of Kotgarh village, lower down in the hills, from where the whole area derives its name.

About two hundred years ago, the first British soldiers who came to fight the Gurkha occupation in the hills, converted Kotgarh village into cantonment. Locally the place till date is known as Chavani (cantonment).

Like every civilization, the invading soldiers carried their religion and gods along. So A church was established and this 1841 structure is still exist. Near Kotgarh village is the village of Melan, where temple dedicated to Chattar Mukh, the presiding deity of Kotgarh is housed.

Apples have substantially changed life patterns and made life in the hills sustainable. Prior to introduction of this cash crop, it was the fertile irrigated fields on the bank of the river satluj, deep in the valley, that provided the bread and butter for the most of residents. The higher altitudes provide only malginal crops and were used as grazing lands for sheep and cattle in the summer months. A trek or a drive into the valley provides glimpses of variant crop patterns thriving in temperate to tropical climatic zones. Famous for not having introduced commercial growing of fruits into the hills, the unique dress that the Kotgarh women wears ‘raista’, a full length skirt like garment with a attached blouse which has become trademark of Himachali women.