How the apple came to India

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By: Rishad Saam Mehta

Narkanda is a typical Himalayan town with its share of fruit vendors lining the bazaar, Nepali porters scurrying around like headless chickens, snow-capped peaks in the background and jeep taxis bursting at the seams with humanity. The national highway number 22 takes a sharp U-turn after the market and continues towards Rampur. However there is a narrow road leading straight from the market up into the mountains and it was this road that led me to the story I now relate to you. Fifteen kilometres on that road lies the pretty little hamlet of Thanedar and a cosy little bungalow that is the Banjara retreat in Thanedar. Prakash Thakur runs this cottage surrounded by apple orchards. And as I came in from the cold, tired and stiff after a seven-hour drive through snow and ice, his cook put on the kettle and had a cup of steaming ginger tea ready in a snap. He told me the story of the man who introduced to India, the deliciously sweet apples that we now enjoy. Samuel Evan Stokes, 21, came to India with the intention of working at a home for lepers in the Simla hills. He married a local pahari girl, played an active role in India’s freedom struggle and was even jailed by the British. Somewhere along the way, he introduced apple crop in the hills around Shimla.

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1904
Samuel Evan Stokes lands in Bombay on February 26

1912
He marries Agnes, a Rajput-Christian woman on September 12

Six kilometres away from Thanedar at Kotgarh stands an old church built by the British in 1843. In the early 1900’s Stokes was sent here to recuperate from the heat of the Indian plains. He’d come to India with a doctor couple — Mr and Mrs Carleton — who were working with the Leprosy Mission of India.During a visit to Philadelphia, the couple had been asking for donations at the local church for their work in India and young Stokes was very moved by their cause and dedication and wanted to help out by voluntarily working for the mission in India.

1916

Stokes plants a few apple saplings in his Barobagh orchard in Thanedar

He faced a lot of opposition from his family because he was heir to the family’s prosperous business of elevators. Incidentally, Stokes and Parish Elevator Company later merged with Otis Elevators. But young Stokes was determined and his family relented to let him follow his heart and Samuel landed in Bombay on the February 26, 1904.

His voluntary work with the Leprosy Mission started in Sabatoo in what was then Punjab. Now the heat of the Indian plains doesn’t go too well with everybody and soon Stokes found himself a victim of the heat and dust and was sent to the Kotgarh church to rest and recuperate in May 1904.

With time on his hands he set about exploring the surrounding hills and the trail that was the old Hindustan-Tibet road. And Thanedar (called the “Mistress of the Northern Hills ? by Rudyard Kipling) worked her charms on him and he found himself completely in love with the place. In a drastic step he decided that he wanted to spend the rest of his life here.

1921

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He is arrested and jailed. Pictured above: His jail number at Lahore Central Jail

Though he was a westerner he didn’t share the British notion that dark skinned was inferior. As a matter of fact he had a way with the locals and he tried to understand their problems and help them in any way he could. He also stood up for them and was one of the most forceful protesters of the British system of forced labour. This delighted the locals who took him into their hearts and he became one of them. He married a Rajput-Christian woman called Agnes on September 12, 1912.

Realising that her son was determined to spend his life in India, Florence Stokes came visiting in 1911. During that time, the area that is Thanedar today was a 200-acre tea plantation owned by a widow called Mrs Bates. Stokes’s mother bought him the plantation as a gift on February 6, 1912 for the princely sum of Rs 30,000.

Captain R C Scot of the British army had introduced apples to the Kullu valley in 1870. These apples, the Newton Pippin, King of Pippin and the Cox’s Orange Pippin were strains of the English sour apples that were not popular because of their taste. To meet the demand of the Indian market, sweet apples were still being imported from Japan.

1926
The first apple trees bear fruit and the apples are sold
It was during a visit to America in 1915 that Samuel Stokes heard about the new strain of apples patented by the Stark Brothers nursery in Louisiana called the Red Delicious. He bought a few saplings and planted them at his Barobagh orchard in Thanedar in the winter of 1916. Five years later his mother sent him a consignment of saplings of the Stark Brothers Golden Delicious Apples as a Christmas gift. The first apples bore fruit a few years later and were sold in 1926.

They were an instant hit. The divinely sweet taste and the inviting colour had the Indian market going crazy over them. Their popularity even spurred locals into planting these, rather than their usual crops of potato and plums.

Also, because they considered Samuel Evans Stokes as one of them, they sought his advice and he helped them achieve rich dividends with their harvest. Soon the demand for the Kotgarh apples sky-rocketed and orchards cropped up all over the valleys of what is today Himachal Pradesh, to meet this demand.

1932
Stokes becomes an Arya Samaji and changes his name to Satyanand Stokes

The imports from Japan stopped.

It is from these first few saplings that the Sweet Delicious Apples of Shimla and the Golden Delicious of Kinnaur became popular and Himachal Pradesh grew to become one of the largest producers of the fruit today.

So the next time you bite into a juicy red or golden apple think about Samuel Evans Stokes whose vision and desire to help the locals brought these apples to Himachal Pradesh.
The next morning Thakur took me around to explore Thanedar. We went up to Harmony hall — the Stokes family house. A two-storied house built atop a hillock surrounded on three sides by snow capped peaks. Around the house are the apple orchards of Barobagh — the place where it all started.

1937
He builds the temple that becomes his legacy to Thanedar
Next to the house is an Arya Samaj Mandir. As we sat in the courtyard of the temple reclining amidst the wooden pillars, surrounded by inscriptions from the Upanishads and Bhagvad Gita and gazing at the lofty white Himalayas that seemed a stones throw away, Thakur told me the second part of the Stokes story.

During his rest and recuperation days at the Kotgarh church, young Samuel came in contact with a lot of Sadhus on the Hindustan-Tibet road making their way to Kailash Mansarovar. While the priest of the church was finely robed and had three meals a day, the simplicity of these Sadhus perturbed him and set him thinking about the Hindu religion.

Later on in his life he also studied the Bhagvad Gita in English and then in an endeavour to understand it, learned Sanskrit and studied it again in that language. In 1932, he became an Arya Samaji and changed his name to Satyanand Stokes. The temple he built in 1937 was to be his legacy to Thanedar. Juggal Kishore Birla, a scion of Indian industry at that time contributed Rs 25,000 to encourage him. Called the Paramjyoti Mandir or the Temple of Eternal light, he wanted it to be a storybook in wood and stone.

how7.jpgStanding next to it 65 years later, I realised that it is indeed that. On its walls are verses from the Gita and the Upanishads, reading which give the seeker strength to bear his sorrows and help reach his goal.

1946
Satyanand Stokes dies on May 14. Seen here with Agnes and their youngest daugther, Satyavatihow8.jpg

Samuel Evans Stokes was the only American to participate in the Indian freedom movement. As a matter of fact when the first saplings of the Golden Delicious apples arrived from Washington in 1921, his wife Agnes planted them because Stokes was in jail along with other prominent leaders of the Indian freedom movement such as Mahatma Gandhi and Lala Lajpat Rai. Satyanand Stokes died on May 14, 1946. The widow of his youngest son Lal Chand

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Stokes is Vidya Stokes, who is the Congress party president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress party. She is also the former speaker of the HP Legislative Assembly and is rumoured to be the next chief minister of Himachal Pradesh.

Such is the story of Thanedar, a simple town high on a ridge on the Hindustan-Tibet road. A place so charming that it captured the heart of a young foreigner. Talk to the locals and even today and they’ll have a story about how this American in khadi touched the lives of their parents or grandparents and endeared him to their hearts.

Mid-Day
To know the entire life story of Satyavati Samuel, read – AN AMERICAN IN KHADI: The Definitive Biography of Satyanand Stokes, by Asha Sharma.

33 Comments

  • Jagjit Singh says:

    This is really a very good article. It not only tell us about the origin of apples in Himachal Pradesh but it is far more informative and knowledgeable. It really enhances my knowledge. Kuddos for posting such a nice article about Himachal Pradesh. Keep it up !!!

  • SEO says:

    Nice information. Didn’t know abt it earlier and even the fact that Vidya Stokes (Congress party president of the Himachal Pradesh Congress party)
    is from the family that bring apples to INDIA

  • ajay kanwar says:

    A really nice article on the history of apples.more information and real good reading is “an american in khadi” BY Mrs Asha Sharma..and “APPLES” by Mr SM Kanwar Proud to be a part of this family myself..My father Mr JM Kanwar an apple orchardist is practising apple farming in Thanedhar.I am a pilot in the navy and hope u all enjoy reading the history of apples to India.

    • LUCKY says:

      WE R MANUFACTURE OF APPLE GRADING MACHINE

      • anil vasandani says:

        hello i am a fruit commision agent in mumbai.our frims name is B.PRAHLAD ENTERPRISE CONTACT NO 9322269706, we get apples from himachal for sale. we even get apples from HARMONY HALL ORCHARDS.

  • manufacture of apple grading machine

  • Vivek Sharma says:

    Excellent article!

  • Raj Kumar Sharma says:

    This article is very informative on many counts. Freedom struggle on the part of a foreigner and the social work which he followed so painstakingly. His impressions left on the farmers
    economy of the hill-state. His political legacy in the hands of Mrs.Vidya Stokes is serving the country in the noblest form.
    Satya Nand Stokes should be considered as one of the truest sons of Mother India for the simple reason that his contribution are no less than any name worthy of his salt.

  • Dear sir/mam , I want to the apple bussiness to Manipur, In order to contact the distributer I need the website or e mail of the distributer in simla. could you please provide that for me please.

    Thank you.

  • Capt. Paramvir Singh says:

    Excellent article. We are proud of Mrs. Vidya stokes and as mentioned in this article, god willing she becomes the CM soon. I’m sure the apples will taste much better then.

  • NITYIN says:

    Stoke Saab, as he is popularly known in the area changed the geography and ecnomics of Kotgarh area for ever. This was an area where poorest of the poor resided and at that time no one from the lower areas of the hills never married the daughters into the hills as life was very tough. People in the lower hills were generally well off, as they used to own kyars which produced anaj for the year. People from higher hills used to work in these kyars.

    Stoke Saab had revolutionary ideas. People in general did not trust him as they thought he was here to convert people. He himself got converted to Hinduism and married a local girl of lower caste. He had to face ire of the locals and he could not enter house in the villages. Being a foreigner he used bon china curtlery which was also not approved by the locals as the upper caste people used brass plates. Even people who used to visit Stoke Saab and ate at his house were made out caste. My great grand father was also an “out caste” and could not even enter kitchen in his own house as per the dikaits.

    The best thing he ever did was starting a school at his home. My grand father studied there till 8th and then did his 10th from High School at Kotkhai and later worked with the Indian Air Force.

    • Manish says:

      Dear Nityin,

      In most of the places i read that Mr Samuel Evan Stokes married Agnes, a Rajput-Christian woman on September 12, but if i happens to believe you that his wife was from a lower caste in that case i am not able to understand how come second generation of Mr Mr Samuel Evan Stokes got married in the Elite families of Kotgarh even after having a lower caste family back ground… I mean his daughter Mrs Satyavati got married to Dr Y.S.Parmar (The first Chief Minister of H.P),.Mr Lal Chand Stokes got married to Mrs Vidya Stokes her father was a tehsildar at that time . and the other two Mr Prem Chand Stokes and Pretam Stokes got their wives from Bhalaik familes so i mean were they not aware of this fact or the money over shadowed other things…..

  • Dinesh says:

    My mind speaks what is there in the article. This article said the story behind the Himachal Apples. The important is now not extract the old stories, but the thing is what are the other better ideas to make good returns out of this natural boon to this part of the state.

  • Ashish says:

    Very nice and informative article.I was only searching information about apples , but i was very much impressed by Shri.Satyanand Stokes who chose a different path of life and came and worked for the people of India.Also I am happy to know that his decesors are also engaged for the society.
    All the best for Mrs.Vidya Stokes.

  • Ranjit Yadav says:

    Very Infomative page about the history of apples in india.. i like to have a small infomation from your respective end.. i want to start a business in chennai of apples.. i need to know from which part of H.P i can get apples and distributer details.. Since it will be charity business so need to have start up knowledge..

  • Priyanshoo chauhan says:

    This is an article which is very informative it is due to Mr. Stokes that today H.P. is considered as one of the richest state in India and apple plays an imp. part in all Himachalies lives because most of the upper belt in Himachal earns their living from horticulture produce.The seeds sown by Mr. stokes are bearing its fruit for every one in India…………

  • Shyam says:

    Informative

  • jagdish aggarwal says:

    i am 90 year old
    now live in usa
    i studied upto 8th class in gorton schoo; kotgarh /matric from padam high
    school in rampur bushar
    mr STOKES BECAME HINDU IN 1932
    CEREMONY WAS PERFORMED IN OUR BUNGALOW BELONGING TO FOREST DEPT
    SADHU SUNDER SINGH CAME TO OUR SCHOOL IN KOTGARH IN 1937
    HE ARRANGED A BED OF BURNING COAL IN COMPOUND OF GORTON SCHOOL
    I ALSO WALKED ON BURNING COAL
    RICH EXPERIENCE
    THANKS
    OPPORTUNITY TO WRITE
    JCA

  • Sanjeev sharma from kacheri (oddi) says:

    It is nlce and informative article.Being in this area ,i had been hoping to know about how apple come to this area.Now my thirst been little quenched.I’M impressed by mr stokes.I definetly read the memoir of mr stokes-an american in khadi by asha sharma.thanks lots

  • Ram Atwal says:

    Dear prakash Thakur

    Great work, very informative.

    Keep in touch , if I could be of any help to introduce New Zealand Apple variety in Kotgarh in future.

    Regards
    Ram Atwal
    006421516533

  • manjit karra says:

    thanx for this, great information about an Indian American.. good to read, A life a sacrify.. comforts of life

  • Pawan Sharma from Kacheri, Oddi (Shimla,HP) says:

    It has always given me an immense pleasure and feeling of pride to introduce myself as a native of the Apple Land, Shimla. I have noticed that Shimla has become the synonym of Apple in the minds of Indian Population and all the credit for this goes to none other than the great visionary & humanitarian Mr. Satyanand Stokes.
    Kudos to this pioneer for uplifting the economy of our hill state and bringing into the light our masses, culture and natural beauty of this heavenly place !!!

  • Bharat Justa says:

    It was great to go through. Gratitude to Mr Stokes for his visionary attempt to make good the lives of the inhabitants & heartiest thanks to the author for this article .
    The time needs another visionary to develop the supply chain management process & apple marketing & sales model to reap maximum benefits for the growers. Eagerly look forward to the same.

  • Narender Singh Chandel says:

    It was awesome information. I liked article very much

  • LaiqRamShyam Jadoon says:

    The efforts of the Stokes family for introducing apples in Himachal led to the economic social upliftment of the state especally in apple growing areas

  • Pawan Chauhan says:

    ‘Apple’ now have really boosted the economy of each orchardist and state as well. This is all because of what Mr Stokes did.. his efforts are never to be forgotten….
    But in recent years the imported apple has infringed the rights of himachal growers i would request madam stokes to takeup the matter in order to protect the apple growers of the state.

    pawan chauhan
    kotkhai

  • Sampul says:

    Nice article,usually we put only blames on foreigners but many of them enhanced out life and economy,Mr.stokes is one of them.

  • Rajiv Bhushan says:

    As I criss crossed the Apple state during my stint as area manager of ashok leyland the commercial vehicle manufacturer the legend of Mr. Stokes grew on me and like all of us startled me that the vision and endeavour of one man can be the harbinger of such a drastic swing in the fortune of so many people leading to himachal becoming a fruit economy . Hats off to the legend of stokes . But such stories need to reach to the bigger audience and the contribution of such a great magnitude should be celebrated

  • GR Building says:

    Anyone Interested Automatic Apple Grading ,Sorting Waxing & Policing Machine on very Reasonable Rates.

    Keep in Touch

    Kulwinder Paul
    Sirhind – Punjab

  • MOHIT KUMAR says:

    Nice article we hear about Himichal Pradesh apple ,life & economy Mr. Stokes.

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