Narkanda: Gateway to Apple Country

Shepherds like these are all over himachal. They travel from place to place with huge flock of sheep using roads such as these. (sanjay austa austa)

Narkanda- Baghi Road. Nomadic shepherds like these tour all over himachal. 


Published first in the Deccan Herald

Walking down Shimla’s Mall with its rows of Dominos Pizzas, Café-Coffee Days, and Baristas you could be forgiven to think you were back in Janpath or Connaught Place in New Delhi. Shimla, with its rapid urbanisation and the concomitant fallouts ; water shortages, parking problems, traffic snarls and the mushrooming ill-designed  buildings on the   tree-denuded hills, can barely be distinguished from any noisy , crowded Indian city.

The true getaways in Himachal Pradesh now lie beyond its congested capital. And every year more and more tourists are using Shimla only as a night’s stopover before heading out to these greener, quieter , wilder places beyond.

Narkanda is  one such small town. It is a hinterland deep in Shimla district which offers visitors not only peace but a chance to explore the beautiful apple orchard countryside. Located 64 kilometres from Shimla, Narkanda lies at an altitude of 2708 meters above sea level and is therefore relatively colder surrounded as it is  by dense deodar, pine and rhododendron forests.

Like all small Himachali towns,  the central building in Narkanda is its temple. One cannot miss it as it lies bang in the middle of an intersection and you can see the locals slow their cars to bow to the temple goddess before they drive on.  The Narkanda Bazaar is littered with small untidy shops that sell anything from a spicy 10 rupees chole-puri to sophisticated insecticides bought by the apple orchardists from nearby villages.

 (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Apple Harvest

Once you leave the commotion of  the crowded bazaar you are treated to  breathtaking views of the snow-capped Himalayas. You can see the panoramic view of the jagged snowy peaks which  stretch the entire length  of the horizon. This spectacular view has made Narkanda a favorite destination for nature lovers. For the adventure seekers, Narkanda offers some of the best trekking routes in Himachal. Hatu Peak  is over 6 kilometers  from Narkanda and offers a beautiful trek through a dense forest. At 3400 meters it is the highest peak for miles around and reaching its top one can savour the same exhilaration as perhaps a hardy mountaineer.

Like all hill summits, Hatu Peak is also a religious place with its  temple and  designated deity. Once a year (June 20) people from all the apple growing villages lying below Hatu gather here for a traditional festival that has been celebrated for generations. In the past, the villagers would walk up to Hatu. But today a motorable road  cuts up through the  dense forest and meanders to the top. The economy of the apple growers has thrived over the years and now they drive up to Hatu in their fancy four-wheel drives. The road has made Hatu accessible to everyone but it has certainly taken a charm out of this beautiful summit. Sanctions for roads though dense forests have a strict protocol in Himachal but surprisingly the Himachal politicians did not think twice before cutting a road through this precious  forest to a hill top where no one lives save for the temple priest.

Treks from Narkanda can also be made to the apple orchards. One such  trek from Narkanda leads to  Baghi a sleepy apple orchard area, 15 kilometers from Narkanda. In British India, Baghi was a haunt of the Viceroys and their minions who found it a good stopover for a hunting expedition in the thick forests. Today Baghi is famous for its apple crop and over a short span of time has seen unprecedented economic development.  For those who want to see the splendour of a white apple blossom May is the best time to visit. For those who are enchanted by an apple laden tree, anytime between late August and October is great.

In the orchard belt of Upper Shimla it used to snow a lot more 15 years ago. There has been rampant deforestation and it hardly snows anything now. (sanjay austa austa)

In the orchard belt it used to snow a lot more 15 years ago. There has been rampant deforestation and it snows less and less each year.

Besides its fantastic treks,  Narkanda  also offers a great  opportunity for  winter sports. Skiing in the winters attracts both the amateur and the professional. The skiing slopes are a kilometre’s walk from Narkanda town and has both gradual and steep slopes. Due to intensive deforestation in Himachal over the decades,  there has been decrease in the amount of snowfall. This is a major worry for the skier as not enough snow piles on the Narkanda slopes for them to ski effectively. Less snowfall is also detrimental to the apples which need at least 1000 cumulative chilling hours for a good bud formation.

How to get there:  The road to Narkanda is a National Highway. Local and long-route buses ply from Shimla after ever ten minutes. Taxis are also available.

Where to Stay: Circuit House in Narkanda is the best bet not only because it is the  highest point in Narkanda offering the best view of the snow-capped peaks but also because it is an historic building where the British Viceroys themselves stayed. Prior booking in Shimla has to be done for a room in the  Circuit house.  HPTDC hotel and Hatu hotel also offer a good view of the snow-capped  peaks.

Variegated Laughingthrush. We don't see too many of them but a short respite from the rains today brought them out. Baghi- Ratnari. Himachal Pradesh (sanjay austa sanjayausta@gmail.)

Variegated Laughingthrush – The beautiful bird you can find in the jungles here.

This is an old Himachali village in snow. The name of this village is Bakhrala in Kotkhai tehsil of Shimla district. (sanjay austa austa)

An old Himachali village in snow. 

Old houses in a village in Himachal apple orchards. (sanjay austa austa)

Apple orchard belt Baghi- Ratnari Valley. 

4 Responses to “Narkanda: Gateway to Apple Country”

  1. Anil says:

    Sanjay, you’ve taken me back to 1968 and my first trek from Simla to Kothgarh. We did it the long way and the scenic way stopping at those lovely “Daak Bungalows” along the way. Simla – Fahu- Matiana – Narkanda – Hatu Pk – Khadrala – Sungri – down to the river [cannot remember the name of the villages] and the climb up to Kothgarh. I remember we passed a place called Bali [or Bhali] on the way as well….


    • sanjay austa says:

      Hi Anil, Thanks for sharing your experience. Trek from Shimla to Kothgarh must have been a long but fun trek. I am sure you must have crossed far more greener areas and forests than what you have left now. Yes these small towns were indeed `Daak Bungalow’ during British India and each of them had a circuit house for the government officials.

      • Anil says:

        Yes a longish trek it was but not too strenous [back then!]. I do remember the flat and fertile banks of the Sutlej vividly. The forests on Hatu were really old and dense. Have been back recently, and the marks of “progress” are all over the place now!

  2. fantastic post, very informative. I’m wondering why the other experts of this sector do not understand this. You should proceed your writing. I’m sure, you’ve a huge readers’ base already!

Leave a Reply