It was during a long weekend in June last year that my husband and I decided to head out of Delhi in search of the forbidden fruit. The Eden we had in mind was Thanedar, in the hills of Himachal Pradesh. We set off well before dawn, driving on the smooth highway to Chandigarh and wending our way through Kasauli, Solan, Shimla, Kufri and Narkanda, the often frequented summer getaways of the north.

It was late evening by the time we pulled up at the Banjara Orchard Retreat in Thanedar that would be our home for the next three days. But the minute we spotted the heavily laden apple trees lining the lanes of this village, we forgot how weary we were. Although it was only the beginning of the apple season (end of June-August), the weighed-down trees announced it would be a good one.

We woke up early next morning to magnificent views of the distant Dhauladhar mountains covered in a soft blue haze. The weather was perfect for an exploratory hike and aimless walking around the village. There were apples of varying colours—from rich reds to pale greens—and sizes, hanging from trees along the route. Everyone in the hamlet seemed to be involved in the apple business in some manner, and workers at the orchards cheerfully invited us to pluck apples pretty much wherever we felt like it.

Someone suggested a visit to the neighbouring village of Kotgarh—an easy 30-minute walk. On the rough path downhill, we crossed more apple trees, some lonesome in backyards, some part of dense orchards. After numerous rest and photo breaks, we arrived at Kotgarh just when the small St Mary’s Church was set to close after the morning service. Seeing the two of us hesitate, the pastor invited us in for a quick look at the church built in 1872. Despite its diminutive size, or perhaps because of it, it was a delightful space, with stained-glass windows throwing in muted sunlight, and a couple of colourful religious paintings on the walls.

My interest in Kotgarh lay mainly in the fact that it had been home to Samuel Evans Stokes Jr, the American missionary responsible for turning this region into the country’s apple hub. Stokes made his way to India in 1904 on a spiritual path, but soon joined the freedom movement.

By then, apples had been farmed desultorily in the area for a few decades. It was Stokes, however, who introduced the Golden Delicious variety from the US, charting a new future for apple cultivation. His home and orchards in Kotgarh are not open to visitors, so we headed back to Thanedar.

Later in the evening, we drove up to the nearby Hatu Peak, on narrow mountain roads lined by towering pine and oak trees. At over 11,000ft, it offered serene views of the distant peaks and the plains.

Apples grow in abundance in Himachal Pradesh.
Apples grow in abundance in Himachal Pradesh.

The next day, we gained deeper insights into apple farming right at the Banjara Orchard Retreat, with evocative names like Red Delicious, Aurora Golden Gala and McIntosh whizzing past our ears. The evening melted into night over a bonfire filled with stories of mountains, missionaries and apples. I drifted off to sleep with the lingering fragrance of apple blossom wafting through my room.

Delhi to Thanedar

Distance: 438km

Top tip: Shop for fruit wines in flavours like apple, plum, kiwi and strawberry at state government outlets along the route.

Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros.

Charukesi Ramadurai tweets at @charukesi

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