Himachal Pradesh is known as the land of Gods and the epitaph becomes more befitting when one enters the tribal district of Kinnaur. Far from the maddening crowds the land provides seclusion and divine peace. The beautiful valleys among the high mountain ranges in the backdrop of Kinner Kailash mountain feature apple orchards on steep slopes, considered the finest on the sub-continent.
A Local Kinnauri Women Stand Before a Famous Apple Orchard
The apples grown there have a history that sounds surprisingly familiar to America’s own “Johny Appleseed” tales. If only modern Indians haggling with vendors for Red Delicious apples with stickers proclaiming their provenance as “Washington” knew that Himachal’s indigenous crop owes its existence to an American with a yen for Gandhian service and, well, apples.
Samuel Evans “Satyananda” Stokes was known as the appleman of Kotgarh. Thanks to Stokes, what is now considered “desi” apples from Kinnaur and Kullu were brought in from England and the US to take root here, much like Stokes himself.
Samuel Evans Stokes, Jr., was born into an American Quaker family. Samuel was drawn to the asceticism that is exalted in Indian spirituality and began living a simple, frugal life among the villagers, becoming a sort of Christian sannyasi. In 1904, aged 22, Samuel came to India to work at a leper colony located at Subathu in the Simla Hills. The lepers needed him and adored him and the other local people treated him with great respect because he was a white man doing a pious job. Once his parents realized that this job fulfilled some deep emotional need of their son, they supplied him with considerable money, which he used both for the leper colony and for helping local villagers in small ways, all of which further enhanced his respectability.
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.
The apple orchards changed the fortunes of the locals, giving them much-needed revenues for health care and development. Stokes saw great injustice in the region took on the cause for Indian independence. He was jailed for sedition and promoting hatred against the British government in 1921, becoming the only American to become a political prisoner of Great Britain in the freedom struggle.
On Stokes’ arrest, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: “That he (Stokes) should feel with and like an Indian, share his sorrows and throw himself into the struggle, has proved too much for the government. To leave him free to criticize the government was intolerable, so his white skin has proved no protection for him…”
He died on 14 May 1946 after an extended illness shortly before India’s Independence.
The history of apples in India is recounted in this article on the India Times.
Editor’s Note: Original World offers unique cultural immersion tours to the Kinnaur region and the Spiti Valley of India, the upcoming Ancient Cultures of the Indian Himalaya, which departs in September of 2014.