15th August 2015, Saturday…….Day(3) Kotgarh-Tani Jubbar Lake-Thanedar-Kumarsain 125km
The morning at FRH Kotgarh was unique. The windows of the room were large and opened into a lawn overlooking apple orchards. The apples were ripe and ready to be plucked. We could see many varieties of apples and blooming flowers of varied colors right through our window. It was perhaps first time that we were in this kind of atmosphere.
Chowkidar brought tea right at 8 am as he had promised the previous night. After tea I went walking around the rest house, clicked few pictures. I saw some people chatting loudly from a nearby orchard. On closer look I found some city folks were plucking apples from the orchard with lot of excitement.
I heard a voice calling me to come up to a vantage point for clicking pictures. I went up on the roof and met an old young man who greeted me with big smile and grand handshake. I felt as if bones of my hand would break in his strong grip.
The man was 84 years old Mr Rattan Dass. He has seen Kotgarh change from an army camp to a bustling apple country. He told me that he has a big family, three sons, one of them died of a heart attack at a very young age after retirement from army.
Despite this Mr Rattan Dass looked very positive, strong and lively. He told me many things about Kotgarh. He pointed finger towards a building and told me that, that used to be a court. The area behind the building used to be an army line and that the area where we were standing had an army camp and was still called chhavni (Camp).
I thanked the old young man and bade goodbye but not before shaking hand with iron grip. I wonder what his handshake would have been in younger years. I suppose most people would have dreaded shaking hand with him as he would have broken many a bones. I was told, later, that Mr Dass does most of his work himself and is not dependant on others. What a man….!
After a wonderful encounter with old young man I walked to a nearby lane and into an orchard. There, I saw two young girls washing clothes. They smiled and asked where I was from and what I was looking for. After listening to me they told me that they were studying in Solan and offered me to pluck apples from their orchard.
I told them that my wife was fond of orchards and would love to pluck ripe apples. I promised them to be back with her soon.
It was 10am, time for breakfast comprising aloo ka paratha, butter, pickle and tea. We then walked to the same lane and into the orchard of those sweet girls. The girls were still there washing clothes. Greeting my wife with another innocent smile, the elder girl got up and helped my wife pluck lapful of those delicious apples.
From the orchard we went walking to nearby school and church. We were greeted by a very gracious lady Ms Anita, a teacher. She directed a man to open the gates of the church and told us not to leave before having tea with them.
The 150 years old church was built with local wood and material and was still in great shape. There was an old piano inside the church which was still in use. The atmosphere inside the church was very peaceful and soothing.
We came out of the church and joined a group gathered in the veranda of an old building which used to be a court and currently the residence of the priest. We were greeted by the group with warmth and a smile.
It was Sunday, 15th August, the 68th independence day of our country. The group was gathered for prayers and distributing sweets. We were also offered some sweets. After a while Nikhil and Shivani joined too.
We sang songs and talked at length about the people and the area. The group also sang a song welcoming us, the guests to their place. The people of the area are very beautiful, open hearted and welcoming. Woman seems to enjoy lot of respect.
We took leave from the group at Kotgarh and then drove back to Tani Jubbar lake. The entire road was lined up with ripe apple trees and we could not resist plucking few of those and eating too.
I went inside a big orchard and saw hundreds of apple trees spread all over. A pathway lead to a beautiful farm house and godown, the entire path was lined up with ripe apples covered with hail nets and full bloom flowers of various shades and colors. The walk was a memorable one, infect a dream come true.
The lake and the area looked very beautiful in daylight. We were at the place the previous night and the same looked dreadful in the dark of the night. Had nice time walking, resting and clicking pictures around the lake.
While surfing the net to know more about Satyanand Stokes, I came to know that he was a son of a very wealthy American businessman and came to india in 1904 at the age of 22 to work at a leper colony situated at Subathu (Shimla) as he felt more joy in serving others than making money.
In 1912 he married a local woman, purchased a big chunk of land and settled down in the area. In 1916, he brought a new strain of apples developed at Louisiana (USA) as being suitable to the Shimla hills and began cultivating them on his farm.
In 1932, he converted to Hinduism and became active in India’s freedom struggle. He had the rare honour of being the only American to become a member of the AICC (Indian National Congress).
Along with Lala Lajpat Rai, he represented Punjab and 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.
Soon we reached Thanedar market. On the way we met Mr Ranvir Mehta, the man who had helped us book PWD rest house at Kotgarh, thanked him from the core of our heart and moved down to the market.
I wanted to walk up to the Stoke temple but the group was not in the mood to walk. So leaving the temple aside and a cup of tea later we drove down to Bithal.
After having great time in the apple country Kotgarh, Thanedar and Tani Jubber, we drove, 24 kilometers, on a narrow steep down hill road to Bithal and joined NH 22.
The drive was beautiful and scary at times. At one point a DL number car brushed aside our car on a narrow road, a clear mistake by that DL driver. We stopped…they stopped too but we let them go politely.
By the time we reached Bithal evening began setting in, crossed Kingal and over drove Kumarsain as we could not locate the right turn to Kumarsain.
Soon we discovered our mistake and returned back on the correct road and found PWD Rest House at Kumarsain easily as it was right near the bus stand.
The Chowkidar told us to wait as the rooms which were blocked by some officials were still vacant and the guests had not yet arrived. After confirming over phone he asked us to check in. The rooms were big, old, yet good enough for us.
Dinner was again nice and well served……………!!!