Vidya Stokes: I work harder than many half my age

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Vidya Stokes: I work harder than many half my age

An active politician at 86, she works for 10-12 hours a day but has never taken a salary in her entire career


  • “We are in politics to serve humanity. It doesn’t behove on us to hold the public office for personal gains,” Stokes, the country’s first woman speaker, said.

At 86, there’s nothing that can stop Congress veteran and Himachal Pradesh’s senior minister Vidya Stokes. As the No 2 in the state cabinet, she spends most of her time in office but has no desire to take that one final step to the chief minister’s slot.

“On an average, I spend at least 10-12 hours daily in meeting the public and attending to my office,” Stokes, who has just completed four decades in active politics, said in an interview.

The eight-time legislator, who holds irrigation and public health, horticulture and science and technology portfolios, said: “If I am not touring, I prefer to remain present in the office.”

Born on December 8, 1927, Stokes is known in political circles for her clean image — she has never taken any salary, be it as a legislator or minister, throughout her political career.

“We are in politics to serve humanity. It doesn’t behove on us to hold the public office for personal gains,” Stokes, the country’s first woman speaker, said.

“I work harder than many others who may be half my age.”

Asked why she was never offered the top post despite her proximity to the Gandhi family, Stokes replied: “I am satisfied, at least not keen now to become the chief minister.”

“Throughout my political career I remained loyal to the party. Whatever the party offered me, I accepted it with grace. This time too I was told before the cabinet formation that I would be given an important portfolio [public works department]. But, somehow, there was some changes at the last minute,” she said.

Stokes, the daughter-in-law of an American missionary, became active in state politics in 1974 after the death of her husband Lal Chand Stokes.

“Before entering politics, I was the youngest woman director in the State Bank of India [1972-73],” she said.

She is also known for her masterstrokes in promoting Indian hockey. In August 2010, she surprised many on being elected the president of Hockey India, the game’s governing body for both men and women, by defeating Olympian Pargat Singh.

“I was interested in hockey when I was not even in politics in the early 1960s. During my stint in various capacities as a hockey administrator, I tried to equip the players with modern gadgets and extend maximum facilities.”

“My priority was to mobilise funds, both for the game and the players,” said Stokes, who was the president of the Indian Women’s Hockey Association for five consecutive terms in 1984, 1988, 1994, 2003 and 2009. Hockey India was formed in 2009.

She is also known for being on a noncereal diet for the last 50 years. “Fruit, salads, soups and vegetables are the perfect recipe of fitness and surviving for long.”

Stokes, who was the power minister in the state from 2003 to 2007, loves a banana or an apple with yoghurt or low-calorie biscuits for breakfast. Her lunch is usually soup and baked vegetables and dinner comprises dal and salads.

Her father-in-law Satyanand (Samuel Evans Stokes Junior) first introduced high-quality apples in the Kotgarh-Thanedar belt in upper Shimla in the early 1920s.

Stokes, who was elected to the state assembly for the first time in 1974, now manages most of her family’s orchards in upper Shimla. “On my weekly off days or holidays, I prefer to take care of my orchards,” she said.


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The farmer of Kotgarh


The story of Samuel Evans aka Satyanand Stokes who brought new crops to Shimla.


How I came across the farmer of Kotgarh is an interesting tale by itself. So bear me out before I come to the story of Satyanand Stokes. I was drawn to Shimla’s potatoes when I was working on my essay, Summer Hill: The Building of Viceregal Lodge, published by the Indian Institute of Advanced Studies in 2009. So I visited the Central Potato Research Institute and found out that the spuds grown in Himachal Pradesh were being sold to makers of American style hot chips, and, more interestingly, that it originated in South America.

Pamela Kanwar in her book Imperial Simla points to Captain Charles Pratt Kennedy as the one who introduced potatoes in the hills. He was posted as garrison officer till 1821, and then the political agent, controlling the hill states. He was a good host who fed his guests, including Lord Amherst, well and gave them champagne, hock and mocha coffee at dinner and Calcutta journals at breakfast. He worked only one hour after breakfast, according to Kanwar. But that was enough to unfurl roads, houses and bazaars as they came to be built.

Fascinated, I dug more and came across Raja Bhasin’s Simla: The Summer Capital in which he cites Rudyard Kipling and says Shimla is all about good life: dances, picnic, theatres and flirtations. But then Vipin Pubby in his Simla: Then and Now sets it right. He talks about the problem of landless forced labour in his book. The practice was finally abolished in 1929 by Samuel Evans Stokes, a close associate of Mahatma Gandhi, and the “farmer of Kotgarh”.

Satyanand Stokes, as he came to be known, is a fascinating Himachali. In the archives of Teen Murti Library, I found a record that he had left behind for his family. It was a legacy of letters. The first set recorded his correspondence with his mother in America, about a patient he was looking after who died a most terrible death. Stokes horror and his helplessness at the boy’s terminal illness is a frightening record of how illness a hundred years ago left the attendant completely enervated and sorrowful.

Stokes then goes to Kotgarh, where he falls in love with a village girl called Agnes who shyly accepts his overtures of affection. His love for her is intense and he soon marries her. He writes to his mother on June 5, 1912: “I thank god that Agnes is to be my wife. I think that I have truly fallen in love with her and I am looking forward to our marriage with great eagerness.” For Stokes, the love remains a constant space that allows him to engage with the “inner life of India”.

On December 27, 1912, he writes that they are honeymooning at the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay, and the village girl is now completely at ease with strangers. “Agnes is greatly taken with saris — the long silk article of dress, which the Parsi ladies wear here.”

Stokes returns to Kotgarh and Barobagh and his interest in farming is already evident. On May 28, 1913, he writes: “It will interest you to know that I have taken to what I never thought would interest me even a little bit — gardening. Each morning early and every evening I am out in my garden among my peas, beans, pumpkins and cabbages.”

For him, his plants were like his babies, and he turned the earth “as if I were arranging their bed clothes for them and tucking them in like babies up to the chin. This of course sounds silly, but I cannot help feeling like a father to them for all that”.

On August 20, 1913, he writes: “One of the things which I intend to do when in America is to go in for a selection of good wheats and grass-seeds to introduce out here. If I can find anything, which will yield the farmer a larger crop per acre, and if I am able to import, I shall be doing the people a very real service. At present, the difficulty is to subsist on the small amount of land owned by each. The introduction of potatoes has greatly helped, and if I could only follow it up by the introduction of other useful things I should be delighted.”

A visit to Agnes’ grandmother’s house dazzles him, as he writes to his mother on September 10, 1913: “It is a beautiful day at the end of the rainy season. As I sit here upon the porch of Dhan Singh’s house, the shout of the ploughman comes to my ears, and when I look out across the fields I can see the hillsides covered with labouring oxen. I thank god for this beautiful country and for the balm it is to my spirit, which has been in the last two years so cut and torn, and is now by his mercy receiving comfort and strength again.”

After three sons are born — named Premchand, Pritam, and Tarachand — Stokes is busy, helping his wife, and at the same time, intent on educating her too. He writes to his mother on September 20, 1916: “I do the best I can to make the burden as light as possible, and do all the night work and washing of most of the bottles myself, but there are three babies to bathe and feed, and all the house-keeping and managing to be attended to by her….I am glad that in the midst of all her activities she continues to make time for reading. She has just got through four or five of Fennimore Cooper’s books and now she is devoting herself to George Elliot’s works; at present she is absorbed in Adam Bede… Here we are engaged in the autumn sowing of wheat and barley. I have got a number of fine big fields in shape since our return, and all being well, hope to have all our principle provisions from our own place next year. We have now got in all our potato crop — it amounted to over four tonnes, and after keeping what we need for sowing and home consumption we sold the rest for a good sum, getting the best price in the neighbourhood because our potatoes were the finest… So you see that at last I have gone in for selling. I don’t like it but see that it must be done. It would be crazy to distribute our surpluses at present. I have, therefore, determined to sell all that I can (I won’t do it myself, but my foremen does it better than I could,) and make it an aim to eventually pay all our expenses off the place. The aim is interesting even if the means does not appeal.”

This marketing aspect particularly interested me: sociologists always want to know the relation between the producer, buyer and consumer across time and in differing circumstances. So I took the address of a descendant of Stokes from the publicity officer at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study in Shimla and caught a bus, which dropped me off on a hilly road. Then I had to take a detour down to where the house was. The descendent was an MLA and was in Delhi, so I could not speak with her, though the domestic staff was friendly and the house and garden a delight. There’s always next time, I suppose.

(Susan Visvanathan is professor of sociology in the School of Social Sciences, JNU, New Delhi, and the author of Reading Marx, Weber and Durkheim Today)

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Places to stay in Kotgarh

Seetalvan Orchard

Seetalvan Orchard, nestled in the tiny village-town of Kotgarh-Thanedar,  invites its guests to share a stunning panorama of the majestic western Himalayas.  It offers charming newly-built cottages that are an ideal blend of warmth, rustic appeal and luxury.  It also offers exciting sightseeing and adventure tours.

Contact number :  +91 9805127139+91 9805127139

Apple Tree Cottage

Call Us: +91-9818519382+91-9818519382
Address: Purnima Orchards, Village Bharedhar, Kotgarh, District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

Banjara Orchard Retreat


Phone: +91-11-65152334+91-11-65152334/5/6

Location : Thandar ,Kotgarh, Shimla 172030


HPPWD Rest House Kotgarh
Address: Kotgarh Hospital Rd, Kotgarh, Himachal Pradesh 172030


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Kotgarh – A Poem

-A poem by Erica Mehta

Kotgarh is located on the left bank of Satluj river,
The climate here will never make you shiver.
The only lake in kotgarh is Tani Jubber,
Hindus as well as Christians live here.
Britishers built many buildings of gothic architecture,
The St.Mary Church and Gorton Mission School Reflect their culture.
People here believe in many devtas,
But my family worships only king cobra.
Famous for orchards of almonds and apples,
It is also known as the apple heartland of himachal.
From Hatu you can see the whole Kotgarh’s view,
I am sure this place will be able to please you.


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Unexplored Weekend Getaways

Jan 26, 2013

Hatu Peak near Narkanda, Himachal Pradesh

Photos of Hatu Peak, Narkanda

This photo of Hatu Peak is courtesy of TripAdvisor

NARKANDA, situated at an attitude of 2708 meters on the Hindustan Tibet road (NH – 22), Narkanda offers a spectacular view of snow ranges. An ideal retreat for the tourists who seek seclusion in mountains. You see unique view of the eternal snow line, the inviting apple orchards and dense forests. Narkanda is famous for Skiing & Winter sports. During these days the slopes come alive with skiers. The skiing at Narkanda was started in 1980 and since then HPTDC is conducting skiing courses every year. Narkanda is a gateway to apple country of Himachal Pradesh.We were in shimla and planned a weekend getaway to narkanda. It was a 3hr drive with lot of fresh cherries and apples on our way. You get a box of cherries for Rs100 and they taste real yum.

We reached HPTDC, HOTEL HATU NARKANDA, this tourist guest house which is ideally located offering spectacular views of snow clad ranges. The lawn for breakfast and lunch was very enjoyable and food was really good just felt like home made food.According to me this place is the best for stay at narkanda. People are very hospitable and service is excellent.

The area has forests of fir and spruce, with a smattering of maple, aspen and cedar trees. The skiing slopes are close by. A wooded trek route takes you to Hatu Peak unfolding a magnificient vista of undulating meadows, snow peaks and valleys. Ahead lie the Greater Himalaya and a number of peaks – the Kinner Kailash, the Srikhand and the Kullu ranges. Hatu’s flank hold stretches of apple orchards and acres of wild flowers.

Note: Hatu HPTDC Guest House Address
ADDRESS : The Hatu, Narkanda, Dist. Shimla (H.P.) -171213. Tel: (01782) – 242430, 242509

Narkanda is a destination for a quiet holiday in the heart of nature.In winter, the temperature can hover around freezing point when heavy woolens are required. During summer, the climate is pleasant and cottons / light woolens are suggested. Narkanda receives heavy snowfall in winters.

Well the hotel manager asked us to explore hatu peak (3300m) : 8 km from Narkanda. And we agreed, we drove through pine and spruce trees. On top of the hill, ancient Hatu Mata temple is located. The peak offers spectacular view of the entire Himalayan ranges, snow clad mountains and in depths are the dense forests, green fields and apple orchards. Hiking is recommended to reach the peak.

This place was just awesome and we really enjoyed our time watching clear blue skies.

If you have time you can also explore KOTGARH AND THANEDHAR.
KOTGARH AND THANEDHAR (1830m) : 17 km link road bifurcating from Narkanda takes you to the Himachal’s Horticultural heartland, Kotgarh and Thanedhar, renown for apple orchards. The famous Stokes Farm is located at Thanedhar. Stokes came to India on a trip and while on a summer visit to Shimla, fell in love with its environments, which included the charming hill folk and settled down in Kotgarh. He started the apple farm which soon became renown with its Red Delicious, Golden Delicious and Royal Delicious,apples.

Enjoy this small quiet place and dont forget to eat bhuttas and local shop teas and matris.
Also you can explore local market for hand knit woollen clothes and shoes which are pretty cheap.

Source: Click Here

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Top British Era Schools in Himachal

Read full article here

6. Gorton Mission School, Kotgarh

Gorton Mission School, Kotgarh

Gorton Mission School in Kotgarh is claimed to be the oldest school in Asia. It was set up in 1843 by Christian Missionaries who had also built a church and hospital in Kotagarh. Kotagarh is a small town near Narkanda and is famous for its apples. The school was named after Gorton who was a public servant in Shimla. Gorton Mission School has a long history and continues to provide traditional values to its students.

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Originally called Sandoch and later Gurukot, little is known about its past before the Gurkhas came to world sway over the region during the early 19th century. The Gurkha rule ended in 1815 when British forces defeated Gurkha armies and retained a few pockets of land in the hills. Kotgarh was one of them and it became a British territory wedged between autonomous hill states.

The British government retained it as a military post and over the years it became a trading centre as well, probably the farthest in the north. But soon the cantonment was wound up and the buildings and property handed over to missionaries. The British government encouraged missionary work in Kotgarh to enhance its influence in the area.

St Mary’s Church was built in Kotgarh in 1873 and schools were opened in Kotgarh and the surrounding villages. Murry’s Handbook of Punjab, 1883, described Kotgarh as a “pretty little place with a post office, a pretty church and a missionary station”. Little has changed since then.

Unlike Shimla that grew from a tiny village to become the summer capital of British India, Kotgarh has remained almost frozen in time. The pretty wooden church with its old graveyard, the Gorton Mission School and other buildings that survive today hold lingering images of a bygone era.

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