The farmer of Kotgarh

By SUSAN VISVANATHAN Feb 28 2014

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

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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.

http://www.seetalvanorchard.com

email: seetalvan@gmail.com
Contact number :  +91 9805127139+91 9805127139

Apple Tree Cottage

http://www.appletreecottage.co.in

Email: stay@appletreecottage.co.in
Call Us: +91-9818519382+91-9818519382
Address: Purnima Orchards, Village Bharedhar, Kotgarh, District Shimla, Himachal Pradesh

Banjara Orchard Retreat

Thanedar

Phone: +91-11-65152334+91-11-65152334/5/6
Email: info@banjaracamps.com

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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HISTORY of KOTGARH

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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Christianity In Kotgarh

On 22nd February 1910, at the Cathedral Church of the Resurrection in Lahore, Bishop George Alfred Lefroy (1854-1922) inaugurated the Brotherhood of the Imitation of Jesus. Reverend Samuel Stokes (1882-1946), an American missionary, became the provisional Minister-General of this Franciscan Brotherhood. Reverend Frederick Western (1880-1951) of the Cambridge Mission to Delhi and Reverend C. F. Andrews (1871-1940) possessed loose personal associations with the Brotherhood. Its intent embraced service to the sick and education for the young.

The Brotherhood was located at Kotgarh in Punjab. It had ties with the Church Missionary Society and the Protestant Episcopal Church of the United States. The Brotherhood collapsed in 1912 when Stokes left it to marry an Indian woman; the later phase of Chritistian religious and missionary activities started to take on a dramatic turn their on.

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