In Apple Town Rohru

Biting into a red apple with its juice trickling down our fingers and having a competition of sorts on who could make the loudest crunch, was our introduction to Rohru! This little known place bang in the middle of the largest apple belt in Himachal Pradesh is surprisingly unscathed by tourist hordes despite being only 110 kms away from Shimla.

We had unexpectedly stumbled upon this place when Anubhav decided to launch the EFYE program in Rohru. Travelling from Shimla, we came across several trucks laden with apples. Our cab driver happened to be friends with most of them, which resulted in an apple bounty for us. Munching the apples, while soaking in the warm afternoon sun with a view of the mountains to die for, summed up my idea of an ideal holiday. Traditionally built houses dotted the landscape, with rooms which had numerous windows covering the entire length and breadth of it.

We reached Rohru late in the afternoon, travelling along the river Pabbar with the water glittering under the overhead sun. We happened to visit this place right in the middle of the apple harvesting season and the place was abuzz with activity. The harvest had been good and as evening approached, people chose to show their happiness in a way that is universal—by drinking-in the streets, in the bars, at home…. it was a time to eat, drink and be merry!
Though, this small town is so far removed from the tourist itinerary, it has a circuit house and a hotel called “Hotel Chanshal” which offers all the facilities of a three star hotel. Seema College, Rohru had been very gracious and encouraging of the program and had booked the circuit house for us which turned out to be one of the better places I had stayed at. The rooms were clean and spacious, with a view of river Pabbar to boot. The place to stay taken care of, we decided to explore the town. In the fading lights of the day, we came across several buses, cabs, shops with “Jai Hateshwari Devi” emblazoned on them. On some enquiries, we found that Hateshwari Devi is a local deity, greatly revered across Shimla district. Hatkoti temple housing Hateshwari Devi is an ancient temple said to go back to the time of the Pandavas. They are said to have visited this place in the 13th year of their exile.
We decided to visit the temple the next day after wrapping up our work in the afternoon.
In the midst of green paddy fields, and Pabbar river flowing by not too far off, Hatkoti temple is not your usual brick-and-cement-structure passed of as an ancient temple. As we entered the temple, two huge pots, believed to have descended from the heavens via river Pabbar, were kept at the entrance. We had reached just in time for the evening ‘aarti’ and the Prasad cooked in pure ghee. As I savoured the hot halwa, I wondered if it was appropriate to ask for a second helping. However, the thought was soon abandoned, as I saw myself lagging behind the others. The temple is built in the classical Shikhara or tower style. The 5 devalayas to the left of the temple are said to represent the 5 pandavas. This is dated to 7th-8th century.

As I remember my stay at the place, I can’t help but feel a longing to go back for it is one of the places unspoilt by the ubiquitous commercialization seen in almost all of the mountain states. Yet, it has all the things one could wish for in an ideal holiday spot….it is a trekker’s mecca, an angler’s haven and an epicurean’s delight.
Staying at Rohru made us familiar with the various territorial food like Siddu and Madhra. The former is a dumpling with sweet and savoury filling, mostly had with ghee, while the latter is kidney beans cooked in generous amount of ghee and curd. Fattening no doubt, but the salubrious climes of Himachal take care of that I guess! Our host Gopal sir, from the local college in Seema, made sure we got to taste the local cuisine and arranged for us to have Siddu and Madhra, the former cooked especially for us by his wife.
Rohru is famous for its trout and there are various angling sites ideal for fishing. Unfortunately, as we had gone on business and didn’t have much time, we couldn’t really indulge ourselves in the sport. Pirta Sir, a colleague of Gopal sir in Seema college promised us trout the next time we came. Great incentive to come back!
Apples are the lifeblood of Rohru and account for 60% of the total apple crop in Himachal Pradesh. That apple is such an important part of the place is gauged from the fact that attendance in the local colleges drops drastically during this time. Almost everyone owns an orchard and all family members help out during the harvest time.

On one of the days with clear skies, we decided to hit the road to Chanshal pass, a local picnic spot and yet spotlessly clean. Apple orchards lined one side of the road and the joy of plucking the apples straight from trees and sinking one’s teeth into them, can only be felt. Though the best time to see ripe fruit is between September and November, the trees begin flowering around April —pale white blossoms lining up the road. It must be a beautiful sight. Just be careful of asking permission though, for plucking fruits or walking into the orchard. Most times, they are gracious enough to let you pick up a few fruits.

The sky was the brightest blue and the air was crisp and cool. In the distance, snow clad mountains peeped out of the clouds. It was straight out of some picture postcard.

The climb up to the pass simply took one’s breath away in more ways than one. The roads to Chanshal were extremely muddy and slippery due to rain. The SUVs one generally encounters on city roads were quite useless and it was Mahindra jeeps that came to rescue. Twice our Toyota almost skidded off the road and it was with certain uneasiness that we covered the rest of the journey. Not to say that the jeep was safe, as you can see from the photo, but at least it didn’t get stuck in the mud!

On reaching the top everything else was forgotten and it was well worth the effort. We got an unobstructed view of the mountain ring surrounding the valley. However, in a matter of a few minutes it clouded over and the view of snow was gone. It was cold at the top. Furious winds threatened to blow us off down the hills. I suppose that would have been a faster way to reach the valley than the road!

Our leaves were going to end soon and we had to reach Delhi the next morning. It had got quite late by the time we managed to leave the place and it looked more and more unlikely that we’d reach on time for the bus. The local driver, Pappu who’d driven us to Rohru drove us back to Shimla in record time and we reached just in time for the departing bus.
As I recall my stay in Rohru with fond memories, I’m glad there are places like these which haven’t hit the tourist itinerary. Rather selfish I acknowledge, yet the gross commercialization of most “hill stations” makes you wish for the pristine environs you could escape to. And that’s exactly what Rohru offers you.
Photo – Kumar Anubhav