Before last year, I got a chance to visit Thanadhar, the upper sidearm of the fertile and scenic Kotgarh Valley in Himachal Pradesh. Although interlinked and part of the same valley, the road to the settlement of Thanadhar branches off the link-highway, from Narkanda, a few kilometres before the settlement of Kotgarh. In about 30 minutes flat, we were able to cover the distance of 16 km between Narkanda and Thanadhar.
It was late evening and drizzling when I reached the Kotgarh Valley, popularly named as Apple Valley. Being an off-season, I didn’t face much trouble in fixing an accommodation for myself. More than the quality of property, I would remember the place for the extraordinary culinary skills of its cook. Later that evening, having consumed a copious amount of Rajma – Rice (one of the best I ever got to taste), I wondered about the next day’s activities. I was half expecting the views to be clear the following morning and accordingly I tentatively planned out a birding trail for myself.
The mountainside of Thanadhar commands a panoramic view of the Satluj Valley against the awe-inspiring Great Himalayan Range far in the distance rippling above Dhauladhars. Also billed to be Himachal’s horticultural heartland in the travel circles, Thanadhar (or Thanedhar) is located a little higher (2300 m) than that of Kotgarh (1950m). While key travel-activity areas would remain the same at both locations, most of the olden landmarks are located at Kotgarh. Full of significant evidences of the pre-independence days, a day-long stroll in the valley is sure to kick alive the fading memories of Raj era. Not only an annalist but the unobtrusive wooded groves of the valley would undisputedly entice a hiker, birder or a photographer.
The entire Valley started to prosper after the remunerative variety of apples was introduced to this region here in 1919 by Satyanand Stokes, an American missionary who later took up Hinduism. Ever since he initiated the commercial plantation of apples in one of his orchards on the slopes of Thanadhar, economically the region has not looked back. The protruding limbs of the mountainside all around us were terraced and channelled into myriad orchards of different sizes and shapes. Not only apples, the locals have productively engaged themselves in cherry farming, another speciality from the region.
Although, the hillside offers countless prospects for an enthusiastic birder, my favourite would always remain the one which connects the settlements of Thanadhar with that of Kotgarh in about three hours at a leisure pace. The trail, in part, passes through fertile apple orchards as well as the forest cover. On the way, one would notice forest-wealth in the form of Silver fir, Birch, Oaks, Deodars, Rhododendron as well as wild flowers. I would consider myself lucky because I spotted a Himalayan Weasel as well as a Yellow Martin. I would admit that I was fortunate to have got the best of both worlds on my way down to Kotgarh.
The smartest among the villages of Kotgarh Valley, Thanadhar has tapped the tourism potential better than most other settlements of the region. Apart from the splendid Himalayan vistas it offer, the credit of increasing tourism activities should also be given to the promotion of “fruit tourism” activities by the state. Led by a few commercial entities and some enterprising locals who rent out rooms and cottages, as part of their side business, the accommodation prospect has been aptly tapped to support the growing need of tourists and holidaymakers.
Famous for the annual festival at Nag Devta temple built along its shore, the Tani Jubbar Lake is located at a distance of six km from the market and feasibly could best be visited while coming from or going to Narkanda. The artificial water body may be tiny in size but offers quiet and scenic picnic spots around it. Other popular activities at Thanadhar include taking a walk to the Harmony Hill, Saroga Range, etc. Be it Rudyard Kipling’s reference “The Mistress of the Northern Hills” or the picturesque setting in Ustad Sultan Khan’s “Piya Basanti” remake video, the splendid charm of the valley continues to attract visitors from far and wide. For those who are still curious about the mountainside’s touristy bait, there’s absolutely nothing to do but eat, sleep, and soak up its antiquity and sheer natural beauty in the form of mountain-scape with birdlife.
Average Altitude: 2300m
Best time to visit: Throughout the year; particularly after monsoons
Travel Lure: Landscape, Orchards and wooded trails
Accommodation: Limited but usually available