Sirmaur Diary: The Orchard Valley of Rajgarh

Centred around the exuberant hillside of Rajgarh tehsil (1580m) in Sirmaur district of the Himalayan state of Himachal Pradesh, where many of the finest fruits of European orchards are cultivated, my latest spontaneous escapade combined all the indispensable ingredients of hillside travelling – views, heritage, culture, spirituality, wildlife, food, lounge, treks and trails.

The Peach Bowl of Asia

The Peach Bowl of Asia – Rajgarh. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Coming from Chandigarh; the state highway to Rajgarh via Ochhghat and Giripul branches off the NH 22 at Solan. The market of Rajgarh is about 100 km from Chandigarh and nearly 40 km from Solan. Thanks to my birder friend, Sarabjit Singh who has been a regular into the area, the information I needed for Rajgarh valley was organised easily. The hilly tract of Sirmaur spread from Shimla-Solan in the north-west to Garhwal-Dun Valley in the east and located north of the Ganges has always been historically significant.  Over the past thousand years, the administration of Sirmaur changed hands several times among the local chieftains, Thakurs, Rajputs, Mughals, Gurkhas, Sikhs as well as the British; leaving tales and a rich history behind. During the freedom movement, the region also figured in the popular Pachhota movement. A place of note, the fort of Raja Sirmaur at Rajgarh unfortunately got destroyed in an accident in 1960. As of now, a majority of the residents are from the Khash Rajput Clan of Rajasthan and are occupied with cultivation of fruits and vegetables.

The olden market of Rajgarh

Now selling modern products, the olden market of Rajgarh. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Popularly known as the Peach Bowl of Asia, the credit for which largely goes to the first government of the state led by Dr YS Parmar, the valley of Rajgarh is nevertheless still struggling to find a permanent place in the circuitry of “tourism”. The fruit cultivation in the valley did necessitate the state government to construct a network of metalled roads connecting the major settlements. However, to me, the only downside of venturing into the area was to deal with potholed (although wider) roads. Curving on the wooded mountain faces, the motorway looked pretty to eyes but only from a distance.

The fruit country of

A traditional slate-roofed hut in the fruit-countryside of RajgarhMore images at Flickr

Leave aside the bumpy roads and look for apricots and peaches which are abundant round every inhabited spot; or plethora of cultivated berries, pears, mulberries and a variety of nuts often the only occupation of local populace. The wooded crags are the favourite haunt of birds of prey while other species nestle on the tall trees; and at the slightest panic, myriads of small fowls rush out of the shrubbery adding to the animation of the scene by their hurried flight. The traditional slate-roofed hutments, a highly picturesque traditional architecture, heighten the beauty of the landscape. As we climb higher towards Nohradhar, pines give way to deodar as the Himalayan shrubbery dot the hillside.

The lush green valley is not only visually appealing but also serves to be a good place for trekking and ridgetop camping. The stretch of the Giri River near Giripul, a little before Rajgarh, is popular for angling activities. A few enterprising locals have recently set up paragliding as well as rock climbing craft and services in the valley. Of late, several excellent camps and properties have come up in the vicinity of the settlement of Rajgarh cashing in the growing accommodation needs. Unlike the northern Himachal, the valley is accessible throughout the year. Nonetheless, visiting Rajgarh after the monsoon season has its own visual charm when the valley adorns a vibrant cover with the forests getting thicker and greener. Moreover by that time the maddening traffic driven by the seasonal peach season gets off the road; as also the marketplace hustling with hullabaloo of traders and cranking sound of diesel engines.

It was late-evening already when we reached the market of Rajgarh before last week. A cool darkness had descended upon the street as I asked for directions to the Forest Department Rest House, a two-room basic affair. Apart from a plan to climb the Churdhar Peak, the highest peak of lower Himalayas, we had not figured out what to do with our time in the valley. We had already visited the Dolanji Menri monastery on the way from Solan and planned to go to an all women enterprise at village Bhuira the coming morning.

Locals call it “Kanda Falls“; a secluded spot

The FRH is a couple of kilometre away from the market. Next morning, we again descended to the market for fruits-breakfast. Like elsewhere in the Himalayas, the material impact of globalisation was well appercipient. Next to a matchbox-shaped fruit-shop, menfolk dressed in kurta pyjamas sipping their morning teas stood chatting with each other; womenfolk in salwar-suits that looked inspired from Punjab while the younger ones wore jeans casuals as their eyes remained glued to flashy mobile screens. Collecting some more fruits in a newspaper-packet, we left for Noradhar; intending to visit a popular fruit processing unit at village Bhuira on the way.

What started as a kitchen experiment in her modest farm house at village Bhuira, today Linnet Mushran’s small-scale food processing unit successfully sells more than 27 varieties of Jams, Chutneys, Preserves, Jellies as well as Marmalades and employs over 100 women. Hugged by a wooded cover of tall deodars, her humble acre-large orchard that spills with a riot of flowers and at the same time commanding a sweeping view rippling up to Chail mountains was truly an idyllic setting for an enterprise like hers.

Chail ridge at the far end of the frame

Chail ridge at the far end. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

At Bhuira in Rajgarh

At Bhuira in Rajgarh. For more images from the region, please visit Flickr Photoset

 Hugged by a wooded cover of tall deodars, her humble acre-large orchard that spills with a riot of flowers

Hugged by a cover of deodars, Bhuira Jam‘s humble cottage-orchard spills with a riot of flowers and foliage

The labeling and packing office

The labeling and packing section at Bhuira Jams. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

Linnet was out of town when we reached the manufacturing unit of “Bhuira Jams” but her staff took complete ownership of the operations and more than made up for her absence. Donning white hair caps along with plain colourful jackets, her staff was devoted to the roles assigned to them by Linnet when we reached there. The lady in charge showed us around. The campus was well maintained and flawlessly clean. We were allowed to take a look at the processes of jam making through a large windowpane. Available at most leading grocery stores pan India including the likes of retail brands such as Fab India, appreciatively the Bhuira products are available at a discount where they are born. I bought a carton full of available varieties.

 small-scale food processing unit successfully sells more than 27 varieties of Jams, Chutneys, Preserves, Jellies as well as Marmalades and employs over 100 women

An all women enterprise, the Bhuira Jam sells more than 27 varieties of Jams, Chutneys, Preserves, Jellies as well as Marmalades. More images from the visit at Flickr Photoset

The small-scale fruit processing set up engages over 100 local women

The small-scale fruit processing set up engages over 100 local “Happy Mountain Women”

Down below towards the left, an olden temple-like structure caught our attention. We decided to make a visit to the tiny settlement where the temple was prominently noticeable. Driving through a wooded cover, we turn up on a dirt track which led to the settlement. A few minutes later, we were inside the courtyard of the stone and wood temple that was dedicated to Shirgul devta, the lord of Churdhar and the chief deity of the valley. The tower-styled main temple was built, employing the traditional Khasha architecture, on a raised platform. The doorway had numerous coins nailed on its frame; said to be signifying the answered prayers. The residence of priest, who was out of station that day, was at the back of the temple.

Reaching the small settlement of Thanoga

At the small settlement of Thanoga. More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

People in the Choor Dhar region, Chaupal, Himachal Pradesh worship him. The main temple is built in Shimla district. He is another incarnation of lord Shiva, supposed to be very kind, generous and calm in nature. Every region in Himachal believes in a distinct deity. This state is said to be protected and sheltered by the power of numerous local deities.

A temple dedicated to Shirgul Devta, an incarnation of lord Shiva, chief deity of Churdhar region. Every region in Himalayas has its own distinct deity. More images at Flickr Photoset

The doorway had numerous coins nailed on its frame; said to be signifying the answered prayers.

The doorway had numerous coins nailed on its frame; said to be signifying the answered prayers.

गन्दगी फ़ैलाने पर 200 रूपए जुर्माना होगा।

गन्दगी फ़ैलाने पर 200 रूपए जुर्माना होगा! More images from the region at Flickr Photoset

An hour later we were on our way to Noradhar, the base to climb the Churdhar peak. On the way we drove through some real lush green terraced fields. The bumpy ride to the base took about an hour at a leisurely pace.

Mountainscape enroute to Noradhar

Mountainscape en route to Noradhar. For more images from the region, please visit Flickr

Fertile tract near Kanda

Terraced fields near Kanda in Rajgarh, Sirmaur. More images at Flickr Photoset

Beyond what we wish and what we fear may happen, we have another life... as clear and free as a mountain stream." Rumi

“Beyond what we wish and what we fear may happen, we have another life…More images at Flickr

Within an hour we were at Noradhar.

…As clear and free as a mountain stream” — Rumi; within an hour we were at Noradhar. More at Flickr

Average Altitude: 1600 m
Best time to visit: Autumn to Spring
Travel Lure: Bird-life, Wooded trails and other similar soft adventures
Accommodation: Limited but usually available

17 Comments on “Sirmaur Diary: The Orchard Valley of Rajgarh

    • Thanks for stopping by the blog Sunaina. That portion of Rajgarh valley was beautiful indeed. Thats my Jam! 😉 Keep visiting bNomadic for more such stories.

  1. what a beautiful place…
    recently I went for apple picking in Ellijay in Georgia (USA)… was an amazing experience and we bought tonnes of goodies from there too 🙂

    • Thanks for dropping by the blog Archana. Yea, I can imagine how you’d have felt there. Keep visiting bNomadic for more such travel stories 🙂

  2. Absolutely gorgeous! The architecture, community, mountains and mountain streams- love it! Thanks for sharing and making it accessible to everyone. 🙂

  3. Excellent write up. Bhuira is the only label I buy. (Usually I make my own jams & Jellies) Didn’t really know the place was located so close. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks! Even I like Bhuira quite a lot; mostly because its preservative free and is natural. A day trip from Chandigarh is more than enough for you to visit Bhuira. Keep visiting bNomadic 🙂

  4. Pingback: Weekend trek to Churdhar | bNomadic

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