Thanedar unfolds as a magnificent panorama of mountains. The farthest of them are cloaked in snow, others are deodar clad or draped in a soft blue haze. In a gorge, some 6,000 feet below and clearly visible to the naked eye, flows the River Sutluj. The slopes of Thanedar (part of Shimla hills) are studded with apple orchards and prosperity via the apple is legendary. In these parts apples are not only eaten fresh, off trees and cases, but slices of apple are also dried on rooftops to be munched as a sweet in winter. Every year several lakh cases of apple leave Thanedar & Kotgarh for different parts of the country and abroad. This accounts for the unbroken line of trucks that ply these roads during harvest time, from July through September.
Nestled amongst acres of apple blossoms is the Banjara Orchard Retreat - an eco-friendly getaway that will enchant nature lovers. There are fully furnished rooms with attached baths and a well-equipped kitchen to cater to a variety of tastes.
Time to visit: Throughout the year
Temp: Temperatures vary with the seasons. May to September have pleasant days (light woolens) and cold nights while April & October have pleasant days. The night temperature may dip to 5 degrees. During winters, there may be snowfall and t emperatures dip sharply.
HIKES/ DRIVES AROUND RETREAT
Tani Jubbar Lake 6 kms drive/ short hike
A six kilometer drive from the Orchard retreat and a 10-15 minutes uphill climb gets you to this lake. This virtually stamp sized mountain lake is a popular picnic spot in idyllic setting. A Hindu temple dedicated to 'Nag Devta' is built next to this lake. This historic temple is a place of pilgrimage for the local residents and is associated with lot of folklore. The temple is not open to outsiders. An annual fair is held at the lake in June where local artisans/ traders display their wares.
Hatu Peak Distance from retreat: 21 kms Grade: Medium By road: 15 kms/ on foot: 6 kms one way
The 3136M high Hatu Peak offers a panoramic view of the Pir Panjal and the Dhauladhar ranges. There are two ways of reaching the peak. The easier option is to drive towards Narkanda for 14 km and from there one can either drive or walk up the winding road through dense alpine forest for another 6 km. The conventional and more adventurous way of reaching the top is to drive to Sidhpur; 10 km from the Banjara Retreat and then climb up through the Conifer and Oak forests. The climb to the peak with a small break for a packed lunch, generally takes about 3 hours.
The forest around Hatu is famous for its flora and fauna/ Avi-fauna. One can see Silver fir, Birch, Oaks, Himalayan Cedar, Himalayan Yew, Rhododendron, herbs and wild flowers. It is also rich in wildlife and if you are lucky you may see Leopards, Black Bear, Jungle Cats, Himalayan Weasel, Flaying Squirrel, Himalayan Pheasants like Monal- state bird of Himachal, Red Jungle Fowl, Magpie Robin, Laughing Thrush, Minivets and Whistling Thrush to name a few. The Hatu Mata Temple, located on the ridge of the top, is very popular with the locals during the local meals in September and October.
Saroga Forest: Distance from the retreat: 8 kms Grade: Medium
This is one of the more popular walks with people who stay with us in our Thanedar Retreat. The trail through the forest introduces you to the rich flora of the inner Himalayas. The forest is full of Blue pine, Silver Spur, Christmas tree, Spruce, Oaks, Rhododendron and Taxus Himalayana (the tree from which Taxol is derived and used for curing cancer).
This walk is generally conducted in the afternoons and depending on the season one can pick Rhododendron flowers, Strawberries, Raspberries and wild Mushrooms. Fern lovers will be thrilled to see 'Himalayan Maiden Hair' and other fern varieties in abundance along this trail.
This soft trek takes about two and a half hours and requires a guide. A detour at the end of the trail and effort of another hour will take you to the mountain-top, from where you get a breathtaking view of the snow line. This detour culminates at Tani Jubbar Lake from where you can drive back in a vehicle.
St. Mary's Church Distance from retreat: 7 kms Grade: Medium
How the Church came about has an interesting history. In the year 1815, the rulers of this region invited the Britishers to fight the mighty Nepalese General Amar Singh Thapa who had annexed large parts of the Western Himalayas. The Britishers came and killed the General and captured his Gorkha soldiers. In lieu of services rendered, a large tract of land was gifted to them by the rulers of Kotgarh. A British garrison was established at Kotgarh in 1843, which was their last outpost beyond Shimla.
In 1872, a pretty little wood and stone church was built, which today is the only living monument of that bygone era. An hour's walk to the church from the Retreat takes you through a typical Himachali village, apple orchards and conifer forests. On the way, one comes across the cave where once Samuel Stokes lived as a hermit. Stokes was an American and is today remembered for introducing Red Delicious apples to India, and ushering in an era of prosperity.
Rudyard Kipling once called Kotgarh 'The Mistress of the Northern Hills'. One of his stories- Lispeth- from the book 'Plain Tales from the Hills', is based on this church. The great Christian Sadhu missionary Sundar Singh was associated with this church for a long time. It was at Kotgarh that he had his first mystical experience that he mentions in his book 'Spiritual World'.