The sleepy small town of Jubbal is 100km away from Shimla, the capital city of Himachal Pradesh, and this where the sweet apple story unfolds. Himanshu Khagta and Pranav Rawat, who belong to the third generation of traditional apple growers, started the portal www.fromshimla.com in July 2020 and their dream was to create a platform that blends agriculture, music and village experience.
Himanshu is a professional photographer and filmmaker. The Instagram page of ‘From Shimla’ carries numerous stories of apple farmers and Himanshu is the brain behind the videos that had been uploaded on the social media. “The apples are harvested only for a period of five months from July to November. Have you ever thought of how the markets in India get a regular supply of apples throughout the year? There is only one answer to it. The cold storages have played an important role in preserving perishable food. But unfortunately, the nutrient content of fruits is most probably lost when they reach the hands of ultimate consumers,” says Himanshu.
Nowadays, people are aware of what they are eating and from where the food is coming, he adds. “And that’s the reason why we deliver fresh apples to the customers in four to seven days after they had been plucked from the trees. The apples are sourced from the orchards of our friends who are part of the ‘From Shimla’ platform. The apple orchards are situated 6,500ft to 8,000ft above sea level,” notes Himanshu.
It is worth noting that Himachal Pradesh has nearly 400 varieties of apples and 20 of them are cultivated for commercial purposes. The varieties such as ‘Golden Delicious’, ‘Red Golden’, ‘Rideman’ and ‘Gala’ are very famous and they all have their own unique taste and flavour.
“Our aim is to take this unique taste to the four corners of our country. It is indeed sad that low-quality apples in the name of ‘Shimla apples’ are flooding the market. The ‘From Shimla’ platform lists the apples we cultivate and how we grow them and these details would help the customers to pick the right apples,” says co-founder Pranav.
The ‘From Shimla’ initiative had been able to distribute apples to all parts of the country, including Andaman and Nicobar islands, in the last two harvesting seasons. Himanshu and Pranav note that the customers are happy about the quality, taste and uniqueness of the apples.
The agriculture practice of Himanshu and Pranav is nature-based and focuses on the principles of reuse. Pranav started to put the food he takes under the lens after he was diagnosed with autoimmune disease.
“The chemical fertilizers will destroy the soil, and the plants that grow in such soil will have deficiencies. After using techniques such as cover cropping for soil conservation and adopting natural agricultural practices, the quality of the soil and trees increased and also that of the fruits,” Pranav states.
The farming practices followed by Pranav at his ‘Kamaal Bagh’ orchard are being adopted by farmers associated with the ‘From Shimla’ project.
Himanshu shouldered another responsibility for ‘From Shimla’ after the distribution of apples became hassle-free. And the new venture was nothing but to connect the farmers and consumers. He also focused on documenting stories of interior hamlets where not many tourists had visited. Himanshu has joined hands with Akshat Chauhan, owner of Sukhnanda Farms, to churn out the videos.
Another dream was to introduce the regional music of Himachal to the world and Akshay Kaltha, a friend and owner of Bahg Dhar orchard, came forward to realize this dream. As part of it, many folk songs were released by Akshay who also undertakes branding of ‘From Shimla’.
‘From Shimla’ is also planning to enter farm tourism space in the near future. This team of energetic youngsters is bound to create magic in the apple belt of Himachal Pradesh. Many farmers involved in growing of different types of apples are part of the ‘From Shimla’ initiative and their aim is to ensure sustainable growth by sticking to their roots.