With travel restrictions lifted, we escaped to a secluded retreat called Himalayan Orchard. And what a get-away it was. The only homestay in the middle of a forest in the Kotkhai district of Himachal Pradesh, it pulsated with enigmatic energy that can only be found in unfrequented places such as this. Located about 70 km east of Shimla on the banks of River Giri, Kotkhai is one of the 28 former princely states of the Shimla hills. What makes it exciting is that it’s relatively unknown and doesn’t get many visitors.
The 800-year-old Kotkhai Palace is located here, where Rana Tribhuvan Singh and his family still live. The remote village of Rukhla where the orchard is situated encompasses a traditional rural community consisting of only 200 people. All across the valley, one gets to see apples in various stages during different times of the year—blossoming, ripening, or being plucked.
Located at a height of 2,100 meters, the tiny farm stay is run by Devanshe and Michael Midgley. With just three comfortable rooms, the farm has a homely charm, strewn as it is with customized decor comprising unique paintings, family photographs, books, and board games. It gets full points for following sustainable practices, such as solar water heating, rainwater harvesting, and utilizing mountain spring water for drinking and cooking.
The homestay also follows a farm-to-fork concept, growing organic apples, pears, peaches, plums, apricots, cherries, and several vegetables, which serves its dwellers. There are cows, hens, goats, and chickens in the vicinity, which add to the rustic appeal. Moreover, a bountifully equipped library, snooker table, and other in-house facilities make sure that guests remain content and inspired.
Kotkhai is a haven for nature lovers, adventure enthusiasts, bird watchers, and cyclists. Most temples in the area are located near natural water springs, and their approach often involves journeys along single-track country roads through forests and villages. Thus, hikers can indulge in walks and trails of various lengths and levels of difficulty. In Kiari village, lies the largest Hindu temple in the locale, dedicated to Goddess Durga. Built nearly 1,500 years ago during the Gupta period, the temple served as a convent for tantric Buddhist monks in 600 AD.
One can enjoy experiences such as yoga excursions, temple tours, mushroom foraging as well as making cheese, jams, preserves, juices, wines, and cider. Also, looking at the growing trend of ‘workstations’, this place holds potential.