The story of the apple and its association with Kashmir

Apple growing has been one of the very important resources of generating income and livelihood in Kashmir
Growers pack apples [Representational Image]
Growers pack apples [Representational Image] File/GK

Apple (Choonth in Kashmiri) is a very well-known fruit world over. The word is a modification from aeppel, which has descended from the Proto-Germanic noun “aplaz”. This fruit has been grown for thousands of years in Asia and Europe.

The original wild ancestors of the modern apples have been reported to be found in Southern Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and north western China and from there these were introduced to Europe through the silk road.

It was introduced in American continent by the European colonists. Apples appear in many religious traditions, often as a mystical or a forbidden fruit. Mention of it is there in Greek and Christian civilizations.

In ancient Greece it was considered sacred to Aphrodite, the ancient Greek Goddess of sexual love and beauty. In the popular Christian tradition, it was an apple that Eve coaxed Adam to share with her.

In the traditional story of the golden apples in the Garden of Hesperides the apple became a symbol of knowledge, immorality, temptation the fall of man into sin. The larynx in the human throat has been called the “Adam’s apple” because of a notion that it was caused by the forbidden fruit remaining in the throat of Adam. 

Leaving aside the mythological, cultural and historical importance of this fruit over these thousands of years more than 7500 known varieties have been developed by horticulturists through controlled breeding (Cultivars). Most of these varieties are cultivated for eating fresh though some are bred for cooking or producing cider.

These apples have a very strong and astringent taste like Quince apple (bum choonth of Kashmir). The mention of apple has been made by Kalhana the 12th century historian in Rajatarangini - the chronicle of Kashmiri and North Indian kings. He mentioned about their planned cultivation in the valley and were also being planted along the paths as shade providers and also food for travellers.

A mention is also made about this fruit by the famous Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang who visited in ancient times between 627-643 during the reign of Harshavardhana the well-known Buddhist ruler. Apple growing in the valley was also promoted by Moghul emperor Jahangir and the Sultan of Kashmir, Zain ul Abdin in the 15th century. The successive governments of Jammu and Kashmir have also worked in this direction through funding the horticulture departments.

The health benefits of apple have been known to all of us. There are several proverbs attached to it , "An apple a day keeps the doctor away", addressing the supposed health benefits of the fruit, has been traced to 19th-century, whereas the original phrase was "Eat an apple on going to bed, and you'll keep the doctor from earning his bread". In the 19th century and early 20th, the phrase evolved to "an apple a day, no doctor to pay" and "an apple a day sends the doctor away”.

Apple growing has been one of the very important resources of generating income and livelihood in Kashmir for lakhs of farmers and is being preferred over paddy cultivation in several important districts of the valley like Srinagar, Pulwama, Shopian, Anantnag, Budgam, Ganderbal and Kupwara.

The main varieties of apples grown in the valley are Delicious and American trel. Both are juicy, crisp and long lasting unlike the varieties like Maharaji, Hazratbali, Chemora etc which are grown in very small number as the demand was poor.

The total apple production in Kashmir as per the latest communication of the Directorate of Horticulture J&K was around 17,00,000.00 metric tonnes and in Jammu Division it was 25,000.00 metric tonnes. The UT exports around 18 lakh metric tons of apples annually and produces 75 percent of India’s total apple production.

Rest of the apples come from Himachal Pradesh and small numbers from Uttarakhand. India also imports apples from Turkey and Iran while those from New Zealand and USA has reduced considerably because of the high freightage . The need for import increased following the COVID pandemic because of an increased demand for consuming fresh apples.

A special mention needs to be made of Ambri, the well-known native apple from Shopian and erstwhile Pulwama district of the Kashmir valley. It is an exclusive apple of Kashmir and has not come from neighbouring Central Asia. It is rated as the best apple of Kashmir in terms of fragrance, taste and longevity, but does not find much of the market today.

The reason being their low yields producing fruits and that also once in 2 years. This apple is also more vulnerable to disease and variability in appearance. The tree is slow to reach maturity taking up to 12 years for the tree to reach the fruit bearing stage.

On the other hand, Red Delicious apples are annual bearers with uniform appearance and take only 3 to 4 years to bear fruits. For this reason, growers eventually removed Ambri apple trees from their orchards in favour of the Red Delicious variety leaving the king of Kashmiri apples to fade into obscurity.

However, there is still some hope left. The new generation horticulturists have been working to remove the shortcomings of the present day Ambri and producing a hybrid the Lal-Ambri , a cross between Ambri and Red Delicious. An apple which will restore the glory of our pride of apples. The horticulture department and the UT administration needs to support this endeavour with full steam.

Prof Upendra Kaul is a founder director of Gauri Kaul Foundation.

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