Aside from seeing diverse landscapes and abundant wildlife and learning about vibrant local culture and traditions, there is another reason to head to the far-western Nepali highlands. That is to enjoy locally-grown apples and apple products direct from the source, while walking through sloping apple orchards, picking fresh apples, or munching on this healthy fruit while trekking.
Apples are grown in the districts of Mustang, Jumla, Dolpa, and Mugu, all popular trekking destinations. According to some sources, Mustang and Jumla are the largest suppliers of local apples in Nepal. I have heard that Mustang is commonly referred to as the apple capital of Nepal because of its tasty, crunchy and juicy golden and red apples.
When I did several autumn treks in Western Nepal, including the Rara trek, fresh apples that we bought from orchards along the way kept us energetic. On some occasions, we enjoyed sun-dried apples (syau ko sukuti) and apple cider produced by the locals. Eating local apples and apple products was an experience that made our journey more remarkable.
You do not have to travel far to find apples if you are staying within Jumla’s town proper, because many households have an apple tree or apple garden. However, if you wish to stroll through an apple farm like we did, contact some local farmers who will assist you. You’ll find beautiful apples of different varieties, colors and sizes hanging on the trees.
Jumla apples are special for several reasons. Their quality is excellent, they are tastier and juicier than the imported apples commonly sold in Kathmandu, and they are certified organic! In 2009, the government of Nepal declared Jumla an organic district. This means that even if you eat them right after they’re picked, you don’t have to worry about pesticides. They are not only tasty but also fresh, nutritious and safe to eat.
However, in spite of the high demand for apples outside of Jumla, it is not unusual to find lots of apples rotting on farms and by the roadsides. Farmers are not able to transport their fruits to bigger market, due to a lack of cold storage facilities, lack of road networks and poor road conditions, hence the waste. This may also be the situation in other remote apple-producing regions, and therefore the reason why apples are imported from China and India to the markets in Kathmandu and other Nepali cities.
Several government and NGO offices give training in apple farming, marketing and processing, to boost production and maximize the benefits of this fruit. Visitors, hikers and sightseers can help the local farmers by buying their products.
There are other districts (Manang, Kalikot, Humla and others), especially in the mountainous north-west of Nepal, where apples grow. The harvest season in Jumla is from August to October. In some apple-producing districts, the harvest is from September to mid-December.
Next time you travel to an apple-producing district, don’t miss the chance to visit the apple farms and buy fresh apples. If you travel during off-season, you still can enjoy and support the apple industry by heading to processing plants or local shops to try dried apple slices, apple pies, apple jam, apple juice, and brandy or wine. You will get another great experience and healthy snacks for your journey and help increase the income of locals in these far-flung villages, as well as help support the organic farming industry.
Article by Fely II Manaois Pradhan.
Top image: Amanda Capasso/Flickr