Monday, July 26, 2010

The Story of ‘Saramati Apple, Thanamir village’

Some people have probably tried sowing the seeds of Kashmir apples bought from the market, but it is a fact that they usually do not germinate. However, to the disbelief of experts, that is how the story of the now famous ‘Saramati Apple, Thanamir Village’ began. It was during the years of armed conflict and some Indian soldiers were killed by the Naga army. In response, curfew was imposed and a check post was also set up at Thanamir village. J. Yungbokhiung, a Village Guard and Village Council member befriended a Nepali Naik of the Assam Rifles posted at the check gate. He requested the Naik for apples that the army get from supplies dropped through parachutes. In 1981 the Naik gifted him a Kashmir apple with the instructions to carefully plant it, to keep animals away from it; and an assurance that it will one day be a source of blessing to many. Out of three seeds that he planted, one germinated which grew to become the sweetest and the juiciest apples in Nagaland and arguably at par with the best quality apples in the Indian market. The first tree started to bear fruit in 1984 and it remains to this day. Only the main trunk remains while the upper half had to be cut off due to electric wires overhead. Branches shooting off from the original trunk continue to bear fruit. As a tired old person with a walking stick, it has to be supported with props while its fruits are still very tasty like good old wisdom. Yungbokhiung taught himself the art of root grafting and it was in the same year when his first apple tree started to bear fruit (1984) that he gifted 9 others saplings from root grafts. That was how Thanamir apple started to spread to other people and villages. Some neighbouring villages now have apple trees but they are not comparable to Thanamir’s. Situated at the foothill of mount Saramati, the climate is best suited for apples. Also thanks to the effort of the Thanamir Village Council which has made it mandatory for every household to have an apple tree, some families now own as much as 50 trees. Grafting is done in June-July. Several saplings sprouting from a root graft are allowed to grow as such for a year and are separated and replanted the next year. In 2 years, the new graft plants start to bear fruit. Flowering is in March-April and the fruits ripen in late August and September. To date, no chemicals are used in the growing of a sapling to the ripening of its fruits. Worm infestations occur on the main trunk shortening its lifespan, but the fruits are free of any worms or other infestations. The villagers have been enjoying the apples, fresh from the backyard orchards but have not enjoyed significant commercial returns to date. Apples have been used in three ways: eaten raw, boiled, or as juice which tastes ‘stronger than wine’. Mr. Tangit Longkumer, a missionary of the Nagaland Missions Movement(NMM) based at Pungro Town has been working tirelessly, promoting the “Saramati Apple, Thanamir Village”, the trademark phrase he came up with. He designed stickers, pasted them on the apples and gifted the government officials at Kohima and Dimapur in 2009. The upcoming Apple festival at Thanamir on the 31st of August, 2010 is the result of his effort. Thanamir village is blessed with the twin blessings of apples and the Mt. Saramati. It is the last village en-route Saramati peak. Trekkers hold the night at Thanamir and it provides guides and guards to the trekkers. Also the NMM has proposed to build a guest house in the village to train church leaders and laypersons from Myanmar. It has already sent two missionary teachers for the school in the village. To post a nurse at the village Sub-Centre is in processing. Although it is the last village of Nagaland in the international border and accessibility is difficult, there is hope for the people of Thanamir. There is hope for all the villages in all the remote corners of Nagaland, where resources and means for socio-economic development lay untapped. Thanamir’s is the way to go.