When the sweltering summer seems unbearable, children and adults alike can spend balmy mornings in the countryside, on a farm picking delicious fruit. And if you miss the bounty of summer fruit, there are fruit-picking options all year round. From crushing grapes in Nashik, to strolling through citrus farms in Punjab, or picking strawberries in Meghalaya, there is much joy in connecting with the fruit we eat. Most orchards with accommodation allow visitors to pick fruit for free, and charge only for what’s consumed.
The agricultural belt on the border of Maharashtra and Gujarat is filled with blossoming sapodilla orchards. The farms in the Gholvad and Dahanu districts, many of which are run by Parsi families, distribute chikoos all over India. The orchards are easily accessible from Mumbai (about 130 km away) and are keen champions of agro-tourism.
Season: December to March.
Stay: In addition to fruit-picking, Tarpa and Save farms in Dahanu (09921177335; www.savefarm.in; from ₹2,500 per person including breakfast, dinner and farm tour) educate visitors about organic composting techniques, bee-keeping, vermiculture, and harvesting methods used by local farmers. The farms provide clean, comfortable accommodation around the orchards. There is also a nursery where guests can purchase saplings.
Maharashtra’s thriving vineyards account for 80 per cent of India’s grape production. Drive by the farms of Sholapur, Beed, Latur, Satara, and Nashik, to see farmers carefully watering, tending to, and harvesting their grape crops. In fields owned by winemakers like Sula, York, and Zampa, visitors can stroll through lush vineyards, pick fruit, get a tour of the wine-making process, and end the day with a wine-paired dinner. Most vineyards organise grape-picking tours at which kids can stomp fruit in large wooden tubs while their parents indulge in a more peaceful wine-tasting session. During the monsoon, tourists can also pick guavas in Nashik.
Season: January to mid-May.
Stay: Nashik Wine Tour organises trips from Pune and Mumbai to all three vineyards. The tours (From ₹2,900 per person; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.blackgrapeholidays.com) include transport, one night’s stay in Nashik city, breakfast, a visit to a vineyard, and wine tastings. Reservations can also be made with the Beyond–Sula vineyard resort (sulawines.com/stay.aspx; doubles from ₹5,500 including breakfast and wine-tasting) and York Winery (0253-2230701; ₹₹250 for a tour and wine tasting; yorkwinery.com).
Propped against a backdrop of the skyscraping Himalayan ranges, the apple orchards on the slopes of Kinnaur, Kotgarh, Rohru, and other towns around Shimla make for a picturesque getaway. Travellers can stroll around the fruit-laden boughs, take apple-picking treks, and visit small factories that make apple jelly and jam.
Season: June to September.
Stay: Located 8,000 feet above sea level on the Tibet-Hindustan road, the Apple Orchard Inn (9316115261; krishrauniresort.in; doubles from ₹2,860) in Krish-Rauni offers rooms with valley-views and breakfast picnics under the trees. The Banjara Orchard Retreat (09816747541; www.banjaracamps.com; doubles from ₹5,500) in Thanedar offers overnight stays as well as tours of the apple circuit, which combine fruit-picking with treks, visits to monasteries, and trout fishing. Both offer clean, comfortable lodging close to the orchards.
Amritsar has a new variation of plum called the allu-bukhara Amritsari, created by the Khalsa College of Agriculture. It is sweeter, more nutritious, and the seed doesn’t cling to the flesh. This breed, in addition to other varieties such as the Java and Japanese plum, can be picked in orchards around Amritsar in season, which is from June to July. The fertile land is ripe for fruit-plucking – head over for juicy mulberries and jamuns in the summer.
Season: March to April.
Stay: Green Acres Haveli and Retreat (097819 83828; www.greenacreshaveli.com; doubles ₹2,499) in Amritsar has a large plum orchard as well as groves of papaya, banana, mulberries, jamun, tangerine, guava, mango and pear. Guests can also milk cows, pick eggs and take tractor rides through the village.
Around Valentine’s Day every year, the otherwise-drowsy village of Sohliya in Meghalaya’s Ri Bhoi district comes alive. On February 14, Sohliya hosts a strawberry festival. Hordes of tourists flock here to pick fresh berries, sample strawberry wine, ice cream, and cake, and to take home large bottles of the fruit preserved in jams and jellies. Sohliya also has numerous mulberry farms. In Mahabaleshwar, a popular hill station in Maharashtra, most hotels arrange strawberry-picking trips on local farms. Mapro (the brand makes jams sold in shops across the country) also has a strawberry festival from 28-31 March that showcases packaged products and bizarre innovations like strawberry-flecked bhel puri.
Season: End-January to March in Meghalaya; December to February in Mahabaleshwar.
Stay: Deepak Laloo allows fruit picking on his farm at Sohliya and provides accommodation in a three-bedroom guesthouse on the property (03642502420/0841592719; from ₹3,500 for a three guests including breakfast). Guests can also access the farm’s 7km-long mountain biking track, try angling in the fish pond, birdwatch, and go rappelling. In Mahabaleshwar, the Dina hotel (02168-260246; ₹3,500 per person including all meals; prices vary with season) and Fredrick hotel (02168-260240; doubles ₹6,000 including all meals) are 10 minutes from Mapro Farms (mapro.com).
Plucking tangerines on a nippy winter morning in Punjab is a wonderful experience. The leaves are moist with dew, the air smells of fresh orange zest and the field is soft with mud. Kinnows, mandarin, sweet oranges—they’re all ripe for the taking in winter. During the rest of the year, visitors can pick guavas, pears, jamuns and grapefruit.
Season: End-October to February.
Stay: Citrus County Farm Stays (98150 77880; www.citruscountyfarmstay.com; doubles ₹14,000 including all meals, fruit plucking, and village safari) in Hoshiarpur offers luxury tents pitched amid a 75-acre farm so parents and kids can experience the joy of living close to the land. The owners of Jyani Natural Farms (jyaninaturalfarm.com; ₹3,000 per day including meals, horse-riding and the pool) in Katehra village follow strictly organic practices. In addition to picking fruit on the Jyani’s 150-acre farm, visitors can learn to make kinnow squash from freshly-picked fruit.
The king of fruits demands a trip to the Konkan in the blistering summer. Ratnagiri, where the country’s finest Alphonso mangoes are grown, is extremely popular (and often crowded). Palshet, one of the lesser-known villages, offers similar activities at a more leisurely pace. There are numerous government-run, NGO-aided, as well as privately-owned homestays and hotels that give visitors a chance to stroll through mango orchards.
Season: May to July/August.
Stay: A village-tourism initiative called the Majhya Mamacha Gaon project (www.mamachagav.com; ₹550 per adult and ₹450 per child for day visit; doubles from ₹1,200), offers day-long and special weekend packages for families to pick ripe mangoes of many varieties from their orchards at Boisar, In the Thane district. It can get a bit noisy and crowded during the peak season. Ganesh Agro Tourism (www.ganeshagrotourism.com; doubles ₹3,000 inclusive of all meals) between Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg, allows visitors to pick mangoes for free (you pay per kg for the fruit you keep). O’nest Homestay (www.onesthomestay.com; doubles from ₹1,600), 40km from Ratnagiri, has a mango orchard, two modest cottages, and two double rooms.
The Konkan Fruit Fest in April or May every year transforms the Campal Heritage Precincts in Panjim into a giant fruit bowl. There are bazaars selling sweet mangosteen, citron, kokum, and jambul, fruit-themed fancy dress competitions, prizes for fruit carving, and fruit-eating contests. Local bands also perform at the venue every year, drawing thousands of tourists and farmers.
The northeastern part of India is known for its pineapples, and the people of Manipur are especially proud of their produce. Their fondness for the prickly fruit will be on display at the Manipur Pineapple festival, likely to be held in the last week 0f August or the first week of September this year. In addition to a bustling bazaar, the celebration includes a best pineapple contest, tastings, and cultural performances. The highlight of the festival is a beauty pageant and the crowning of Miss Pineapple Queen who wins ₹50,000 (Call Seilianmang Khongsai on 98629 50205 for exact dates).
With inputs from Zahra Amiruddin.
Appeared in the March 2013 issue as “Rich Pickings”. This story has been updated in February 2016.
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