Mentions of John Banon and our Hotel in History book, Novels, Memoirs and Magazines
In Memorium as printed in the Himalayan Journal Volume 62
'We dropped down to John Banon's guest-house in the evening of June 7 to celebrate the end of another Kulu campaign with a civilised cup of tea.'
Thus concluded my account of the second ascent of Hanuman Tibba, 19,450ft. /5,940m the majestic guardian of the Solang nala to the north of Manali where John Banon was born to Herbert and Preetu Banon, and where he lived for where he lived for most of his life. It was a routine that I had followed with great pleasure over many happy seasons of climbing in Kullu.
John Banon, for many years the Himalayan Club's honorary local secretary in Kullu died last November, 2005 after a short illness. He is survived by his widow Ruldi, his son Thomas, daughter-in-law Shirin, and his grandchildren Tanya and Amar.
His son Arthur, a noted photographer and trek leader had predeceased him in a motor accident on the Zojila in Kashmir. It was a personal loss from which John and Ruldi never quite recovered.
John was the grandson of Captain A.T. Banon of the Royal Munster Fusiliers who settled in Manali in the 1870's and built 'Sunshine Orchards' which became the most esteemed Guest-house in Manali after it was inherited by his son Major Henry Banon, of the Garhwal Rifles. Henry Banon, John Banon's uncle, was the first Honorary Local Secretary of the Club in Kullu, he was the patriarch of the valley, known far and wide as 'Chini Sahib'. John himself being born in a heavy snowstorm in the month of January became 'Burfi Sahib'. On the death of Major H.M. Banon in 1960, John inherited the post of Hon. Local Secretary, Kullu, which he embraced enthusiastically for many years. John spoke fluent English, Hindi and Kullui, the local pahari dialect. Ruldi, John's wife, a pahari lady, was born in Goshal , some three miles north of Manali at the entrance to the Solang nala. Together they established 'The Manali Orchards', which became a worthy successor to his uncle's 'Sunshine Orchards'. Like his illustrious uncle 'Chini Sahib' John took a leading role in municipal affairs of Manali, serving as a municipal councillor. He was the founder and subsequently president of the Hoteliers Association of Manali when mountain tourism was containable.
However there was an interregnum in his life as an horticulturist in Kullu. During the Second World War John served in the British Army, and was posted to Catterick, in North Yorkshire, the historic military cantonment, which was once my own home. It is still the most extensive military base in Britain and John's military service there had continued a Banon tradition extending back to the 19th century, of which he was very proud. His cousin Colonel Richard Banon of Manali, serving in the Dogra Regiment, was awarded the Vir Chakra for conspicuous gallantry on the Aksai Chin plateau in a border action during the Indo - Chinese war of 1962.
To me, as a veteran of exploratory mountaineering in Kullu, and consequently a regular visitor and guest, John Banon epitomised the industrious Anglo - Indian community of Manali. The Banon family had pioneered both the world - renowned horticulture of the region, producing the most famous apple orchards in India, as well as the provision of guest houses in the Kullu valley to cater for the explosive growth of mountain tourism. Like his uncle before him John became a pillar of the Manali community and whenever Pandit Jawarhal Nehru took up residence in the palatial Manali Circuit House he summoned 'Burfi Sahib' to tea parties on the extensive lawns surrounded by the stately Deodar trees of the arboretum. I owe my own darshan (meeting) of the great world statesman Nehru to John's insistence that I accompany him to such a garden party in 1958.
Sadly in later years John had become disillusioned with the unplanned and unrestricted growth of Manali from a charming hill resort in the 1950's, beloved of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, to the ugly urban sprawl threatening to engulf even the famous Dunghiri emple and where constant motor traffic pollutes the mountain air.
The Manali Orchards became well known throughout India, and even as far as Aden, for the fine quality and variety of its fruit under John's excellent husbandry. John's 'Manali Orchards' was the last orchard in the Kullu valley still growing the famous 'Cox's Orange Pippin'. However in the 1960's after hosting in particular my Derbyshire Himalayan expedition, which spent three months' mountaineering and exploring east of the Beas, John had diversified and opened his guest house. Thereafter he was to concentrate on his new profession as host and agent for numerous Indian and foreign expeditions. He had a particularly strong rapport with the Ladakhi porters who were to Kullu what the Sherpas were to Nepal. The naturally gifted mountaineer Sonam Wangyal was the talented leader of a small group of 'Sherpas of Ladakh' with whom John always liased when recruiting a team of high-altitude porters for visiting mountaineering expeditions. He will be fondly remembered by many mountaineers for his excellent hospitality, his sense of humour and for his unrivalled knowledge of the customs, manners and ceremonies of his pahari friends and neighbours.
An Excerpt from The Kullu Valley: India
Despite its remoteness, Kullu has always attracted outsiders. Like other hill states, it was annexed by the Sikh ruler of Punjab, Ranjit Singh and fell under British control when the Sikh armies were defeated in the Anglo-Sikh War. British army officers who originally visited the valley to hunt came back to settle. They formed a colony of planters and tried growing tea, but failed to make commercial success of it. According to some, the first man to think of planting apple trees here was an Irishman, Captain A T Bannon, who imported 200 trees in the 1860s. He seems to have stolen a march on the other orchard pioneer, Captain R C Lee of ihe Royal Sussex Regiment, who bought land in Kullu in 1870 and began to plant fruit trees. Their experiments proved successful. However, there was no road into the valley until after Independence and the entire orchard produce had to be carried 130 kilometres (81 miles) over the passes by porters. Like several of the planters, Captain Bannon came to stay and married a local girl. His grandson now runs the John Bannon Guest House in Manali and still owns some orchards. Independence and the construction of the road broke up the British colony and brought in the new age of tourism.
An Excerpt mentioning us in Fin Feather And Field by Simren Kaur