Even though I crave for everything offbeat, Mussoorie was one super touristy place that I always wanted to visit. I know something doesn’t quite fit right in my opening line, but then aren’t ironies always beautiful? I had this belief that there must be something extraordinary about the Queen of Hills, hoping that a part of its old world charm still remains. I set out in search of it last year with my mum and found my answers. Whatever I was looking for in Mussoorie, had kind of moved to Landour, leaving a trail of fragments behind so we could still trace the steps and find it hidden behind layers of mist.
Landour was a stopover during my last visit which had pleasantly surprised me. But my wishes, that of meeting it’s most loved citizen, Mr Ruskin Bond and of exploring more of the area were not met that time. Travelling on weekends is tough. It’s challenging in a way that one almost always wants to stay over and not go back to the Mondays that are waiting. But then I have devised a clever way of bearing this sorrow of heading home too soon. If I connect to a place, I would always want to come back, to get to know more of it, so it’s better to leave some parts unexplored-so that returning to these places becomes easier. It is kind of like saving the best for last, just that it comes in another installment.
So, when See Green Lodges gave me a chance to explore Mussoorie once again, I grabbed it with both my hands. This time, staying at Hathipaon which is a couple of hairpin bends before Mussoorie, we made sure the trip was all things offbeat. Hathipaon translating to an elephant’s foot in English is what the place looks like from top of the cliff, called George Everest Point.
See Green Lodges, located at a strategic point which is central to a few trails in the hills made for a perfect place to stay. We reached at noon and decided to head to the nearby Wishing Well first, stories of wishes coming true pulling us towards the well with a force which seemed both stupid and strong at the same time. Legend goes that if you throw a coin in the well, facing backwards and it lands straight in water without touching the walls, wishes passed along with the coin come true. Though wishes are not to be shared but then, how cute is it that the half woman accompanying us three women wished to be a fairy?
After we exhausted all the coins we had, we decided to head to Landour but then made an impromptu stopover at Mussoorie for a quick lunch. Like an excited bunch of kids eager to see the Wishing Well, we skipped lunch at See Green and were now regretting that decision. But then, everything happens for a reason and it was all destiny’s great conspiracy that we saw a huge line outside the famous Cambridge Book Store. Guess who we met there ?
One of my wishes already came true!!! I couldn’t stop smiling, couldn’t believe that this wasn’t a dream and couldn’t gather words to tell him how much I love him. But then, I know he knew. The rest of the day is a blur now, this being the highlight of the day, and easily of the trip as well. It’s another irony that I couldn’t meet him when I planned it the last time, and it happened this time,all of a sudden, all at once, without trying. A signed book, with his picture for the cover and his words, in writing and in print inside is the most precious gift travel has ever given me.
Touristy places have this strange enigma of their own. How much ever you avoid them, they will work the leftovers of their charm on you and make you stay a while longer than you intended. Mall Road at Mussoorie did the same to us, even though we were constantly claiming that it’s not as good as the one in Shimla. Pretty views, clouds hovering around the peaks and clearing for a while,only to come back again, make-shift shops selling pretty things and a whole lot of places to eat makes the huge Mall Road of Mussoorie the hub of all activity.
I wanted to bring those dolls home. But then decided not to, as I had already shopped more than my bags allowed. A visit to Cambridge bookstore is also to be blamed.
After a hearty lunch at Cafe By The Way (which is a must visit if you’re visiting Mussoorie) , we got moving towards Landour. The views kept getting better, the air, fresher and the heart, happier. Landour still has a visible old world charm, lingering from the days of the British Raj. Landour is named after a Welsh village, called Llanddowror and we unearthed the tradition that our invaders followed-to name areas after places in England, Wales, Scotland or Ireland, depending on their own lineage. Nostalgia makes one do strange things!
Char Dukan is a landmark that cannot be missed while heading towards Landour. This stopover is a delicious one, with aromas of food making sure you cannot cross without stopping here. Though we only had a humble plate of maggi, but these four shops have a lot to offer, from traditional English breakfast to selection of teas, to pancakes and waffles.
St. Paul’s Church, just before Char Dukan makes for a picture postcard and also acts as a reminder of the days when British were here. Though it was closed, but I have a feeling this one is a beauty from inside too!
Twilight made this one even prettier – St Kellogs, now a Centre of Language Studies.
And that’s how the Queen of Hills looks from Landour, about to embrace nightfall, twilight working it’s magic on the hill town and making it look a lot prettier with twinkling lights.
Darkness soon enveloped the larger part of the valley, making the lights glow brighter. Landour also wore a blanket of the night and it’s curvy lanes were now deserted. Not many people flock here anyway, and that’s one reason why it is still the cantonment it was supposed to be, almost a hundred years ago. Time seemed to have stopped here, admiring the beauty all around, forgetting to move forward.
That night in the hills worked its charm on me too, and though tired, I came back to Hathipaon with a desire to explore the village by walking around. A promise to get up early( which I could not keep) later, I was in a dreamland , already hiking in the Himalayas.
Next morning, as the sun invaded my room and I woke up to chirping of birds, I knew this was going to be another day that will give me a tale to remember.Agenda was a 3km hike to George Everest Point, named after the famous Welsh surveyor who was responsible for completing the section of the Great Trigonometric Survey of India. Mt Everest is said to be named after this great man who once lived where the George Everest Point today is.
The hike was a short one and came at a perfect time as I was craving for a trek since some days. I tried to wrap as much adventure as possible in this one by walking the trail even though my friends decided to go ahead in a car. Even though a short hike, it felt so good when I reached the destination, and also gave me some picture opportunities. I found these boys playing a game of cricket, a pitch being carved out on a meadow. I stopped and watched them play for a while. Little joys of life!
When one one of my friend’s decided to join me for a while, I got a chance to pose!
But then soon I got back to walking by myself and clicking silly pictures, good pictures, random pictures and some more pictures.
As always, the view from the top was breathtaking. With Sir George Everest’s house in the background, this place seemed just perfect to be associated with someone after whom the mighty Everest is named. It felt that the clouds were just an arm’s distance away and they could descend to our level any moment.
Though the views were breathtaking, the condition of the house was just the opposite. Lovers from all over India have left their marks on these walls which have been poorly maintained though they have been privy to things of much importance. Uttarakhand Tourism is not really doing a great job here, by striking out in the poster below, that this property is in ruins. It really is heartbreaking to see what we have made out of this heritage home. Thankfully, it is locked and sealed now, and hopefully, something will be done to revive it’s lost glory.
Prayer flags on the hillock to the left were invitations to spend some more time here, nursing the hope that something will soon be done to revive Sir George Everest’s home. I’ve always been attracted to these colorful shreds of faith and could not resist this time as well. We started walking towards them and soon landed in a little piece of paradise which will soon host one of my favourite properties in the mountains, Pahadi House. The best part about Pahadi House is that they don’t ruin the beat of the place for luxury, but let the rustic charm of the place be, even dwell over it. I instantly fell in love with everything that surrounded me and could feel a sense of calm taking over.
There’s another trail which starts from here and goes till the temple at the mountain peak. I could see these flags lined up till the top, but could go this time, as we had a kid along. So I left behind a piece of me there, which I’ll go to collect later on, when I complete this trail to the top. Someday, soon.