After our visit to the absurd Kempty Falls, the driver we'd hired for the day finally turned back and drove us to Mussoorie. We'd all been quite excited earlier in the day when we'd arrived in the town and then baffled that the driver had just kept going without stopping. When we had crawled back up the mountainside we were hungry and eager to see what the town had to offer.
I have a weakness for the Indian hill stations, enjoying the historic sense of their importance to the European settlers who were desperate to survive the worst of the sub-continent's extreme heat. We've been to Shimla, the winter capital of the British administration and to Darjeeling, more loved as the bolt-hole of the Calcutta Brits. We've even spent a couple of days in Ooty, one of the southern Indian hill stations but Mussoorie was unknown territory. It has the dubious benefit of being simultaneously both more and less accessible than the other two. More accessible because Dehradun is a little more than 200 km from Delhi with a good train connection and then a drive of about one and half hours up the mountainside and less accessible because unlike the others, it doesn't have a mountain railway.
Our driver parked up in the town's main car park at the far side of the town and gave us a couple hours to look around. Initially I thought it might not be enough but Mussoorie isn't a big town and you can easily cover it in two to three hours. We stopped to look at the hotels and houses clinging to the mountainside, defying gravity and looking a bit mouldy. Most had metal roofs which we'd previously learned were needed because monkeys pull off any other type of roofing material.
We found a small bakery in the town centre and bought some snacks, eating them beside the statue of Gandhi, trying not to trip over the chap who was sleeping next to it. It was cold – notably a lot colder than down in Dehra Dun. We took out the guidebook just to reconfirm what we'd already worked out – that there wasn't much to see – and decided that the absence of hot attractions meant we really could just chill out and wander. Like many of the hill stations, there's a main drag known as The Mall which bears no relationship whatsoever to the contemporary USA-led idea of a shopping mall. The Mall is a place to wander, to promenade and if you're an Indian tourists to strut around in your woolie hat and warmest clothes revelling in the sense of being cold. Cold is too familiar to us Brits though and foggy mist was spoiling the best of our views.
The bakery we found was on the balcony of a so-called department store – a tiny shop that crammed in pharmaceuticals, foodstuffs, stationery, toiletries and all manner of other bits and bobs. The shop was one of a run of small places in a block that had a beautiful cast iron balcony upstairs that reminded us of Australian architecture but must have just been what was really fashionable in Victorian times.
Transport in Mussoorie is less controlled than Darjeeling or Shimla where in each case the main shopping and promenading streets are pedestrian only. There were no autorickshaws in the town and all the rickshaws were proper old cycle-pulled ones, with collapsible covers. I hate to think how hard it must be for a rickshaw-wallah to get one of those up even a slight hill. There are also a lot of horses on The Mall and we were surprised to see everyone from small children to full grown adults taking a little pleasure ride on the horses. Equally surprising the horses seemed to be well kept and not smelly.
There were some lovely old cast iron shelters along the road side which must have been perfect for stopping to get some shade and watch the great and the good wandering past. They looked as if they'd not have been out of place on the seafront in Brighton or Bognor Regis. There was a particularly attractive shaded look out point next to the public toilets.
The guidebook had alerted us to a Tibetan market and after I'd spotted a few ladies in long aprons with more oriental features, we worked out where it was and were quite excited to see what was on offer. Sadly the market sold nothing of interest and was mostly filled with counterfeit branded clothing probably imported from China. The road on which the market stood led to a pretty old church that was sadly closed but must have once been a very important building and central to the summer community that inhabited the town.
With time to spare and the fog coming down across the city we stopped off in a coffee bar to get out of the cold and enjoy a decent drink for a change (hotel coffee and tea is awful in India and you don't realise how much you'd kill for a cappuccino after only a few days). I'd also been on a mission to find momos, the fabulous Nepalese steamed dumplings that I'd been addicted to in Darjeeling a few years earlier. We were amazed to find only one place, a small restaurant with spectacular chandeliers that looked like it might have once been a very grand meeting place. Whilst my sister and her girlfriend went hunting for beer in the liquor store, we waited patiently for momos to be made.
Strolling back through the town we returned to the car, gobbled up the momos with the drivers help, and then started the trek back down the mountainside. Mussoorie isn't really a place to see things; it's much more a place to just wander around, soak up the atmosphere and – if the fog clears long enough – to take a deep breath of clean air and enjoy the views.
If Mussoorie had been easier to get to, I think we'd have planned to stay a day or two. On the basis of just a couple of hours there, I think we'd have been bored rather quickly. Mussoorie does seem to be a place to visit on a day trip rather than somewhere to stay for a long time