Mussoorie—named for a local plant, called mansur (Cororiana nepalensis)—was originally two settlements. On the east was Landour, established in 1827 as a convalescence centre for British soldiers. On the west, at a lower altitude, was Mussoorie itself, where the first huts had been built in the early 1800s by British officers trying to hold this area against invading Gurkha troops. By the late 19th century, Mussoorie had become something like a mini Simla: officers and their families, grass widows, and lovelorn young soldiers turned up every year between April and October to escape the heat of the plains. There was pig-sticking and gambling, theatre and scandal, gossip aplenty.
Today, while Landour still retains much of its original old-fashioned charm, Mussoorie has suffered the ravages of generations of Indian tourists. Most of the best-maintained and loveliest colonial buildings, like Woodstock School, Wynberg-Allen School, the Indian Administrative Services (IAS) Academy building and Kapurthala House (one of the residences of the ex-royal family of the former princely state of Kapurthala), are privately owned and therefore out of bounds for casual visitors.
Sightseeing: Some of the best-maintained buildings that you can visit in Mussoorie and Landour are the churches, including Mussoorie’s oldest, Christ Church; St Paul’s; and the Methodist Church. The Mall, Mussoorie’s main artery (and busiest area), is often crowded and even dirty, but if you scout around, you’ll see some lovely old buildings here—look out for the wonderful old Library, the State Bank Building, and the Clark’s Hotel building, all of them important landmarks in Mussoorie’s past.
Sadly, some of the more popular sights in Mussoorie—like Gun Hill, and (slightly outside town) Kempty Falls, are overridden by people who want everything to be an amusement park and have no time for either history or natural beauty. One very historic sight, Park Estate—the home and laboratory of Sir George Everest, the Surveyor-General after whom the mountain is named—lies about 6 km from Mussoorie. While the area itself is scenic, the building is in a frightful state.
Getting around: When talking of transportation, there are two important considerations to keep in mind in Mussoorie and Landour.
Firstly, the heights. The two contiguous towns sprawl across the hillsides, with roads and paths climbing steeply up and down. If you’re not very fit or have problems with mobility, this can be a real obstacle.
Secondly, the fact that no commercial motorised vehicles are allowed on the Mall, and that the Mall is even closed to private motorised vehicles between 5 PM and 11 PM everyday (the rest of the day, private cars can travel on the Mall after paying a fee of Rs 100).
Although motorised vehicles are scarce on the Mall, horses (almost wholly as a tourist attraction) are available for rides, as are rickshaws. For trips further afield, you can hire a taxi from the cab ranks at the two ends of the Mall: one is just below Library Chowk (also known as Gandhi Chowk) at the western end of the Mall, while the other is next to Picture Palace, near the eastern end of the Mall.
Even if you have your own vehicle, it’s better not to attempt to use it to visit Landour: trips to Landour landmarks like Chaar Dukaan, St Paul’s and Sisters Bazaar necessitate going through the very narrow and precipitously steep alleys of Landour Bazaar. For Landour, hire a cab, or walk, if you’re ready for the steep climb.