Nearly every Indian town that ever was occupied by the British (including Delhi itself) has a Mall. Mussoorie, too, is home to a Mall. In fact, the Mall is Mussoorie—at least touristy Mussoorie.
The Mall is a long stretch that goes all the way from what is known as Cloud’s End (in the west) to Rockville (in the east)—a ridge that commands a fine view over the Doon Valley below. Officially, though, the Mall is the length of road between Gandhi Chowk (also known as Library Chowk, since its most prominent landmark is the Library) and the Clock Tower, which marks the point where Mussoorie gives way to Landour.
No commercial vehicles are allowed on the Mall, and it’s even off-limits to private vehicles between 5 PM and 11 PM daily. This makes the Mall a great place for a promenade, since private vehicles are generally very few—they’re mostly the cars of those tourists who drive up to Mussoorie, park at a hotel, and then spend their time walking about the town.
The Mall can be covered, on foot, in about an hour’s time. It’s an interesting walk, because it’s quite an assault the senses. There’s loads to see, hear, experience—even taste.
A good bit of the stretch between the Library and Kulri (which is where the Mussoorie Post Office is located) has prettily worked cast iron railings on the valley side of the Mall. There are benches along the way, and what are known as ‘view points’, little pavilions where telescopes have been set up (but can be used only on payment of a fee—nothing seems to be free in commercial Mussoorie!)
The Library, at the western end of the Mall, is a lovely old colonial building (it was constructed in 1843) with a red sloping roof, gables and white-painted wrought iron columns and railings. From here, a stroll west brings you to one of Mussoorie’s most well-known (and well-preserved) attractions, Christ Church. Probably the oldest church in the hills in India, Christ Church was built in 1836 and has some of the best stained glass windows anywhere in India. The church lies about a hundred metres above the Mall, and approximately the same distance above the church is another building that was once part of the church complex, and was built at the same time: the
Kasmanda Palace heritage hotel, once a sanatorium, later a school, later still bought by the royal family of Kasmanda.
From Kasmanda Palace, the Mall stretches on, past rows of roadside stalls selling everything from cut-price clothing (much of it smuggled), to popcorn, instant noodles, and tatty souvenirs. The next major attraction—though not really attractive—is Gun Hill, so named because it once was home to cannon that used to be fired daily at noon to signal the time. The cannon’s long gone, but Gun Hill, by virtue of commanding a good view of the mountains, is highly popular with tourists. This one’s crass commercialism at its worst, so unless you’re ready to be hounded by pesky shopkeepers, photographers, telescope-wallahs, etc, steer clear of Gun Hill.
Gun Hill rises above the Mall, and below it, on the Mall itself, is the Ropeway, the cable car that transports visitors to and from Gun Hill.
Beyond the Ropeway terminus, the Mall—till this point, a fairly level stretch of road—begins to slope up and down as it meanders its way towards Kulri and then on to where Mussoorie finally touches Landour. By the time you get to Kulri, the view downhill is mostly obscured by buildings on both sides of the Mall. Many of these are old buildings, some of which are very pleasingly colonial in style—the State Bank of India building, for instance; or the famous red-and-white façade of the Clark’s Hotel. In the vicinity are other Mussoorie landmarks, like the Methodist Church (built in 1885), a venerable old stone building overlooking the Doon Valley; and the Cambridge Bookstore (not just one of Mussoorie’s oldest shops, but also well-known because the much-loved writer Ruskin Bond comes here every Saturday to sign books and chat with fans who may be around).
The Kulri stretch of the Mall is also the place which is most crowded with restaurants and eateries, including the popular Tibetan restaurant,
Kalsang Friends Corner and
Chick Chocolate, the latter possibly named for a once very famous jazz trumpeter. For those used to the more popular food chains in India, there’s a large Café Coffee Day outlet, a Domino’s, and even a Nirula’s restaurant, all within a stone’s throw of each other.
The last, easternmost stretch of the Mall is a far cry from the relatively open square and the panoramic views around the Library. Past the Picture Palace (Mussoorie’s first electric cinema theatre, established in 1912, when electricity first came to Mussoorie)—which is now a ghastly ‘5D haunted house’ gaming zone—the Mall becomes narrow, hemmed in on both sides by small shops and houses. This is the non-touristy part of town. Just a little beyond Picture Palace is one of Mussoorie’s two cab ranks (the first is below the Library, at the other end of the Mall). From here, a few minutes’ walk brings you to the Clock Tower, which officially marks the eastern end of the Mall. The Clock Tower itself doesn’t exist anymore—it was torn down several years back—but one of Mussoorie’s more popular cafés, the Clock Tower Café, stands here. Beyond, a narrow street winds its precipitous way up to Landour, and the Mall is left behind.