Written by phileasfogg on 22 Nov, 2012
Landour began in the early 1800s as a convalescence centre for British soldiers. Among those who played a major part in looking after the recuperating military men were nuns: the ‘sisters’. Landour has long since stopped being a place to recover and recuperate, and the…Read More
Landour began in the early 1800s as a convalescence centre for British soldiers. Among those who played a major part in looking after the recuperating military men were nuns: the ‘sisters’. Landour has long since stopped being a place to recover and recuperate, and the sisters have long since moved out, but the memory of those days remains in the name of Sisters Bazaar. The ‘sisters’ of Landour used to live in a dormitory here, which is why the street has become known as Sisters Bazaar. It isn’t really a bazaar as such—not unless you consider two shops a bazaar!
This is a small, very quiet and sleepy little street in Landour, where a bunch of cottages—two of them partly converted into shops—line on side. Geraniums grow in pots hung in wire baskets from the eaves of the cottages. Birdsong can be heard from the deodar woods nearby, and there’s an air of unhurried, uncrowded charm that’s a very welcome break from the din of Mussoorie.
The other side of the Sisters Bazaar street is occupied by a long, low building with a stone rubble wall till about half-way up, and a dun wash above that. This was, when the nuns lived in Landour, the dormitory that accommodated them. Later, long after the nuns had moved out, the building was bought by legendary Hindi filmstar Dev Anand, whose family still owns it—we were told that his daughter Devina still lives there.
The biggest draw of Sisters Bazaar is Prakash Store, the larger of the two shops on this street. Prakash Store caters largely to the more Westernised of Landour’s residents (including the many foreigners who come to the Language School to study Indian languages). Besides the usual branded groceries that you’ll find in other shops in Mussoorie and Landour, Prakash Store also stocks a lot of imported foods: nothing terribly fancy, but old (and addictive) favourites like Mars bars, Nutella, snacks, canned food, even a few cheeses, such as cheddar.
More importantly, Prakash Store doesn’t restrict itself to only selling stuff they’ve procured; they also make some goodies. Chief among these are fruit preserves—the recipe dates back to 1926, and was originally obtained from the ‘sisters’ at the convalescence home. Strawberries, gooseberries (actually, cape gooseberries), apricots, plums, and other local fruit are made into jams and sold here. They also make cheeses—local cheddar and goat’s milk cheese among them—andyak’s milk cheese. Plus, they do some baking.
The day we visited Sisters Bazaar and stopped by at Prakash Store, they didn’t have any yak’s milk cheese (which was what we were actually interested in), so we skipped the cheese, and bought a few bottles of jam instead: plum, apricot, strawberry, and gooseberry. The baked goods section had some relatively mundane bread, cinnamon buns, and some very fragrant banana and walnut bread (in fact, one of the best things about going into Prakash Store—even if you don’t buy anything—is that you’re greeted with the aroma of baking. Lovely!)
We ended up buying a loaf of banana and walnut bread to have with our tea back at the hotel. Though it was nice and moist, it didn’t have as much banana flavour as we’d have expected. The jams, when we had them back home, turned out to be a hit or miss affair; the two jams we kept for ourselves—apricot, and strawberry—were vastly different in quality. The strawberry jam was just the right consistency, and tasted great. The apricot jam, on the other hand, tasted of nothing in particular (certainly not apricots), and was set pretty solid—too much pectin there, I think.
Other than this large store, there’s a tiny shop a few metres down the street. This deals in local goods and souvenirs: clothing (especially woollens), embroidered scarves and stoles, trinkets, handmade soap, and a range of organic foods, from unusual flours to raw sugar. It’s a nice (if cramped) place to buy stuff for friends and relatives who may not be especially keen on jams or cheeses.
Written by phileasfogg on 12 Nov, 2012
When I mentioned to a friend (who had just returned from a trip to Mussoorie) that I was headed there the following weekend, she insisted on lending me a book she’d bought during her trip. This was Mussoorie & Landour: Days of Wine & Roses,…Read More
When I mentioned to a friend (who had just returned from a trip to Mussoorie) that I was headed there the following weekend, she insisted on lending me a book she’d bought during her trip. This was Mussoorie & Landour: Days of Wine & Roses, by Ruskin Bond and Ganesh Saili.
Ruskin Bond, arguably India’s best-loved writer in English, has been a resident of Landour (an adjacent town, higher than Mussoorie and contiguous with it) for many years. So has Ganesh Saili, who has been a friend of Bond’s for the past 30 years. They come together in this book to talk about Mussoorie and Landour.
Mussoorie & Landour: Days of Wine & Roses (published by Roli Books, 2010) consists of nine chapters. The first seven are by (one assumes) both Bond and Saili—though, since it isn’t mentioned who’s written what, it could well be that only Bond did the writing while Saili took the many, many photographs that embellish the book.
The chapters alternate between factual and anecdotal, beginning with ‘The Mussoorie I Know’, which is very obviously Ruskin Bond—his writing is distinctive here, as he talks about daily life in Landour, the people he knows, the natural beauty around, and his own interactions with both nature and people. It’s an enjoyable, informal little chapter about the town.
That informality and chattiness is repeated in other chapters, especially ‘Up At the Top’ and ‘Looking for John Lang’ (the latter about the Australian-born novelist and barrister John Lang, who lived the last years of his life in Mussoorie and is buried here). To an extent, the informal, somewhat gossipy feel also permeates two other chapters, ‘Tales the Tombstones Tell’ and ‘Tales of a Hill Station’—the latter includes this delicious quotation:
‘The famous traveller Lowell Thomas, visiting Mussoorie in 1926, wrote: "There is a hotel in Mussoorie (the Savoy) where they ring a bell just before dawn so that the pious may say their prayers and the impious, get back to their own beds"’.
The two remaining chapters by Bond (and/or Saili?) are the ones that describe the history of Mussoorie and Landour. Chapter 2, ‘Birth of a Hill Station’, is about how Mussoorie came into being (after the British defended it against invading Nepalese forces in the early 1800s—the first building here was a small hut erected in 1823). There’s more, about how Mussoorie grew, how its buildings and businesses arose (and fell!), and the people who made this town their home. Chapter 5, ‘The Schools Today’ is all about Mussoorie’s several old and very prestigious boarding schools: their histories and their current state.
Whereas the more informal chapters are fun to read, Chapter 2 and 5 are, in comparison, fairly dull—especially the one on schools, which would be interesting only if you wanted to know when each school was set up, under which head master/head mistress, with how many students, when it was expanded, when it shifted to a particular building, and so on: very boring.
Besides these seven chapters, there are two additional chapters, ‘The Himalayan Club’ and ‘A Mussoorie Miscellany’, which are neither by Bond nor Saili: they’re a reproduction of selected writings of John Lang (who was also Charles Dickens’s correspondent in this part of the world). Lang’s writings are full of deliciously juicy anecdotes, ranging from the crimes committed, the scandals, and the unfortunate accidents that occurred here back in the mid-1800s.
Mussoorie & Landour: Days of Wine & Roses isn’t the book if you want a guide to the sights to see around here, but it’s a great book to get a feel of why Mussoorie was once known as the ‘Queen of the Hills’. There’s loads of history here, both factual and anecdotal, personal and impersonal—and that, unfortunately, is where the book does stumble, a bit. The style of writing varies so much from the friendly and approachable to the boringly factual, that it almost feels, when you’re moving on from one chapter to the next, that you’ve switched books. That’s a feeling that’s accentuated by the facts that get repeated, sometimes with changes, in various parts of the book. How Mussoorie was established is repeated a couple of times; the story of Landour—how it began as a convalescence centre, then progressed to what it is today—is also repeated.
Somehow, I got the impression that nobody had edited this book, and that the authors themselves had probably not bothered to even browse through each other’s writing (or had forgotten what they’d written earlier, and not even done a re-read?). For example, in the chapter, ‘Tales of a Hill Station’, an account of Gun Hill specifies that the firing of the gun was discontinued after an episode in which the ‘shot’ (a ball of moist grass and cotton waste) landed in the lap of a lady who was on her way down to the plains. Three chapters further in the book, in ‘Looking for John Lang’, we’re told that the firing of the gun was discontinued after the shot landed in the lap of a lady who had been snoozing through the sermon at St Thomas’s Church. What are we to believe?
Then there’s this incredible statement in ‘The Schools Today’: "In 1888 Mr T.H. Garlah started a school in Willow Lodge but moved in 1898 to The Dingle, and later, in 1905, moved again to the present site Woodlands, which is why the school is now known by that name. T.H. Garlah is still proprietor and principal of the institution…". Considering the book was published in 2010, that puts Mr Garlah’s age at about 150 years, keeping in mind that he must’ve been at least 20 years old when he established the school. Hmm.
Despite those hiccups (and the occasional typo), this is mostly an engrossing, informative book. It has lots of photos, both current as well as old ones (including a lot of wonderful old pictures of Mussoorie in its heyday—ladies in rickshaws; local townspeople in Landour; numerous scenes of different parts of the two towns). All of it is packed into a fairly compact book, which I read easily over the course of the three evenings we spent in Mussoorie. A rewarding way to spend the time.
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…Read More
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.
Written by phileasfogg on 29 Oct, 2012
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…Read More
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.
Written by koshkha on 23 Nov, 2010
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…Read More
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 timeClose