Mussoorie – “Landour the hilltop magic”
Mussoorie – Landour, I remember as a child I had read stories by Ruskin Bond and I wondered to myself, ‘where can this place be’? ‘Will it still be as magical now as it was when he wrote about it’? I imagined a fairy tale like town atop mountains lined with towering pine trees and dotted with quaint cottages.
You can imagine how thrilled I was when I heard my friends had moved to Mussoorie! This was an opportunity I had to exploit and exploit I did. As my partner and I set off to the magical land of my dreams.
When I think back now I don’t think I paid much attention when they told me they were staying in Mussoorie-Landour but that doesn’t matter anymore because, well..” Serendipity”.
Our journey to Mussoorie-Landour
We had a couple of options before us; a two day long train ride, a quick airway or a mix and match sort of scenario. We ended up taking the Rajdhani, which I must admit was the best train journey I have had. The idea was to reach Delhi from where a number of taxi or bus services are available that would take us directly to Mussoorie.
For general information, those who arrive at the Delhi airport can catch a connection flight to the adorable Jolly Grant airport, a little away from Dehradun. Once we reached Delhi, we took a bus to Mussoorie as planned. The journey took us to winding paths within the Shivaliks, through the countryside and finally up the roads that lead to Mussoorie. We were only half-way up the hill and we could already see rows of buildings crowning them.
Finally we reached our stop at ‘Picture Palace’ which was fortunate because some buses take you to the ‘Library Chowk’ which is a good 3 kilometers from the road we need to take to get to Landour.
As I stepped out and saw the swarm of fellow-tourists I realized there was no way a place as popular as Mussoorie would be the quiet mountain town I had expected it to be. But the further I climbed the more endearing I found it. The town had many old institutions and businesses that lined the streets of this town.
The busy Landour Bazaar was no different, with the ‘Survey of India’ making up one boundary and the many eateries, hotels and shops making up the other of this narrow street. At a certain point, the road and the crowd seemed to fade away which I later found to be ‘Mullinghar’. Mullinghar is deemed to be one of the earliest settlements of Mussoorie with a major populace still residing here.
Only people who knew about Landour would venture any higher. From where we stood, it looked like we would only find a few houses hidden amidst a pine forest. The air started becoming colder and the chirp of the birds clearer; I huffed and puffed a good deal as we climbed up the steep path while breathing in the delightfully pristine mountain air. We then finally reached ‘Char Dukhaan’, where we had arranged to meet our friends.
‘Char Dukhaan and the Chakar’
We emerged at a triangular junction with a leafless tree standing majestically in the center. In front of us was a line of neatly arranged shops (eateries mostly). At the corner-most shop we found our friends sitting against a backdrop of potted plants waving at us frantically.
It was nice to be with them again but it was nicer to be sipping hot black coffee from a large mug with the winter air against my face. After staring at an ornate board with ‘Tip Top’ written on top followed by the menu we chose our lunch.
The exploration of the town of Landour followed soon after. The roads here where surrounded by towering pine trees, we came across cottages once in a while and as the sun began to set we saw a sight I can never forget; three beautiful streaks of color running across the sky – the ‘winterline’!
As I stood awe-struck by this display of colors my friends explained to me how this was besides Switzerland, the only other place where the winterline is visible. We continued on our trail and this is when I found out the quiet of Landour was no accident.
The British Raj
It turns out Landour was an elite, English resident during the time of the British Raj and post-independence when the army took over the land construction of new property was made illegal. This explained why all the cottages I saw looked like they were from some town in Europe and also how Landour did not become a business-center like Mussoorie.
By now the air had become pretty cold, while I thought that it was because the sun was leaving for the day it was actually because we had reached the north-facing side of the mountain. In the winters, this is a shadow region so even during the day it remains rather chilly. Sure enough, the sun and the winterline had disappeared and I was now looking (jaws-ajar) at the snow-laden peaks of the Greater Himalayas.
We had reached ‘Lal Tibba’, the highest point in Landour. Here, they have installed a telescope for tourists and there is also a café where you can grab hot beverages to keep warm. We passed the cemetery and a dog was popping his head out from over the ridge.
This cemetery like all other Christian institutions here is non-denominational to serve the diverse community of Landour. Finally we rounded in on a gray-stoned Church and sunlight hit us again. The ‘Kellogg Church’ like the cemetery is also non-denominational and is home to the ‘Language School’ which teaches Hindi to foreigners.
There were two roads from here, one that would lead back to Char Dukhan and the other would circle back on itself making an 8-shape. We had had a long day and so we decided to go to our friends’ house where we would spend the night. As we walked towards their house, I noticed the magical display of lights that was the ‘Doon valley’ from the hills.
Big city lights
The vast expanse engulfed in darkness with only the city’s lights glimmering under the night-sky, it really did take my breath away. With the intoxication slowly fading away, we walked through narrow paths down the mountain-sides until we reached the ‘tree-house’ where they lived.
The Winterline Carnival
Early next morning, the sun was shining through the huge glass windows of our room. We got dressed, and once the coffee rituals were over we left in search of a good morning trek. The advantages of a morning trek are: one you don’t sweat much and two you have a better chance of catching sight of indigenous birds flying about in the forest.
Trekking in Landour
We reached the cemetery and walked downwards with my eyes wide open for pretty pine cones. Although there are many well-known trek routes in Landour we made ours up as we went and Landour was generous enough to allow us to do that. If one is lucky, like we were there are chances of spotting some fascinating bird and animal species.
The Jungle Fowl or the ‘khaleej’ as it is called here might randomly shoot up into the air. The tiny multicolored ‘Tits’ flying about from one branch to another will leave you light-hearted. There are also the shy but fierce ‘Pine Martens’ crawling around in these forests.
After a happy trek in the pine woods of Landour we headed back to Char Dukhaan only to find it wrapped in festivity. Every year Mussoorie holds a carnival to celebrate the spectacular phenomenon that is the Winterline. We happened to be at the right place for one of the events of this carnival.
The folk tunes of the Garhwal
Some locals dressed in traditional clothing were singing and dancing to folk tunes of the Garhwal region, there were stalls lining one side of the triangle selling handicrafts, hand-woven clothing, carpets and souvenirs and all the residents of Landour could be seen enjoying the festivities. We too became a part of this awe-struck audience before we ducked into my soon-to-be favorite place in Landour, Café Ivy.
The entrance is an obscure, narrow passage leading down to one of the most gorgeous spaces I have been in. The main café was lit with amber lights and had a warm and cozy feel to it. It was separated from the balcony by a series of tall glass panes. A sliding door took us to the balcony that offered a mind blowing view of the mountains sloping downwards only to rise again and peak at a distance.
Pizza at café Ivy
The guys who ran the café soon joined us; they were ‘jolly lads’ so to say. All of us huddled on a couch and chatted away as our food arrived. One bite into the pizza and thus Ivy became my favorite pizza place. During our stay in Landour, the ‘pizza’ and ‘chicken parantha’ from Café Ivy became my favorite lunch and dinner while my favorite coffee and ginger lemon tea place remained the corner table at the Tip Top Tea Shop.
A celebrity cobbler
While the sun went down we too went down to the Landour bazaar. This is when I ‘renoticed’ if you will a dim-light, inquisitive cobbler shop. My friends informed me that this shop had one of the best cobblers around and for proof there were pictures of him with many celebrities from far and beyond decorating the walls of the shop.
I didn’t waste another minute! Amazing leather work, custom-made and absolutely inexpensive apparels was something you can’t turn down. My advice would be to order boots as soon as you arrive so that you can pick them up before you leave.
Landour Bake House
That night we finally stopped at the ‘Landour Bake House’. I had been eyeing the pastry through the window for far too long. As we entered, we were greeted by the sweet aroma of things being bake and their hospitable staff. We chose a seat at a cozy corner with a window overlooking the pine forest and sat down.
Time for some fresh cream pancake
I had a fresh cream pancake and from the fact that everybody’s eyes were fixed on their plates, it wasn’t too hard to guess that everything they had ordered tasted just as good as my pancake. Over the next couple of days we made many stops here to satisfy our sweet-teeth with striped candy, chocolate-rum balls, carrot cake and much more.
The night it snowed at Mussoorie – Landour
The next morning I lazily opened my eyes and I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing. The tree outside the window was white and then it hit me. I stumbled towards the window and saw the entire mountain draped in snow. Everything after that happened so fast and we were out throwing snowballs at each other and yelling like mad children.
Our first snowfall
It was the first snow for all of us. That entire day we spent making face impressions and snow angels along the snow laden roads of Landour. As evening came we walked towards ‘Doma’s Inn’ which is on the way to Landour Bazaar. It was less crowded here unlike the now crowded Char Dukhaan.
By the way, Doma’s Inn is one among the few hotels in Landour alongside Rokeby Manor and Ivy Bank. The otherwise bright and colorful Tibetan decor became a little sober and cozy with the hot soup and the sumptuous early dinner.
During many of our walks we came across troops of monkeys (Rhesus macaque) dangling from branches and in their own adorable way, making a ruckus. What really caught my attention though were the silent cousins with gray fur around their wizened dark faces, the elegant Gray Langurs.
These tall creatures could be seen atop roofs and trees legs stretched-out while basking in the sunlight. They were somewhat monk-like, and also held fantastic poses for a camera. Time sometimes seizes to move when you gaze into their thoughtful faces.
Everything comes to an end
The warm and happy faces of the residents, the thick pine forests, the breath-taking view of the Doon Valley and the beautiful Winterline were all imprinted in my memory of this magical hill-town.
It was now time to pack all my souvenirs, I packed the jars of chocolate milk powder that we bought from the Landour Bake house carefully, my custom-made footwear, a few jars of home-made pickles and peanut butter that we bought from Prakash’s store adjacent to the Bake House and an eloquent hand-woven bag I bought at the carnival. We bid goodbye to our friends and made our way slowly down the mountain relishing every sight one last time before Landour call again…