The road looks like it has tried to recover from a deluge and given up. Dense fog covers the entirety of my view and fog lamps of cars are on at 8 in the morning. It is quite a welcome, and being a sucker for cloudy weather I am loving it. The one hour drive from Dehradun was akin to unravelling a lost secret.
The Doon Valley is shrouded in mist and like a new lover, teases me with a few subtle glimpses of the riches on offer as the road climbs higher to the hill station of Mussoorie. I open the window of my room as soon as I walk in and a steady gust of wind carries white mist with it. I rejoice; my heart sings. As a traveller, nothing makes me happier than being in the midst of nature and breathing clean and pure mountain air.
A pleasant afternoon walk was in the offing and we oblige.
The Historic Camel’s Back Road
This is a walk only road as vehicles are not allowed during the day; it begins near the Picture Palace and ends near Library Chowk (Kulri Bazaar) through Camel’s Back. This road takes its name from a rocky outcrop in the shape of a camel’s hump. We pass the skating rink that is housed in a hotel. There is a cemetery that looks like a church; apparently it is more than 150 years old!
Away from the hustle and bustle of mall road, we see the delights of Uttarakhand. Water chestnuts vie for our attention, while we walk among the load bearing Nepalis. It must have been the salubrious air of this pretty hill town that attracted the British. The day had begun with a mist so fierce that someone might have felt it would never ever clear. But like life’s troubles get over with time, the sun too makes an appearance and breaks through the clouds and shoos them away.
Plenty of rain falls in these parts lending the pavements a generous coating of moss. We see various kinds of oak and rhododendron trees devoid of the flower that the tree is more widely known for. Brightly coloured houses peek through the lush greenery and are sometimes hidden from view until I am directly in front of them. A smattering of dhabas and chowmein joints informs that we have reached Camel’s Back.
I don’t usually believe the touristy shenanigans but am pleasantly surprised to spot a rock shaped as a camel’s back. School kids vrooming on their new scooters is the only traffic we encounter. Peace messages adorn signboards when we pass the Nirankari Baba Ashram. Various viewpoints called ‘Hawa Mahal’ have been installed at many points along the road; it is a great place to sit and enjoy the sights at your own pace.
On the other side of the valley, clouds rise like cotton balls amidst the few houses nestled among the greens. Dusk falls and incredible sunset colours dominate the sights. The snowy peaks give us a brief chance to see their splendour. Near Library Chowk the trail joins the Mall Road, families jostle to buy tickets at The Ritz (Mussoorie’s only movie theatre). We pass the famous little eatery – Lovely Omelette Centre at Kulri Bazaar; it has already downed shutters for the day.
The cable car that takes visitors to Gun Hill is to our right, along with a pretty stone structure with statues of Freedom Fighters. Lights at the mall road glitter while we walk back in the serenity of darkness.
Where did I wake up? In Paradise… perhaps!
As soon as I wake up and let the window ajar, fog enters my abode. I quite like this setting of bright colours sprinkled with yellow and blue.
A walk in the misty forest would later turn out to be one of the highlights of Mussoorie.
George Everest House & Haathipaon Walk
The car drops us in the middle of a path that ends abruptly in the dense forest. We are supposed to walk towards Haathi Paon near George Everest House (Mt. Everest was named after him.) Sir George Everest was the first Surveyor General of India and was largely responsible for a big section of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India.
It is the perfect weather for a leisurely stroll while breathing in the aroma of the forest. Moss is a dominating feature on the trees and the dark shade of green is a delight for greenery starved eyes. It is only fitting that in this fairytale kind of weather, we come upon the sight of a wishing well! Legend has it that if a coin falls directly in the water without hitting the walls, the thrower’s wish was fulfilled.
Local Garhwali women fill water from the well to be carried to their faraway homes and cheerfully exchange greetings. There is a dhaba amid scenic beauty near the well but the owners are nowhere to be seen, and our hopes of having chai in the mist quickly fade away. The sun (as if on cue) makes its way through as we walk to see a lone tower stand atop a hillock. It is an annexe to the George Everest House.
The house itself is in a shabby shape and might wear a haunted look if no one is around. Graffiti is scribbled on the walls and Langurs abound. Locals tell me that a new year music festival held at the George Everest House was quite a hit! There is also the Benong Bird Sanctuary for bird lovers.
A nearby hillock is piled with fluttering prayer flags; young lovers loiter around the two cafés that are in the vicinity. We walk a descending path to sight a very competitive cricket match that is in progress on a flat stretch of a beautiful green ground surrounded by pine trees.
We also see the other side of the elephant mountain (Haathipaon). It is very chilly as blustery winds blow while trees laden with walnuts sway furiously. On our way back, I sight a colossal structure (British looking) owned by the family of Kapurthala; it looks like an English Castle. It was built in 1899 and is known as The Kapurthala Estate. Sadly, entry is a restricted affair and I am denied a closer look at this wonderful delight from yesteryear.
We are happy to be back watching the fog envelop Mussoorie; from the warm confines of my suite. I had gotten excited at the mention of a hundred year old house made of wood in a nearby town and had expressed a desire to visit it. Traditional architecture has always appealed to me; it also tells a lot about the culture and history of a place.
A Timeless Himalayan Village – Bhatoli
A short 20 km downhill drive on the Chakrata-Tiuni road brought us to the village of Bhatoli. Maize fields surround the 25 houses of Bhatoli, a gurgling stream flows, clouds make merry on a nearby mountain even as the sun shines in glee. We walk to the house of one Mr. Sanwal.
There it stood, proud and taut and hardly gave away its 100 year old status. The wooden pillars had been painted afresh and gave the house a different look. Once inside, I was astounded to see sliding windows from a century ago. The base was made with stones and mud and was used as a storage place while the part where the family lived was made entirely out of Deodhar wood. (Literally wood of the gods.) Corn is left to dry and hangs everywhere on the strings giving the village a unique character.
Typically, the height of these houses is low and one has to stoop through the gates to get in. We were in to have our wishes fulfilled (remember the wishing well) and the family welcomes us with tasty and sweet steamed corn. Life goes on unchanged in the villages and it is a pleasant delight to see the slow pace of life in Bhatoli village. We pass the touristy Kempty Falls on our way back, the waters of which have swollen by the bountiful monsoons.
The drive is pure adventure in the dark, the fog makes sure that visibility is reduced to barely ten feet. The road twisting and turns, a song on the radio brings us to life. We scream and sing along in delight, the cab driver joins in the fun!
Back in Mussoorie, its a different view altogether, twinkling lights across the entire Doon Valley are visible in an unending panorama. Faint sound of loudspeakers indicates that celebrations of a hindu festival are underway. I snuggle into my warm bed and let the cool breeze lull me to sleep.
Erstwhile Heritage Structures of the British – Landour
The sun has finally triumphed in its battle with the clouds and I am privy to a spectacular bird’s eye view of Dehradun and the entire Doon Valley. The sky is a glorious colour of blue, nearby hills and heritage structures of Mussoorie are also visible. We walk toward the timeless British Cantonment Area of Landour and are pleased to see it as beautiful as always.
Mussoorie’s lush green hills and the iconic Woodstock School are visible as we make the circular walk from Char Dukaan to Lal Tibba while passing Sister’s Bazaar and the Christian Cemetery on the way. St. Paul’s Church shines in the bright sun; we stroll happily to see the beautiful Kellogg Church & Language School. I buy some jams at Prakash Uncle’s shop and happily smell coffee beans at Landour Bakehouse; everyone in Landour recognises me – courtesy of the four days spent here earlier this year.
Rokeby Manor’s owner, Mr. Sanjay Narang seemingly owns most of the land in Landour. Cute signboards near his newly built home inform us that it is indeed a charming cottage owned by Mr. Narang himself.
The beautiful house of Victor Banerjee named Parsonage wears a cheery feel. It is blissful among the whispering pines and views stretching as far away as Dehradun are clearly visible. On our way back, the car stops at Doma’s Inn and we are shown Mr. Ruskin Bond’s residence.
Entry to the cemetery is only allowed once a week.
Quaint spaces in Landour, utterly charming and delightful.
Mosaic Hotel, Mussoorie : Located just before the parking at Picture Palace, Mosaic Mussoorie is the right kind of mix to explore Mussoorie at your own relaxed pace. It is an ideal choice for families and people looking for comfortable travel as cars are not allowed to drive any further on the Mall Road. A big mention for their Chef Mr. Dheeraj – I was enthralled by a tasty dish of the dreaded green leaf ‘Sisnu’ locally called bicchu ghaas and in English – stinging nettle.
The above walks were guided and arranged by Mosaic Mussoorie. Depending on the season and weather, they offer options of ten walks in and Mussoorie for travellers to have a right mix of exploring Mussoorie even while staying in the vicinity of Mall Road. Various activities that they arrange except the above mentioned are food walks, short treks, bird watching, cycling, photo walks, picnics and other sights nearby. Their guides are well informed locals and have in depth knowledge of the area.
Disclaimer : I was at Mosaic Mussoorie on an invitation. The views shared here are my own and completely unbiased. My readers’ trust is my greatest priority.
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