On the circular path of Landour, a board hanging on a tree announces ‘If we liked noise we wouldn’t live here, if you like noise you shouldn’t be here.’ Immediately, an inexplicable rush of happiness courses through my veins. I’m no stranger to Landour; having spent multiple lazy vacations in this tiny fairytale town (if it could be called a town!) and yet it is a place I love returning to. And befitting the charm of Landour is Rokeby Manor, a charming heritage structure converted into a boutique hotel.
The distance from Mussoorie to Landour is a mere 5 kms but it feels like a different world. There is poetry in every aspect of Landour; from the music of the wind through the deodar trees to the stories of the heritage structures dotting the hillsides. It has retained its unique British Cantonment flavour; with heritage Churches, circular walking paths with (almost) zero traffic. The no-new construction policy means that Landour doesn’t seem to change character even as the decades pass by.
If I woke up in a stupor and was airdropped to Landour, it could be 2015 or 2025 and I wouldn’t be able to tell!
We were picked up early in the morning from Dehradun ISBT and as soon as we crossed Rajpur, the cool breeze of Mussoorie soothed the May heat. And thereby we were blessed to not get stuck in a traffic jam while reaching Rokeby Manor as the pick-up car was deftly manoeuvred on gravity-defying slopes on one of the many shortcuts on the road to Landour. We were quickly ushered to our room; it was proper chilly in Landour! The weather was crisp as we loved sipping chai in the serene flowery setting of ‘The Tea Garden’.
Rokeby Manor – An integral part of Landour
Rokeby Manor was originally built in 1840 and is named after a poem written by Sir Walter Scott. Its wood and stone interiors embody Landour’s soul and charm while the modern amenities truly make the mansion an elegant boutique heritage hotel. Rokeby Manor gives guests a homely feel, and cosy Victorian fireplaces lend it an inviting and warm character.
Rokeby Manor has changed many owners since 1840 and was also owned by Frederick ‘Pahari’ Wilson, a British soldier who acquired a legendary status in these parts! The in-house restaurant and café – Emily’s is named after writer Emily Eden who wrote many memoirs in Landour. Rokeby Manor is full of colonial touches with renovated rooms and fine gardens overlooking the Doon valley.
Among the most memorable experiences on offer at Rokeby are – Watch the after-sunset colours while sipping on a cuppa in the Tea Garden, read a book in historical Wilson’s Chamber, savour Rokeby Sticky Toffee Pudding in Emily’s and buy a local souvenir in the shop.
Life in Landour
Days in Landour are spent gazing at the sky – on long walks among cozy old cottages, the evocative eeriness of the deodhar & pine trees, to see the landscape burst into colours during sunset time, and marvel at the twinkling lights of the Doon valley in the night. Sometimes one may get lucky and get an occasional view of the mighty Himalayan peaks from Lal Tibba. Landour is an apt place to take long walks, detours and purposely get lost.
Landour is best explored on foot. The walk is circular and is also referred to as the Landour Chakkar where one ends up at the starting point after completing the walk. The trail begins from Char Dukan and continues to Landour’s farthest end – Sister’s Bazaar. After the first home in Landour was established in 1827, a convalescent depot of soldier’s was established and with it the nurses’ camp, also known as sister’s bazaar. There are only 2 shops at Sister’s Bazaar, one is a small general store and another one is A. Prakash & Co.
The absence of traffic is a delight since hardly any tourists make it to Landour. Recent popularity through blogs and social media has meant the presence of a few day trippers in Landour that mostly make it to either Char Dukan or Landour Bakehouse. The absence of vehicles makes me very happy; I can walk at my own pace without worrying about the fumes that trouble my breathing pattern. The joy of exploring Landour lies entirely in walking around on foot; there are different experiences to be had on morning walks; while an evening sunset walk can reveal the famous winterline with a dazzling array of colours.
An interesting feature on the Landour chakkar walk, there are monkey-proof steel cans being used as dustbins with quotes on nature. It ensures that everyone goes back from Landour with nature conservation and cleanliness on their minds.
I noticed an acronym on a dustbin – KLEEN (Keep Landour’s Environment and Ecology Natural). Landour’s residents have adopted KEEN (Keeping the Environment Ecologically Natural), a solid-waste management programme that has been keeping the Landour Cantonment area of Mussoorie clean since 1995.
History of Landour
In the early 19th century, the Britishers moved their military sanatorium to the higher altitude hill-station of Landour. The cool air was apparently perfect for the homesick English soldiers. Landour is steeped in history and has an unmistakeable colonial charm. Many of the cottages of Landour are built in the Tudor style and one can spot names on signboards such as Ivanhoe, Kenilworth, Waverly, Woodstock, Shamrock etc.
The first home in Landour was built in 1825 by Captain Frederick Young and was named ‘Mullingar’ after the Irish town from where Captain Young hailed from. Landour is a tiny town bathed in an old fashioned aura with colonial-era bungalows that sport slanting roofs, with brick arches and stone walls. The minimal population means that silence is the norm in Landour and the ample tree cover ensures invigorating fresh breezes.
Landour’s success lies in the fact that it is one of the very few Indian holiday destinations to have escaped massive construction & development. Since it is a Cantonment space, strict regulations ensure that no new permanent structures can be built; only old structures can be renovated. Some locals famously talk about a few celebrity houses that were taken down midway during construction.
For many decades, Landour remained an exclusive British preserve. Even the elite Indians and ruling classes were confined to Mussoorie where the Maharajas of many small and big kingdoms were encouraged to build grand summer homes in Mussoorie. Among the notable ones are the summer homes made by rulers of princely states like Alwar, Baroda, Jind, Rajpipla, Kapurthala. Most of these erstwhile summer homes have now been converted into heritage hotels.
Emily’s at Rokeby Manor
Emily’s can be said to be the heart and soul of Rokeby Manor. One can build grand structures and design fabulous restaurants but they all count for nothing if the food served is not otherworldly good! And every meal at Emily’s becomes an occasion to cherish as an art of perfection.
Emily’s is located on the first floor of Rokeby Manor and the interiors give the feel of being in an alpine log house. There’s a variety of sitting spaces; with tables and chairs and cushions for relaxed afternoons. We chose to sit outside (4 table space in a shaded balcony) usually during the afternoons to enjoy the sunshine and the breeze. In the interiors, the highlights include interesting signboards with quirky one liners.
Emily’s buffet breakfasts are the stuff of legends. Freshly baked breads with a variety of homemade jams, butter, and cookies are laid out in ‘The Wilson Chamber’ surrounded with books. There are options for pancakes, waffles, paranthas and a whole lot of other delicacies. I found the chocolate shake to be especially good during breakfast! Emily’s used to be our favourite haunt in Landour on previous visits since at Rs. 500 per person, the breakfast is fairly priced.
Emily’s serves both continental and Indian food and even though the menu is limited, the exquisiteness lies in the perfection. I was highly impressed with the loaded baked potatoes, the mezze basket, ratatouille, risotto among other things. When I tried the Indian food, I had a newfound awe for Emily’s. I’m sure the pasta, snacks and burgers are very good too! The desserts are addictive; the Baked blueberry cheesecake was tasty without being dense and its better that I don’t dream about Emily’s special – the heavenly Rokeby sticky toffee pudding (lest I start rushing to Landour right away!).
Landour Bakehouse is located at the circular loop at Sister’s Bazaar. Landour Bakehouse is a recent addition to Rokeby Manor’s offerings and was established sometime in 2013 or 2014. It has quickly become a crowd favourite as a lot of tourists from Mussoorie visit Landour Bakehouse for desserts and coffee. The interiors of this quaint bakehouse are tastefully done and some quotes and memorable one-liners are put up in the form of signboards. Landour Bakehouse reminds one of an old hill cabin and the aroma of freshly baked bread and coffee is intoxicating.
The recipes here have been made suitable to local conditions and compiled in a book by the name of Landour Cookbook. Landour Bakehouse’s menu reflects these dishes. Among my recommended eats here are the breads, eclair, walnut pie, bread and butter pudding, crepes. The ginger lemon honey tea and hot chocolate taste best on chilly evenings. Grab one of the last tables that overlook the towering pine trees.
The Little Salon & Spa Shed
Located under a huge tree is Rokeby Manor’s salon and spa where highly trained staff offer a range of treatments; from massages to scrubs, even haircuts and facials are possible. And even though it is expensive; I would say it is absolutely value for money for the kind of top class services provided.
Stübli & The Ale House
Stübli is (was) a alpine restaurant made in a Swiss log cabin style. I was enamoured by the setting and the specialised food on my first visit in 2015. It has since been closed down (for reasons unknown, but maybe the construction laws of Landour) and does not exist in the present time.
Similarly, The Ale House is (was) a member’s only drinking space made in the manner of a British/Scottish Ale House and had wonderful interiors.
A. Prakash & Co.
A. Prakash & Co. is perhaps the only shop in Landour! It is located on Sister’s Bazaar and is adjacent to Landour Bakehouse. It is well known for its jams, different variety of cheese and peanut butter. Eminent personalities like Ruskin Bond and Jawaharlal Nehru and his descendents have been his loyal customers. My favourites here are the marmalade, apricot jam, strawberry preserve, plum jam and the goat cheese and gouda. Their bread is also very good and one can buy to carry it back home.
Anil Prakash is the owner of A. Prakash & Co. It was established in the 1920s by his grandfather. It was bought into the limelight by Inder Prakash (Anil’s father) who learnt cheese-making and the expertise of jam making and bought a machine to make peanut butter. The most epic lines concerning A. Prakash & Co. are when Ruskin Bond remarked, ‘If Prakash’s doesn’t have it, you probably don’t need it!’
Clock Tower Café, Landour Bazaar
The Clock Tower Café has been built in an architectural style akin to the iconic Landour Clock Tower (it was demolished a few years ago due to a shaky structure) and is located on the crowded Landour Bazaar Road. The café’s interiors are done in red-brick colour and it serves both Italian and Chinese food. The seating arrangements are casual and the corner tables have great views.
Clock Tower Café’s menu has been designed keeping in mind the choices of students that study in various boarding schools in and around Mussoorie. Therefore the decor is vibrant, complete with posters and kitschy lights in an open kitchen. I quite liked their pizzas and have also been recommended their Chinese dishes.
Around 1840, four shops were established to cater to the needs of foreigners enrolled at the Landour Language School, adjacent to St. Paul’s Church. That is how Char Dukan got its name. Today, there are about five or six shops but the area is still called Char Dukan.
Anil’s Café and Vipin’s Tip Top Tea Shop were the first ones to start serving snacks and beverages in the year 1910. Spending time at Char Dukan is a nostalgic way to see the world go by and it is also the only place in Landour where one may see a sizeable number of people in one place. My favourite eats at Char Dukan have been bun omelette, fresh waffles, pancakes washed down with immaculate ginger lemon honey tea. I’m not a maggi fan but have noticed tourists wolfing down maggi at char dukan; it must be good.
Other notable eateries in & around Landour
If you must, go here only for the sunset views. Inspite of being highly recommended, Café Ivy wasn’t able to fulfil my expectations and whatever we tried on a previous visit turned out to be a failure. What Café Ivy does have is the best sunset view in all of Landour, and Mussoorie. There is indoor seating and outdoor seating; arrive around 30 minutes before sunset time to make sure you grab the right table and are ready when the show begins!
As the sun goes behind the hills, the colours in the sky begin to change – I noticed hues of orange, pink, red, gold and, maybe purple as well. Landour’s summer sunsets are good and the winter sunsets bring in more drama with a phenomena of winterline. It has been mentioned that this winterline occurrence is only seen in Mussoorie and a particular place in Switzerland.
Little Llama Café
Little Llama Café is one of the current favourites in Mussoorie and is not situated in Landour. Its owners are a married couple who moved back to their hometown Mussoorie and decided to open this cute little café. Their interiors and décor is a mix of blue and grey and has an unspoken yet welcoming feel.
I noticed on a recent visit that the original 4 table restaurant has now become a two-floor restaurant with more than 15 tables. It is best to visit Little Llama Café for lunch on a weekday to avoid crowds and traffic. I highly recommend their wood-fired pizzas.
Doma’s Inn – Café
Located close to Landour Bazaar, Doma’s Inn is a place that you can’t miss. It has a vibrant look with a painted dragon on the outside wall. On my first visit, I had thought that Doma’s Inn is a Tibetan place looking at the lights and Thangka Paintings. The interiors at Doma’s Inn Café are colourful and are full of souvenirs from across India and the world. There are many vintage bollywood posters as well.
Doma’s Inn Café makes great momos and serves authentic Tibetan and Chinese food.
Kalsang Café for the Devil’s momos and Chick Chocolate Café for the varieties of hot chocolate are also recommended.
Landour is home to a lot of celebrities; including author Ruskin Bond (this, everyone knows!), Bill Aitken, Stephen Alter, Ganesh Saili, actor Victor Banerjee, the late Tom Alter and Vishal Bhardwaj among other distinguished names. Rokeby Manor also sometimes arranges for a meet up with the most popular personality of Landour – Ruskin Bond. It is also possible to meet him at the Cambridge Book Store in Mussoorie every Saturday from 1500 hrs to 1700 hrs.
On the Landour chakkar walk, Lal Tibba is the highest viewpoint to watch the sunset in Landour. On a clear day, there are views of Himalayan peaks like Bandarpunch. Two cafés also welcome visitors to Lal Tibba and there’s a telescope installed on the rooftop of one of the cafés to enable a closer view of the Himalayan mountain ranges.
Churches of Landour
St Paul’s Church
St. Paul’s Church was built in 1839 and is primarily well-known as the place where Jim Corbett’s parents got married. It is a building done in bright yellow and has a huge bell on top of the Church. Sunday mass is a great time to visit it.
Kellogg Memorial Church
Outsiders are not allowed to enter the gates of the Kellogg Memorial Church. I was informed that sometimes Sunday Mass is held at the church but it is not possible for tourists to attend it. Hence it is better to marvel at this stone structure from afar and enjoy the tranquil environment at the crossroad.
Landour Language School
Located in the same premises as the Kellogg Memorial Church, Landour Language School was established as a school to teach Hindi to missionaries. It remains a top institute for foreigners who wish to learn Hindi.
Jabarkhet Nature Reserve
I had first heard about Jabarkhet Nature Reserve in 2015 but had never been able to wean myself away from Landour even on subsequent visits. And when I finally made it to Jabarkhet Nature Reserve on this visit with Rokeby Manor, it turned out to be well worth the wait. It is a heartwarming place sure to delight any wildlife and nature lover. Jabarkhet is Uttarakhand’s first private nature reserve and is spread over 300 acres.
A local guide Virendra who has been part of the project since its inception, took us for a walk inside Jabarkhet Nature Reserve and shared details about the flora and fauna. There are many walking trails in the reserve and depending on the time of the day and the season Virendra can suggest which one to take. He has loads of information on plants and birds and was instrumental in us listening to the drumming of a woodpecker in the woods. I was especially happy with the pin-drop silence and pristine air.
Virendra also showed us the camera traps and the recent footage showed that a leopard and Himalayan brown bear had crossed the area in the last 3-4 days. Jabarkhet Nature Reserve is a classic model of conservation and sustainable development, especially for urban areas grappling with the need of fresh air.
Cost for entry : INR 350 per person & Guided walk : INR 500 per person, hence it is better to go for the guided walk.
Walks around Landour & Mussoorie
Cemetery on Camel’s Back Road
The cemetery on Camel Back Road, named after the camel-shaped rocky outcrop, is the resting place of many important souls. Among the ones resting here is Frederick ‘Pahari’ Wilson. He also briefly owned Rokeby Manor and was the inspiration behind Rudyard Kipling’s tale ‘The Man Who Would Be King’.
Sir George Everest’s House
Mussoorie was home to Sir George Everest, who was the Surveyor General of India between 1830–43. He is largely responsible for the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India that also included the measurement of the world’s highest peaks. Sir George Everest House is a whitewashed home in ruins located at the edge of a cliff near Hathipaon. Views of the Doon Valley are spectacular from here, especially during sunset. It is a nice area to walk in the bliss of nature.
Happy Valley, the first Tibetan settlement in India
In 1959, when Tibet was occupied by China, the Dalai Lama and his followers walked across the Himalayas to reach India. Happy Valley became the first Tibetan settlement in India when Dalai Lama came here in 1959.
Interiors at Rokeby Manor – A very homely space
Rokeby Manor and the eateries; Emily’s, Landour Bakehouse are owned by Mumbai-based Mars Hospitality Group, which is run by brother and sister duo of Sanjay and Rachna Narang. Sanjay is a woodstock alumni with special attachment to Landour. Rachna Narang is an interior designer and it is her quirky sense of humour and attention to detail that has imparted oodles of character to Rokeby Manor and the entire town of Landour too!
Also check : Do yourself a favour! Go to Landour