A couple of weeks back, I had the chance to go to Mussoorie, again, only this time with both sides of my family- parents and in-laws together, and a grand assemblage of a young vivacious crowd.
We drove down the 300 odd Kms to Mussoorie via the dusty plains of Delhi-West UP, up the monkey and pothole filled roads of Rajaji National Park with some tall deciduous forests with pretty filtered sunlight, down into the valley of Dehradoon, and finally a push up the winding hills to Mussoorie.
It was mid November and the Sun was finally losing its temper, more so as we went up the hills. Afterall who could have a flaring temper amidst green canopies punctuated by pearly whites that smile from a distance. The air was fresh- helping unclog the wind pipe and the mind which had grown tired of the rising particulate matter index in Delhi and the news of it. Not only was it fresh, it was crisp; it was an envoy announcing the imminent arrival of the winter queen. The Queen of Hills was ready for the embrace.
We were not. The gang of perpetually overconfident Delhiites and underprepared Mumbaikars that we were, we didn’t have much woolens. But spirits were soaring. We would be alright, except the first night which felt like ice on skin.
We were 16- not the age, but number of marauding plainsters- so we needed a big place to stay; we were loud- so we needed a exclusive(to us) place to stay; we were on holiday- so we needed a nice place to stay; we were romantic- you get the drift.
Our guardian angel zeroed down on this lovely Anglo-French style villa known as the Ilbert Manor (http://www.ilbertmanor.com/). Built in 1840 and recently restored, it has 8 beautifully appointed rooms and suites on the first floor which can be reached via an old world wooden staircase. The ground floor proudly exhibits Raj-era paintings and portraits, packs a cute little library, a games room with a pool table and carrom, a massage room and a nice little restaurant. Outside is a nice seating area which we used for breakfast overlooking the green Shivaliks and white snow capped peaks in the distance. It’s tranquility amid the hustle of the Mall Road just above a slightly steep passage of narrow cobbled street.
Mall Road is to Mussoorie was arteries are to our heart. It keeps Mussoorie alive with a steady stream of tourists. While the increase in footfall is leading to rampant commercialization, noise and garbage issues in the once quaint hill station, it also means Mussoorie is becoming a gateway to the mountains beyond. It’s also an introduction to hills for those who haven’t been or can’t afford to go afar. Dotted with little shops selling knick-knacks, food stalls by the wayside, restaurants, a skating rink, a cinema hall, and zillions of hotels, the Mall Road has something for everybody. A walk early morning and after dark are specially recommended, for the air, sights, and the twinkling lights of Dehradoon right below your feet- well almost.
A few kms walk along, then down and then steeply up the Mall Road leads to the charming little town of Landour; Mussoorie’s quintessential cousin- can’t live without the elder one, yet sulks and snarls at how common and unclassy the former is. Landour is where Ruskin Bond stays. Landour is where you get a new perspective amid even prettier sights of the hills and trees than Mussoorie, and Landour is where you can enjoy the delicacies at Chaar Dukaan. One must visit the place once- perched at the top of Landour adjacent to St James Church- and gorge on Maggie, Paranthas, Waffles, Pancakes, Omelettes and that crisp cup of steaming tea. The climb up there- tiring if on feet, and jaw dropping scary at times if on four wheels- is forgotten as you sip tea and indulge in long conversations about life, love and more.
One of the two mornings we spent there, we hired a cycle each, right on Mall road, costing Rs 100 per hour each, and went about exploring the mountains. We chose to go beyond the other side of the Mall Road, the road less build upon in the opposite direction to Landour. We decided to go to Kempty falls- some 18 km from Mussoorie. And boy, was it the most amazing feeling we had. Interspered with sections with sunlight and without, we would alternate between Hurrays and Culttering of teeth. There are some pretty sites of brown naked hills on one side, their well endowed green ones with forests galore, and the mighty white ones looking down at you as if assuring that whereever you are it’s watching out for you. Tea points at some corners allow you to slow down and admire the flora and the simple people around, while calming the thrill that bicycling begets. It’s one long serpentine downhill ride from Mussoorie to Kempty- meaning we didn’t have to pedal even one on our way. It also brings feelings of dread as to how would we go back.
Kempty falls itself is nice, but not overly exciting. So we got a few quick snaps, and made our way up. But none of us were Armstrongs. We settled for a Bolero, loaded the bikes at the top and made our way back up merrily singing odes to Kumar Sanu and Udit Narayan. The hills- they invoke the romantic Nineties.