Delhi to Landour: The hills are alive
Impossibly tight U-bends and a steep road that circles out of the overcrowded mayhem of Mussoorie take you to the tranquil town of Landour. It may be a mere 5km journey from the Queen of the Hills, but it’s worlds away in time and temperament.
It’s definitely a cooler place to stay than most hill stations, for reasons more than the temperature, which is 4-5 degrees Celsius lower than Mussoorie. Originally a sanatorium built for the British Indian Army in 1827, it is one of the few Indian holiday destinations to have escaped overdevelopment. Regulations ensure that no new permanent structures can be built. The existing ones—24 cottages since independence—can only be renovated.
From the bustling Sisters Bazaar, where you will find Prakash Stores’ famous peanut butter, to the chai-parathas at Anil’s Cafe (on the map after former cricketer Sachin Tendulkar tweeted about it), these are a few iconic landmarks that have become synonymous with this hillside haven. There’s also Lal Tibba, the highest viewpoint to watch the sunset from, and a stroll among the fragrant deodar and pine trees that line the 3.4km stretch known as the Gol Chakkar. A quick tour from outside of celebrity homes, including those of author Ruskin Bond, actors Victor Banerjee and the late Tom Alter, and director Vishal Bhardwaj, are other must-dos on every visitor’s list.
Having been there, done all that—walked the trails, eaten the parathas and pastries—on previous visits, I decided to see what else I could discover over a weekend trip from Delhi.
The first lesser-known mark I chanced upon during my exploration of the cantonment area was the Kellogg Memorial Church, now known as the Landour Language School. Started as a school to teach missionaries, today it holds classes in Hindi, and Sanskrit on special request, for anyone willing to learn. But it’s the St Peter’s Church that captured my attention. It’s here that the parents of Jim Corbett, the famed man-eating tiger hunter, got married. The more interesting feature for me, though, was the original church pews, which doubled up as rifle stands. They were specially commissioned after the first Indian war of independence in 1857. Prior to the construction of these pews, soldiers had to leave their rifles outside church, and locals would steal the guns. Ironically, churchgoers often found themselves at the wrong end of the muzzle.
The church, which has been immaculately preserved and is still in use, is simply bursting with stories from its fascinating past.
I ventured down to Landour Bazaar to discover a treasure trove of local sweet-shops like Omi Sweets, which opened in 1830 and is known for its bal mithai, sohan halwa, balushahi, gulab jamun and pure chocolate barfi. Tibetan jewellery and antique shops packed with remnants of the town’s colonial past line the street.
The next morning, I took a walk beyond the Gol Chakkar and Sisters Bazaar to visit the privately owned Jabarkhet Nature Reserve. This place will, quite simply, warm the hearts of any wildlife and nature lover. Once an area decimated by woodcutters and desecrated by picnickers, the 10 acres of forest have been restored by landowners who cleared all the plastic and watched the land regenerate. The idea was to turn the Jabarkhet Nature Reserve into a model of conservation and sustainable development for the area, while promoting awareness, and appreciation, of nature. They currently employ three men and three women whom they have trained as caretakers, guides and transport providers. They are all from the local villages, and the plan is to employ more people by developing new livelihoods based on sustainable harvesting of forest products and eco-tourism activities, including village home-stays.
It’s sheer pleasure to amble through the pristine natural environment. I headed off with my guide Virendra, a local boy who has been part of the project since its inception, over clearly demarcated walking trails. A mine of information on plants, their qualities and uses, insects, small creatures and mega fauna like leopards and Himalayan brown bear (which we saw courtesy camera-traps), he was ideal company. A variety of birds revealed themselves through leafy perches.
A hearty lunch that included a vegetarian pizza and Caesar salad followed at Café Ivy, one of the newer additions to the Char Dukan street, and then it was back to the hotel. I made an attempt to read whilst daydreaming and gazing at the valley below.
Since I had time on hand, I reserved the last day for strolling to the Clock Tower Café, a chic hangout in Mussoorie, and spend some time exploring the town. Walking back to Landour (5km) would have been ludicrous, so I hopped into my favourite set of wheels—a wonderfully robust old Ambassador Grand. It was a perfect end to my weekend.
Weekend Vacations offers suggestions on getaways that allow for short breaks from metros. The author tweets from @PhilippaKaye.