Weekend Getaway: Head To Landour, Ruskin Bond’s Hometown

Lovely Landour looks like a picture postcard and is about the same size. An old-fashioned aura drapes the town’s mighty deodars and red rhododendron flowers. This is a relic of the British Raj. A steep, four-kilometre drive from Mussoorie, it is a world that floats dreamily in clouds and mist, far removed from the crowded hill station below.

Landour’s lush inclines and views fuel the belief that its name is derived from Llanddowror, a town in Wales. When the East India Company’s army arrived here in 1825, they named it Mullingar. Soon after, British troops suffering from tropical diseases began to trickle in to Landour for recovery. Salubrious air and beautiful walks remain the chief highlights of this former cantonment area. Besides colonial-era churches, quaint shops, and a 19th-century cemetery, there are brick and stone cottages peeping from under ivy, and weathered, wooden signboards carved with names like Parsonage and Cosy Nook.

Some of Landour’s pretty summer houses belong to well-known personalities such as actor Victor Banerjee and Prannoy Roy of NDTV. You may also bump into the author Ruskin Bond, the town’s living legend and one of its oldest residents. The hush in the air here surely stimulates creative juices. This is a silence you only hear in the hills, a quiet made denser by the trees, heavier by the moisture, and interrupted only by gusts of invigoratingly cool breezes.

Landour and Mussoorie have numerous colonial-era bungalows with slanting roofs, brick arches, and stone walls.

Descending into the mayhem of Mussoorie below is a shock. The noisy “Queen of the Hills” crawls with trinkets, touts, and tourists. Its choked lanes appear bound to spill over into Landour, but the town has held its own for almost two centuries. There must be some enchantment protecting its deep, dark, evergreen woods.

Explore

Long Way Round

Landour’s old bridle path—now motorable—circles the three summits of the ridge. The largely level circuit runs for about 2 km, passing interesting sights along the way. Going clockwise, the route starts with St. Paul’s Church, consecrated in 1840. The church is framed by pines, and the mountain sun that filters through stained-glass windows falls on plaques from over a century ago. It must have been a lovely wedding venue for the marriage of conservationist Jim Corbett’s parents many years ago (0135-2630622; Sunday service at 9.30 a.m.; open Mon 2-5 p.m., Wed to Sun 10 a.m.-1p.m. and 1.30- 5 p.m., closed Tue).

St. Paul’s Church is an oasis of tranquillity.

Next to the church is the town’s hub Char Dukan, named after the four shops that have been here since the late 1800s. Vipin Prakash, the owner ofTip Top tea shop, which was founded by his great-grandfather 130 years ago, proudly displays sepia photographs from 1890. On weekends, students of Woodstock School swoop down to feast on bun omelette (₹70), instant noodles (₹60), and pancakes or waffles with maple syrup (₹150).

Char Dukan is the favourite hangout of trekkers and tourists who come to tuck into waffles and bun omelettes.

Landour is best appreciated on foot. Further ahead from Char Dukan, walk to the 20-m-tall tower at Lal Tibba. It is a spectacular vantage point from which to gaze at the valley below. Take in the view through the tower’s telescope, or rent binoculars from Dabbu’s Café across the road. The path takes a turn at Lal Tibba, passes some pretty cottages, the Christian cemetery with graves from the 1830s (open only on Sun) and ends at Kellogg Memorial Church. Established in 1903, this church doubles up as the Landour Language School where expats come to learn Hindi (Sunday service at 10 a.m.; open weekdays 8.30 a.m.-6 p.m.).

Sisters’ Bazaar

Landour’s British Military Hospital was established at the beginning of the 20th century. After 1947, the Defence Ministry’s Institute of Technology Management occupied the buildings. A small market that sprung up around the quarters of the nursing staff became known as Sisters’ Bazaar. Though it’s a short way from Char Dukan, the walk to Sisters’ Bazaar is rather steep, but the bracing weather makes it enjoyable.

The bazaar includes a neat row of half a dozen shops. Prakash Stores has been around since 1928 and is popular for its fresh preserves made from locally grown fruit. Strawberry jam, gooseberry and apricot preserves, apple mint chutney, and blueberry jam are some favourites (₹120-150 for 470 gm; A. Prakash & Co., 97569 04833, 99276 44446). Prakash Handicrafts next door (different owner) is a treasure trove of organic products, yak wool garments, and other curiosities.

Often the only people you’ll see on a drive to Dhanaulti are local Garhwali women dressed in traditional attire, carrying firewood back from the forest.

High Altitude Goodies

A little ahead of Sisters’ Bazaar, a path leads to the stunningly located Hotel Dev Dar Woods, a lodge in a colonial bungalow. There’s hardly a soul in sight to see you gorge on their delicious, thin-crust pizzas (Fair View, Sisters’ Bazaar, Landour Cantt; 97190 03548).

Opposite Landour’s historic Clock Tower is the trendy Clock Tower Café, a great place to enjoy a steamy cappuccino (0135-2630354, 99970 55999; cappuccino ₹90, cold coffee ₹100). For more eating options, it’s best to plunge into the cacophony of Mussoorie, where the profusion of street-food vendors slows down traffic. Momos and instant noodles are the hottest selling dishes. However, I prefer sinking my teeth into deliciously hot, hard-boiled eggs sprinkled with rock salt, particularly when chilly clouds roll on the roads reducing visibility to zero.

For more elaborate egg preparations, the place to go is Lovely Omelette Centre, which pioneered the baffling Chocolate Omelette. It is only prepared for school children, so hoist a kid along if you want to try it (opp. Central Methodist Church, Mall Road).

Another popular tourist haunt is Chick Chocolate. Cheerful, cosy, and crammed with books and posters, it is reminiscent of a living room warmed by the glow of a blazing fire. There is no fireplace, but there is plenty of chatter as grown-ups and children clamour for assorted flavours of home-made chocolate and other treats (Mall Road, 0135-2632131, 99973 11101; chilli chocolate ₹230 for 100g, liquor chocolates ₹280).

Bond With The Best

Doma’s Inn in Landour is gaily coloured and decorated with dragon motifs, but it draws curious onlookers for an entirely different reason: Ivy Cottage, the residence of beloved author Ruskin Bond, is a part of the same building. Each Saturday, Bond signs books at the Cambridge Book Shop in Mussoorie. This bookstore is crammed between Moti Mahal restaurant and another book depot. You might miss it if not for the astonishingly orderly queue snaking out the front and trailing far down the road, and a big banner with the writer’s beaming face stretched across the storefront.

Eager fans arrive much before the assigned time, and Ruskin Bond’s arrival causes an electric ripple to run through the waiting crowd. To see him in person is a curious experience. If you have grown up reading his stories you’ll be forgiven for thinking of him as a beloved fictional character too, an ambassador of a world that has long vanished (0135-2632224; opposite State Bank of India, Mall Road; signings Sat from 3.30-5.30 p.m.).

Right across the road is another testament to a faraway time, a beautiful 19th-century structure that quietly overlooks the flurry of activity. Since 1956, this historic building has housed the State Bank of India, but it was built in 1898, during Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee celebrations, as the iconic Himalaya Hotel. Inscriptions on the filigreed wrought-iron railings hark back to those times. The building later became the office of the Imperial Bank of India in 1923, before taking on its current role. A plaque at its gleaming, wooden doorway has a fascinating account of the tumultuous history of banking in Mussoorie, closely woven with the story of this building.

Take A Spin

When you need a break from walking, pack a picnic lunch and drive to thickly forested Dhanaulti (24 km), misty Chamba (56 km) or beautiful Kanatal (42 km). Find a quiet hidden glen, sprawl on the leaf-strewn forest floor, and watch the sunlight bathe the woods in a hazy glow.

Orientation

Landour is a former cantonment town in Uttarakhand’s Dehradun district. It is perched at 7,500 feet, on a ridge that is a 4-km drive up from Mussoorie.

 

This article was published at www.natgeotraveller.in and is written by Ambika Gupta.

The link to the original article is here.

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