It was 5 at dawn when my phone alarm squeaked underneath my pillow. I hadn’t quiet slept the night. Nandadevi Express was racing at an alarming speed. The wobbly, bumpy ride had got my tummy rumbling with fear. I was more than waiting to officially wake up.
We dragged our behemoth luggage from every place we’d shoved them into. It was 5.30 and freezing when we stepped on the Dehradun platform.
Hailing a cab is a cakewalk in Dehradun. Right outside the railway station is a taxi stand, a ticket window, cabs queued up and topping it all, benevolent locals. The rates are fixed, so no haggling or fear of being over-charged. All you need to do is pay at the counter, load your luggage and set off.
The sun was yet to peep and Dehradun was still asleep under the freezing blanket of mist, except for few shops and tiny stalls puffing out smoke of the boiling tea. Couple of hours later it would be a busy day just like anywhere else.
A little more than an hour of the picturesque cab-ride later we arrived in Mussoorie. I knew a wonderful holiday in the misty, sleepy, dreamy hills awaited us.
We somehow dared to peel ourselves out of the cab to check-in our hotel. By now the sun had shrugged off his sleep, wiped his eyes clear and was already there basking in the resort’s garden.
I’d booked a room with views….of the Himalayas… Luckily, the air was clear and I could see the pristine snow-capped mountain range peering at me from my window. My tired body had given up and the warm bed lay there beckoning me. What if I ran out of luck and this magnificent view disappeared the next day or the day after? I wasted no time to reach for my camera and spent the next couple of hours capturing this panoramic view in my lens.
Did I mention Oniel anywhere? Well, he had cosied himself under layers of soft warm quilt, with couple of heaters at his service and was fast asleep 🙂
A hearty breakfast of butter-laden Aloo Parathas, fresh cut fruits and a cup of piping hot Mussoorie special coffee later, it was time to plan the day.
So we did and set out at 11.30 to explore Mussoorie – “The Queen Of Hills” as she is fondly known. A five minutes drive from the hotel brings you to the Mussoorie taxi stand. Here they have packages with fixed rates and also the customized ones. You can pick and choose your destinations and you’ll be charged accordingly.
Jwala Devi Temple: This beautiful temple is a place of worship of Goddess Durga. It can be accessed by trekking up 2 kilometers. Surrounded by the verdant Oak and Deodar trees, it’s a blessing to the devotees and nature lovers alike.
Owing to my heart disorder, I couldn’t make it to the top. But did manage to snap few wonderful glimpses of it from the rear end of a teeny little tea-shop.
Kempty Falls: 45 minutes drive from the Mall Road, this waterfall can be reached by a ropeway cable car. Legend has it that the stream of water flows throughout the year from the place where it originates and dives into the pond below at a massive height of 40 feet.
Area around the falls is strewn with stalls selling everything from stylish hats, clothes, kitschy jewelry, decorative items to swim wear that ensure you are fully covered 🙂 . Fragrance of steaming hot Pakodas and Maggie follows you everywhere.
A little birdie whispered that Maggie is a staple all around Mussoorie, right till the highest point you may scale (Well, back home, it’s my saviour too, whenever my cook bunks 😛 ). It makes a wonderful companion with tea or coffee and wards off the evil biting cold. It really works 🙂
Nothing seems to deter these enthusiastic swimmers from taking a dip even in that freezing waters.
Shedup Choepelling Monastry: Sitting in the lap of verdant mystical hills and facing the Happy Valley is this quaint, serene yet splendid looking Tibetian monastry. A chilling breeze blows across your face while you walk towards the temple. Prayer flags flutter in the blue-grey skies, fragrance of the incense fills the air, while the monks in their deep red robes amble around chanting prayers.
It’s mandatory you remove your footwear outside before entering the temple. However, bitingly cold the floor may be, nothing can stop you when the divinity beckons.
Company Garden: Verdant surroundings, blooming flowers, mini lake with an artificial waterfall, paddled boating, shikara ride, a well-maintained food court all build a perfect set for a pickniky atmosphere.
It was here that I got my first experience of hails. Absolutely loved the clattering of the icy little droplets against the roof.
Steaming hot coffee against a perfect mountainy backdrop!
Lal Tibba: Seated at around 8000 metres above the sea level, Lal Tibba is the highest point in Mussoorie. During sunrise and sunset, the sky paints itself in an assortment of deep red hues, a picture that’s worth million dollars and which is why the name.
A Japanese telescope has been mounted on a 20 metres tower to offer views of the pristine Badrinath, Kedarnath and other Himalayan ranges.
Mr. Rawat helped us locate the old colonial houses and architectural schools of the British era. He’s a guy in his late forties with a heart and glow of the twenties, who loves flaunting the bunch of pictures he’s clicked with the glitterati from Bollywood to Cricket. He’s more than happy about clicking us too. He proudly pointed the telescope to his laid-back two storey house that sits right in the middle of the oaks and deodar laden hills. Gosh! I so envy him.
The man walks the entire mountain 2 hours to reach his work place and 2 hours back home – a secret to his health and youthful look. He sells these homemade pickles made of pahadi or mountain chilies, lemons, etc. – Rs. 250 onwards for 500 gms. Don’t miss buying the purest honey you can ever find.
Give him a shout at +91 9761065524 and he’ll even have them couriered at your doorstep.
Dhanaulti: Around 30 kilometres from Mussoorie, it’s a one hour thirty minutes drive from Lal Tibba to Dhanaulti. Situated amidst the Pine, Deodar and Rhododenron forests, Dhanaulti is a lot quieter and less commercialized than its more famous neighbor. Little children in their school uniforms sell bunches of bright red rhododendron flowers which are known for their medicinal properties. Bottled juices are also sold in plenty.
Eco Park is the main attraction of this place. The Forest Department has employed around 60 local youth in various capacities in order to provide them a means of livelihood.
There’s also a facility to plant a sapling in the memory of your beloved known as The Memory Sapling Plantation.
Gun Hill: Taxis drop you to a point where the Mall Road begins. Take a cycle-rickshaw to a point where you hop on to a rope-way cable car and glide up to the Gun Hill.
Reach up there and you’ll find a sprinkle of activities like balloon-shooting, archery and few others for the kids. Try your luck at those magic games, click pictures with your beloved in the traditional pahadi wear or just grab the best seat at one of the precariously located tea stalls. They are a vantage point offering panoramic views of the valleys, twinkling little houses and glimpses of entire Dehradun.
Prod the stall owner and you’ll learn how in those pre-independence and pro-British days, a canon used to be fired from this point at 6 every evening, so the locals adjusted their watches accordingly.
Camels Back End: Ever experienced what they call ‘a walk in the woods’? This is that. Hold your hands and take a long long walk on this long winding corniche that clings on to the mountain on one side and a deep Doon valley on the other. There’s a rock that looks exactly like the camel’s hunch which is why the name.
Towering pine and deodar trees, mist settling in the valley, delirious monkeys, bunch of noisy dogs and beautiful chirping birds is the only company you have. Lift your head up and you’ll spot gorgeous colonial bungalows which are still occupied by the British people. The Brits have left us quiet a history, must say!
Cycle-rickshaws and horse rides are available for those who cant do long walks. They charge Rs. 600 both ways.
A most stunning backdrop for making those romantic moments utterly unforgettable…
Where To Stay:
Staying options are proliferating by the day. Resorts, heritage bungalows, eco hotels…you’ll find all kinds of them and suiting all budgets.
We stayed at Tullahmore Estate, a century old colonial bungalow which is now renovated but still retains its past grandeur.
We absolutely loved the rooms offering stunning views of the Himalayas. Full marks to the food and service. The hotel offers free pickup and drops to the Mall Road and taxi stand. Speak to Mr. Rakesh Rawat for the booking and be assured to get the room you are promised.
Read here for my reviews on Tullahmore Estate.
(http://www.tullahmoresuites.com; +91-7830154154; +91-135-2631265)
Where To Eat:
Mall Road is laced with stalls and eateries rustling up dishes from Pakoras to European and authentic Tibetian food. All you need to have is a manimalistic appetite and pockets ringing with dimes.
Lovely Omlette Centre: Have an omlette here and you’ll forget all of those you’d had earlier. It’s a one-man-show being run in an incredibly tiny shop. A highly recommended one, we scoured the whole of Mall Road for this ‘world-famous’ eatery, cooled our heels for 45 minutes and believe me you, it was all worth it. They are super yummy! I tried to stick my neck out and see the recipe, but 😦 . Their cheese and chocolate omlette are must-haves.
Kalsang Friends Corner: Run by a bunch of hip, funky haired youngsters from the North-East, this eyeball-grabbing eatery boasts of authentic Tibetian food. Chinese-Tibetian ambience, soothing music, hearty food, quick service and friendly fellas call for a wonderful dinner after a tiring day.
Chick Chocolate: Cafe with a European touch – the interiors and the customers alike. Chick Chocolate does have chocolates, and lots of them. Homemade ones too. Apart from chocolates, it also serves juices, coffees, pizzas and other cafe items. It’s a place the Europeans love and frequent. We loved loved loved the Banofee Pie and came back here for just that. Do parcel their chocolates back home.
Where To Shop:
The Mall Road which ends at Library Bazaar is a shopper’s haven.
It’s crowded and buzzing. Which market isn’t? I absolutely loved the place; mainly because no irritating vehicles and secondly because lots and lots of stuff you can’t take your eyes and hands off.
You’ll find various items that are very typical of Mussoorie – like the wood-carved decoratives, Oakwood walking sticks, brass items and handicrafts. Nirankari Cottage Industries, located at the Library end is famous for these.
Victorian clocks come in unthinkable shapes and sizes, elegant Ladakhi shawls, souvenirs and loads of other geegaws to grab.
There are road-side stalls that sell beautiful, stylish sweaters and thermal wear at a negotiable price. There are also high-end shops that sell the designer and more sophisticated ones and at a higher cost. I bought one and am waiting to take it out of my closet for my next trip. I just love flaunting fashion 🙂
Two days got over too soon. I was barely content to move out of Mussoorie. It’s a totally different world out there. The one where hails come sliding down, where glimpses of the English past still linger amidst the hills, where memories are built planting saplings and where you happily realize just how perfect an escape to the Queen Of Hills can be.