I am a mountain person, in love with the Himalayas right from childhood. Therefore, it was only natural that I would choose to go to the hills for my winter vacation. Of course, my parents sitting in an unusually warm Kolkata, wondered why anyone would want to go from a freezing Gurgaon to an even colder place by choice, but then who listens to parents anyway! Mussourie was chosen from a long list of names, as it was a place where we had been only once, just for a day. We did not like the place at that time, as it was ‘peak tourist season’, and Mussourie was bursting at its seams with tourists and revellers from all over. While the memory of this one day unpleasant visit was still fresh in mind, we thought that such a famous place merits a second chance, and I am glad that we chose to go.
We started our journey at dawn, on 5th January (2014), by the Dehradoon Shatabdi and reached Doon at around 2 pm, almost 1-1/2 hours late owing to dense fog in the Delhi-NCR and parts of UP. We hired a cab and reached Mussorie at around 3:30pm, famished and exhausted.
We had booked at the Padmini Niwas, which is a short walk from the taxi stand. It is a lovely heritage (colonial era) property, well maintained, the staff friendly and service exemplary. Though we reached after lunch, but on arrival, hot snacks and coffee were promptly served without much ado. That evening we did not venture out of the premises, and enjoyed a breath-taking sunset from the terrace, and the little dining/sitting room adjacent to the bedroom.
Exploring the little hill town: Mall Road from one end to the other
We set about exploring Mussorie early next morning right after breakfast, and started by walking up the Mall road till we reached one end of it, which is called the Gandhi Chowk. This is also known as the Library end, as the pretty Mussorie library stands here. It is another colonial era building and the facade is beautifully maintained.
Picture : Mussourie Library at Gandhi Chowk
While retracing our steps we took a short coffee break at the Café coffee day, which stands near the Gandhi chowk. A rather long walk down to the other end of the Mall road took us to the Picture Palace end, where we found an excellent Tibetan joint known as Kalsang that served excellent pork momos, a huge portion of mixed meat thukpa, Pork Shapta, and Thingmo – the Tibetan bread, which we washed down with many glassfuls of hot ginger-lemon tea.
Exploring the little hill town: Camel’s back road
The next day saw us walking down the Camel’s back road. It is a full 4 km trek through charming forested areas, beautiful old buildings, an ancient cemetery, and open views of snow peaks (Gangotri and Kedarnath among them).
The camel’s back road is a longer but picturesque bypass of the Mall Road, which connects the Library end to the Picture Palace end. Except for a little uphill stretch at the end, the walk is mainly straight without much ups or downs. During off-season, the road is a real pleasure to stroll around, without any horses or other walkers breathing down one’s neck. While walking here we noticed thick frost on the road and a frozen patch of puddle water, which told us of the freezing night temperatures. Later, we came to know from the locals that Mussorie generally receives its first snow by mid-December, though 2014 was an exception with no snow even in January. Just trust our luck!!
Exploring the little hill town: The Company Garden
We visited the Company Garden next day – a place which is one of those “must visit” spots of Mussourie, if you go by the taxi and rickshaw driver’s recommendations. It is a man-made park with a water body and some rides inside, and is about 4 km away from Mussourie. We found it rather disappointing, even though kids might like it owing to the various joy-rides and a small boat ride. The pool (certainly not a lake) is very small and boat rides comprise of taking 5-6 rounds in this singularly unattractive piece of water body. All available rickshaws take tourists to this place, charging Rs.150 for a one-way trip (they are also willing to wait for one hour and bring you back for a charge of Rs. 300). While the journey is a pleasure owing to the surrounding natural beauty, the man-made park certainly fails to match up. Kempty Falls, the road to which falls on the way to Company Gardens, did not figure in our plans as we had already visited the place in our previous trip and had been thoroughly disappointed seeing the mess people had created with absolutely no control over environmental regulations.
On our way back, we did the other “must-visit” spot – the Gun Hill, which can be reached by a rope-way, and were again disappointed. The place is infested with shops, trying to sell an assorted bunch of nonsense.
Exploring the little hill town: The Christ Church
In the late afternoon we visited The Christ Church, which is situated a little uphill from the Mall road. It is an early nineteenth century church, and has Victorian and Pre-Raphealite stained glass windows, beautifully carved wooden church pews, ancient timbered carved ceilings, a huge William Hill organ. and a 1889 bible that is still read. The church remains closed, and one must ask the caretaker to open the door to the rich and heavenly sight that hides inside.
Stained glass paintings on the church windows
Exploring the little hill town: A Tibetan monastery
The last day we took a trip to the Tibetan monastery. Set near the Birla house this place is worth a visit and one can spend some quiet time sitting on the terrace, enjoying the scenery and warm sunshine. The peace and solitude of the place and friendliness of the Tibetans on the premises have a rather soothing effect on one’s mind and soul.
Go, but go during off- season
Mussourie is a place to visit preferably only during off-seasons, and in idyllic circumstances. The so called “tourist attractions” (except the Tibetan Monastery) are nothing much to write home about, but the popular hill-station surprisingly can be a lovely place for a leisurely holiday, when empty of the boisterous tourists. The walks along the Camel’s back road and the Mall road, and a visit to the Tibetan Monastery are certainly worth the effort. The place also has beautiful heritage properties that are a joy to see, and plenty of good restaurants to satisfy one’s palate. The hotels must be chosen with care though, so that the afternoons and evenings can be spent leisurely, sitting on the sun-bathed terrace, overlooking the pristine Doon valley and sipping warm tea with a good book.
We spent four extremely pleasant and carefree days in this Himalayan town, and came back refreshed, with happy memories to last for many days.
(first published on PhotoJourney)