Tours to Mussoorie

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Mussoorie Hill Tour

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Mussoorie, like other hill resorts in India, came into existence in the 1820s or thereabouts, when the families of British colonials began making for the hills in order to escape the scorching heat of the plains. Small settlements grew into large stations and were soon vying with each other for the title of “queen of the hills.” Mussoorie’s name derives from the Mansur shrub (Cororiana nepalensis), common in the Himalayan foothills; but many of the house names derive from the native places of those who first built and lived in them. Today, the old houses and estates are owned by well-to-do Indians, many of whom follow the lifestyle of their former colonial rulers. In most cases, the old names have been retained.

Take, for instance, the Mullingar. This is not one of the better-preserved buildings, having been under litigation for some years; but it was a fine mansion once, and it has the distinction of being the oldest building in Mussoorie. It was the home of an Irishman, Captain Young, who commanded the first Gurkha battalion when it was in its infancy. As you have probably guessed, he came form Mullingar, in old Ireland, and it was to Ireland that he finally returned, when he gave up his sword and saddle. There is a story that on moonlit nights a ghostly rider can be seen on the Mullingar flat and that this is Captain Young revisiting old haunts.

There must have been a number of Irishmen settling and building with names such as Tipperary, Killarney, Shamrock Cottage and Tara Hall. “The harp that was once in Tara’s Halls” must have sounded in Shimla too, for there is also a Tara Hall in the old summer capital of India.

As everywhere, the Scots were great pioneers in Mussoorie too, and were quick to identify Himalayan hills and meadows with their own glens and braes. There are over a dozen house names prefixed with “Glen.”

The English, of course, went in for castles—there’s Connaught Castle and Grey Castle and Castle Hill, home for a time to the young Sikh prince, Dalip Singh before he went to England to become a protégé of Queen Victoria.

Sir Walter Scott must have been a very popular writer with the British in exile, for there are many houses in Mussoorie that are named after his novels and romances—Kenilworth, Ivanhoe, Woodstock (later an American mission school), Rokeby, Waverly, The Monastery. And there is also Abbotsford named after Scott’s own home.

Dickens lovers must have felt frustrated because they could hardly name their houses Nicholas Nickleby or Martin Chuzzlewit but one Dickens fan did come up with Bleak House for a name, and bleak it is even to this day.

Mussoorie did have a Dickens connection in the 1850s when Charles Dickens was publishing his magazine Household Words. His correspondent in India was John Lang, a popular novelist and newspaper proprietor, who spent the last years of his life in Mussoorie. His diverting account of a typical Mussoorie “season,” called “The Himalaya Club,” appeared in Household Words in the issue of March 21, 1857.

It is well over 50 years since a person lived in the parsonage and its owner today is Victor Banerjee, the actor, who received an Academy Award nomination for his role in David Lean’s A Passage to India. Victor doesn’t mind his friends calling him the vicar.

This naming of places is never as simple as it may seem. Let’s take Mossy Falls, a small waterfall on the outskirts of the hill station. You might think it was named after the moss that is so plentiful around it, but you’d be wrong. It was really named after Mr. Moss, the owner of the Alliance Bank, who was affectionately known as Mossy to his friends. When, at the turn of the century, the Alliance Bank collapsed, Mr. Moss also fell from grace. “Poor old Mossy,” said his friends, and promptly named the falls after him.

“The Mall would be lifeless without people and people would find Mussoorie lifeless without the Mall,” a shopkeeper observes. The main artery of Mussoorie, the Mall certainly responds to the influx of visitors in the same manner as a person fighting for life-sustaining breath revives after receiving oxygen.

Shops closed for the winter spring to life when summer approaches. Soon, the trickle of visitors swells to a steady, heartening stream. Happy laughter and the gay chitter-chatter of a cosmopolitan band of people from the plains flows from one open end of the Mall to the other. Forming a fascinating fashion parade with a potpourri of fashions from different parts of the country, visitors glide up and down the Mall, gulping the fresh mountain air, gazing at the assortment of goods in the shops that line the Mall.

There is no noisy traffic here. Only the occasional, measured clatter of hooves as a horse-riding tourist goes past. And every now and then, pedestrians move to the sides as two sturdy hillmen pulling hand rickshaws occupied by people reluctant to walk, signal their approach with the spirited ringing of a bicycle bell mounted on the handle of the quaint rickshaw.

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Running through Kulri Bazaar, on towards Library Chowk, the Mall, like a magician pulling a rabbit out of a hat, offers an amazing variety of pastimes. Haggling, bargaining with rosy-cheeked Tibetans over the prices of ‘imported’ goods and Tibetan metalware; browsing through a bookshop; searching for antiques in the curio-shops; choosing hand-carved walking sticks or handmade cane baskets and other wares. There are embroidered wall hangings, dry pinecones, hill jewelry, garments and a dozen knick-knacks besides.

If tired of shopping or window-shopping, there is the cable car that starts from the Mall and goes up to Gun Hill. There is a revolving restaurant and scores of fancifully named eating-places. City-bred children are torn between trying to run up and down every steep path they can spot, and video parlors, a tiny park with swings and see-saws, candy floss wallahs, balloon wallahs….

From the Mall, there is a feast of views of the surrounding hills and the Doon Valley below. As evening falls, there is the prospect of watching a glorious sunset, and in the deepening darkness, twinkling light appear one by one in the valley below. Simultaneously, the Mall transforms itself into long, glittering rows of shops. As the shopkeepers on the Mall bring down their shutters on yet another day, the mood changes again. Visitors spill onto the Mall. The shopkeepers have left, the hardworking rickshaw wallahs have earned a rest and the shaggy mountain horses too have gone. The soft mountain nigh, the coolness, the sudden, complete silence that descends on the Mall act like a salve. Couples walk peacefully hand in hand, talking, perhaps, of the good times that were and will be…. The Mall is Mussoorie’s main artery, certainly. It is also a catalyst of dreams.

The highest point that one can visit around Mussoorie is the famous Surkhanda Devi Temple at 10,000 feet—35 km down the Mussoorie–Tehri road. Perched on a peak, the temple demands a stiff two-km climb form devotees. The temple, goes the legend, was built on the site where the head of Shiva’s consort (Shiva is the destroyer in the Hindu trinity) fell after it was chopped off to stop Shiva’s terrifying dance of death that was shaking the universe to its very core.

Nag Tibba, 41 km from Mussoorie, also soars to an altitude of 10,000 feet, and entails a fairly long, taxing but exhilarating trek, and therefore more time. Thick pine forests, mountain brooks and slate-roofed villages keep one company for the greater part of the trek to Nag Tibba peak. The nearest accommodation is a forest rest house at Deolsari, about five hours of trekking below Nag Tibba.

Most people looking for a few quiet days prefer to sojourn amongst the picturesque pine-clad slopes of Dhanaulti, 24 km from Mussoorie, 11 km before the Surkhanda Devi temple. A comfortable Tourist Bungalow and a private hotel, the Dhanaulti Breeze, make Dhanaulti an ideal getaway from the milling season crowds at Mussoorie.

Thirty-one kilometers form Dhanaulti, along the Tehri road, is Chamba—the home of apples. A tourist bungalow has been built atop a mountain, and with the approach of the monsoon, fluffy clouds come in low, enter through the windows, move across the room, and float out through the door.

Closer to Mussoorie, at an altitude of 4,500 feet, Kempty Fall is perhaps the biggest attraction. The highest (over 40 feet) and most beautiful (the fall splits into five distinct cascades) of the waterfalls around Mussoorie, Kempty Fall is 15 km from Mussoorie, on the road to Chakrata.

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Past Kempty Fall, 12 km downhill, you cross the Aglar River and reach the legendary Yamuna River. Trout are in abundance here, and fishing permits can be obtained form the Divisional Forest Officer, Mussoorie.

The latest addition to man-made attractions around Mussoorie (six km away, on the road winding down to Dehradun) is a small, artificial lake, complete with pedal boats.

There are regular, daily Vayudoot and Jagson flights from New Delhi to the Doon Valley (50 minutes). From the Jolly Grant airport, taxis and buses ply to Dehradun, from where they go up to Mussoorie (2¼ hours, 60 km).

The overnight Mussoorie Express links Delhi to Dehradun, the railhead for Mussoorie.

Delhi to Mussoorie is 290 km by road. Dehradun to Mussoorie is 35 km. There are direct buses from Delhi to Mussoorie, along with private taxis. Buses ply every half hour from Dehradun to Mussoorie. Private taxis and shared taxis are favored by a majority of visitors.

Mussoorie has more than a hundred hotels from which to choose. Upper-bracket hotels include Hakman’s Grand Hotel, Holiday Inn and Classic Heights. Brentwood, Valley View, Connaught Castle, Rockwood, etc., are mid-range and economy hotels. Cottages and flats are also available on lease

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