What could be a better way to spend a weekend than an impromptu trip to the Queen of Hills with your daughter on a manageable budget, to catch a glimpse of the Padma Shri and Padma Bhushan, witty, down to earth, loveable author for children’s books — Ruskin Bond!
We booked our New Delhi-Dehradun tickets (Rs 550/ USD $9) for Friday night. The Dehradun-Mussoorie was done by cab.
For all those who haven’t seen ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminal) Delhi lately (I had used ISBT after almost 20 years), you are going to be in for a pleasant surprise. It was huge, clean with functional escalators, hygienic tea stalls and food shops! Although I was a little apprehensive about travelling by bus in the night without a male chaperone, our journey was a breeze. The AC bus was very comfortable and not packed at all.
We left ISBT around 10.30 pm, stopped once at a clean road-side dhaba during the 7 hour trip, and reached Dehradun early in the morning, at around 5 am.
One can either take a bus or book a cab from Dehradun to Mussoorie. For more comfort, we took a cab. For Rs 1200, we would get dropped at Mall Road, the heart of Mussoorie, and for Rs 1600, at our hotel. We opted to get dropped at our hotel, since I really didn’t cherish the idea of walking on those steep roads, lugging our overnighter, asking for directions!
The car ride up the Garhwal Mountain Range to Mussoorie, offers amazing views of the mountains, the valley below and the beautiful flora all around. The driver negotiated hair-pin bends with ease, showing years of experience on these roads, while we muffled our silent screams at those seemingly impossible turns! It took us around 1.5 hours to reach our destination, at the end of which I thanked my stars for having the sense to eat an anti-vomit tablet at the start of the journey.
The driver cautioned us that due to the narrow roads in Mussoorie, most roads are blocked for cars and we should be prepared to walk to most places. I looked down at my comfortable walking shoes and said a small prayer of thanks!
The cab dropped us outside our hotel, The Himalayan Club, where we had booked a room for an affordable Rs 2000 for one night. The view from our room window was spectacular. We could see the entire city of Dehradun and most of Mussoorie.
There isn’t much to do in Mussoorie during the monsoon season (July) as most of the roads are not the safest. The weather though, is awesome, all misty and rainy and we had decided on simply soaking in this mystic wonderland while waiting for the evening, when we could meet with ‘Mr Bond’! Also, the time of the year when it’s not so touristy, added to the charm.
The Mall Road in Mussoorie
Mall Road – Popular shopping street in Mussoorie
After freshening up, we made a beeline for Mall Road, just 15 minutes away. (Remember, it’s all about walking!). Mall Road is one of the major attractions in Mussoorie and one can spend half a day, just walking up and down this road, browsing through the quaint little shops on either side, admiring the British architecture (The town was founded by Lt. Frederick Young of East India Company) and indulging in some sinful delicacies.
When in Mussoorie and at The Mall, it makes sense to drop in at the very popular cafe, Chic Chocolate. We were hungry and the mountain air had added to the hunger pangs. After a hot coffee (Rs 150) and yummy Nutella waffles (Rs 200), we had some heavenly omelettes at the ‘Lovely Omelette Centre’ (Rs 100), reputed to be one of the oldest eateries in Mussoorie and finds mention in the “Lonely Planet”!
We were amused to note that most stalls and small food shops throughout the town usually sell only tea / coffee, omelettes and the ubiquitous Maggi! Maybe some packets of biscuits; but that was it! A Land of Omelettes was this :)!! We are of course ignoring the ‘propah’ restaurants and bakeries while making this statement.
We had wanted to visit the infamous Kempty Falls, that gets its name from “Camp and Tea” as it was developed as a popular picnic spot by the Britishers. But because of the weather, we were dissuaded from going there.
We spent some time at the famed Tibetan market on the Mall Road, where you can find cheap, yet good quality clothes and things like junk jewellery, most of which has been imported from China.
Since we had heard so much about the Chinese restaurant, Kalsang, we decided to stop there for lunch. We found the restaurant quite overrated and personally wouldn’t recommend it to anyone.
We stopped to watch people standing in line to sit in the cable car which would take them to Gun Hill to enjoy more of the scenic beauty of the mountains.
Meeting The Prolific Writer – Ruskin Bond
We then, excitedly set off for the Cambridge Bookshop on the Mall Road itself, to wait for Ruskin Bond’s arrival.
Cambridge Bookshop in Mussoorie
Since I’ve ‘fed’ Ruskin Bond to my kids from the day they learnt to recognize letters (if not before) and had the pleasure of hearing the author speak at the Jaipur Literature Festival a few years ago, I was raring to see the gentle, fatherly octogenarian up close.
Ruskin Bond has been a regular visitor at this bookstore, every Saturday between 3 and 5 pm. We browsed through this well-stocked bookstore and bought a few books, some of Ruskin Bond’s for autographs.
The author lives in Landour, which is about 5 kms away on the outskirts of Mussoorie. He arrived in a chauffeur driven car and smiled benignly at all those waiting for him. Sitting at the table in the shop, he was sweet enough to spend at least 5 minutes each with all his fans. Asking my daughter about where she came from and signing a book for her, he patiently answered her excited questions while wanting to know more about her college.
We hung around the store watching him with the other fans, till it was time for him to leave.
It was getting drizzly and cold and so we walked back briskly to our hotel. I settled in bed with Ruskin Bond’s autobiography “Lone Fox Dancing” and imagined him writing it as he overlooked the same mountains as I was, while reading it!
The British-Raj Era Hill Station – Landour
After breakfast, the next morning, we took a return taxi to Landour. The driver charged us Rs 600 but would charge additionally if we made him wait for more than a few hours.
I really was interested in having a look at Ruskin Bond’s house. You just had to mention Ruskin’s name to the cab driver and we didn’t need an address after that.
The cute cottage that I stood outside of, with steep narrow staircase leading to the first floor, looked as endearing as the man himself. The house overlooks the mountains covered with Deodar trees. The cabbie told us that the writer had been living there for more than 30 years.
Since we were in Landour, a walk on the long, winding and steep roads flanked with trees, leading to one of the oldest Anglican Church in the Himalayas was a ‘must do’. St. Paul’s church, consecrated in 1840 and built at a height of 7,750 feet is a testimony of the British Cantonment during the British Raj. The carving on the stained glass windows added more depth to the beauty of the church.
We walked over to the area called ‘Char Dukaan’ or ‘Sister’s Bazaar’ which is a cluster of four shops with food stalls. You can just sit here sipping tea while looking at the mystical Himalayas. They serve the most divine Nutella pancakes and waffles (Priced at Rs 100 each). We could have sat there forever had we not got a polite reminder from the cab driver about the overtime!
Back at the hotel, we packed our stuff and started our walk down to the Mall Road to take a taxi back to Dehradun.
But we were not going back without eating some authentic Thai, Tibetan, and Chinese food, at The Rice Bowl by Amitash.
It is one of the oldest restaurants in town and the food is absolutely delicious and very affordable.
Not wanting to be driven on those hair-pin bends in the night, we were back in Dehradun by 8 pm to catch the night bus back to New Delhi.