To get lost in the woods!
I was in the trance state dreaming about the gigantic Himalayas, the high and low thriving green valleys, the water flowing from the narrow streams and making a way through rocks and down the hills. That’s when my watch struck 4PM, and I woke up from the catnap by a cacophony of hucksters in the bazaar; the distant clamor of voWices, hawkers…
In no time, I reached Dehradun ISBT and boarded a local bus to Mussoorie ( a mesmerizing small town in the Central Himalayas). Colorful Tibetan prayer flags were tied across the doors of shops, and across the trees, and everywhere else en route. The bus was moving uphill, picking locals from different places. The locals rely on these buses for their daily commute, and the frequency of these buses is not so excellent.
I reached Picture Palace road early in the morning. Some 10 taxis, a bus, and few tourists were in the market. Mussoorie has definitely changed over the years, clamorous and head-splitting horn sounds, highly expensive shops, stores selling antiques, and hotel agents making it unduly commercialized.
I witnessed two Mussoorie during my trip; the one with restaurants, lodges, big and small hotels, spas, noisy tourists. The other Mussoorie; I will call it my Mussoorie, old churches, long walks, ages old cemeteries, a community of writers, retired people, small shops stuffed with collectibles and antiques (most of them run by Tibetans), locals and people from every walk of life protecting the real charm of this beautiful vale.
I rambled across the mall road and stuffed my lungs with the gentle breeze blowing in the valley. After roving through the Bazaar, I walked down to the road and saw a small hotel standing secluded on the hillside, away from the tumult of mall road.
I chose a small but decent studio apartment, Hotel Emerald Heights, the perfect refuge for a solo traveler. It’s a budget hotel with friendly staff always ready to help you. Although all the hotels in Mussoorie are safe for solo woman traveler, but I find this one safer than any other hotel. This is located on the a small hill on Camel’s back road, which is a calm, serene place to save yourself from the crowd.
This room offered an outstanding sight right from the window. I could see the mountains from my bed, nothing more I could ask for.
I decided to put my feet up for a day, and move to Landour at the crack of dawn. August offered me rain, a lot of it, and mists, a thick layer of mist all over the mountains (Just thinking about misty hills, thrills me and makes me fall in love with these mountains even more). I have always believed that August is the month of romance and month of solitude, in the hills. After setting down in the room, I ban to take a leisurely walk from Camel’s Back road to the Mall road by crossing Kulri Bazaar. What stillness in the air, beautiful, thank heavens!
Since it was off-season, there were not many tourists in the valley, which was beyond doubt a very good thing.
By now I was hungry as a bear, and could eat almost anything, so I wolfed down some dimsums, and a peach drink at Domas, and they are delicious. Domas is an excellent place to stay in. This is an authentic Tibetan Hotel cum restaurant. Dimsum is something you will get anywhere when you are living amongst Himalayan people. I stayed in the bazaar for a while to see the haze moving from one direction to another, covering the whole mall road within a white, semi-transparent sheet. It began to drizzle with chilly winds leading to goosebumps. I walked back to Camel’s Back, in the comfort of my room.
I reached the hotel room and sank in the spongy bed, gazing the enchanting mountains through the glass window, but the fog didn’t allow me to see much of it. It began to rain, and I got busy seeing raindrops falling on the casement, I got completely engrossed in the sound of rain and smell of moist hills that it made me write this piece:
Warmth grows from the dense cold mist
Call of barbets disguises the isolation
Majesty of the sun obscured by overcast dawn
Radiance of the bonfire dwindles and dies
Rampant raindrops fall freely on my forehead
Red velvet mites emerge from the rain as the first rain falls
Droplets on the butterfly’s wings reflect turquoise hue
A snail takes refuge under a fresh fallen leave
It crawls on my diary leaving a trail of the first rainfall.
Some noises broke the spell, in the oak tree in front of my balcony was a gang of langurs (are a group of Old World monkeys), some sitting in the canopy, and some jumping gracefully from one twig to another, feasting on pears. These gray creatures with silky coat looked extremely elegant after bathing in rainwater.
Just in front of my room, there was an abandoned home where a dog and his family resided. The puppies kept on barking at night, and only allowed me to fall into a slumber. It was an awfully dark night, there was no moon in the sky; it rained all night, and I could clearly see lighting through the window.
Knock Knock – Room attendant knocked, carrying a cup of coffee I had ordered while I was half-asleep.
6 in the morning after having the cup of a sweet coffee (overdose of sugar), and taking a bath, I decided to take a walk to the cemetery; the sky was clear at that time. The road was damp, hillside grass was drenched, and foliage of deodar were washed with rain water. There were countless dewdrops on dried twigs of trees and leaves, falling on my head ad infinitum. The green mound on my right was blessed with some white wildflowers with yellow centers, dripping wet, making the hillside look like a broad yellow & white sheet.
The next day I stuffed my bag and began to walk on mall road, and asked locals the way to Landour. It is a steep ascent, you can hire a taxi: a man said. But I love being on foot through the jungle, so I decided to climb ( which later I realized wasn’t a wise move). I started walking up and up, far above the ground; as I was told, it actually was a steep climb. Down in the valleys, the water runs cold I kept singing while walking towards my destination.
In no time, mist started building around me and around the woods too. It began to drizzle, and the intense gush of air, which was more like a storm was making the climb even more difficult. I decided to take a refuge under a small cemented hut-like place for a time. I found myself all wet and all alone and in the middle of nowhere, but I had to walk to reach the top of the hill before the sun says, goodbye young lady, it’s time to call it a day.
I started walking again, but couldn’t see anything because of fog, I was alone, which made me little terrified (languurs, nothing else I was afraid of). I made my way through the haze, and walked almost 6 miles. After walking a bit further, I saw a gang of languurs; I got numb and cold. I slowly walked past the languurs and they didn’t act in response, Phew! The Languurs of hills are not perilous like the monkeys of plains perhaps.
I saw a young Tibetan man on my way up; he was carrying an iron frame (it was a door frame, I think) for the construction work of a well-off man’s home perhaps (I assume a lot). I asked him, which road I should take to reach Char Dukan, take the one going upwards, he said, another one was going to Lal Tibba (a small hill-station which gives pleasant sight of Himalayan vista when it’s not raining, and the sky is clear).
I walked a mile more, and reached Char Dukan. Thank heavens! What a sight for sore eyes. There were barely 15 people in Char Dukan: A policeman resting on the stairs of the church entrance – locals hardly feel the need of police in the hills – , an old man wearing a green worn out sweater, sipping on his tea, shopkeepers, one taxi driver lying lazily on the bench while waiting for his foreigner customers, church’s caretaker almost in his 60s, few foreigners learning Hindi, and a black slothful dog.
Landour is non-commercialized side of Mussoorie, I wish it always remains. Not so many tourists visit this place, because this place has no big market, English restaurants to dine in, no cinema halls to enjoy. But if you just want to mosey, gaze the wild flowers, see the sky changing its color, listen to the twittering of Himalayan birds, to spot silhouette of deodar trees during the hours of twilight, or complete your novel, then this is the place where you will witness such harmony and bliss.
I parked myself on a bench, in the premises of St. Paul’s Church. I was gazing at the beauty of this Methodist church, which was in impeccable state. Later I went to Anil’s café ( a famous spot amongst foreigner students of Woodstock Language School), and ordered a vegetable Maggie, and their famous appetizing pizza, after gratifying my stomach I moved on to Sister’s Bazaar. I asked two locals the way to the Bazaar; they told me they are heading the same way so I can join them. People of hills are hospitable and very amiable; In no time I was accompanied by two gentle men.
I asked them if I can get a taxi to drop me till Picture Palace. There were no taxis in either of the Bazaars, but they found out one, and asked him to drop me down in the Bazaar.
So I had 3 hours more to explore Sister’s Bazaar, but there was nothing much to explore, because of the fog perhaps. I sauntered through the lonely road; there was no soul to see and talk, but what a sight to behold. I had nothing much to do, and in the hills, neither time nor life moves so fast. It is just morning, afternoon, evening and night here, do not worry about hours and minutes.
I was resting on a hillside drenched with rain, and slightly muddy, where I saw a Redstart, shiny blue Whistling Thrush and some hill Mynas preening themselves in a tiny, deep puddle. There is no dearth of water during monsoon, but they chose this little stream for some personal reason, I assume. The puddle was made by rainwater and also some frequent drops falling in it through a crack below an enormous, old oak tree. The birds played, splashed, and feasted on some insects, and then spread their wings and soared into the air and then to the sky covered with thick clouds. I gazed the birds until they disappeared in the fog.
I had a lot of time, so I started searching for a brook, just like the birds; I went all over the hell’s half acre, but could not find one. I decided to go to Prakash’s Store, no, not for the brook, but for some homemade cheese, marmalade and jam. I met this gentleman Prakash Ji at the store, and bought their special homemade peanut butter, plum jam, made from Mussoorie plums, a bottle of real strawberry jam, and blackcurrant jam.
Later, when I came down to Char Duan I met Rani who teaches Hindi to foreigners (one of the Hindi teachers in Landour). An unmarried lady of almost 35 years, living with her brother and sister-in-law. She has pleasing features of Tibetan people, a content and calm face like most of the people from mountains. Her light brown eyes were gleaming under the sun that occasionally peeped behind thick clouds.
We sat together and talked for a little time, while she was waiting for her French student. I gifted her the black-current jam I had bought from Prakash’s. It was hazy everywhere, and I could not see the far-flung Himalayan range, which made my camera of no use. I promised to myself I will come here again, because of these mountains, this mist, this beauty, and this generosity, I will surely come again.
They say: there is no escape once mountain in your blood. I harmonize with the statement.