Situated in the state of Uttarakhand, Mussoorie was initially a haven for the British during the scorching India summer months. While the British are long gone, the popularity of this hill-station getaway, especially for people from cities like New Delhi and Chandigarh, has continued to the extent that this picturesque town has had untimely and unorganized construction to the point that it has lost some of its old world charm. However, Mussoorie remains a true gem in the hills and thus, one of the most visited destinations in the north of India.
Besides the promise of fresh air and majestic views, Mussoorie entices its visitors with the option of exploring some lesser known sections around it – Barlowganj and Landour. Although recently, even these “villages” have seen a greater influx of tourists, but the lack of activities – nature walks and the charm of a blissfully quiet evening is not for everyone – and being cantonment areas, have kept the crowds somewhat at bay.
Even though during peak season the crowds are so intense that finding a last minute room is impossible, people still come back, year after year, be it for the nostalgic value that the region holds for many or in the hope that the mountain air will help blow away the hectic an humid stench that city dwellers accumulate over time.
To guide you through this picturesque town overlooking the Doon Valley, here are some tips to keep in mind;
Situated some 8 to 9 hours from New Delhi, Mussoorie can easily be reached in a day by car. While taking the Meerut and Roorkie bypass makes the trip more bearable, when traveling after rainy season, be prepared for a bumpy ride due to broken roads.
Leave as early as possible, keeping in mind unplanned stops, and make sure you reach your destination during daylight hours as night driving in the hills can prove to be strenuous and dangerous. However, the climb isn’t too steep, and the roads are fairly good in the region, but being an “outsider” it can be difficult to tackle the roads at night.
Another option is to take the train to the nearest station – Dehradun – and then hire a cab up to Mussoorie. While this is the fastest and easiest way, you do miss out on the fun of a road trip.
It’s Getting Hot, Hot, Hot!
Mussoorie might be 6000ft above sea level and amidst lush green mountains, but that doesn’t mean it won’t get hot at the top. Carry an umbrella for those sudden rain showers and also to protect you from the direct rays of the sun which if you are anyone like me, will lead to profuse sweating – climbing, walking, everything adds up. Either way, without an umbrella, you are bound to get wet – sweat, rain, your child throwing water on you, there are endless possibilities, so carry one.
One of the most delightful activities in Mussoorie is watching the mist play hide and seek with the mountains. While this view is spectacular when witnessed from the hotel balcony with a warm mug of tea in hand, the mist can prove to be tricky as is descends suddenly making it difficult to see anything if you are driving. Beautiful and deadly, the mist gives Mussoorie stupendous character.
Now, I did mention that it can get really warm during the day in Mussoorie, but don’t take that as an excuse to end there ready for just the summers. Remember, it is a hill station after all and the evenings/nights are almost always cooler. With the mist coming down along with the gentle breeze rustling the leaves, chances of sudden showers, those early morning cups of tea in the balcony; carrying light woolens is always advisable no matter the time of the year.
The main attraction in Mussoorie, this stretch of road from Picture Palace to the Public Library is lined with shops, street vendors, and idyllic views of the valley. Unfortunately, its upkeep has been rather poor and with horse rides still a plenty, walking with one eye on the road is essential else you are bound to step on horse excreta.
Bikes and cars whizz past during the day blaring their horns making the Mall Road not the best place for a calm and quiet walk and you have to keep the kids in check too. At night things settle down a little and the road can prove to be quite romantic with limited shops open and lights shimmering across the valley providing the perfect backdrop to serenade that special someone.
The Literary Connection
When you think of literature, Mussoorie is synonymous with Ruskin Bond, that beloved author who has resided in Landour for most of his life. I often wonder whether it is Ruskin Bond that made Mussoorie famous or visa versa. While Ruskin Bond remains the most celebrated person in Mussoorie, the region plays host to many other notable writers and celebrities like Stephen Alter, Bill Aitken and Victor Banerjee, all of whom call this beautiful part of the world their home.
I have never been lucky enough to meet any of them while in Mussoorie, a little snooping around and gossiping with the locals can often get you an invite, I’m told by a friend. As for Ruskin Bond, while meeting him at his residence might not always be possible, he does visit a bookshop in Landour every Wednesday for a meet and greet which is the place to catch him at his chatty best.
Stay A While
Mussoorie gives its visitors ample opportunities to either visit for the weekend or linger around for a week. Depending on your interests, the region has a lot or nothing to offer. The option of staying longer gives the visitor more time to explore and spend the days at a rather leisurely pace.
Furthermore, traveling from one place to another and then exploring the areas can be time consuming and thus the longer you stay, the easier it becomes to appreciate the hidden spots that the region has to offer; Kempty Falls, Gun Hill, Cloud’s End, Lal Tibba, Happy Valley are all noteworthy, and touristy, places that bring the kind of tranquility and calmness one searches and desires up in the mountains.
When it comes to Mussoorie hotels, there is an abundance of options in the form of luxurious resorts, two to four-star hotels, or even renting quiet cottages further up in the hills. There’s something for every budget and taste.
Speaking of taste, India has often been identified for its street food. Walking on the Mall Road you are bound to find numerous vendors selling all sorts lip-smacking foodie delights that range from boiled eggs to popcorn to candy floss, perfect to warm you up during those cozy evening walks.
Then there is that special taste of the “Pahari Food”. Whether it is their techniques, the ingredients, or just the love they put into making the dishes, the food has a distinct flavor which is particular to this region and that is what makes it so special.
Walk Don’t Talk
Mussoorie has enough paths and walkways all around in the mountains to explore that it should keep the amateur and the professional hikers happy at least for a few days. Hikes outside of the commercial areas present the prospect to take in some fresh air and exercise the body while enjoying the local flora and fauna.
If hiking isn’t really your cup of tea, a walk along the Mall Road can be fun with the bonus possibility of taking a rikshaw if you to get tired mid-way.
Keep it Clean and Green
The most disheartening aspect of visiting Mussoorie every few years/decades is the rash commercialization that has taken place. Not much can be done about that anymore, but it is important for us as tourists to keep the sanctity of this little paradise in the hills intact by keeping it clean and respecting nature helping restore the “Queen of the Hills” to its past glory.