Spellbinding views, untouched forests, luxurious and historic lodgings, Maggi, momos and ginger lemon tea. Discover the joys of Mussoorie and Landour.
William Henry Davies had it right when he famously wrote: “What is this life if, full of care, We have no time to stand and stare.” Sometimes, travel is not just about making memories, but also about making time. To grab that moment of peace amidst the sea of routine. To take the time to just “be”. So, when the “queen of the hills” called, we answered.
Dial M for Mountains…
Mussoorie is rightfully known as the queen of hills in India. A beautiful 2-hr drive from Dehradun, the city gets its name from the British mis-pronunciation of the Mansoor shrub that grows in the region. A summer retreat for heat-escaping British during the Raj, remnants of the colonial era add a distinct charm and character to its appearance.
Travel tip: For travellers from Mumbai, Jet Airways offers a non-stop, direct flight to Dehradun. Mussoorie and Landour are great options for those summer months when most of the country battles oppressive heat.
It’s in the air…
Our foray into Mussoorie began with a shared bowl of Maggi slurped at a shack somewhere before the climb up to the city. Rickety tables overlooked a beautiful valley, while bright sunshine created a dazzling halo over everything it touched. One bowl became two. Maggi never tasted so good. It wasn’t just the seasoning – though liberal amounts of garlic, coriander and green chilies certainly had our taste buds buzzing – it was the air. It is amazing how a place can change the flavour of food so dramatically.
Property, property, property…
On we drove, up and around the hill taking in the beautiful views, the buzzing Mall Road, the beautiful Savoy, until finally, we left it all behind to reach our destination: the J W Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa. Constructed as a rather underwhelming building, the property is quite modern and luxurious inside. Though the hotel has a fabulous location away from the hustle bustle of the town center, views of the mountains are interrupted partially by the property itself. Nevertheless, its amazing recreational activities (massive indoor entertainment zone) and fabulous food more than make up for the less-than-charming layout and exterior. Not to mention, the supremely relaxing L’Occitane en Provence Spa.
A highlight, was the high-tea served on the pretty lawns each evening. The menu was short but flavourful: Pahadi chai (local tea brewed with spices for 1-2hrs), fresh corn roasted on traditional coal stoves, roasted groundnuts, cookies and light snacks. Families and staff played badminton and local musicians strummed popular tunes as guests lounged on blankets, hammocks, beanbags and benches spread across lawns that overlooked majestic mountains.
The hills are alive…
Treks are a great way to peek into untouched Mussoorie. We opted for the J W Marriott’s Pine forest trek as well as a visit to a Buddhist monastery. The manicured beauty of the hotel gave way to the natural beauty of the land.
We walked at the relaxed pace, taking in the views interspersed with some local huts. We heard a tinkling sound and turned just in time to dodge an errant goat that decided to move ahead of its herd. Accompanied by some local villagers, the herd was out to graze in the forest.
Our chatty guide regaled us with charming childhood tales: running through forests, sliding down hillsides, catching bugs in matchboxes, stealing apples, splashing in streams and bathing in waterfalls. As we continued our ascent, the openness gave way to the slightly dense Pine forest. We found the perfect spot to pause for refreshments, while listening to the music of chirping birds and buzzing forest creatures. With nary a soul for miles around, the feeling of peace was incredible.
Travel tip: Opt for a trek to the bird sanctuary. Though relatively long, it offers more beautiful views and goes deeper into the forest.
Where wildflowers grow and eagles soar…
It was a day of feasting on views. Literally. Each more stunning than the one before and always just a plate of momos or bowl of Maggi away from each other.
…Leaving the pine forest behind, we marched onward on a less-than-exciting cement road to the Buddhist monastery. The monastery itself was simple, but the sight of colourful flags waving in the wind and altitude provided lovely views over the surrounding areas.
Next stop: Everest Estate. Home to Sir George Everest, namesake of Mount Everest, and severely in need of maintenance, the property offered stunning views of the hills. Blue skies greeted the hills with tufts of fluffy white clouds, while the hills reached up shrouded in shades of green.
The drive to the Everest house itself was scenic enough for us to pause for an impromptu picnic at a roadside shack.
…While heading to our next “viewpoint”, we saw signs for “See Green Café”. Every quarter mile or so, sign posts pinpointed the location and spotlighted items from the menu. So of course, we paused for some Maggi and lemon ginger tea. Again delicious and again one bowl turned into two. Air. It had to be the air.
Final stop: Cloud’s End. A “resort” of sorts, that is best reserved for visiting rather than staying. We followed a trail to the back of the property and into the woods in hopes of finding the infamous Echo point. Instead of inspiring us to shout, what we found left us speechless.
The path led to a clearing surrounded by woods and wildflowers that overlooked the valley and hills. Green all around, with the road a distant slash of white snaking through the wilderness. One, two, three eagles swooped and soared over the mountains. Leaves and wildflowers swayed in the breeze as butterflies flitted around.
There are no words to describe what seeing such beauty does for the soul.
How many ways can I love thee…
A visit to Mussoorie would be incomplete without a visit to its busy, commercialized, heart – Mall Road. We discovered the lively center of Mussoorie via a halt for grub on Mall Road.
Disappointed to find an endless wait for fabulous smelling pizza at the famous Little Llama Cafe, we settled for smoothies with a view instead. Rumbling stomach under control, we headed to the authentic, crowded and fabulous Kalsang for some Thukpa (noodle soup) and momos. A meal that must not be missed.
While we opted for a brief halt, Mall Road offers plenty of additional options for munching (Clock Tower Cafe), browsing (Cambridge Book Depot – frequented by Ruskin Bond), strolling (Camel Back Road) or indulging (Chic Chocolate). Design the Mussoorie experience that delights you.
We saw and loved Mussoorie from virtually every angle: the drive up from Dehradun, trek into its interiors or stroll into its center. However, none was more charming than the hidden paradise above – Landour.
Landour, O Landour!
Linked to Mussoorie via busy Mall Road, Landour was named after the Welsh village Llanddowror. Mussoorie was lovely, but Landour was pure poetry. A place where untouched and untamed beauty knows no bounds. A walk to the famous Lal Tibba viewpoint is filled with lush greenery interspersed with wildflowers and endless views of the surrounding valley, mountains and Mussoorie.
Sign-bearing trees remind visitors to maintain peace, calm and quiet. Each bend of the road offers a different perspective, each with its own level of beauty. We only came across a handful of people during our 1 km long walk and the occasional troop of monkeys. It was almost like walking in a wild, secret garden. One that, at night, overlooked a sea of twinkling lights that rivaled the stars above.
Where storybooks come alive…
If Landour was poetry, our property Rokeby Manor, was a storybook. One that let us write our own story.
Our “suite” was a pretty pink room with flowers painted on the archway between the sitting and bedroom areas…a little wooden chest was dressed with a vase filled with fresh flowers, with a fireplace that just begged to be lit. The “Tea” Garden was exactly as you might picture a garden in a storybook – flowers spilling from pots, with little white garden furniture and flagstone paths.
The most incredible experience, however, was watching the sunset over the town of Mussoorie. There, sitting on benches outside the Tea garden amidst the flowers, beside ancient tree, we simply sat and watched as the sky changed colours, until finally the stars appeared.
Travel tip: The property offers an opportunity to meet and dine with famous author Ruskin Bond. Book ahead to avoid disappointment.
Life should be all Momos, Maggi and Ginger lemon tea…
Most of the eateries in Landour are owned by the restaurateur Sanjay Narang. Before a hearty meal at Rokeby Manor’s famous restaurant Emily’s, we walked over for drinks at the Stray Dog pub. The British style pub had dark wooden paneling and leather couches/bar stools. A little fireplace and large TV filled one wall, while a dartboard adorned another. If it weren’t for our glasses of Sula Satori Merlot, we could have been in any place in England.
Despite the winning ambience of both the places and the unparalled views from Cafe Ivy, our favourite meal had to be the one we had at Char Dukan (four shops). Located in the heart of the town, Char Dukan is literally a line of 4 shops. Touted as legendary cricketer Sachin Tendulkar’s favourite haunt in town, Tip Top is the most famous of the lot. As was customary, we paused for lemon tea, chocolate waffles (too sweet) and Maggi at Char Dukan. The next day, we were back for some Momos with more of the delicious lemon ginger tea. The meals were simple, fresh and tasty.
Exactly how life should be.
Standing still or still standing?
Mussoorie and Landour reminded us to appreciate the little things in life: good food, fresh air, natural beauty and the importance of being quiet and still.
Some places transport the mind to a place beyond any map. A place where you have time to stand and stare. Time, as is its nature, did not stand still; but, we did.
A great game ends at the venue. A great sport experience extends beyond the game.
Why does a game of cricket turn a billion people into raving lunatics? Why do two warring neighbours put all else aside and watch 22 men battle it out with bat and ball?
Cricket is beyond a sport in India. It is a religion. Most businesses – except, perhaps, the less legal kind – come to a standstill when a crucial match is underway. Barring few, all radios and TV stations are tuned to match broadcast. For a brief period of time, millions of people project their aspirations and frustrations on 11 men in blue. Be it victory or defeat, each is celebrated or mourned as deeply as a personal win or loss. The greater the rivalry, the more intense the emotion.
When arch rivals India and Pakistan play, fireworks follow. To watch India play Pakistan at a cricket ground in India is incredible. To watch India vs. Pakistan with a full house at the world’s second largest cricket stadium (Eden Gardens, Kolkata), in India, for a World Cup match, is epic. Not for the match itself – the movement of the ball is clearer on television – but for the wild energy and charged atmosphere.
Clash of the Titans…
The rivalry between the two nations – fuelled largely by the past – can be summarized by a simple statement: India may lose the cup, but cannot lose against Pakistan.
To add to this rivalry:
- India had never won against Pakistan in a match at Eden Gardens
- Pakistan had never won against India in any World Cup match
- Political conflict between the two countries led to periods when the teams did not play each other
- If India lost the match, it would end their hopes of gunning for the T20 World Cup
Given the hype and circumstances, it took some serious legwork by family and friends for us to score tickets for the knockout match in Kolkata.
battle cricket ground…
Memories of historic cricketing moments swirled in the air as more than 65,000 people chanted “Indiaaaa, India!” or players’ names at the top of their voices in Eden Gardens, Kolkata. Tens of thousands of Indian flags flapped and fluttered in the wind.
The event kicked off with the a live rendition of the Pakistani national anthem by Shafqat Amanat Ali. The spirit of sportsmanship was evident as the stadium filled with applause for the renowned Pakistani singer. This performance was followed by one of the highlights of the night: live performance of the Indian national anthem by India’s greatest superstar – Amitabh Bachchan. Echoed by the entire smartphone torch-waving crowd, the rendition was enough to induce goose bumps. The stadium filled with a deafening roar until it practically crackled with electricity.
As the match progressed, the roar became louder. Silence could only be heard at the fall of Indian wickets. Thoughts and emotions were expressed freely, frequently and dramatically. Yet, the crowd was not anti-Pakistan; it was pro-India. Throughout, the digital revolution was evident as a majority of the crowd helf up smartphones in an attempt to capture memories of the historic encounter.
Besides the venue and match itself, crowd culture shaped the viewing experience. The crowd at Eden Gardens was LOUD. So loud that cheers for singles sounded like those for boundaries. On one side, a Bengali guy patiently asked people blocking his view to move by saying “Oh Dada! Eh Dada! Side jao” …”Hey Brother! Please move aside”. For every ball; throughout the match. On the other side, the view-blocking renegades broke out into jigs and dance moves that rivaled Michael Jackson’s. Award-winning melodrama followed every shot.
Commentators were not just in the box – self-proclaimed cricket experts were all around. The dancing dude dispensed priceless tips – complete with full-blown action – for how Virat Kohli (star batsman) should swing his bat or what kind of bowling the relative newbie, Jasprit Bumrah, should do. His cronies chimed in with tips for how the brilliant captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, should set the field. With the amount of free advice dispensed, even cricket first-timers could become budding experts.
An innings to remember…
Virat Kohli’s undefeated 55 – complete with a raised bat salute to one of the world’s greatest cricketers, Sachin Tendulkar – sealed India’s win. While the match itself was not the greatest game, the people, place, energy, patriotism and passion made it an unforgettable experience.
To watch two great rivals battle live, is to watch history being written. Records were created and broken, emotional rollercoasters ridden and intense passion witnessed, but what remained was the memory of the moment of triumph and feeling of unbounded joy. The kind of joy that was shared by more than a billion people across the world.
When an event becomes an experience…
While the match viewing experience was fabulous, our cricket experience did not end there. The cherry on the cake was staying in the same property as both the cricket teams.
In stark contrast to the super-charged stadium, the hotel was a relaxed space with no evidence of any tension brewing under the surface. Despite their celebrity status, the players were surprisingly normal. While the rest of us struggled to recover from the incredibly stressful match, the Indian cricket team was back at work in the gym the very next day. Watching the men in blue work out was a revelation: they pushed themselves hard, but had fun doing it.
Our trip was full of more special fan moments: sending off and welcoming the team, sharing an elevator, walking on a treadmill, lounging by the pool or dining in the same space as past, current or future legends.
We did not hound any players for pictures, nor did we approach them for autographs or offer unsolicited advice. We did not congratulate them, nor did we follow them. We were happy to observe. It was wonderful for us to simply have a window into the world of cricket that extended beyond the game.
For us, picking the right property turned a memorable game of cricket into a fabulous experience.