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I HAVE AVOIDED GOING TO MUSSOORIE ever since I started traveling in 2010. I dreaded going there after hearing all the horror stories from fellow travelers. So, I was skeptical when I was invited to visit Mussoorie. I anyhow said yes after much contemplation. I always make sure to experience a destination myself rather than blindly believing in the hearsay. I planned the travel with parents. Unlike the new age ‘travel snobs’, they are fond of clichéd touristy places. However, I found many offbeat things to do in Mussoorie.
As we left the stuffy plains of Dehradoon and entered the serpentine roads of Mussourie, many school teenagers raced past our car, as if Mussoorie is shutting down next day onwards. Girls, prim and proper; boys, rash and bursting with over confidence! I am again skeptical if I made the right choice.
That said, the mist laden mountains in the distance promised me a utopian world. The car stopped just at the start of the barrier of the famous Mall Road. The Eco wall at the Mosaic Hotel where I was staying, welcomed us. I was told it was soon turning into a selfie point with the passer byes, thanks to its striking green walls, punctuated with bright unusual flowers.
Pics above : Mosaic’s attic suite; Charcoal, al fresco restaurant amidst mist
I was delighted to enter in my Attic suite. I always wanted to stay in an attic though never got the opportunity. The attic suite at Mosaic had 2 bedroom. The ground floor had a master bedroom with a huge washroom with a bathtub. The stairs from the lounge area of the ground floor led to an attached room on the attic. I was pleasantly surprised to see that attic came with a separate washroom too, which is not the norm.
Walk 1: VILLAGE WALK
We headed for Bhatoli village near the famous Kempty Falls. Bhutoli turned out to be a corn paradise! Tons of corn were scattered around carelessly, some arranged on wires painstakingly, giving a unique character to the village. One of my co traveler Poonam’s guess was that Bhutoli was named after Bhutta (corn). It was the best experience for me as we were taken to a 100 year old house built in traditional style.
Earlier all houses were built in similar fashion but only this building survives now. A wooden structure, I climbed up the narrow stairs only to enter a gate so low, I had to bend to get inside. I was told this style was invented so that any miscreants (in those times British Officers) would not be able to run away in a jiffy in case a fracas happens. The sliding windows were so small that you could barely pass a hand through it. There was a rooftop window, much like their car versions these days, which worked as a natural ventilator/exhaust/chimney/light source. The rooms had a stair to the lower floors, used as a storage space. The couple lovingly cooked boiled corn for us in their charming kitchen as my eyes scanned the spartan interiors of their lovely house. You could count their belonging on fingers. Just the kind of lifestyle I like!
Corn galore at Bhatoli Village.
Walk 2 – CAMEL’S BACK LOOP POINT
Post lunch, I booked full body massage and steam bath for my parents at the hotel, while I moved on to one of the 10 walks conducted by the property in Mussoorie. The Camel’s back loop walk started right from the hotel. A right turn just at the start of the barrier, took us to the Mussoorie few care to visit. The road here was devoid of tourists. Only locals strolled by tending to their chores. Few foreign tourists enjoyed the soul nourishing views of the valley from the many ‘Hawa Ghar’ (Wind House) which lined the roads. (See Picture)
We passed a mosque, an ancient British building where British officers once indulged in skating. The skating rink is still there. We were delighted like kids when our cheerful guide Deepak pointed towards a rock which looked like a sitting camel, hump intact. We were lucky to spot it before mist swallowed the quirky attraction. After few minutes, we reached a graveyard, the stones of which were engulfed by foliage. British were buried here in pre independence era. After languorously admiring a setting sun behind colossal mountains, we called it a day! The walk ends at mall Road
Walk 3 – NATURE WALK
On the second day, a short drive took us to ‘haathi paon’, thus named because of a rock which looks like Elephant’s legs. I am fond of nature walk, which is just easier version of trekking. The 2 hour trail took us to the forest area. I stopped dead in my tracks as I passed the pine trees wrapped in mysterious looking mist. Lying below it were Rhododendron trees, which must color the town red with their flowers every March. It was a smooth walk till the Wishing Well. It is said that when you turn the back towards the well and throw a coin, it must fall in water without hitting the inner walls of well. My parents and co travelers did try (Not me!), none of them succeeded though. Parents returned from here in car and we moved as steeper climbs lied ahead. We passed some tent in the forest and old style huts en route.
My favourite was the residence of George Everest. It is a stark white building, in the middle of nowhere, now inhabited by ‘langurs’ (Monkey species) and lovers who love to write on historical buildings. I am sure the small sit out area facing the valley was also the favorite spot of the legendary surveyor and geographer. The location of the house is eerie and it is touted as a haunted house.
House of George Everest (Pic 1 – Sit out area, which opens to valley!)
There is no major building in sight. All one sees is mist, mountains and an observatory up in the hill. I peeped inside to see small charming rooms, each boasting of its personal fireplace. Old world! We had a bowl of Maggi and tea in the makeshift stall and moved on to explore more vistas. We also plucked some chestnut, the tree laden with fruits, to boil it at home and eat later.
Walk 4 : NAG TIBBA AND LANDOUR
The last walk started at Char Dukaan in Landour and ended at Lal Tibba from where one can see many snow peaks. The route passed many charming bunglows, cafes, houses of famous personalities like hotelier Sanjay Narang, writer Ruskin Bond and actor Victor Banerjee. The streets here are quieter and bereft of any tourists in sight. Though I am sure the place does see tourists in peak season.
Folks at Landour Bakehouse have whacky sense of humour (Pls click to read)
Mussoorie grew on me slowly and I wondered why I took so many years to come here. I believe if you go offbeat in Mussoorie, you will discover many of its gems lurking in corners you are not suspecting them to be. I went in August end and there were hardly any tourists in sight. Even the mall road was not as horrifyingly crowded. I wondered why August is called off season, since I experienced the mist, sunshine and rain all in one day.
EAT YOUR ENEMY:
Chef Dheeraj Singh at work. Sisnu leaves on the right (mise en scene for Nettle soup!)
My father touched a thorny leaf at the Lal Tibba. Suddenly, he had this strong urge to scratch at all the affected parts. A local helped him alleviate the suffering by applying a local leaf. It was ‘sisnu’ aka nettle/ Bichchu Ghaas (Scorpio Grass). Turned out that was exactly our lunch as we reached Mosaic Mussoorie. The Executive Sous Chef Dheeraj Singh gave us a live demo of how to make Nettle Soup. The leaves were burnt on stove to kill its thorn and thus the scratching sensations it produces. The ever smiling chef rustled up a flavoursome soup in no time. I have always wanted to eat it in Sikkim and Nepal where it is more popular. This was my first time and loved it. The ever smiling Chef hosts a TV show on Care World TV. Check his videos on You Tube. (Search his name)
Stay at the well appointed Mosaic Mussoorie. The rooms are luxurious, cozy and have cheerful interiors. Family can stay in the attic suite or attic rooms. One can choose depending upon the budget. The location of the hotel is perfect. It is just at the start of the barrier of Mall Road, which means you can park your car in a parking lot behind hotel and move it anytime easily. Check their contact details and tariff here.
Mosaic Mussoorie has two restaurants. Random and Charcoal. The cuisine at random is varied. I particularly loved the scandalous fried ice cream (My first time), Veg Wonton Soup, Veg lasagna topped with micro greens, Nettle soup. The breakfast is sumptuous though you can avoid the lackluster stuffed parathas. I liked the breakfast buffet where you can make your own salad, combine breads with different variety of cheeses, pick up healthy vegetable shooters, fruits, flavoured water and juices. Charcoal is an open air restaurant where you can see your food being barbequed live. Dining here during a misty weather is unforgettable. When in Landour, eat at the Landour Bake house. Grab the valley facing seats (Their sense of humor is too good, see picture)
Shop for high quality shawls at Bhuttico, a goverment enterprise. My mother merrily picked up some ‘sadri’ (waistcoat for me), Shirts (for dad) and Shawls. There are many Kashmiri shops which sell products from Kashmir. You can also pick ponchos.
For local handmade jams, jellies and cheese, head to A Prakash & Co in Landour (Phone – 632544)
Go if you really want to. I was curious thanks to its fame, so made a half an hour car journey from the Mall Road. I was part impressed, part disappointed. May be because I have seen enough waterfalls in Maharashtra and they fail to excite me now. So decide for yourself.
How to reach:
New Delhi to Dehradoon
Train number: 12017, Dehradoon Shatabdi (Comfortable air conditioned sitting car. Includes meals)
Dehradoon to Mussoorie cab/bus: Approx 1 hour (32 kms)
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