Offbeat Activities to do in Mussoorie with Mosaic Hotel

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.

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My parents doing the ‘half’ nature walk!

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.

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Views you see in every direction!

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.

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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

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He owns this 100 year old traditional house!

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.

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The kitchen inside the wooden house. Our hosts fed us fresh boiled corns.
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Exterior of the 100 year old traditional house

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

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Camel’s Back point: Can you spot the sitting camel and its hump?

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)

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These Hawa Ghar are great for sitting and appreciating valley or ruminating over a sunset!

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 

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Tents en route!

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.

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Have you played cricket in a location as scenic as this?

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.

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Chestnut

Walk 4 : NAG TIBBA AND LANDOUR

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Charming House of actor Victor Banerjee

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 (Upscale):

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.

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The scandalous Fried Ice Cream

Eat:

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)

Shopping:

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My parents shopping for local outfits at Bhuttico. I support local weaves over big brands!

 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)

Kempty falls:

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Oops!

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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A Local women at Wishing Well

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My parents drinking one of the sweetest water ever at Wishing Well

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Sursingdhar : A truly offbeat escape with Himalayan Eco Lodge near Delhi !

I am always running from pillar to post in my travel. Since this year, I am trying to train myself to slow down. My trip to Sursingdhar turned out to be slow travel thanks to my parents who prefer it that way.

 

I am new in Delhi and was looking for a great weekend break with family, away from the chaotic megapolis. I asked many friends for suggestions. All of them suggested nice places near Delhi but with a warning that since it’s June, so expect a lot of ‘beer and tikka’ crowd in almost all the popular hill station destinations near Delhi.

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My mother watching the sublime sunrise from the balcony! In Silence!

I wanted a respite from the cruel Delhi heat and the crowds. Then suddenly, my mind raced back to a blog I read by Manjulika on Sursingdhar many moons ago. I remember, after reading her blog, I dreamt of going to that quaint little village, sitting in my tiny apartment in Mumbai. It was not an easy task from Mumbai but from Delhi it seemed cushy. An 8 hour comfortable drive on the smooth roads was what was promised to me.

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The lyrical sun rise from the balcony of Himalayan Eco Lodge

I zeroed in on Sursingdhar and it exceeded my expectation. As our cab neared the Himalayan Eco Lodge (at an elevation of 7000 plus feets), I was delighted to discover its remoteness. The resort is built right in the middle of a nondescript village. We had booked the first floor cottage facing the valley. This is the best you can get here.

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Parents at Himalayan Eco Lodge

It was a delight beyond words to watch the villagers pass by in slow motion, the many exotic birds filling the only pine tree opposite our balcony, the sun rising poetically from behind the hills. I have been told that on clearer days, one can see snow capped mountains, especially the Nanda Devi. We didn’t get to see that due to mist but we didn’t mind. Our loss was compensated with an unhindered look of a rare rainbow, lining the sky. An excited me woke up my parents to savor the miracles of nature.

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The rainbow we saw from our balcony in Himalayan Eco Lodge

The balcony was my favourite place. I would not want to leave the place and spend long hours, doing nothing but just staring romantically at the many species of exotic birds, mountains, villages, mountain dogs, tress laden with local fruits like ‘pahadi seb’ (Apple), chulu, peach etc. In complete silence I gazed at them.

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Snacks in the balcony!

My silence was punctuated only by chirps of a bird and the ‘thak thak’ sound by a woodpecker who could not stay at one spot for more than a second. Like an obsessed lover, I followed the movement of the woodpecker on the pine tree opposite the balcony. The gorgeous bird would play hide and seek with me as if enticing me to ‘Catch me if you can’. Soon the tree was full of many woodpeckers. Till this day, I had not seen so many at a time.

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My obsession was killed by a staff member who showed up with flask full of tea, pakoris (fritters) and cookies. It was a perfect snack to indulge in, since it started drizzling lightly. As we sipped the tea, cool breeze caressed our faces gently, bringing with them the scent of the pine trees that surrounded the resort.

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Snacks in the balcony!

 

Post the tea break, me and my parents decided to take a walk in the beautifully landscaped garden and the village beneath. I was told that the owner is a lover of plants and gardening, especially the many flowers.

Picture above : Flowers and chulu fruit

There is no way you can ignore the riot of colors dotting the Himalayan Eco Lodge at Sursingdhar. Red/ purple/ yellow/ pink/ white/ blue colored flowers almost blinded us with their unbridled beauty. Even our balcony was inundated with flowering plants. Did I forget to mention that pots filled with flowers hung above our head as we chatted over tea in the balcony.

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As we entered the village just outside the resort, we had our eyes peeled. Just interacting with the locals, observing the local lifestyle and mountain houses, plucking the fruits from the trees are some of the simpler joys of life we savored here. One of the villagers, a charming lady, invited us over to her house for tea. We unfortunately could not go as my mother is understandably not fit enough to climb the steep paths.

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Post a session of carrom at the lawn facing the valley, we huddled around the bonfire in the garden. We as a family, bonded over conversation laced with sweet nothings over the bonfire

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New Tehri Town as seen from our balcony

The meals served to us were simple yet delicious, healthy and light on tummy. We were delighted when we were served local village food from Uttarakhand after sampling familiar food for past few days. I am mentioning those with a rough recipe (Not tried at home yet)

 

  • Kali Daal Ka Chausa: (Pic 1) It was so delicious, I ended up having 3 bowls of this lentil based dish. Black Urad Daal is ground coarse and raw and then roasted with ghee (Clarified Indian Butter). Spices, tomato, onion, garlic and water are added to it gradually and simmered until done.
  • Palak ki Kapli: (Pic 2) It’s a spinach stew which is nothing but roughly chopped spinach cooked with onion, tomato and water.
  • Plum Chutney: (Pic 3) Plum fruits are available in abundance here. It’s a spicy sauce made with plums, sugar, spices and chillies.
  • Bathue ka paratha: (Pic 3) It’s a local saag (Green leafy vegetable) which is mixed with the dough alongwith spices and turned into delicious breads to be had with plum chutney and pickles etc.
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Our cozy room at Himalayan Eco Lodge!

The next day, the ever smiling manager Kuldeep at Himalayan Eco Lodge suggested me a 1 hour trek around the village. I lapped up at the opportunity. The trek is decent and a mix of pucca road and dirt tracks through the village. It’s an easy trek through pine and deodar forests.

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Me during the trek!

En route I saw local temples, got birds eye view of the village, exotic birds, even a scared fox, cute Himalayan kids waving at me and villagers going about their work. I also saw trees laden with local fruits like pahadi seb (apple), aadu, pomegranate, Malta etc. The weather was pleasant, what with breezy winds and a light drizzle punctuating the experience.

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Temple en route the trek!

Ever since I have been back from Everest Base Camp trek, I had been craving to do a 1 day trek! You would be wondering why one day. Because I wanted to test my fitness level! Post EBC, I had gained a lot of weight (From 75 kgs to 100 kgs) because I ate like mad after shifting to Delhi and my bodily movement was restricted to basics such as fetching a glass of water ‘all by myself’.

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Trek tracks!

During the trek, I realized that I was momentarily breathless in just an hour long trek. I used to jump on such trails earlier. I was embarrassed that the guide could hear my huffs and puffs…. But then I thought what the heck, its ok. He would think of me as ‘just another fat, spoilt brat from Delhi’. And I have no patience left to explain my ‘Fit to Fat’ story to one and all. Anyways, it was an alarming day for me. During the trek I promised myself to commit to a strict fitness regime as soon as possible and get back to my original shape and weight.

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Did the kid like me? He’s emoticoning so not sure!
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The temple at the end of the trek!

QUICK GET AWAYS:

  • Tehri dam : Once a bustling town, it is now submerged in water due to the dam project. One can see some of the remains of the town including a palace peeping from the water. Today it has become the hub for water sports. It is half an hour away.
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My father trying Jet Skiing at Tehri dam!
  • New Tehri Town/Chamba: Great for shopping for local jams, pickles, chutneys, Rhododendron and malta squash. It is 20 minutes away.
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Rhododendron and Malta squash!
  • Kanatal/Dhanaulti : A quick ride on smooth roads will take you there. However, the climate and weather and landscapes are quite similar to Sursingdhar. So you can skip this one if you want a peaceful vacation in silence.
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At Eco Park in Dhanaulti!
  • Mussoorie and Landour : Just ahead of Kanatal are these combo of popular and offbeat destinations.
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Maggi at Dhanaulti!
  • Haridwar and Rishikesh: Just 3 hours away, the twin spiritual towns are a great excursion, especially in winters.
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In Rishikesh, against ram Jhoola on their wedding anniversary!

WHEN TO GO

March, April, May: Busy months.

June and July : The occupancy is lower than other times.

December, January and Mid feb : Expect light snowfall.

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Himalayan Eco Lodge, Sursingdhar!

PRICE:

It’s a great deal for Rs. 5600 on double occupancy including buffet style breakfast, lunch and dinner. Why it is a steal deal is because your meals are sorted and most of the activities are centered around the resort. You don’t really need to go anywhere.

Best rooms: Ask for room number 2,3,4 which face the snow capped mountains. You can see Gangotri, Kedarnath, Badrinath and Nanda Devi from here!

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Me during the aarti at Har Ki Paudi, Haridwar!

WARNING : COPYRIGHT TO ALL THE IMAGES AND TEXT HERE REMAINS WITH ME. YOU CAN NOT JUST LIFT THE CONTENT AND USE IT WITHOUT MY PERMISSION. STRICT LEGAL ACTION WILL BE TAKEN IF CONTENT IS STOLEN. YES, I AM SERIOUS.