In the 17th century, the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan looked to the Kashmir valley and declared:
“If ever there is a heaven on this earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here.”
I have no doubt that he was right. But having never been to Kashmir, and having spent just 3 weeks in the bustle and heat of South Delhi, I can say with confidence that heaven, for me, was in Mussoorie, at the very precise moment the sun rose over the Himalayas.
From the spiraling drive that brought us from Dehradun over to our guest house in Mussoorie, to the much-awaited chilly breeze that accompanied us on our walk before sunset, Mussoorie was a place of utter serenity.
This hill station (a town built in a hilly or mountainous area) is situated in the foothills of the Garwal-Himalayan ranges in the northern Indian state of Uttarakhand. It is about 35 km from the state capital Dehradun, and about 290 km north of New Delhi. Also known as the Queen of the Hills, Mussoorie was “discovered” by British military officer Captain Young in 1825, and become one of the many hill stations constructed during the period of the British Raj which served as summer homes/capitals to escape from the heat.
An unfortunate result of Mussoorie’s natural beauty and the development to railroad and other travel methods is the over-tourism in the area which has led to too many hotels, water shortages, and lack of parking. Nonetheless, this hill station remains a beauty to behold. Once you drive away from the bustling city of Dehradun up into the hills, the noise and chaos falls away.
Luckily, arriving here in September, just after the peak tourist season, meant that there were few others walking the trails and gazing at the vast city that Mussoorie looks out to. This place, and perhaps the many other hill stations out there, is the reality of what we search for in the fiction of books and movies.
It’s an escape from the reality that so often grows mundane and tiring, and throws us into the place of fairytales, where you wake with the rising sun that peaks out from between giant trees and walk to melody of birds singing. Along the curving paths you may happen on the occasional monkey or stray dog and maybe make a friend, you’ll enter a house and find that it’s a small shop full of wonders run by two little old ladies, or you’ll encounter a small place of worship that’s a centre for the small community that calls Mussoorie their permanent home.
On your way back you might veer onto the wrong path and find yourself at a gorgeous view point and ask for directions from a shop owner who wants to sell you locally produced chutneys and jams. As you find yourself on the right route, you’ll take a quick chai break and a have a few steaming momos because it’s been a long chilly walk and this is just the thing to warm you up. When you finally make it back to the quaint little guest house, there’s some more chai waiting for you to have as you chat with your friends in the warmth of one of your bedrooms. It’s bliss.
There are many hill stations in India, and if you’ve got the time, go visit one for yourself. It’s the perfect short trip to relax from your most-likely hectic tourist schedule. And even if you’re doing just fine, go see it anyway. There’s a sense of peace up in the hills that you’d be hard-pressed to find in the otherwise loud and bustling big cities. It’s also a great place for writers – case in point? Ruskin Bond lives about 2 km from Mussoorie, in Landour, often called the tiara to the Queen of the Hills. It’s a cute little town also established by the British in 1827, and a great way to spend a few hours – there are many shops and restaurants, and the walk to and from Landour is as scenic as the town itself.