Queen of the hills

Mussoorie

Queen of the hills

We felt quite relieved to get away from the sweltering heat of Dehra Dun as we drove up the mountain road towards Mussoorie, the queen of hills, in Uttarakhand. The cool and crisp air and the vistas of green hills was a sea change from the dry and dusty plains. We had meticulously set aside a few days to soak in the lap of nature before embarking on a trek in Uttarakhand. With four days at disposal, there was no paucity of time, but to begin with, we chose to relax and feel the place.

The great escape

Mussoorie itself, tucked among the hills, is not expansive, and a stroll on the Mall Road from end to end just about covers the entire town. But to see its real beauty, one has to make a few excursions. Around 15 km away on the Chakrata Road is the Kempty Falls, a name synonymous with Mussoorie. The two-tiered waterfall dropping from about 60 ft is simply breathtaking. But the place, buzzing with people, numerous eateries and shops, is more touristy. To escape the crowd we walked up along an unnamed waterfall that alternately formed a few tiny cascades and pools.

Next, we embarked on a trip to George Everest House on a hill, conjuring up the sight of a heritage building where the British surveyor general had lived. Reaching the top, we were surprised to see an abandoned and dilapidated building. Surely, this should have been maintained, we felt. But the views of the Yamuna Valley and the forests delighted us. On the way down, we caught a glimpse of the brightly-coloured Tibetan Buddhist temple.

Leaving quite early in the morning, we drove eastward for the Lal Tibba hill, the highest in these ranges. As we gained altitude, the views of hills and valleys opened up. At the highest point we were greeted with stupendous views of the Himalayas in the distance. On the other side the green valley of Mussoorie and its surroundings were stunning. To help tourists get a closer view of the snow-covered peaks, a telescope has been installed at the edge of a cliff overlooking the deep valley. Driving further on Chamba Road, we came to a small village called Buranskhanda. The place gets the name from the vast stretches of rhododendron bushes, locally called burans. The panoramic view here is closer and clearer. Shortly afterwards, we were at Dhanolti, a beautiful little village in the midst of lofty pines and deodars. An ecopark here, developed by the Forest Department, has walking trails. We skipped going there as the stretch we were driving through was more natural and extensive.

Local attractions

When we reached the suburb of Surkhanda Devi, our driver Vikram showed us the way up the hill for the famed temple of Sati at its summit. The two kilometre trail went up rather steeply, but the canopy of the forest shielded us from the sun. A brain fever bird kept calling intermittently as we trudged along, but our efforts to locate it went in vain. At the top, on a tiny plateau, stood the beautiful symmetrical temple of Surkhanda Devi. At close to 10,000 ft, this spot affords the best views of all around Mussoorie. It is natural that the temple attracts both the devout and the nature lovers. Descending was easy and we took a break to taste the local flavour of burans flower juice, said to be good for the heart. It was good for our parched throats too. At the suggestion of Vikram, we stopped at Thatyur village for a delicious home-cooked meal with the locals.

One hidden agenda we had in visiting Mussoorie was to meet noted writer Ruskin Bond. We could meet him at the local bookstore in the evening. we were told. So that was where we headed next. At the bookstore  we were not alone. A small crowd had gathered. It was a great moment to talk to the celebrated writer. And the book I bought with his autograph was the best souvenir to remember our visit to Mussoorie.

Fact File

Getting there

By air: Jolly Grant Airport, 55 km away near Dehra Dun, is the nearest airport where one can fly into via New Delhi.

By rail: Dehra Dun, 35 km away, is the nearest station linked with major cities.

By road: Frequent buses and taxis ply from Dehra Dun.

Best time to visit: April to mid-July & September to mid-November. January-February to see snowfall.


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