Hippie Stories / HippieInspiration / Mussoorie / Travel

Mussoorie Beyond the Tourists – Part 2

We reached our hotel by the afternoon. Most people go to Mussoorie and similar hill stations in May or June, but trust me when I say that the best time to go is July and August. There is always a light drizzle accompanying you when it isn’t pouring buckets, and the meadows and valleys come alive with the patter of rain on leaves. The nights get chilly but never bleak. Maybe its because we get so few rains here in Delhi, but I love rainy weather and it hardly ever fails to cheer me up. So once I saw the deodar and pine laden valley on the side of highway, the wet roads, the snoozing mountain dogs, the fog and mist that enveloped the mall road, I let the cold air block everything else from my mind. Despite there being more tourists than I was expecting, I was so happy to be back. And it’s a fact. Mussoorie grows on you.

The misty, fog-laden Mall Road

We spent the rest of the day strolling around mall road, being happy tourists, cracking awkward jokes to be met with silences. The efforts persisted and laughter increased over food. Or I just learnt to expect the toilet jokes. Either way, we had a slow, lazy evening. Just being happy. We planned to stay up all night and play poker. We were all asleep by 2am.

I woke up extremely pissed the next morning.

Ever since we’d arrived yesterday, I’d called the travel company multiple times and left them numerous messages to call me back. I woke up this morning expecting some sort of response. I had none. My dreams of adventure had started to spoil. I was upset. It was the whole reason I’d come back, and the one thing my inner hippie was counting on. I cursed my luck. Still sulking and feeling helpless, I told myself to make the most of the day. After all, we were walking to Lal Tibba and Landour today and no one could take THAT away from me. Last year, the walk up to Lal Tibba was the first I’d done of the kind. I was exhausted every few steps, but we laughed our way up to the top and though we didn’t see any views, that walk was the highlight of our trip.

Lal Tibba. The most famous view-point amongst the tourists, Lal Tibba provides a spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains on a cloudless day. In monsoon, this hardly happens. You walk on mall road and after a while the cramped, traffic laden road gives way to a paved path, flanked on one side with dense deodar forests stretching down below, and the other side with lichen covered walls.

It’s not a hike but the road does go uphill, and if you enjoy walking, you can cover the distance in an hour and a half.  It’s great for beginners. Monkeys, furry dogs and numerous birds are your only company. Well, except the occasional taxi honking at you to get out of the way. You can take a taxi to Lal Tibba and be there in about twenty minutes, but where’s the fun in that? This time as well, we walked the way, stopping wherever we wanted. Sometimes we ran and sometimes we didn’t. I gawked at the trees the entire way.

The dense forest along the road to Lal Tibba

More than in pictures, I wanted to trap this in my eyes: the shrill birds, the snoozing fat monkey that I mistook for a dog and almost petted (hey it could happen to anyone!), ladybirds all over the path, and dogs following you around. The magnificent way the road and the forest would grow quiet periodically. The mist, the cold air, and not a care in the world.

As expected, Lal Tibba had no views to offer this time as well. I saw tourists getting out of taxis looking disappointed. I smiled smugly to myself, like I knew something they didn’t. This wasn’t true at all, of course. The fact is, sometimes you gotta do what everyone else is doing too, but in a different way, your own way, and see where it gets you. Hell, I’d say it’ll get you to the same destination. But for you, the journey will be so much more fulfilling.

Okay, enough philosophizing. After a couple minutes, I was itching to walk the rest of the way to Landour’s Sister’s Market. Landour by the way, is an army cantonment. During World War II, British soldiers ailing from tropical diseases were sent up to Landour to recover. Those who didn’t make it, are now buried in the dense, downhill forest that accompanies you on one side of the road. The Brit army hospital now houses the DRDO office. The Sister’s Bazaar gets it’s name from the nuns who worked in the army hospital and ran a weekly bazaar. The walk from Lal Tibba to this market is another forty minutes, but the road is no longer uphill and the way is ten times quieter, the forest a lot more forbidding (owing to the cemeteries, I’d like to imagine). The market itself is a stretch of road, housing the very famous Landour Bakehouse and a couple more shops selling local produce, handmade cheese, natural beauty products, DIY puppet sets and antiques. The market can be a hidden gem or an overrated “kuch nahi hai wahan” destination, depending on what’s your idea of fun.

The quieter road to Sister’s Bazaar

Landour also is Ruskin Bond’s home, and a couple of families from varying nationalities. Or kids of people who’ve inherited these British properties. Or a perfectly ‘normal’ desi that speaks your tongue and understands what you say, and yet you know is a million miles distant from you and your life, solely because they call a slow, timeless, old British settlement their home. And even though they exist in life as you define it, they exist as if in another world. A world with different values and social gatherings, the sort you and I only watch in films. The sort of cultured upbringing out of my reach. If only I was involved in restoring an old British manor that I’d inherited. Pursue that as a lifestyle. Live that life. Know nothing but that life.

Except my friends were tired and wanted to head back. So I bid them goodbye for the day, and started walking by myself. And I have to admit, I had a lot more fun by myself. Well, not just myself.

Meet my companion, Bubla

While earlier I was stopping a bit, now I was stopping everywhere. I wanted to savor it. I’d stop every couple of steps and sit own, listening to the quiet forest and the occasional cuckoo. There are houses on one side, but they are far and few, and you’d hardly see anyone around. If you’re looking for solitude and a leisurely walk to clear your mind, there is no better road than this. About halfway, there is an old, ancient looking cemetery on your right. Short as I am, a couple of hops in the air allowed me to read the names on a couple of graves. Wives, brothers, parish pastor. All I could think of was the life they would’ve lead here, in this little hamlet. Their joys, their anxieties. Did they live here as a matter of choice or was it the only life they knew? One of the last original inhabitants of Landour, and what it would mean to live their lives. Have you ever been nostalgic for what you’ve never had?

The cemetery gate

My head full of these thoughts, yearnings and God-knows-what, I spotted two graves down in the forest to my left. In a deathly quiet forest, surrounded by giant trees, the resting place looked very forbidding.

Dare I venture to them?

I could certainly see them from the road, so I’ll find my way back at least. I saw a local eyeing me from one of the houses, a hardened expression on her face. I dismissed the thought from my head. But once I reached the opening in the road going below, I couldn’t resist myself. I ignored the lady and went down the path. The graves had another small monument built in front of them, inside it was a faded stone carved with the names of those buried.

The graves

The entire area had a deeper, more deafening silence that was only broken occasionally from the tinkling of the bells tied in the necks of the cows grazing in the nearby meadow. I was very creeped out, my head bowed in deference. I almost expected a ghost to leap out at me. Call me what you may, but my overactive imagination just adds to the experience. I noticed decrepit, nameless graves further down below and figured they must belong to the World War II soldiers.

The unmarked old graves

There was a path leading to them, deeper into the forest but I figured this was enough for today.

The meadows in the deeper part of the forest

I slowly wound my way back to the road and continued strolling until I reached that familiar sight: Landour Bakehouse. Incredible food and a forever occupied patio awaits you. The Bakehouse is always full. You’ll find someone lost in a book. A group of adults solemnly speaking. Another group talking animatedly. There was no place to sit and I got some food packed to go. As I turned to step out of the Bakehouse, I saw a familiar menace.

A hissing monkey directly opposite the Bakehouse. All hill stations have monkeys, and they usually leave you alone. Not these though. These teddy bears from hell look you in the eye with murder. On our last visit, we’d been robbed by two monkeys just outside the Bakehouse. I was holding the food and we’d pretended we hadn’t seen the little monster come towards us. He came, and he just TUGGED on the packet, like I was his mother and he, the most natural toddler in the world tugging at his mother’s clothes to feed him. The audacity. I’d let go the packet in fright and the monkey had proceeded to tear off our feast from its wrappings and left the trash for us to clean as it lied on the road. When I tried to put the empty packets in a dustbin they were snatched out of my hand, never to be seen again. Talk about adding insult to injury.

This is an actual picture from when we got robbed

 On this visit too, I invited his furry wrath by merely existing. The monkey hissed at me as I stared from inside the Bakehouse. And let me tell you. Mountain dogs while cute, will probably aid the monkey in robbing you by vanishing right when you need them. I ate my food standing right there in the Bakehouse entrance as the monkey stared. Revenge is a dish best served hogging in a hallway as people around you stare at you making aggressive eye contact with an animal, crumbs falling down from your mouth. Also, it was probably a different monkey. Whatever. Karma or life comes full circle or something. Once I was done, I stepped out using a hoard of people as a cover and continued down the road. As I’d done all my previous shopping the last time, this time I ventured beyond the Sister’s Market. Very conveniently, Bubla was back too. The bustle from the market quieted down almost immediately and the road was soon taken up again by forests on one side and houses on the other. There were wild chamomile flowers on every step of the way.

Wild chamomiles to keep you company
I stopped to make friends with them. They were just as soft as they look. I kissed them and wished them a life full of bleps and mlems. And bamboozles.

I could have gone further down the path, but it was getting late and I had a long walk back.

I’d just reached the Sister’s Bazaar again when I saw a poster I’d missed earlier. It was another local travel company advertising one day treks. In these was, you guessed it, Pari Tibba. I couldn’t believe my luck! I called the number immediately and after speaking for ten minutes the owner asked me to swing by his Café on mall road. There was a new swing to my step now as I started my walk back. I was filled with gratitude. The entire day had been planned but unplanned. Familiar but new. Back here, back where my life as I know it is, I get the feeling of channelling somebody else. Of playing roles. Saying and thinking of things I don’t think of as ‘mine’. But out here, on this solo walk, I was a different person. I let my inner hippie take control of not just how I feel but how I am. I dressed differently, I thought differently. I looked at things differently. I stared right back at men, and I held my head high.

Postcard happy!

On the walk back, I caught up with an elderly couple. What set them apart was their discussions. The lady had a bottle green streak in her otherwise grey hair, and they walked, oblivious to the world, trying to identify birds by the sounds they made. We walked at the same pace. Sometimes they’d take over me, sometimes I’d cross them. Sometimes we’d almost be neck to neck and then they’d stop at a shop. Or I’d stop to tie my laces. Sometimes we’d walk trying to overtake each other for long stretches. They, caught up in their discussions, and I caught up in my head. At one occasion, I’d gone far ahead and stopped to pick up a ladybird from the ground. They crossed me and then came back to ask what I’d found. Flustered, I said it was just a ladybird. They smiled very warmly, and off they went. I wondered the conversations we would’ve had if I’d indeed found something ‘interesting’. Nevertheless, I was thankful for the sort of company we’d kept each other and wished them well silently, as they vanished down the road, out of my life.

A little while later, I was back at mall road. I sat down at a bench for a while. Just then came a car from the direction I’d come and it was the same couple. They gave me a warm smile again and asked if they can drop me off somewhere. I thought I’d never see them again, but here they were. I beamed, and then declined. They asked me if I was a student there. I didn’t know what to say. Being confused for a local is high praise.  I felt like my dreams of being a traveller were fulfilled right here, on this bench on mall road. They wished me luck as they drove away, this time being the absolute last I saw of them, the green streak swishing away in the dying sunlight.

I made my way down to the café a little while later, where the owner persuaded me to change my destination. Turns out, Pari Tibba is not much of a sight in the monsoons and given my time constraints he recommended Benog Hill instead. We fixed on a price, transport, timings, and I paid him some advance. He invited me to linger around and stay for coffee. Normally, now will be the time for me to feel awkward and slink back into familiarity, but not today. We spoke about travel, dogs, Mussoorie. Afterwards, I sat there, coffee in hand, a dog at my feet and holding an old book telling me forlorn tales.

When I wound my way back to the hotel that night, I had no answer to the questions about what I’d done. What do you say really? Somethings are only meant to be felt.

It had been a good day, and the next was going to be even better. I could feel it in my hippie heart.


August 11, 2019 at 10:05 am

I love your narrative. So effortless. And I could picture it all, your little adventures and your happy heart. Waiting for more stories to follow!

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