A walk in the woods

Last summer, we were both petered out with work and from running the house, and decided we needed to go to the hills. Being married to another mountain person means we never agonize over travel decisions. While we have been to a few beaches before, the Himalayas are where we are most at home. Reaching the foothills from Delhi is an overnight affair. So we boarded a bus to Dehradun on a Friday evening and headed for the mountains.

Landour is part of the ancient, cantonment town of Mussoorie. In recent decades, the Garwhali capital has overgrown into a garish, bustling town, overflowing with shops, mounds of overhead wires, and rows of perfectly horrendous, concrete-lined hotels. It is not a pretty sight. But Landour managed to surprise us in a manner most pleasant.
Hiding behind the wall of cement and wires that is Musoorie, Landour is a small hill town, and a quiet slice from an older time. On the side of the hill are small wooden cottages, hidden along thick, blue-green conifer trails that end in cliffs. Rain washed benches on the precipice open out to vistas of the grassy valley, stretching all the way down to Dehradun in the blue misted horizon.
Between rows of deodar and spruce, crumbling British Raj-era officers cottages loom, serving as private residences, or guest houses. This is a place of old families with Garwhali and Ango-Indian roots. The yellow cottages are lined with stones, hiding under a perpetual layer of mottled lichens. Inside, there would be simple birch flooring, potted plants on the window sills, and real wood fireplaces. We walked up a snaking asphalt strip to Ivy Bank, our guest house. This littlle place is made of a row of ancient stone cottages dating back to the era of the British army. It has a grassy porch facing the south, with painted iron chairs and a small picket fence that slopes down to rolling meadows. Ruskin Bond's old wooden house stands in the distance, by the narrow path that leads to lower Landour. Ivy Bank is run by a couple of friendly Garwhali boys, who cook and clean up around the place. At night, they served us light and flavorful yellow dal and fresh chicken curry, over steaming, fragrant hill rice.
The air in Landour is crisp, blowing in cold gusts, and you can almost smell the spring sunshine. A cobblestone path winds down from Ivy Bank, leading the way to Landour bazaar. Midway stands a colourful wooden house on the left, decked to the nines with Tibetan thangka-inspired paintings. This is the strange and wonderful Doma inn, our lunch spot. The restaurant is quirky, with bright Tibetan wall hangings and old film posters peeking from behind yellow lamps. We chomped down plates of spicy chelley—buffalo tongue salad with steamed Tingmo bread, and an incredible bowl of classic Burmese Khow Suey, brimming with fresh flavors, with an iridescent, soft-boiled brown egg on top. After a walk down narrow tree lined paths back to our cottage, the only thing to left to do was curl up under a blanket with a book. As evening set, we ambled till the darkening edge of town, where the forest begins.

In the morning, a stroll up to the Char Dukan circle revealed a row of breakfast stalls doing brisk business. We sat on chairs under a huge tree and dug into omlettes, pots of coffee, and massive, fluffy pancakes fresh off the griddle. There were friendly dogs running around, and a mix of tourists and locals sitting in the clear sunlight. We walked past old churches and cemeteries, through more deodar-lined trails, until our feet ached. Rhododendron bushes and forest berry shrubs poked out in eager, friendly strands between the stone-lined walkways. Lunch was a hurried affair at the dainty Clock Tower Cafe in lower Landour. Their pastas are tasty, flavoured with locally-sourced cheese. The climb back was hard, especially on a full belly, but we managed.

A trip to the mountains makes you better. There is more contemplation, and less chatter. Walking becomes a thing of joy, brisk, invigorating. There is a sense of contentment, appetite for food and drink increases. The water tastes better and the air is clean. A deep breath of the mountain air makes you want to never leave. Landour added to the mountain experience with its silence, interrupted only by the hum of crickets and the incessant cold breeze. For citybreds like us, the lack of sound was unnerving at first. It took us a while to get used to the faint rustle of leaves in the distance and the steady, monotonous hum of tinnitus in our heads. By our second day, we knew we had fallen in love.

Soon it was time to return. We had an hour before boarding the shared taxi that would take us back to Dehra Dun for the ride back home. The only sounds were the wind rolling across the valley and the call of early summer birds. A slow-moving, blue darkness was rising from the valley below. We took our time with the walk back to the little stone cottage. In front was a misty, birch-lined avenue. The shiny cobblestone path was lit golden in patches by the early evening sun. Swirling leaves spun around in the cold mountain air. Up ahead, shimmering points of yellow light lead to the bus stand, blanketed in fog. In the haze, we picked up the familiar smell of warm diesel and hum of the bus engine idling. My shoelace had come undone, so we stopped for a moment. I sat on the mossy cobblestone ground and tied up the shoe, my hands feeling the damp of the rain and the mountain.


pradipwritenow said...

lovely place and matching foods. A place every one must visit during holidays for break

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