Impossibly tight U-bends, an impossibly, narrow, steep road, up and up and round and round, reverse a bit, try that corner again, and again, up and off, out of the overcrowded mayhem of Mussoorie, to the tranquillity of Landour, a mere 5kms away in distance but a world away, in time and temperament.
Landour, is one of the few remaining places which has escaped the frenetic, chaotic overdevelopment which has taken over most of India, where it seems that remote is no longer a possibility. Yet Landour, originally a sanatorium built for the British Indian Army in 1827, the climate was the main reason, it is akin to that of Scotland, cold, harsh snow-fed winters and cool summers. It’s usually 4 or 5C cooler than Mussoorie and a wonderful respite from the heat of the rest of India. Even in peak summer, Landour rarely reaches above 26C. Landour also had just 24 cottages at the time of Independence and still has just 24. Regulations mean that no new permanent structures can be built and only existing ones can be renovated without changing the footprint and this has kept its charm.
Everything you read about Landour, will tell you about Sister’s Bazaar, Prakash stores’ famous homemade peanut butter, cheese and jams; Char Dukan, where Anil’s Parathas and chai – and yes, Maggi too – can fill a gap and an hour or so, Tendulkar tweeting about Anils Cafe put it firmly on the map; Lal Tibba, for sunsets and the chakkar, for a pleasant deodar-pine clad 3.4 km stroll. Then of course there are its famous literary and thespian residents (Authors – Ruskin Bond, Ganesh Saili, Stephen Alter. Film Folk – Victor Banerjee & Vishal Bharadwaj). If it’s a recent article, then it will also name Ivy Café, the newest, and certainly the most chic place in town.
All of the above can easily be covered in a day, or, two half days, if you settle into Landour’s vibe. Simply relax, enjoy the cooler climate, the relaxed atmosphere and the stunning views; on a clear day, you may even be blessed with the snow clad peaks of (The Nanda Devi Range). Unmarked landmarks of distinction include, Kellogg Memorial Church, now the Landour Language School, teaching Hindi, Urdu and Sanskrit, to anyone willing to learn. The charming St Peters Church, under the Archdiocese of Agra. It’s here that the famed man-eating tiger hunter, Jim Corbett’s parents were married. The more interesting feature for me though, were the original church pews, doubling up as rifle stands. They were specially commissioned after the First Indian War of Independence. Soldiers who had previously had to leave rifles outside had them stolen and the worshipers suddenly found themselves at the wrong end of the muzzle, rather ironically. The church is immaculately preserved (no pun intended), still in use today and is simply bursting with stories from its fascinating past.
But I like to discover beyond the norm and the usual ‘must-sees’. With every corner of Landour, as we all know it, covered – parathas and pastry’s sampled, and viewpoints exalted over – I decided to see what else I could discover.
The next morning saw me on a walk beyond the chakkar and Sisters Bazaar, to visit Jabarkhet, opened in May 2015, India’s first privately nature reserve, or so they claim. This place will quite simply warm the heart of any wildlife and nature lover, for it is, a sadly, an all too rare, success story in the man vs animal conflict which afflicts so much of India. The landowners took over control of these 10 acres, decimated by woodcutters and desecrated by picnickers, reclaimed the land and now market it as private wilderness. Tonnes of plastic and rubbish were removed from the area, and then they sat back and watched the land, with no negative intervention, regenerate. The result? A pristine, natural environment, that is a sheer pleasure to amble through. We headed off with the guide, Virendra, a local boy who has been part of the project since its inception, over clearly demarcated walking trails, names include Mushroom Trail, Leopard Trail, Ridge Trail and Lone Oak. Virendra is a mine of information on plants, their qualities and uses, insects, small creatures and mega fauna (Camera traps showed evidence of leopard, Himalayan brown bear and porcupine), as well as the surrounding villages and mountains. The beauty of this is that the park will remain unspoilt, as it is managed by WWF for Nature and numbers are limited to 30 people per day, with an entry fee of Rs450.00 per head.
A hearty lunch followed at Café Ivy, then back to La Villa Bethany, to find a cosy space to sit with a book and attempt to read whilst day dreaming and gazing over the valley below. The late thunderous afternoon storm, bringing a barrage of rain, had us running for cover, but it left the air clearer than before and highlighted the twinkling lights in the Doon Valley below.
Having driven up from Mussoorie there was no desire to return but after chatting with Sunita, my fun, informative and foodie hostess, I decided to venture down to Landour Bazaar and discover the treasure trove hidden behind the ubiquitous market doors. I wondered from the oldest sweet shop in the region, Om sweets, to the Tibetan Jewellery store, to the antique shops packed with fascinating remnants from its colonial past. Then moved onto the made-to-measure section. Is India the last country where it is still possible to have items custom-tailored cheaper than readymade? Within not more than 200m there are shoe makers who will hand craft your own designs and have them ready in 3 days, leather boots for Rs 4000, shoes for Rs2000.00, suits can be tailored, gold and silver jewellery fashioned before your eyes (you do need to bring your own gold and silver). A stroll through this bazaar, will have you remodelled from head to foot by time-honoured craftsmen – an absolute treat!
Of course what helps is it is all downhill. Venture down as far as the Clock Tower Café, now a chic hangout, revel over the new discoveries and then, if the thought of the 4km climb back up to Landour is too much, hail a cab. They have a monopoly and are not cheap, but I’m an old-fashioned kind of girl at heart and the Rs300 spent to ride uphill to the sanctuary of Landour, in a wonderfully robust old Ambassador Grand was a perfect end to a perfect day.
Where to stay: La Villa Bethany, a wonderful homestay style property with fabulous food & a variety of room categories including the Log Cabin and The Hobbit Home.
Phone No : +91 9910049644
Landline No : +91 135 2630054
Top Tip: Spend a morning exploring Jabarkhet, India’s first privately owned nature reserve.
By Air: Nearest Airport is Dehradun (2 hours, taxis can easily be arranged)
By Rail: Dehradun Train Station is 1.5 hours.