I’ve had very limited knowledge of Mussoorie all my life. Most of it was drawn from movie clippings and the occasional tale of a newly November-wedded couple heading up there to play in the snow. But, the previous weekend, I had the opportunity of going up there and surveying the place with my own eyes, ears and whatever other senses that can be utilised to learn about a place. I must remark, the one thing that I have realised about Mussoorie is that it is for those that seek to take a break from the city, yet cannot get themselves to escape the need for everyday luxuries — like 24×7 electricity, water, a United Colors of Benetton showroom or the late evening Dominos pizza.

I set out from Delhi late at night on the Dehradun Express, which takes off from platform number 11 at the New Delhi Railway Station at 2350 hours. It takes about five-and-a-half to six hours to reach Dehradun. From Dehradun, you can get on a bus or a cab to reach Mussoorie. I had a pick-up arranged by the Mosaic Hotel, which is placed quite strategically at the very beginning of Mall Road in Mussoorie. “What is so strategic about it?” you might ask. Well, the police chowki through which one must pass, during the season when crowds race up there, charges over Rs 100 for the crossing and also remains closed from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

It was at the break of day that I found myself driving up the mountain; the sunlight had only started to illuminate the mountains. The drive was intimidating since at certain points I was sure that the car would just start rolling backwards given how steep the climb was. The drive did offer much in scenic value. Behind me lay the plains of Dehradun obscured by the thick smog — the pollution levels became too visible to be ignored — and ahead of me was the thick green cover of flora. If you catch a glimpse at the right curb of the mountain, you will behold the whole of Mussoorie, a sporadic spread of houses and buildings surrounded by nothing but green covers. And all of this was bathing in the light of the sun — it was truly appealing.

When I reached the hotel and finished with the morning rituals of getting fresh and eating my breakfast, I decided to take a walk along Mall Road. It was sometime around 9 a.m., the shutters on shops had only begun to rise and people had started to take to the streets. Students were all over the place with their books, discussing question papers. Along the Mall Road, as the day progressed, a wide variety of commodities and products became available. I saw Levi’s and Benetton showrooms along with Dominos and KFC restaurants. I must admit that if it were not for the panorama of the mountains, which formed the background of the region, I would have felt as though I was still in Delhi. I stumbled upon a groceries seller who had cucumbers which were the size of well-worked arms and potatoes half the size of my head. Upon my inquiry he told me, with vigour, that all of it was organic produce from the nearby regions.

Along the length of Mall Road are also available small vendors who can cook you eggs in several ways and also offer Maggie with their own Mussoorie touch — which I believe involved some spices. During my walk I also discovered that numerous benches had been placed along the length of this road, right next to the railing past which lay nothing but a deep fall, for people to just sit and take in the view. And even further elaborate versions of these pit-stops are the Hawa Ghars, which, as I later learnt from my guide, were made for people to sit together in the evening to enjoy the view and for gupshup. The Mall Road also serves as a sort of open museum where along the side of the mountain are murals of horses, churches, dolphins made of tiles and the oldest rickshaws in glass enclosures.

After this walk I met my liaison, Bhanu Thakur, a manager at the Mosaic Hotel, who had made all the arrangements. First, I was asked to enjoy a lovely lunch where Chef Sanjeev at the hotel, with good cheer and kindness, suggested to me the best pick of the day for my meal concluded by a lovely dessert. The staff was truly hospitable and considerate to all my needs. This was followed by an introduction with my guide, Deepak Joshi, who had an experience of having shown over 10,000 tourists around Mussoorie and had planned a nature walk for me.

The walk started at Char Dukan, the title of which is not up-to-date since there are five shops there now. Here we saw St. Paul’s Church, a quaint small church which survives as it was originally made and had beautiful art work done on its windows. From here we carried on with a peaceful walk during which Joshi told me stories of practically everything that came within our sight. I learnt about the fauna, the histories of many people who came to Mussoorie, right from its beginning until the recent past, and how they settled in. There are stories of Englishmen and Afghans who reached these places, married beautiful women and then settled here. These romantic stories had some economic intentions running behind them as well. We reached the Sister’s Bazaar, where I tasted delectable baked goods at the Landour Bakery.

The Mall Road also serves as a sort of open museum where along the side of the mountain are murals of horses, churches, dolphins made of tiles and the oldest rickshaws in glass enclosures.
This walk also gave me the opportunity to learn about the history of Landour and Mussoorie. Landour is the name of the entire region where we walked, placed in Mussoorie. The history tells of Colonel Frederick Young who constructed the first permanent dwelling in Landour, which takes its name from Llanddowror, a small town in Wales. Mussoorie was of value to the British due to its weather, which was considered salubrious. But most of those soldiers, over 450 to be precise, that later came here unfortunately died, and are buried in the Christian Cemetery which is a few minutes’ from the Sisters Bazaar.  The walk led us to Lal Tiba, a location popular for the mountain peak which glows red during susnset (I sadly did not see the red color at all). The walk ended with Anils Café at Char Dukan. This café has been visited by many celebrities and is Sanchin Tendulkar’s favourite for its ginger honey lemon tea.

I spent my evening strolling about, in awe of the crowds that flooded the streets. It was barely unlike Delhi as far as the number of people went. During the day the blue sky, the mountains, and the combination of fog and clouds that surround the whole place make for the scenic value. But, during the night, instead of looking up, you are impelled look down at the plains, specifically at Dehradun, which lights up completely — a valley of millions of flickering dots of orange and white lights that seem to unite into the shape of an amorphous water body.

I was excited the following morning because the guide, upon my suggestion, had planned a trek to one of the highest points around, near a place called Cloud’s End. So, after a good night’s sleep in a big comfy bed and a good hearty buffet at the Mosaic Hotel’s restaurant I headed out. The hotel had made all preparations before hand, making it all the more enjoyable. The car took us to a point from where we set out. The trek proved to be all that I had wished it to be. We saw the green cover, the water bodies, the plains, the sky and even the snow-clad Himalayan mountain range. I even ate a flower called the Rhododendron, which is said to be good for blood purification. We reached the peak in about 30 minutes, where I visited the Jwala Devi Mandir and also ate noodles that  Joshi cooked on site. Looking past all the humdrum of the densely populated regions there is, in Uttrakhand, a wonderful forest trek for seekers.

The rest of the day was spent wandering about on Mall Road, and at the hotel luxuriating in great food and other lavish goods. Overall, Mussoorie is for travelers who seek the complete comfort that a city offers but in an entirely different environment of picturesque mountains.