Situated at 2,200 meters (6,600 feet) above sea level, in the first range of the Garhwal Himalaya, Mussoorie is one of India’s oldest hill stations. First settled by the British in the 1820s, it began as a convalescent retreat for colonial troops, administrators, maharajahs, memsahibs and merchants, who came to the hills in summer. Today, it is a thriving holiday resort for tourists from all over India, with hundreds of hotels and guest houses, catering to every need and budget. Mussoorie lies 300 kilometers north of Delhi and 25 kilometers above Dehradun, the state capital of Uttarakhand. The holy cities of Hardwar and Rishikesh are located within a short drive of Mussoorie, which serves as a gateway to the watershed of the Ganga, with sacred pilgrimage sites at Yamnotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath and Badrinath. The entire range of the Garhwal Himalaya, a dramatic panorama of snow peaks, extending from Swarg Rohini to Nanda Devi, is visible from Landour Ridge, the highest point in town.
Mussoorie is well known for its many prestigious educational institutions, including Waverly Convent, Woodstock, Wynberg Allen, St. George’s College and Oak Grove. Several prominent Hindi medium schools are also located here, such as Ghananand Inter College, Mussoorie Girls School, Ramadevi and Sanathan Dharam School. As a hub of learning, it also boasts of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration, where India’s civil servants are trained, and the Defence Ministry’s Institute of Technology Management. A large Tibetan community lives in Mussoorie and the Tibetan Homes Foundation runs the Central School for Tibetans in Happy Valley. The Landour Language School, where courses in Hindi, Urdu, Garhwali and Punjabi are taught, celebrated 100 of teaching in 2012.
The main town of Mussoorie stretches for ten kilometers, along the crest of a winding ridge, from Cloud’s End in the west to Landour in the east. Some of the important landmarks include Everest House, the former home of Sir George Everest, who conducted the first survey of the Himalaya and gave his name to the highest mountain on earth. His residence now lies in ruins but overlooks stunning views of the Doon Valley and Benog Tibba. The Municipal Gardens, also known as Company Bagh, have recently been replanted with an array of flowers and ornamental shrubs. Chateau Kapurthala is the grandest of all palaces built by maharajahs in Mussoorie. Though it remains closed to the public, its spires and turrets add a royal silhouette to the ridgeline.
Several princely estates have been converted into hotels including Padmini Niwas (former home of the maharajah of Rajpipla) Kasmanda Palace and Nabha Residence. Rokeby Manor is one of Mussoorie’s newest heritage hotels, hidden away on the verdant slopes of Landour. The Savoy, Mussoorie’s most luxurious hotel, currently closed for renovation, lies above Gandhi Chowk and the famous Mussoorie Library, founded in 1843. The other five star hotel in Mussoorie is the Jay Pee Residency Hotel in Barlowganj. A number of temples, mosques and gurdwaras are located throughout the town. Christ Church, the oldest house of Christian worship, stands on the western slope of Gun Hill, which once sported a noon cannon, fired to signal midday. This limestone summit, at the centre of Mussoorie, has a prominent crag, shaped like a humped camel, from which Camel’s Back Road gets its name. Every day, a cable car carries tourists to the top of Gun Hill.
Two bus and taxi stands serve as points of arrival in Mussoorie, one at Library Bazaar, and the other near Picture Palace, a historic cinema, which has been closed for twenty years but is now in the process of being reopened. The clock tower, at the entrance to Landour bazaar, is also awaiting reconstruction, but still exerts its presence over the quaint and vibrant market that stretches to the foot of Mullingar Hill. Here the Mall Road ends in a tortuous, twisting ascent that leaves most tourists breathless with alarm. After their vehicles race up the corkscrew bends toward the top of Landour Ridge, they can say prayers of thanks for their survival at St. Paul’s church, a beautiful sanctuary with stained glass windows, that has recently been restored. The Chukkar Road, which circles the three summits of Landour is a perfect place for a quiet walk beneath the rustling needles of massive deodar trees. Mussoorie is best experience on foot and, afterwards, tea and snacks can be enjoyed at Char Dukan, a quiet cluster of tea shops in Landour that offer everything from Wai Wai noodles to chocolate banana pancakes.
Whether you are a long-time resident of Mussoorie or a weekend visitor, this is a hill station that welcomes everyone within the open embrace of its scenic hilltops and forested valleys. The mountains clasp us in the arms of full-blown metaphors and quickly take us into confidence, like an ardent narrator spinning tales of romance and desire. A town full of stories, with poetry in the air, and plenty of idle hours for books, Mussoorie inspires both writers and readers. It is a place of words – profound or personal, intimate or indiscreet, but always lyrical – fertile terrain, where language takes on new sounds and meanings, giving voice to old truths, as well as fresh ideas.