For a completely different scene, we went to one of the hill stations in northern India in the part of India that used to be part of Tibet, 7,500 feet up the foothills of the Himalayas. Specifically, a town called Mussoorie, where the Dalai Lama first fled in 1959 when the Chinese invaded. These hill stations were founded by the British (or the Britishers as our guide in Delhi said) in the early 1800’s. George Everest lived here during the 30-40 years he spent surveying India. He and other British had vacation homes in the mountains to relax and shoot game in the forests; they built their hospitals and schools in the cooler climate. I have to admit, the weather part has been a reprieve…travelling through Delhi to get here, it was 38C. In the hills highs have been about 25C. To us, great weather for shorts and t-shirts, but locals are wandering around in down jackets and sweaters.
To me. Mussoorie is really very lovely. Its main drag (the Mall), that prior to independence posted “No Indians” signs along it, is the town’s Champs Elysee, the Strand…the 5th Avenue of Mussoorie. It’s a nice place to soak in the local scene. It still has the delicate ironwork railing and Dickensian lampposts but now has a busy, tourist-oriented trade that thrives on the many who come to enjoy the cooler temperatures and experience a Himalayan India.
It’s not calm and peaceful though. These tiny roads that seem an extra appendage that’s been glued to the sides of the cliffs, rather than carved into them, were made for horse and buggy, not trucks and cars. There is just no room to move and when two cars want to go opposite directions, the result is noisy, protracted, full of negotiation…and before it’s resolved, billowed into twenty to thirty cars who are stuck, unwilling to back up….and honking. How to resolve this? Indians appear to me as an optimistic lot, and this optimism seems to get them out of these messes. One driver may not back down, but then 10 bystanders on bikes, in shops, or walking by, will help negotiate a solution. There is a lot of loud discussion, but tempers don’t seem to run high and traffic tangles get resolved without anger.
When our guide does get us higher, it is wonderful. Way less traffic, fewer people in the little town of Landour. We get out of the car and the breeze is rushing through the cedar and oak trees. At first, I think it’s the sound of running water… no, it’s the wind. Monkeys are in the trees. We are told leopards are common. Homes are far apart, set back into the greenery, some with bright Tibetan prayer flags flapping in the breeze. Many are retreats for writers or summer homes for families with means. They are lovely. It reminds me of walking on one of the gulf islands near my home. We spend the afternoon on foot, walking, talking, stopping to take in the majestic Himalayan range off in the distance while we each sip a milkshake. At one point we are walking home with groups of small Indian children, resplendent in the British-style school uniforms. I could definitely stay here for awhile.
The food is a bit different here as well…on another day we went for a hike in the forest and our guide brought a Garhwali Thali lunch for our picnic. I had no real clear idea of what I was eating…but it was the best dahl I’ve ever had. It’s a regional cuisine to the state where Mussoorie is located, Uttarakhand. Lunch is grain and cereal based, flavourful and homemade by a friend of our guide. Supplemented with home made pickles and condiments. “Try the pickle!” says my husband. “No, I don’t want to.” “You’ll like it”. Pause. “Ok,” and I scoop up a small bit and pop it into my mouth. Chewing thoughtfully, I think I am eating a green bean. I’d seen them in other dishes. But something is not right. OMG no, this is not a bean pickle. It’s a chili and my lunch comes to a painful and abrupt end with “chili burn” that went into my ear canal like I’ve never experienced before.
But up until that pickle, it was some of the best food we’ve had on this trip. My husband was so taken with our guide that he and my daughter took the time to help our guide with his business and developed this website for him: mussoorieforestwalk.weebly.com
I was also curious about the Dali Lama having sought retreat here when his homeland was invaded. Where did he stay? Well, it turns out he stayed in what is now the nicest 5* hotel in Mussoorie. We had breakfast there one day. I need to preface this with a comment about Indian weddings. This is a huge industry and families spend a lot of money and go to a tremendous amount of trouble to put on a traditional wedding for their daughters. In our time here, we have driven by countless roadside establishments…often in small villages… that have large gated properties with locations to host ceremonies and entertain hundreds of guests. Our guide in Udaipur said that city, and many of its beautiful former palaces is a popular site for destination weddings for Indians and foreigners.
So this is on my mind as we are walking through the Savoy. If you are familiar with any of the Canadian CP hotels, then if I say a mini “Empress” or “Banff Springs Hotel”, you’ll know what I mean. It’s completely lovely…our shoes are squeaking on the gleaming floors, the polished woodwork is gleaming, the grounds are calming and peaceful. It’s gorgeous. It’s a good thing I’m already married because THIS is where I would have my “destination wedding”! And I can tell it wouldn’t come cheap. 🙂