Winter is here, and the hillsides of Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas, are ablaze with wild flowers. Tall trees cover steep slopes, shedding brilliant autumn leaves. The town, about 35km from Uttarakhand’s Dehradun, is at an altitude of about 6,170 feet, and its busy Mall Road may remind you of Delhi’s Karol Bagh. But only a few kilometres out, you’ll discover a quieter world. The air is crystal clear and the silence is like a soothing balm to jangled city nerves.
This precious silence, the still (and still unspoiled) beauty is why so many people from so many corners of the country have visited, fallen in love with the area and decided to move in permanently. Landour, just outside of Mussoorie, is several hundred feet higher, and more than a few degrees colder. Its peaceful roads, shaded by old deodar and oak trees, are well away from the tourist buzz. There’s a church built in 1840, the sweet whiff of pancakes and waffles floating from the nearby Char Dukaan, the sound of cheerful “hellos” from foreigners who come to study Hindi and other Indian languages at the 100-year-old Landour Language School, and stunning views of snow-capped peaks against blue skies. For some jaded folk, at least, heaven seems to have a new address.
Mussoorie’s evergreen author Ruskin Bond who stays in Landour, says Mussoorie inspires him and his many stories. Be it the fog that rolls down the hills or tales of haunted houses, the essence of the town is woven into his myriad tales. Actor Victor Banerjee has been living in Mussoorie (in a beautiful cottage, Parsonage), for several years now, and says he makes sure he spends Durga Puja in Mussoorie rather than Kolkata.
Entrepreneur Gaurav Kapoor who studied in Mussoorie and visits the family home in Landour quite often, says the town’s tranquillity brings out the creative best in him. “I have actually taken back an autumn leaf to show my design team the exact shade of red,” says the founder of the home decor brand Nakalchee Bandar.Stephen Alter
Around The World And Back Again
It is quite a walk," he warns me over the phone. But author Stephen Alter’s home in Landour is worth every step. It’s a British-era bungalow built in 1840. A lawn leads one to the eight-bedroom home which features wood floors, sepia-tinted family pictures and beautiful furniture.
Alter has set most of his 15 fiction and non-fiction books (including his recent espionage thriller, The Rataban Betrayal) in Mussoorie and Landour. “There is no place like Mussoorie to find interesting characters,” Alter says, sipping tea as his wife Ameeta prepares clay for a pottery session. Alter would know. He was born in Mussoorie and studied in Woodstock, and although he became director of the writing program at the American University in Cairo and taught creative writing at MIT, he returned to Mussoorie. “The thought of settling elsewhere crossed my mind but never for long enough. Mussoorie felt like home.”Sure, the Internet is erratic, gas cylinders and water supply remain problems. But Alter’s life includes morning jogs, a few hours of reading and several hours where he pretends to be working. "I love to while away my time. I am thinking of getting a card printed that says awara faltu," he chuckles.
Far From Mumbai’s Madding Crowd
When your life is the envy of the world, only you know the price you’re paying. Mumbai entrepreneur Sanjay Narang was paying a hefty price for his. He’d spent his boyhood at Woodstock and his youth at Cornell University. He’d put in time heading Ambassador Sky Chef, the air catering division of his family’s hotel business. He’d even joined the Taj before establishing the Mars group, which had several restaurant brands to its name.“I had the typical life a young person wants; it was all pretty heady,” he recalls.
Until he found himself in his Mercedes one day, noticing his ever-smiling driver. “Here was this man, living in a city and looking so happy. And here I was, juggling important calls, all stressed out,” says Narang. A school reunion in 2005, then, was only an excuse to sell some of the brands he’d created, get a team to handle the rest, and reconsider Mussoorie as home. “I’d made enough money for me to never work and yet to live well,” smiles Narang. “Here, things I’d taken for granted as a child felt special.”Today, Narang lives in a beautiful cottage where he spends eight months of the year. A nondescript gate leads to stairs lined with seasonal flowers. Inside is a modern home, awash in natural light. He spends his time overseeing a hotel, some cottages and a café that he owns in Mussoorie. Most times though, he just likes to let the city life ebb out of him. "I measure my satisfaction from the days I am happy. And most days here are happy," says Narang. "I breathe fresh air, eat pesticide- free food. I look forward to getting old here."
All Of Us, All Together
Growing up in a village in Scotland, all that travel and spirituality author Bill Aitken wanted to be was a shepherd. “Today when I look at the quiet hills, the fog rolling by, the sun bathing the trees, I smile and think of how close I am to living that dream,” he says.
Aitken’s love for India was kindled as a student of comparative religion at the University of Leeds. He hitchhiked here in 1959, spent a year teaching in Calcutta and 12 more in ashrams in Kausani and Mirtola. In 1972, now a naturalised citizen and the companion of Prithwi Bir Kaur, the dowager Maharani of the erstwhile Sikh princely state of Jind, he moved to her Mussoorie cottage, Oakless.
Built in 1908 and standing a few yards from the famous Wynberg Allen School, the cosy cottage is full of antique chairs, wall-sized paintings, a piano that needs tuning, a bear mascot umbrella stand, deer hunting trophies and black-and-white pictures of the late Maharani.
Aitken would previously divide his time between Delhi and Mussoorie, but moved in permanently after the Maharani passed away. “I don’t like travelling much now. It’s only Mussoorie and this home that I find peace in now,” he says looking out of the window. “This place has a cosmopolitan feel to it. There are Tibetans, foreigners, Garhwalis, and people from various places. It’s just the kind of place that meets my spiritual outlook.” The other thing he finds very satisfying is the peace and quiet. “I absolutely love the monsoons because that is one time not many people knock on the door and one can sit quietly and write,” explains Aitken.
Photos: Ludra Mani Belwal
From HT Brunch, December 1
Photos: Ludra Mani Belwal
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