My dear friend had once gone to LANDOUR with her office colleagues and had mentioned how serene and peaceful the place was. With her narration and images she shared, especially the one with legendary Ruskin Bond, I had been secretly harboring a desire to explore the place sooner or later. Last fortnight I ended up there on a short break with my daughter and it was probably the finest hill station in India I had ever set my foot on. Besides being floored with the beauty of the place, the trip also worked in forming a bond between two of us since it was our first-ever holiday together. A train ride to Dehradoon and an hour’s drive from the station there transports one to a world beyond imagination.
The place not only met my expectations on all fronts, it also rubbed in why I never made an attempt to come here earlier for it is a heaven for those who like quiet walks through the quaint and hazy buildings, often shrouded by clouds that keep appearing and disappearing by the minute. Our stay was particularly pleasant and enhanced by rains, that made the walks absolutely tranquil and we often didn’t have any one else in our sight.
Who would not like a place that has a population of 500 people working mainly in outhouses, in Rokeby Manor hotel, in servant quarters and in the nearby village of Mallingar? And who wouldn’t like to be in a place that only has splendd buildings standing as mute spectators to an era gone by? Then it has just 24 cottages, with newest being a 100 year old estate that was built way back in the year 1810. 8 out of these 24 houses run as home stays or B&B s. The one where I was accommodated is called LA VILLA BETHANY managed and run by Sunita Kudle, an authority on Landour and its history. Most of the meals in the common hall were enjoyed over her stories on Landour, its history and its current residents. She explains everything with great enthusiasm that is rare and only seen in people who do whatever they do with love and passion.
None of the cottages here are owned by individuals but by Missionaries, who have given them out on long lease. Some of the prominent people who occupy a few of these 24 cottages are Ruskin Bond, Victor Banerjee, Tom Alter, and Prannoy Roy of NDTV fame. The only hotel with 12 rooms is Rokeby manor, which more or less, is The Abode for all celebrities who often come here to unwind and de-stress. The cottages have retained their British names such as Shamrock, Tabor, Bothwell bank, Pine tree, Devdar woods to name a few.
The entire Landour Cantonment is octagonal shaped with 4 DUKAAN (four shops) at its axis and forming it’s so called downtown. The walk in either direction from here on an oval route will bring one back to the axis, from where another walk in the opposite direction can be taken. Besides 4 shops that run as eateries and boast of having served Sachin Tendulkar, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Arshad Warsi and many other Bollywood’s who is who, a few cafés have sprung up lately that are ideal hangouts to read a book, marvel at the weather or just smell the baker’s oven. The first of the 4 shops at CHAR DUKAAN is Tip Top Point, where PANCAKES sell like Hotcakes. Other items on the menu are usual Maggi masala noodles, Bun Omelettes, Milk Shakes, and varieties of tea & coffee.
On one end of the town stands LAL TIBBA (red hill), the highest point here while on the other is a market with just 3 shops, called SISTER BAZAAR, where the nurses from nearby Missions used to go and spend time hence the name. The three shops here are Landour Bakerhouse, Anil Prakash Store (known for its home produce such as Peanut Butter & Marmalade) and Prakash Handicrafts.
CHURCHES OF LANDOUR
There is plenty to explore on these two walks in opposite direction from each other, each beginning from the axis point of the Octagon, or the downtown. Besides the beautiful cottages, British cemetery, trails of hydrangea flowers, dense forests of oak & pine trees, lesser known cafes and one and only shop selling groceries, there are two churches adorning the beauty of Landour with their stunning architecture and silent testimony to the British Raj. KELLOG’S CHURCH was built as a Presbyterian Church in 1903 and till date it houses the Landour Language School, where students come from all over the world to learn Hindi. Though the photography is not allowed inside, the church has beautiful stained glass windows and magnificent gothic architecture.
The second one, ST PAUL’s CHURCH, right at the CHAR DUKAAN, was built in 1839 and first consecrated on 1st May in 1840, by Bishop Daniel Wilson of Calcutta. From 1840 to 1947, it was run by military chaplains and was a premier church for the cantonment, primarily used by the British residents of Landour. It is in this very church that legendary Jim Corbett’s parents had married in 1859 and our very own Victor Banerjee from Bollywood had tied the knot in 1977.
MUSSOORIE, NO LONGER THE QUEEN IT USED TO BE
One day we decided to walk down to Mussoorie, which looks just a stone’s throw away when seen from the Landour Cant. The walk downhill is through Landour bazaar, seeped in history with some iconic shops selling tailor- made footwear, dilapidated buildings, old world charm and a treasure in Omy sweets that has been around for 200 years and its Samosas are to die for. The walk through Landour bazaar finishes where the busiest Mussoorie Mall starts. A sensible walker or traveler will turn around from here than walk further amidst hundreds of cars honking their way to glory, highest level of noise & air pollution, loud tourists screaming on top of their lungs, queues of people waiting for a cable car ride and haphazardly stationed hawkers and vendors selling everything from corn, ice creams, peanuts and munchies of all kinds. 30 min of a beautiful walk had culminated in a place that is the worst example of crowd management. The moment we arrived at the junction, we wanted to turn around and return to the bliss that we had been in earlier. It is however here, at this very point, that one can visit LITTLE LAMA- a treat after a long walk.
CAFES OF LANDOUR
At the very junction where Landour bazaar meets Mussoorie Mall, stands LITTLE LLAMA known for its honey ginger lemon tea, thin crust pizzas and succulent burgers. Finish your walk here, have a bite & a beverage and turn back all the way to Landour cantt right through the Landour bazaar. If you choose to go further to walk the Mussorrie Mall, chances are you will deeply regret your decision. it is better to return back home with just the memories of Landour and its heavenly appeal.
One place, where we ended up almost every day and at times even twice a day is the new MUDCUP CAFÉ, just 10 min downhill walk from Landour Cantt. The swanky yet very stylish café run by youngsters has a variety of goodies on offer and different rooms offering recliners, comfy sofas or even floor seating. It also has a terrace and many indoor games on the first floor. The service is impeccable, prices are reasonable and it has a buzz and vibe that will make you come back. It’s a place to give wings to your creativity and you can spot people here painting, blogging, reading or just ordering coffee after coffee. Go for brownies, chicken chilli toast or all meat Calzone.
Three locals invited me for a friendly game of table tennis here and we doubled up immediately. Having held a racket after almost two decades, i was wary of making a mockery of myself but decided to give it a shot anyways. Having lost the first game 21-14, we pulled up our socks, i got back some of my lost touch, and we won the next two games in succession. We won the set 2-1, i was proudly walking down the steps to boast about this to my daughter, when the view suddenly caught me by surprise and i decided to go for the camera instead. This was the first time in two days that the sky had finally opened up and it rewarded me for the game that i had just won.
At both ends of the octagon of Landour Cantt. lie two unique cafes, both not to be missed. They are as much the attraction here as the two famous churches. Facing the LAL TIBBA is a camera-themed café called CLICK CAFÉ, known for its hot chocolate and coffees, all of which are served in canon & Nikon lens case cups. Every thing here has a camera theme, be it the wall lamps, drop down lights, paintings on the wall or tripods installed on every floor.
On the opposite end is LANDOUR BAKERHOUSE, one of three shops of SISTER BAZAAR, run by the Rokeby Manor. It is probably the highlight of this place since almost every one ends up here for a coffee or a fresh brew. Besides quick service, polite staff, tastefully done interiors and interesting quotes and adages on the walls, the magic happens the moment one pushes the main door to come in. One is welcomed by the waft of fresh bake scent, which is enough to guarantee a wonderful time & experience inside.
The third one called IVY CAFE in Landour is not very old and faces the 4 DUKAAN complex. It is the biggest one here, again with indoor and outdoor seating offering fabulous views of the valley & the mountains, a well-stocked book & magazine shelf, soft jazz music in the background and well deserved armchair comfort.
Having done the octagonal walk a couple of times and explored Mussoorie as well, a seasoned walker in me still craved for more. I was told of two more longish walks though I managed to finish just one due to rains being rather heavy. A walk through the dense woods behind the Sister Bazaar brings one all the way to JABLIKHET NATURE RESERVE. It is a private estate considered to be a paradise for birders. While it was drizzling continuously and the day was not meant for any birding activity, we decided to walk up to the entrance gate nevertheless as the walk from our hotel till there was again worth every step. An American student I bumped into in my villa had recently spotted a leopard there and showed us images of Yellow Throated Marten that he had clicked on his phone. The sanctuary abounds in bird and animal life and is a ‘must’ for every visitor to Landour. The private reserve has 8 different walking trails that are color-coded and mapped out professionally, however, going with a guide who knows the place inside out is recommended.
The other option, which wasn’t accomplished and is likely to bring me back to Landour again, is to take a cab up to CLOUD’S END hotel in Mussorie and follow the walking path behind it to BENOG. This one will take the whole day and will need some effort. While the trek can be a bit tiring, the views make up for it. The corridor from here extends all the way to RAJAJI NATIONAL PARK hence there are plenty of surprises expected on the trek here.
The entire Landour is spotlessly clean, well almost, and each cottage or villa here has something in common. They all have ‘beware of dog’ and ‘I am kleen’ plaques at their entrance. KEEN stands for “Keeping the environment and ecology natural.” The climate here is ideal for dog species such as Great Dane and St Bernard and locals can be often seen walking them around.
The trees and the dustbins placed strategically every 200 meters or so, also endorse the need to keep Landour clean and to respect the nature.
If you are not staying at ROKEBY MANOR then save it for the last. That’s what we did. All the cottages in Landour purposely book you on half board basis (inclusive of breakfast & dinner) and promote the local food and eateries for lunch, which is what ticks this place so well. This ensures sustainability as the locals also get their share of the tourist’s expenditure. The last lunch for us was at EMILY’s which is part of the Rokeby manor hotel. We were told to go here for Sticky Toffee Pudding but we ended up ordering many other dishes on the menu. Each one was a knock out and provided a perfect farewell meal.
You will need an hour here just to explore the hotel for its environs, architecture, hidden corners, collection of books, outdoors, common areas, balconies, reading room and the plaques on the walls.
No other hill station will offer you as much as Landour for it is a heady mix for people who get high on nature & walks. The cafes here are a bonus. And people here, well, there are very few, so u dont’ miss them. It is one of those escapes that you have craved for often but never knew existed somewhere. Far from the madding crowd. Its here that the time comes to a standstill. There is absolutely nothing to do. Come with a few books, though all the cafes are full of them, walking shoes and an umbrella. And absorb the best that nature has to offer.