Its 9 am here in Landour and the daily life has begun in its full mayhem. A squirrel is shooting across the road and has disappeared into the bushes. The soothing rays of the sun are finding an arduous task to somehow find a way to penetrate underneath a blanket of towering deodars. The mist is making a move forward from down the valley and caressing not only my body, but my soul as well. An old inhabitant of this sleepy Himalayan hamlet, sporting his rugged felt cap, is out on a walk on the rain kissed curvy serpentine road cutting through dense cedars. The bells of the nearby church are producing a reverberating sound, giving the pristine surroundings an aura of mystery and divinity.
I could easily feel the aura and enigma of Landour as I munched on my delicious Cheese Omelette at the famous Anil’s Cafe of the legendary Char Dukan. “It’s just 2 kms and a thousand feet away from Mussoorie, but a world apart”, said Candice, an American, who had got herself enrolled to learn Hindi at the famous Landour Language School. “That’s what I hope”, I murmured within, gulping the last piece of the delicious Apple waffle, as I made a move forward to explore Landour in its full glory.
The cool dew laden air of Landour was narrating its rich history and heritage. Its beginnings can be traced down to the post Indian Mutiny period of 1857, when the cantonment township of Landour was built for the British Indian Army, and developed into a sanatorium or a healing station for its wounded soldiers. The town’s name was derived from tiny Welsh village, ‘Llannddowror’, as it was a custom during the British Raj, to name Indian towns after those at home, just to get rid of homesickness.
The best way to befriend Landour is by embarking on a walk across the ‘Landour Chakkar’, which a circular path, going all around the town. So there I was, in front of the famous St Paul’s Church, right next to Char Dukan, considered the starting point of the walk. A beautiful British era church, St Paul’s has the distinction of being the venue of Jim Corbett’s parents’ wedding venue!!
I left behind the hustle and bustle of Char Dukan behind, and slowly ventured deep into Landour, deep into the realms of the resounding beauty of nature. With the canopy of those mighty deodar’s above me, and the glorious glimpses of Mussoorie cocooned under a blanket of mist on the left, it was slowly becoming a walk to remember. This road took me to Lal tibba (Red hill), the highest point in Landour, from where I had hoped to view important Himalayan peaks like Badrinath, Kedarnath, Banderpunch, etc. It was not to be though. The gloomy weather and an overcast sky had some other plans maybe.
I continued further, and now was probably on the most beautiful stretch of the ‘Chakkar’. A stretch exemplifying Landour’s casting spell; sprinkled with Raj era colonial bungalows radiating an old world charm, a dense deodar infected dwindling road laden with blooming wild flowers, and the stillness in the air only perturbed by the sweet chirps of the many variety of birds habituating in the surroundings. The acclaimed Indian actor, Victor Banerjee, resides here in his beautiful villa named ‘The Espionage’, which sits pretty adjacent to an old cemetery.
I could relive the bygone era by coming across house names such as Kenilworth, Scottsburn, Wolfsburn, Shamrock Cottage, Waverly, Ivanhoe, among others.
A few minutes of further walking, and there I stood in front of Landour’s another Raj era church, the Kellogg’s memorial. A large concentration of foreigner’s made me realize the presence of the Landour Language School in the vicinity. Remember Candice??? The students stay here for months for their Hindi course, and stay in many of the cheap accommodations available in this area. (All you backpapker’s!!! You know what I’m talking about!!!)
And how could I miss another of Landour’s landmarks. The popular Prakash Store, located in Sister’s Bazaar, is a few minutes’ walk, and certainly a not to be missed spot. Known for its renowned peanut butter, jams and bakery items, the shop has been here since decades, and boasts of some well known clients. Even the Gandhi’s have shopped here!!
It was a Sunday that day; otherwise I could have been surrounded by the students of the legendary Woodstock school, that is just around the corner.
Continuing further on my quest to unravel Landour, I ventured through some of the most well known home stays like La Villa Bethany and Tabor Cottage, before finding myself standing on the gates of one of Landours’ most famous addresses, The Rockeby Manor.
A 175 year old English style country estate, the property is now run as a luxurious resort, famous for its old world charm, perfect location and some stunning views. My lunch at the Emily’s, Rockeby’s famed restaurant, was nothing short of bliss. A platter of sumptuous fish-n-chips, coupled with the enchanting views of the mist filled cedar and oak forest..Is heaven somewhere else??
A few steps ahead of Rockeby Manor, and I reach back the spot where it all started. I was back at St Paul’s, but did my tryst with Landour end here? Certainly not. I mean, how can a date with Landour end without a visit to its most famous address? I am indeed talking about Landour’s favourite son, Ruskin Bond. He lives at Ivy Cottage, a 10 minutes’ walk from St Pauls, en route Landour Bazaar.
“Dear Ruskin, of all the places, why only Landour”, I thought. And then I smiled. Why? Cause there’s something in the Landour air. Something that cannot be defined, but only be experienced. A calmness, an ethereal charm and a resonate walk into the bygone era that has attracted poets, writers, and artists; who once come here, become here’s for their lifetime.
Writers such as Ruskin Bond, Hugh and Colleen Gantzer, Bill Aitken, Allen Sealy, and film personalities such as Tom Alter, Victor Banerjee and Vishal Bharadwaj; the list of Landour’s victims goes on an on..
My love affair with Landour is an everlasting bond that takes me to a level of happiness, where no one else can…..