Mussoorie, its climate similar to back home was first used by the British to base their convalescing nationals. Later, it evolved as a hill station. Built on the face of a hill overlooking Doon valley and a clear view of Dehradun it soon became popular among the elite. With hotels like Savoy and Hackman on the Mall Road, the skating rink, the gun hill, and the band stand lent the small town a colonial atmosphere which lingered till a few years after independence. One could stroll leisurely on Mall Road – vehicular traffic was not allowed. The wide expanse of the valley during day time and the shimmering lights of Dehradun, 18 kilometres as the crow flies, filled one’s heart with joy. Trekking to Mussoorie was fun. We would take a bus to Rajpur from where we trekked, a mere 14 kilometres, along the old cart road stopping at Barlowganj, a small hamlet for tea and snacks, pausing to admire the beautiful Oak Grove School where children of the British and Anglo-Indian railway officers were sent for schooling.
Mussoorie, a charming hill station, is charming no more. To our horror, motor vehicles now run with impunity on the Mall making it almost impossible to walk, batteries of hawkers, street photographers and the like hound the hapless tourist. This was not the Mussoorie I knew.
It was my first visit in almost thirty years and, in no time at all, I came to the conclusion that Mussoorie was a place best avoided. Without wasting time we, my wife Alka and I, proceeded to Dhanaulti, 24 kilometres away where a family friend had very generously allowed us to stay in his cottage.
Our exit from Mussoorie was via a short but very steep and narrow road through Landaur, an old area of the town I had never visited before, I do not know why. After an uneventful drive through picturesque surroundings, we arrived and located the cottage without difficulty. Dhanaulti is a very small town and everybody knows everybody else. The caretaker, a charming lady, greeted us and opened the cottage. It was a large cottage, more like a villa and could easily house thirty to forty people. Built on the face of a small hill, it had rooms on various levels. The big hall had the luxury of a fire place which the two of us enjoyed to our hearts’ fill. Large number of thick mattresses and equally thick quilts were stacked in the loft. The well equipped kitchen was devoid of provisions. We did not wish to cook anyway but, forewarned, we had brought tea leaves, coffee powder and milk powder with us which took care of our morning cup of tea and coffee before going to bed. On way to the cottage we had noticed ‘Apple Orchard Resort’ a nice-looking establishment within walking distance of our cottage and, since it was nearly time for dinner, we proceeded to it. The proprietor, a graceful lady, warmly welcomed us. There were no guests staying as it was not yet tourist season. Our orders placed, the lady spent some time with us regaling us with local stories. Before dinner could be served she advise us to go back to our cottage as, she said, it was going to rain. Our dinner, she said, would be delivered. Which it was. And it was delicious too.
Like most places in Shivalik range of Himalayas, Dhanaulti too suffers from water shortage. Women folks have to traverse long distances to get water. Persons like the owner of our cottage have made arrangements for rain water harvesting. Rain water falling on corrugated roofs is channelled to a tank from where it is pumped to an overhead tank. We, therefore, had uninterrupted water supply.
We had a truly relaxing time in picturesque Dhanaulti, going bird watching on long treks in the wood in the morning and just lazing after a wholesome lunch delivered to us. One day, we visited the neighbouring Surkanda Devi temple on top of a steep hill, which could be reached only after a really tiring march of nearly two kilometres.
Dhanaulti is emerging as a calm alternative to the bustling Mussoorie. Hopefully, it will not end up like today’s Mussoorie.
Good times seldom last. Duty beckoned us to resume work.