Sitting quietly on the road side at Sister’s Bazaar, looking away into the distant hills and listening to the quaint sounds of the birds. There was nothing to do and we did not want to be doing anything else but sit and stare. Of course, that was towards the end of our trip to Mussoorie, but a lot had happened before we reached that particular roadside.
It was 7 am that Friday when we reached the Himalayan town. A shared taxi from Dehradun was the only mode of transport up the hill after all the government-run buses were packed full. We didn’t mind the extra expense since the taxi was faster and far more comfortable. The air was chilly at that height and we were thanking each other for reminding ourselves to pack our jackets. We were famished after our overnight bus ride from Delhi and fortunately a small dhaba was open just at the town’s main taxi stand.
The menu at Hotel Raveena had just the right kind of food for hungry and weary travellers – fast, delicious and inexpensive. We happily gobbled down our aalo parathas and puri sabzi with some sweet tea, enjoying the wonderful view of the Doon valley in the background.
We walked up and down the famous Mall Road for most of the day, right from the taxi stand to Gandhi Chowk. Mussoorie was surprisingly less crowded despite it being an extended weekend. The horror stories of tourists hoarding up every famous spot in town seemed to have driven many visitors elsewhere. We heard that Dhanaulti, about 25 kilometres from Mussoorie, was witnessing a heavy chunk of traffic. Thankfully we had crossed it off our list and planned on exploring more of Mussoorie instead.
Gun Hill is a popular tourist spot that is marked on every guide map to the area. Situated on a hill above Mall Road, the spot offers majestic views of the snow-capped peaks on clear days. Our luck seemed to have slightly deserted us that afternoon and all we saw were a bunch of fluffy clouds. Apart from the gondola ride on the rope way connecting Gun Hill to Mall Road, there is nothing much to do there, unless you happen to be a big fan of melas. You could also collect some nice memorabilia from the stores which do not cost that much.
That evening was wanted to explore the east end of Mall Road towards Landour. It was chance that brought us to Café By The Way. We were looking for the best eateries in Mussoorie online and decided to visit the first place we saw. In a jiffy, we were inside the café marvelling it subtle, calm interiors. The room was decorated with vintage radio transistors, old TV sets and two half scooters transfigured into bar seats. Again, we were surprised to see the place empty. A store like this in any metro would have had a queue of customers waiting to get in. Perhaps the place got full a little later in the evening.
We placed our orders and spent the time going through the many quotations hung on the walls and the tens of napkins left behind by visitors with scribbles from their travels. The garlic bread and our milkshakes soon arrived and we were floored by the food. The bread had just the right amount of cheese and the drinks were spot on with the sugar. We took our time finishing our food, continuing our discussion about the café and our trip so far. The sun was setting behind the hills and few faint beams managed to seep through the buildings and into the café, magically lighting up the entrance. It was twilight now and we thanked the staff for their food and hospitality and were off.
Next on our itinerary was the Little Llama Café. Something about its name already told us it would be a good place for breakfast the following day. Sure enough we were not disappointed. Run by a local resident, the place offers an array of comfort food from club sandwiches to salami buns, milkshakes and teas. The best bit was the view it offered. You can see the entire ridge from the café and beyond into the mountains. The place has outdoor seating on the roof and that is where you should sit as you slurp your cold coffee. The food was very good and their portions very sizable. It may be a touch on the expensive side but it is worth the visit, and then some.
That evening we were feeling very adventurous. Why wouldn’t we? After all, we had just met Ruskin Bond! The joy of meeting one of your writing idols can only be paralleled by getting a signed copy from him with your name on it. The author visits Cambridge Book Depot every Saturday evening to sign books and have a quick chat with his readers. Go early so that you are not caught up in the line and on some days Mr Bond may choose to leave a little soon as well.
With the books tucked away in our bags we started our trek to Landour. Mussoorie is mesmerising in the evening light. The setting sun casts a magical spell on the old lanes towards Landour and walking is the best way to soak in all the pretty sights. The walk up to Char Dukaan is very demanding, especially if you are not regular long distance walker. The tiny road crops up another challenge due to the increase in traffic in the evenings. Lal Tibba, the highest point in Mussoorie, falls on the same route and people rush to catch the sunset from the view-point.
We hitchhiked half the way to Char Dukaan, admitting that walking the entire distance would be cruel on our legs. Char Dukaan is literally four shops. These outlets provide warm comfort food and snacks and is a must-stop on your way to Lal Tibba. We recommend you give Lal Tibba a miss and catch the sunset from Char Dukaan, from Café Ivy. The restaurant is set facing the west and offers a glorious view of the entire ridge and Camel Back road. We watched the sun go down from the parking area outside the café. It was the best endings to a day we had in quite some time. The sun had left an orange hue in the sky and had set just behind a small peak, making it seem like an erupting volcano.
We entered Café Ivy at dusk and we still full from some snacks we had munched on earlier that evening. There was hot chocolate on the menu and we were not hesitant to order two cups. We sat there talking about our lives, books and the sunset. In that moment we had made our own bubble for a little while, keeping all our troubles aside. We walked back to Mall Road and the downhill trek was fun in its own way. We crossed another restaurant on the way, Doma. It was only the next day did we realise that Mr Bond resided somewhere close by. How we would have loved to catch a glimpse of Rusty sipping his tea and working on a book or something!
The next day we had to check out of our hotel and had the entire day before our journey back to Delhi. We visited Hotel Raveena again for a quick meal and decided we were going to Sister’s Bazaar. The place was named after some nuns who resided in the area and was known to be a quiet, peaceful area far from the hustle of the town. We hired a local taxi to drop us off and he agreed to come pick us up if we needed a lift back to Mussoorie. Don’t go to Sister’s Bazaar expecting the world. On the contrary, go with no expectations at all. That is how the place demands to be seen. We reached the bazaar and rightly so, it was empty. We walked down the deserted road and sat on one of the cement barriers looking into the lush mountains in the distance for what seemed like hours. Then, our tummies groaned and we knew it was time for a visit to that bakehouse we had just crossed.
Landour Bakehouse must have been very new when we visited it. The owners were extra courteous and extra careful with the orders. The café was not even on the map, and so we decided to put it there. Wooden interiors and fine vintage cupboards lined its walls and the windows faced the mountains on the other side. We ordered the honey lemon ginger tea, a cinnamon roll and a strawberry and cream crepe. The food was perhaps the best we had in our entire trip. We were just marvelling at the quality and freshness of the ingredients. The tea was one of a kind, and I would put it up there as the finest I have ever had. And I am from Assam! We cleared our plates in no time. The best part about the place was its price. We were not sure if it was an introductory offer or their regular pricing, but a strawberry and cream crepe for 60 bucks is a great deal, especially for that quality.
We left for Dehradun that evening where our bus awaited to take us back to Delhi, back to our lives. But Mussoorie did manage to surprise us in so many ways – by its food, streets, people and the mountains. If you have not been to the hill station and are planning a trip soon, do not be discouraged by people who say it’s crowded and not worth it. Plan your trip wisely and you will have a great time. Visit the places mentioned in this blog and write your own reviews about them. Or catch the sunset from Char Dukaan and watch time go by with the setting rays. Most importantly, you need to have the right travelling companion or group. No matter where you go, if you do not have someone you can go ballistic over something as simple as a cup of tea, you are not going to have the best out of your trip.
If you are ever in need of assistance to any of the places we visited on our trip, please reach out. We would be glad to help.
Till then, keep exploring. Adventure is out there! Caw-caw, raaaar!!