Beautiful view from Mussoorie

Untouched scenery: the dramatic view from Mussoorie Hill Station

I worked my way to across Delhi to a crap concrete bus station to board a bus northwards to Dehra Dun, the gateway to my destination of Mussoorie, a hill station settled in the mid-19th century by the British. It felt good to be escaping the heat and bustle of Delhi for a more sedate location. On arrival at Dehra Dun late that evening, I noticed the change in the climate too; it was definitely cooler here, albeit still somewhere in the thirties Centigrade.
Dehra Dun was nothing to write home about. It had an art-deco clock tower and smelt much like any other Indian city. Mapless and increasingly tired with the Witching Hour approaching, I stubbornly fended off the constant solicitations by rickshaw drivers of “good room! cheap!”. The trouble with accepting a rickshaw driver’s recommendation of a hotel is that you’re taken to one where he’ll be on commission, a cost which will be passed onto you in the form of an increased room rate. I doggedly did the rounds of the budget hotels clustered around the train station by myself and went with a dirt cheap but slightly dirty place, which I felt I could live with as all I needed to do was to put my head down for the night. My trusty silk sleeping bag liner was trotted out – not for the first time on the road – to separate me from the questionable sheets and whatever might be living in them.
Bright and early the next morning I headed down to the bus stand to board a bus up to Mussoorie. Unfortunately, most of northern India had had the same idea; the bus stand was absolutely manic, and the buses were packed out. I managed to negotiate a place in a shared taxi for 90 rupees, but the drivers wouldn’t leave until they had a critical mass of six or seven people per cab, so there was a lot of waiting about to be done. To add to the frustration, a beggar woman persistently followed me around the bus station no matter where I went. I cunningly slipped her a dummy behind a group of people and managed to lose her long enough to board the taxi as it was finally loading up, and we started the slow, winding journey around the constant hairpin bends of the Himalayan foothills up to the so-called Queen of the Hills.
The clear views out over the valley were lovely as we hugged the slopes in our packed Hindustani Motors Ambassador. Sparse little communities built around stepped agricultural outcrops eventually gave way to increasingly developed town roads as we reached the top, and met the pinnacle that informs you that you’ve arrived in modern civilisation: a crawling traffic jam. We jumped out to make the final bit of the road on foot. Up at the main square hundreds upon hundreds of Indians were milling about the traffic-choked main street, called The Mall. It was holiday season, and Mussoorie’s benevolent climate down in the 20’s Centigrade made it a hugely popular escape from the roasting winds of the desert plains. It was not quite the peaceful antidote to Delhi I had hoped for.
Slipping through the crowds, I broke off down a trail marked Camel’s Back Road. It was a much less traversed route, free of cars, and offered stunningly untouched hill scenery to gawp at as I made the way along the winding route to my chosen hotel, firmly at the budget end of the spectrum, but unlike my previous night’s accommodation it was a clean and homely little place.
If you can’t beat ’em, join em: after settling in I touristed myself up and wandered into the melee that was Mussoorie’s main streets. I grabbed myself a decent meal in a Punjabi restaurant and followed it up with a stroll around town with an ice-cream. Completely taken up by the holiday vibe, I delightfully regressed back to my childhood for a short while by loading myself up with a bag of pick’n’mix – pineapple chunks, fizzy cola bottles and all – which was a welcome surprise to come across in the Himalayas of all places.
Whilst in peak season the place was too overcrowded for its own good, it was hard to dislike the infectious bubbly chattering vibe of Mussoorie, and I was glad I had stopped to visit, although I felt a day was long enough. As I tucked myself up in my tiny hotel room that night after watching the light fade from the untouched hillsides visible from my window, for the first time in a month I was actually cold and grateful for the blanket provided.
I felt the Himalayas and I were going to get on just fine together.
I was wrong.