On a usual day, a carnival-like spectacle unfolds in this tiny hill station when its streets are clogged by enthusiastic tourists, motorists whizzing by in apocalyptic haste, old men sitting in sunny spots with newspapers and beedis and hollering street vendors vying for attention. This is Mussoorie (or Mansoori, as the locals lovingly call it), Dehradun’s famous neighbour, known for its plummeting waterfalls, long stretches of winding roads, reputed boarding schools, and hilly swaths of dense deodars and chestnut trees interrupted by mis-matched blocks of local settlements and colonial bungalows.

Mussoorie was originally chosen by the British as a sanatorium, with the construction of the first European house dating back to the 1820s. Its landscape is thus dotted with grand heritage structures. Now, Mussoorie’s arterial thoroughfares are all but choked with clumpy construction. However, all of Mussoorie’s faults are forgotten at sundown, when the entire cityscape of Dehradun manifests itself in the form of a thousand points of lights at the foot of the mountain.

Sanjoy Ghosh
A beautiful view of Mussoorie, the Queen of the Hills
A beautiful view of Mussoorie, the Queen of the Hills

Things to See & Do

Mall Road

Library Chowk marks the beginning of Mall Road. With a public library established in 1843, just at the beginning of the thoroughfare and an ornate gazebo called Band Stand set in the corner, the road zigzags its way till Tehri Road. It overlaps with areas such as Camel’s Back, Landour or Kulri Bazaar, and is a comfortable walk. Due to its strategic position and plethora of activities, the Mall Road can take up your whole day. There are endless shops selling clothes, candles, Tibetan teapots and wickerwork among others; gaming parlours keep kids entertained and photographers parade around with local costumes for you to pose in. Once done with the commercial attractions, enter the premises of Central Methodist Church, dating from 1885, a stunning building in grey stone and white, adorned with arched doorways and angular roofs.

Gun Hill

A strategic location during colonial times from where a cannon was once fired at noon everyday, Gun Hill boasts a great view of Dehradun and its surrounding ranges. Take a cable ropeway or walk up here – this is the perfect place to sit with a cup of steaming tea or coffee and contemplate further explorations.

Camel’s Back Road

Named after the hump-shaped rock formations, this road spreads out in an even, serpentine concrete path, twisting and turning alongside verdant forests. The 3-km walk offers an uninterrupted quietude that one can usually only dream of. Horse rides and rickshaw services are available at the beginning of the route. Both are excellent options.

Landour

It only takes a second to realise that Landour is in complete contrariety to Mussoorie. About a 15-minute walk from Picture Palace, a landmark which houses a bus stop and taxi stand and marks the end of the commercial Mall Road, Landour exemplifies the oft-heard aphorism, ‘quiet of the hills’. The only stalls belong to vegetable and fruit vendors, along with an odd antique store or two, shops selling walking canes and shoemakers selling bespoke footwear. The main Landour Bazaar is populated with decaying wooden buildings. A spacious chowk, with the landmark Clock Tower Café towards the right, hints that there used to be a Clock Tower in Landour. Demolished as recently as 2011, the ghanta ghar was supposed to mark the boundary between Landour and Mussoorie. Landour has been a military cantonment since 1827 and was a health resort for wounded soldiers who were looked after by nurses, thus giving the main Landour cantonment its name, Sisters’ Bazaar. Cosy houses appear cuddled up against the back-drop of dense pines and moss-laden cemented railings as you stroll towards Sisters’ Bazaar. You can purchase home-made jams or cheese as souvenirs here.

Another quest for explorers is the trek past Char Dukaan to Ruskin Bond’s house, the famous Ivy Cottage, where he lives with his adoptive family. First-timers need not feel lost, for literally every soul in the area can guide you to his place. The climb can be a task, considering it’s close to Lal Tibba. Those who want to meet Bond can knock on his door and see if he comes out. In case he is unavailable, fret not. He meets fans at the Cambridge Book Store on Mall Road every Saturday at 4.00pm.

Sanjoy Ghosh
Am old cottage on Lal Tibba
Am old cottage on Lal Tibba

Lal Tibba

As the air grows thinner while moving towards Lal Tibba, the view gets better. The highest lookout point in Mussoorie at an altitude of 7,510ft, Lal Tibba (also known as Depot Hill) is home to the military camp as well as the towers of All India Radio and Doordarshan. The view of the snow-capped peaks and the evanescent misty horizon will not fail to enchant. A lighthouse tower offers a telescope to get a closer look of the Himalayas, Banderpunch, Badrinath and Kedarnath. A word of advice: with monsoons come the leeches, so be covered and prepared if you can’t avoid the season.

Hathipaon

If you want to journey on the proverbial ‘less travelled’ road, head to the stretch on the Dehradun-Mussoorie Road to Hathipaon. Hathipaon is the hidden treasure of Mussoorie, rife with thickly wooded foliage, the trill of forest birds echoing in the air, and even an isolated meadow, where local boys often play cricket. It is perhaps due to its isolation that regular holidaymakers do not frequent this otherwise ideal locale.

Hathipaon is known for mainly two attractions: Cloud End and the Park Estate. Built in 1838, Cloud End was once home to Major Edmund Swetenham, who received the estate as a dowry, and is now a refurbished heritage resort. Marking the end of Hathipaon, Cloud End is enveloped by woods and has several trekking trails. More significantly though, there is a fascinating in-house museum which comprises memorabilia such as paintings, crockery and books, among other artefacts. Further up is Benog Wildlife Sanctuary, a part of Rajaji National Park which offers a chance to spot rare Himalayan birds, such as the red billed blue magpie or the near-extinct mountain quail, which reportedly inhabit the area. Birdwatchers should visit the sanctuary during the summer.

The Park Estate has not been so lucky. Despite being home to the famous surveyor and geographer Sir George Everest, the estate, which comprises his residence and laboratory, is a neglected colonial bungalow, with its walls defaced with time by intrepid declarations of love. Its white structure still stands, along with its wooden beams and fireplaces, on the edge of a treeless cliff, giving a view of the Himalayas on one side and the Doon valley on the other.

Sanjoy Ghosh
Mussoorie's famous Mall offers food and a variety of other items
Mussoorie's famous Mall offers food and a variety of other items

Shopping

Mussoorie has a host of shopping options for keen buyers. Make your way to Kulri Bazaar and Landour Bazaar to find branded stores and tiny shops selling trinkets and knickknacks. Antique shops are an interesting stop for those who treasure postcards, furniture, advertisements on tinned cans and maps from the colonial era. You will also find army memorabilia, books, silver jewellery as well as toys. Wooden items can be found at a bargain, and the famous handcrafted oak walking sticks make good gifts.

Where to Stay

In the days of the Raj, Mussoorie was the retreat for the rich and privileged, and a number of royal families established their summer homes here. Today, most of these have been turned into hotels. The most impressive amongst these is the Kasmanda Palace (Tel: 01345-2632424, 2633949; Tariff: 15,500–21,500 for 3D/ 2N), which used to be the property of the adjacent Christ Church before becoming the holiday retreat for the Kasmanda family. Fortune The Savoy (Tel: 2637000; Tariff: 14,500–19,500), dating back to 1902, started the trend of luxury hotels at this hill station. Its Victorian architecture is reminiscent of the days of the Raj, yet the facilities are unquestionably contemporary and state-of-the-art. Yet another old favourite is Rokeby Manor (Tel: 2635604-06; Tariff: 10,000–50,000) in Landour.

Shiv Ahuja
JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa
JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa

The Claridges Nabha Residence (Tel: 2631426-27; Tariff: 12,500–15,000, with two meals), once the summer retreat of the Maharaja of Nabha, is now a high-end luxury hotel. Carlton’s Plaissance (Tel: 2632800, Cell: 09917955244; Tariff: 4,550–7,000) on Happy Valley Road is a more affordable heritage hotel. The estate once belonged to an Avadhi princess. Another heritage option is the early 19th-century Padmini Niwas (Tel: 2631093, 2633123; Tariff: 4,600–16,000), located below the Mall Road. The new JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort & Spa (Tel: 2635700; Tariff: 40,000–50,000) is the ultimate in luxury with great scenic views. The Cloud End Forest Resort (Cell: 09634096861, 094120-84105; Tariff: 7,000–9,000) is a cosy retreat with stunning views, and several trekking trails and paths. Its largest collection of photographs of old Mussoorie add up to make a lovely stay.

Other options include Hotel Nand Residency (Tel: 2631442, 2632088; Tariff: 4,000–6,500) in Kulri Bazaar; The Golden Palms Hotel & Spa (Tel: 2635525-30; Tariff: 10,000–17,000) opposite Picture Palace, and Royal Orchid Fort Resort (Cell: 07895922255/ 66/ 33; Tariff: 9,500–36,000, with two meals) on Picture Palace Road.

Where to Eat

Wolfing down ordinary fare on the streets of Mussoorie is an extraordinary experience. Those steaming bhuttas (corn on the cob) on every other corner, tossed and turned by vendors over burning embers, are a ticket to heaven. So are the hot, sugary jalebis and piping hot chaat sold just a little above Mall Road. Those raring for two-minute wonders can go for Lovely Omelette Centre which dishes out eggs cooked every which way.

The Rice Bowl is a particular favourite for its ‘drums of heaven’ and steamed momos, while Kalsang’s Tibetan cuisine is also excellent. For light eaters, Chick Chocolate’s array of comfort food and drinks is an instant favourite. But more popular are its assortment of chocolates, mixed with flavours such as mixed nuts, strawberry and caramel. In Landour, Clock Tower Café exhibits a series of iron plates with comical inscriptions all over.

The Chhaya Café in Char Dukaan works with local women and draws a loyal crowd for its home-made cakes and breads. The menu is multicuisine.

The Information

When to Go Mussoorie is at its best in March–June and October–early December. Winters are very cold. There may be snowfall in December–January

Tourist Office

  • GMVN
    Tourist Info Counter
    Near Cable Car, The Mall
    Mussoorie. Tel: 2632683
    gmvnl.com

Getting There

Air Nearest airport: Jolly Grant Airport, Dehradun (22km/ 45min). Taxi 1,500

Rail Nearest railhead: Dehradun (34km/1.5hrs), served by the Dehradun Shatabdi. Taxi (Drona Travels Tel: 0135-2653309) gets you to Mussoorie in 45mins. Fare 1,500 approximately Road Mussoorie is an hour’s drive north of Dehradun, and a 269km/ 7-hr drive from Delhi via Meerut, Roorkee, Chhutmalpur and Dehradun .Bus An AC bus (10.30pm; 9hrs; 568) and one non-AC bus (9.30pm; 319) leave daily for Mussoorie from ISBT Kashmere Gate. There are also several Volvo services (683) to Dehradun from 5.00am–midnight.