Distance: 235 km N of
When to go: Dehradun’s equable climate draws visitors all year round. While summers can get warm, it’s definitely more pleasant than Delhi
Tourist Offices: GMVN, 74/1, Rajpur Road, Dehradun
GMVN, 02, Indraprakash Building, 21, Barakhamba Road, New Delhi
Tel: 011-23350481, 23326620
STD code: 0135
Air: Jolly Grant (24 km/45 mins).
Rail: Dehradun Station
Road: From Delhi NH58 to Roorkee via Meerut; NH72A to Dehradun via Chhutmalpur and Mohand
For most reverent outsiders, the epithet ‘City of grey hairs and green hedges’ for one of their favorite holiday destinations, Dehradun, never gets old. But there are reasons other than the city being a retirement haven for this time-tested love and fidelity. Over the last several decades, legends, myths and folklore spun around the city have seeped into the imagination of hill-bound travellers, thereby maintaining a perennial tourist blitz in the valley. The richness and nostalgia is captured in personal experiences, stories and vignettes – the old-style education, delectable caramel stickjaws and the oft-told and written-about ‘Doon boyhood’ accounts that it has inspired, to name a few. And then there is the ubiquitous narrative about life in the valley by Ruskin Bond, whose Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories and The Room on the Roof, which has, along with other literature, painted a Blyton-esque picture of enchantment and magical adventures in this part of the world for decades.
However, much of Dehradun’s urban area has crossed the threshold of drastic change post its officialdom. Apartment and commercial complexes occupy what were once dense spells of private orchards, old structures stand decaying cheek-by-jowl with the glitzy new malls and widened streets lay sandwiched between fading jungles. Bemoaning this change has become a common feature among old-timers, but the city still exudes a distinct laid-back, folksy style, which enchants holidaymakers.
Things to see and do
Most of the prominent landmarks in Dehradun date back to early 1900s. One that has managed to endure both in concrete and in spirit, is the Clock Tower. Built to commemorate India’s independence, it sits in the middle of the city, a tall, red-bricked hexagonal structure with six faces, with the names of freedom fighters engraved on it.
Forest Research Institute and Chetwode Building
A drive up the Chakrata Road will lead you to two other major institutions Dehradun is proud of – the Indian Military Academy (IMA) and the Forest Research Institute (FRI). The FRI, established in 1906, is an impressive building with Greco-Roman architecture. The expansive campus comprises quarters, offices, classrooms, laboratories, a library, herbarium and printing press, experimental field areas to conduct forest research as well as six museums, and is a sight in itself. While the main building overlooks a vast expanse of gardens, its hindquarters has views of huge acres of lush green forest. Inside, the red-bricked structure opens up to labyrinthine corridors. You may visit the museums dealing with pathology, social forestry, timber, non-wood forest products and entomology.
The IMA holds the same prestige, by virtue of its military academic excellence as well as the magnificent Chetwode Building, the most famous in the complex. It was established in 1932 and has one of the most fascinating military museums. Besides, the institute is also witness to what is seen as a nostalgic rite of passage every year – the Antim Pag or the Last Step of the IMA experience, a graduation ceremony for the young Gentlemen Cadets.
Khalinga War Memorial
Touted as a one-of-its-kind commemorative monument that was built in honour of the opposing army, the Khalinga War Memorial covers a small area on Sahastradhara Road. Even though there is not much to it except two conical white structures and an adjoining park, the extraordinary story attached it make it worth a visit. It goes back to the Battle of Nalapani, which was fought between 600 Gorkhas and around 3,000 British soldiers in Kalinga Fort near Nalapani in 1814. The Gorkhas are known for having resisted the attack with great force and conviction. In fact, the British entered the Kalinga Fort only after the Gorkhas evacuated it.
One of the major contributions of Dehradun’s thriving Tibetan community is the Og Min Ogyen Mindrolling Monastery, located in Clement Town. Apart from the gargantuan stupa, considered one of the largest in the world at 60 m, the monastery also features some of the most intricate Tibetan Buddhist murals in the main shrine room, which also houses a 35-m high golden statue of Buddha. Within the campus is also a small complex wherein you can grab a bite of some Tibetan cuisine, or pick up a souvenir.
Located on the outskirts of Dehradun, Robber’s Cave, also known by the area name Gucchupani, is a narrow cleft between steep, rocky walls through which flows an underground stream. Despite its isolated location (it is located almost 8 km from central Dehradun), it is an immensely popular picnic spot. You can even rent a pair of useful rubber slippers for what awaits inside. Visitors are encouraged to enter the cave, which means wading through knee-deep water until you reach a waterfall. Adventurous souls can climb up the rocky terrain that starts where the water ends. Once beat, come back out at the mouth of the cave and a host of shacks await, offering pakoras, tea and momos. Afternoons are ideal times to visit.
Where to stay
Most hotels in Dehradun are located in close proximity to the bus stand and the railway station, and offer ease of access to the main attractions and commercial centres in and around the city. Rajpur Road has some of the oldest hotels. Hotel Madhuban (Tel: 0135-2740066; Tariff INR 5,250-12,000; www.hotelmadhuban.com), for one, is a 4-star hotel with excellent facilities and service. Lemon Tree (Tel: 2737777; Tariff INR 6,500-12,000; www.lemontreehotels.com), also on Rajpur Road, is a swanky place with all the usual amenities. Another option is Hotel Aketa (Tel: 2744302; Tariff INR 4,850-7,500; www.hotelaketadehradun.com), close to the railway station. Hotel Great Value (Tel: 3292020, 3298038; Tariff INR 4,000-8,000; greatvaluehotel.com) is a popular choice, especially for its restaurant, The Orchid. Hotel President (Tel: 2657082/ 386; Tariff: INR 3,000-3,500; www.hotelpresidentdehradun.com) has a reputation precedes it, both for its restaurant and its strategic location at Astley Hall.
Where to eat
Dehradun does not have an overwhelming number of options, though the few available are all excellent. Hotel Madhuban’s Angithi is popular for its Mughlai food. Hotel President’s The Prez is an excellent fine-dining, multi-cuisine option. Then there are those venerable institutions – Kumar’s for some zestful vegetarian, Moti Mahal for North Indian delights, Kabila Restaurant for fiery Rajasthani cuisine, or Udipi for South Indian flavours. If you like Tibetan food, there are three certified greats – Kalsang, Lhasa and Orchards. The city has also developed a vibrant culture of independent cafes, and a few such as Cafe Marigold, La Mia Casa, Chhaya Cafe and Sunburn Bistro are popular.
The famous Chaat Wali Gali is a small corner with about four-five chaat vendors lend the lane its name. Apart from the Chaat Wali Gali’s spicy relishes, there are the delicious burgers and shakes available at The Buffet on Rajpur Road. Over the decades, caramel stickjaws have come to represent of the city and the best places to buy them are Kwality and Ellora’s Melting Moments, both on Rajpur Road. Another essential is the milk rusk, a kind of dry crunchy biscuit that goes amazingly well with a steaming cup of tea, which you will find at Ellora’s or Sunrise Bakers in Paltan Bazaar.