Memories of Landour, India
The Dun valley and Sawalik Hills
The backdrop of a great painting
Landour was built up as a cantonment for the British during their rule in India dating back to at least the 1800's. It's a community spread out over the top of a foothill mountain, perching above the resort town of Mussoorie in the province of Uttarakhand. At around 7,000 feet, it faces out to the south and west over the town of Dehradun and the flat Dun valley, at the base of the mountains and the Sawalik hills beyond the valley. An incredible view of the plains of Northern India beyond the Sawaliks can be seen on clearer days usually at the end of the monsoons. On those clear nights, even the lights of New Delhi, some 200 miles away, have been seen.
Though it's been some years since I have last visited Landour, my sister's recent trip there has revealed that most of the beauties of Landour still remains. The houses and buildings are spread apart enough that the natural lush forests of the Himalayan foothills are still largely preserved and miles of paths take you through the peaceful woods as they wind themselves around the mountains descending ridges and dales. During the summer months the monsoon rains encapsulate the mountain for most of 3 months but the warm rain produces a host of floral of wild flowers and ferns. Even the trees trunks and branches as they lean out away from the hillside grow covered with moss and ferns. Many varieties of bird wind their flight around the trees and mountain breezes and the peaceful air is often broken by the loud cawing of the crows who seem most to enjoy the down and up drafts, that are accustom to the mountains, playfully diving and soaring . Though these are the Himalaya's and many of the pathways are fairly steep, especially to those unaccustomed to the altitude, life in Landour seems never rushed and there are plenty of vantage points to rest and enjoy. Yet, this is only half of Landour's wonder. From Landour's ridge to the north and east a large portion of the Himalaya's grandeur can be viewed and that's where this story will take us.
Landour's path home
I have talked with those who don't believe in God and have never been convinced of their arguments, because at least in part of my experience in Landour. No it may not pass the scientific muster of some but for those that have been there I find it hard to believe that it doesn't ring true. I know this because where nature's splendor is displayed is often referred to as "God's Country."
I was 20 years old at the time and had returned to India to visit this beloved area. I spent years growing up as a child in Landour and had the great fortune of living much of that time in a house that was nestled on the ridge of the mountain facing north just below the highest vantage point on the ridge. From that perspective I witnessed some spectacular views which I could write much more on but I'm going to talk about one October day I had headed out from the house to go down the southern side of the hill. When I left that morning the higher mountains were obscured to the north by a cloud layer but there was much sunshine to the south and the Dun valley was peacefully laid out in clear view. Toward the afternoon I returned back to my home by way of a path we called ZigZag for obvious reasons. Though most mountain paths that go up zig and zag, this one took on the name I presume because of a house built along the path that was given that name. Houses in Landour have no addresses just names. Mine was called Buena Vista, again, for obvious reasons.
Cloud covered mountains
The wonder of the Himalayan hills, or God's Country
I was quite use to walking this path and accustomed to the sites of the plains below, Mussoorie bazaar running along a lower ridge away from Landour, and in October the lushness of still moss covered trees with plenty of flora covering the hillside. As I was walking alone I became as usual quite absorbed in my own thoughts. There isn't much to distract oneself from their thoughts while hiking up the hill, the pace is slow and there are very few pedestrians that you pass. Other than the sound of distant traffic it is still quiet enough to hear the background sounds of the insects of the woods, an occasional dog bark in the distance, or the familiar caw of crows as they play around in the mountain breezes.
As I approached the ridge I came to a last set of steps that connected the path to a narrow paved motor road that runs along the ridge called the Chakkar. A term that means circle, for the road runs circles around the peaks of the mountains. This is an easy road to walk and affords many great vantage points. I, also, understand that Chakkar can also mean lightheadedness and perhaps for this story that would be more appropriate.
As I walked up those last steps to the Chakkar deep in thought I was looking down at the steps as is important when walking mountain paths to make sure of where you are stepping. I didn't look up until I had taken the last step up onto the Chakkar. It hit me quite suddenly. I remember losing my breath and nearly falling backwards down the steps. After recovering it amazed me that what was before me was something that I had seen many times, yet still could have such an impact on me. There stretched out before me was the full panorama of Himalayan snow covered mountains. The clouds had completely dissipated during the day and the mountains were laid bare in all their glory. The snow peaks, some over 20,000 feet tall, are 40-60 miles away but their height jet up so far above the ranges before them they can suddenly can make you feel very small. I have never seen a photograph come close to truly capturing the grandeur of seeing them in person.
What truly amazed me was though I had seen this vista so many times that it still had the power to nearly knock me over backwards. As I took in this great vision, deep down I knew this wasn't something that was created by accident. I have never witnessed an artistic work that could elicit such a response and yet the artistry was more than evident. This was not the work of coincidence but is truly God's creative work.
Other Landour Adventures
Fall is the best time to visit Landour. Just after the monsoons and before winter cold hits the skies are usually the clearest. March is also a wonderful time as the days are usually filled with plenty of sun before the monsoons come, though the temperatures can still be a bit chilly.
Landour is an excellent base point to venture deeper into the Himalayan range. Roads traverse back deeper into the mountains from Landour but are not for the faint of heart. For the fit, trekking through the hills can be a thrill. Unfortunately the military has taken over the highest peak in Landour including my former home which had the best view of the whole area. But a trek or drive out to Sirikanda the next highest peak at around 8000 feet about 20 miles away has by far the most spectacular views.
The Mussoorie bazaar is fun to explore and gives you a wonderful taste of India at mountain community's pace. Being a resort town it caters to a wide variety of shoppers and tastes.