It is one of those childhood winter vacations with my family which I still cherish till this day and is still fresh in memory. A weeklong trip was planned to Mussoorie by my daddy dear at the time when I was due to appear for school’s annual half-yearly exams.

Since all the bookings for the trip was done prior to announcement of the exams date, I was left with no option but to embark on this trip, much to the dismay of the elders in the family who were concerned that me missing out the mid-year exams would lower the grades in the final results, unlike my father who didn’t want me to be confined to books and academics only.

This trip happened in the month of November in the year 1995, I remember getting myself excused from the Vice-Principal with a formal letter and getting busy shopping and packing woollens for the trip while my school friends were gearing up for the exams ahead.

The colorful Mall

This very truant trip commenced with a day’s stopover at Delhi, from where we boarded the Mussoorie Express at night, which happens to be one of the finest train journey which I experience in this lifetime till now. We got out ourselves a deluxe coupe, a private cabin with four sleeper bunks, with enough leg space and slide door having adequate privacy and comfort, pretty much unlike ordinary sleeper cars. And I was delighted to have a cabin to ourselves, me, brother, mom and dad, while rest of the folks travelling with us occupied the successive cabins in the same bogie. On reaching Dehradun station next morning, we came across the then Bollywood actor Tom Alter who disembarked from the same train and was on his way to his home town Mussoorie.

What followed after this comfortable train journey, was a rough uphill ride to the hotel, situated at one of the highest points in Mussoorie. Being kids, me and my brother were dizzy and nauseated as the car moved up through narrow, winding hilly roads. Each time we saw a hotel approaching we hoped that it be the end of the treacherous ride, but it wasn’t. The ride continued till we reached a white washed hotel, standing atop the hill, with a signage which read ‘Hotel Samrat’, chosen by my adventurous father for our stay, particularly for the views if offered and its proximity to the mall.

The majestic hills of Mussoorie

Yes, the view from the hotel was indeed breathtaking! You could see the endless vistas of the plains below, the surrounding hills covered in green and of course the azure blue sky. Unlike the rain soaked hill stations in the eastern India, Mussoorie enjoys clear weather allowing to you to bask in the winter sun without dampening your spirits with rain and the panoramic views of the surrounding landscapes without any cloud cover.

Each morning at the hotel balcony we were greeted by the bright sunshine and soothing mountain breeze and at night it was a bedazzling experience as the city lights of Dehradun shimmered like jewels amidst the looming darkness of the hills.

The shimmering lights of Dehradun as seen from Mussoorie

Besides marvelling at nature’s beauty, there are fascinating sights and places to explore at this quiet and pristine hill station. Mussoorie has a charming mall dotted with inviting woollen stores lined with colourful knittens and handmade shawls and cozy restaurants serving hot soups, sizzlers and tandoors. It was at one of these restaurants where I had my first tryst with sizzler and it was heavenly.

For more lavish lunch we went to Hotel Savoy, a heritage hotel founded by an Irish barrister, comprising a vast property, complete with beer garden, tennis lawn and vast dining halls.

Hotel Savoy, the iconic hotel of the Raj Era

The lunch hall was equally grand with colonial decor, antique furniture and upholsteries, chandeliers, mirrors and a grand piano. In such setting, we enjoyed a typical British lunch of lamb stew, duck roast, bread and generous servings of puddings. Though it was a vast property, but there was no occupancy then, the vast empty hallways, the noisy wooden floors, the echoing high ceilings and low lights and lawn strewn with dried leaves somewhat gave us a eerie feeling. We left the place before sundown.

For livelier outdoor experience we headed to the Gunhills in a ropeway for the scenic views of the Himalayan range, including Mount Everest. A row of telescopes were lined up here for visitors to enjoy the view at a closer range.

Ropeway ride to Gunhill

With help of the local guide, we spotted the important peaks of the Himalayan range through the telescope. Besides exploration the mountains in the distance, there were photo opportunities at this spot as well in those days. There were mobile studios, which helped us dress in the traditional attires and pose against the dramatic background.

Further down the hills there was another natural wonder to explore, the Kempty Falls. The sound of gushing waters and the cool feeling of the crystal clear water will soothe your soul. The water here is not too deep, you can easily take a dip or immerse your feet in the water for relaxation.

The cascading waters of Kempty Falls

Each day’s expedition at Mussourie ended with a dinner at a small cozy dhaba near our hotel, since our hotel didn’t serve dinner beyond 7:30 pm. The specialty of the dhaba was freshly cooked tandoori roti and chicken served over the counter. Yes they had a live kitchen counter, and we watched the chef flip the freshly rolled dough into the air to get the perfect shape and thickness before he flipped in the oven. While he did this he looked like a juggler and made process of roti making look like an art and we watched with total amazement each night.

Mussoorie still remains in my memory as the picturesque hill station with a colonial charm.

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Image credits: Tour My India,,,,,