17

May, 2018

Travelogue

Wanderlust

Ruskin Bond

A Writers Journey…Destination Landour

It’s been months since I’ve wanted to take a writing break for a weekend and head to the hills, cosy up in a beautiful old cottage and write out the novel of my dreams. There was a story about a boy and his dog that was shaping up in my mind and I felt that I needed to give it some dedicated time for it to come to life. I figured out mid-May as the perfect time to take that break. So while the dates were locked, the bigger challenge was to find the perfect place. It had always been a childhood dream to meet Ruskin Bond, the writer, and I knew that he stayed in Landour. I also knew through Google that he met his fans every Saturday evening in Cambridge Book Depot, a quaint bookstore located at the Mall Road in Mussoorie. That had me there! Destination Landour it was.

Where to stay in Landour was another challenge. I had always heard of Rokeby Manor and Marriott Walnut Grove as two beautiful properties in the vicinity. But they were pretty much luxurious for the kind of break that I was taking. I needed a place that was warm, quaint and could inspire a lazy writer to pen down some words at least (performance pressure was sky high). I happened to come across “La Villa Bethany”, a heritage homestay in Landour run by a lovely couple Sunita and Amarjeet Kudle. Their profile said that they had tons of experience working in large premium hotels and the photos of the place convinced me that this could be it. So without much ado, booking was done and words were packed 🙂

(Travel to Landour – Best to try and book the Jet direct flight, Mumbai-Dehradun, if you are flying from Mumbai. I booked SpiceJet on my return flight and was at the mercy of the Delhi storm. I am writing this sitting at the airport, waiting for my flight which is delayed by 4 hours and counting…)

Day 1 – Mumbai to Landour.

The flight was pretty uneventful and landed in Dehradun on time. I was picked up by the driver sent for me by Sunita and we were on our way. It takes about 3.5 hours to reach Landour from Dehradun including a stopover for lunch. I wanted to eat at a local dhaba so my driver stopped at Mukhiya’s, a nice dhaba on the Mussoorie highway. If you stop there please have the ‘chicken kaali meeri’ with parathas. This was one helluva finger-licking meal.
Time for a quick nap now 🙂

(Insert the dish pic here)

Landour is 1000 feet above Mussoorie and one needs to pass through it to reach there. I had visited Mussoorie as a kid some 30 years back with my parents and I have very fond memories of that trip. But the Mussoorie of today is far different from the one in my memories. I was surprised to notice that the ‘hill station’ is no longer quaint and beautiful.
Hectic construction activities haphazardly built cement houses and tons of trash strewn about everywhere, it looked like a slum area to me. I swear am not kidding. Thankfully our drive through it did not take more than 25 minutes and we drove up towards Landour. We passed by a beautiful house which had a red staircase leading up to the main door, my driver Balan told me it was THE Ruskin Bond’s house.

We reached La Villa Bethany to a very warm welcome by the staff (Sunita was in Dehra for some work) and the three resident Himalayan terriers, Pongo, Pepper and Pod! What a great start to the stay. I was shown to the ‘Bedell Suite’ a beautiful room with a balcony overlooking the valley. The homestay is a 100 years old property which the Kudles took over to run from the Church Mission about 8 years back. It’s their hard work and dedication that has turned this homestay into a beautiful place to stay and recharge yourself. Sipping a cup of chai and putting my feet up on the balcony, I tried to pump up the writer within me to come charging out and turn out words by the dozen. Dozen turned to doze off 🙂

The Kudles have a tradition of a communal dinner every night where all guests of the homestay enjoy their meal along with the owners. There were a few other couples staying there so the dinner conversation was quite interesting. And the food was marvellous. Simple, hot and hearty. Just what you want your food in the mountains to be…I was as satiated as could be and I decided to call it a day.

Day 2 – On the agenda – get some writing done and meet Mr Bond!

I wanted to park myself in a nice coffee shop and get those writing juices going. Sunita recommended that I walk up to “Sisters Bazaar”, a beautiful market which has all of 3 shops! Landour Bakehouse was located there and was the perfect place for me. It took me around 10 minutes to reach the place from LVB and the entire walk is along a cobbled road and surrounded by deodar trees. One look at the place and I knew that I was going to spend a lot of time there.

The place serves some amazing coffee and an assortment of beverages. It also has a rocking display of various cakes, muffins and crepes. (I stayed away from it all :-))
If you visit the place, do walk right in and take the seat by the window that overlooks the forest. If you are lucky enough to get it (like I was), I promise you that you will not leave it for hours. Two cups of coffee and some  ruminating over my thoughts later, I took out my laptop and my dog-eared copy of ‘Harry Potter and the philosopher’s Stone’ out (for inspiration. Jai Mata JK Rowling di) and did my shubharambh of putting down fingers to keyboard. The thoughts flew faster than the words, but it was all good.

It was nice sitting in the Bakehouse and watch the world go by and getting in some writing done in between. But it was time to leave for my date with Mr. Bond. The writer is a huge celebrity in this region and people throng to see him if they can. Every Saturday without fail Ruskin Bond visits the Cambridge Book Depot from 3:30-4:30 pm and obliges his fans by signing books. I decided to have my lunch at this Tibetan restaurant called “Kalsang” right next to the bookstore. The place serves lovely Tibetan food and I decided to have their famous ‘thukpa’ for lunch. This visit was made better by a chance meeting with an old friend of mine, Rajit Desai, who was there with his family on vacation. His two beautiful daughters were as excited as me to meet Mr. Bond so we had a nice conversation discussing his books and Harry Potter trivia!

At 3 pm we got in the queue and awaited his arrival. I must congratulate the staff at Cambridge Book depot who do a great job of managing the queue and ensuring order. It’s thanks to them that the queue progresses like clockwork and everyone got to meet Ruskin Bond. At 85 years of age, his patience towards meeting his fans is commendable and he obliged everyone with book signings and pictures. I managed to get my entire collection signed by him and I was as pleased as punch. Thanks to Rajit, I also have great pictures of the same as an everlasting memory 🙂

After having a cup of coffee with Rajit and his family, we went our separate ways. I came back to my hotel and read for a bit in my room before dinner was announced. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to the day. I have grown up reading Ruskin Bond’s books and meeting him was a childhood dream. It was a HUGE tick mark on my bucket list 🙂

Day 3 – A local massage and some walking around the place

If you happen to stay at La Villa Bethany, so request Sunita to call in Sajid Bhai to the room. He gives a great massage using ‘sarson’ ka oil and some other local oils made of natural relaxants. I enjoyed a great head and shoulder massage, sitting in my balcony and after a relaxing hot water bath was on my way to the Landour Bakehouse. I got some serious amounts of writing done today and was mighty pleased with the effort. When you sit down to write one realizes that having the plot outlined in the mind is one thing and putting it down on paper (screen) is another thing only. But one learns every day and I silently applauded all the writers whose books I have enjoyed. It’s a difficult job and kudos to them to have managed to get published over and over again. After spending the better part of the
morning at the Bakehouse I decided to take a break and go out to explore the place. I decided to walk to the Landour Cemetery, which has graves dating back to the 19th century, some of them over 200 years old. I reached the 120 years old and beautiful Kellogg Memorial Church and was asking around for directions to the cemetery when I met two
lovely ladies. We happened to chat for a bit and on introductions, I discovered that the lady was Bhavna Panday (Chunky Panday’s wife) and her daughter was Ananya Pandya who was shooting for her movie “Student of the year 2” in Dehradun. We chatted for a bit and wishing the young debutante’ good luck, I went on my way seeking out the dead lying peacefully in their graves.

It’s quite a beautiful walk to the cemetery, do not miss it. Lined with deodar trees, the path offers fantastic views of Mussoorie town and time does stand still…It’s you with you for company…
For lunch, I walked over to Rokeby Manor which is right next to the Kellogg church. It’s a fantastic property with lots of old world charm to it. They have a restaurant “Emily” that serves great continental food and decided to have the “Naanza” which was highly recommended by their steward, Deepak. A pizza made with a naan as the base, it is yummy and I highly recommend it. I had the pepperoni one and it was delicious! (I had two of ‘em
)

I read for a bit while eating my lunch and then walked back to my room. La Villa Bethany is located very conveniently right in the centre of Landour and one is never too far off from any of the places you go to. Had my dinner in the communal hall and went to sleep. Day 3 was super good!

Day 4 – My Last day here and time to go

Today morning Sajid-bhai was summoned yet again and after a fabulous full body massage, I was all set to make the most of my last day in Landour. Today my workstation was going to be a “dukaan” in “Char Dukaan” an iconic place in Landour. It’s called Chaar Dukaan since it has only four shops there for decades. And because it’s a cantonment area, there is no permission to build any more. So for all practical purposes, it will be ‘Chaar Dukaan’ for many more decades too. These shops serve everything from Maggi to Pancakes to Omelettes and are the perfect place to sit back and relax (in my case, write!) I plonked myself in one of the shops (that’s the one under the No Parking sign) and got some more writing done. I finished Chapter One today in the company of some delicious Cheesy Maggi and was happy at my achievement. I truly felt that my book was finally underway and could become a reality soon. After spending my morning there, I had lunch yet again at Rokeby (their restaurant is really good) and returned to my room to get my packing done.

It was time to say goodbye and I could not leave without saying my byes to Pongo, Pepper and Pod. I had a fantastic stay at La Villa Bethany and must applaud the efforts of the Kudles who have put their hearts into running this place and making their guests feel welcome.
They also provide massive support to the locals through employment and the commerce that comes with the guests who stay here. They do all of this keeping conservation at the forefront. By the way, if you are also a bookworm like me, you will love their library 🙂

I left for the airport but I know that I am going to come back. La Villa Bethany is like that. You can never really leave 🙂