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May 25, 2012

Ruskin Bond, the Queen of the Hills and few Experiences

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How often does someone get a chance to hang out with a king and a queen together? How often someone  spends few days in a grand palace in the cusp of enchanting hills? Well, it did happen to me when my wife came home from office one day and told me that we should take a trip to Mussoorie, the beautiful hill-station in Uttarakhand, India. Thrilled as I was, I readily booked the flight tickets to Dehradun, as Mussoorie doesn’t have an airport. It’s about 30 kms from Dehradun and 60 kms from Dehradun airport.

The journey in the Kingfisher flight was little tiresome as there was a halt in Delhi for about 5 hrs. Instead of hanging in the Delhi airport, we took off to the DLF Promenade mall in Vasant Kunj, had lunch and walked to the DLF Emporio mall near by. Surprisingly apart from the regular consumerism driven products we also came upon many beautiful paintings on display. Having feasted our tummies and eyes we went back to the airport to catch the next flight.

Mussoorie

We reached Jolly Grant Airport in Dehradun at about 8PM. Now we had to take a taxi to Mussoorie which would approximately take 2 hrs. I anticipated in booking an Ambassador car which is considered as a definitive Indian car and is fondly called “The king of Indian roads”. The journey up the hills was fun as the driver tried to use every muscle in his right leg to push the accelerator. There were numerous hair-pin turns and I could read everywhere “speed thrills but kills”. And many a times I offered my prayers to different gods and goddesses (this time I seriously didn’t consider the Kingfisher girls as goddesses).

Ultimately we reached Mussoorie and took a turn in the Mall road towards our hotel “Garhwal Terrace”. Though the stay in the government hotel was uneventful, I liked the people and the spacious room. What we disliked most were the hard blankets.

First two days we went around the city and visited the commonly accepted tourist spots like the Company flower garden, Kempty falls, Jawahar Aquarium near the cable-car station etc. We went around walking in the hills and had momos. Also played few roadside games. We were happy to take the ropeway down the Kempty falls and enjoyed boating on the beautiful lake below the fall.

Jim Ankan & Ruskin Bond

Our objective of the trip however was to meet “the King” of Mussoorie, writer Ruskin Bond. Ruskin Bond is an Indian author of British descent. He is presently staying in a place called Landour near Mussoorie with his extended family. It was his 78th birthday on May 19, 2012. And we were planning to gift him an Assamese ‘gamocha’ along with few other gifts. But it seemed he was very busy and it was quite difficult for us to reach him over the phone. Ultimately, after like ten calls, he gave us an appointment and both me and my wife were shouting with joy.

We can never forget the day we stood in front of this great prolific writer. Both me and my wife are huge fans of Mr. Bond. It’s very rare that a person gets a chance to meet his childhood idol in his lifetime, if that idol is a celebrity like Ruskin Bond. He has written hundreds of stories and novels and most of the Indian people are well acquainted with his books.

The meet was short but impactful. We talked about different things. When he came to know that I run a music school, he seemed quite happy and he mentioned that he always wanted to learn the piano. He also said that if time permits, he would love to take a few lessons in the future. We asked him to sign few of his books and he lovingly signed them by confessing that none of his ghost stories are actually true.

Mussoorie

The spellbinding hills of Mussoorie (also known as Queen of the hills) will attract anyone strongly. The place is beautifully set amongst forests of Pine and Oak trees. Though we had a plan of staying three days in Mussoorie and one day in Dehradun, we ended up staying for all four days in Mussoorie. The second day, as we climbed one of the hills, we came across a big house like palace. We went in and came to know that it was the Kasmanda Palace.

Kasmanda Palace is one of the oldest buildings of Mussoorie built in 1836 by Captain Rennie Tailour of the Bengal Engineers. It afterwards became a sanatarium for the British forces. In 1915, the palace became the summer retreat of the royal family of Kasmanda of Sitapur District. Now, the Kasmanda Palace is a royal Himalayan resort.

Kasmanda Palace, Mussoorie

The building of Kasmanda palace was built in the Anglow-French style overlooking a gallant view of the Doon Valley. We were given a royal suite for two nights and we found out after entering our room that the air of gracious elegance was still remained. The palace was quiet and it had lots of trees around. The service was resplendent. Wherever we looked, there were friendly faces. The food was both traditional and cosmopolitan. We ended up having a jolly time in the Kasmanda Palace.

Kempty Falls, Mussoorie

This time, the flight back to Bangalore was full of events. We already had a booking at the Kingfisher flights. The flight was via Delhi again but Dehradun to Delhi flight got delayed by two hrs. For just five minutes, we missed the Delhi to Bangalore flight. There was one more girl with us and all three of us got stuck in Delhi. Luckily we met a Kingfisher official named Fahmeen who arranged for our stay in a small hotel in Delhi and booked three tickets in the early morning flight next day. So another day in old Delhi and we were back to our pavilion the next day.

There were times when we lost our luggage and had to face few awkward people in Delhi, but the presence of Mussoorie in our minds cleansed all our worries and evil thoughts. Looking forward to visit the Queen, the King and the Palace one fine day again.


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