We, the Citizens
By Hugh & Colleen Gantzer
Mussoorie’s Mall reflects the character of our little town. It evolved as our hill-station did and deserves a tourist brochure of its own. But since our netas have neither the will nor the imagination to create one, we have done it. Here is our tribute to our 2,000 metre-high Home in the Himalayas, and its Mall.
The Mall highlights the greatest asset of Mussoorie: its horizon-wide views of the great Valley of the Doon, stretching in an east-south-west arc below. Mussoorie is enthroned like a monarch over the dominions spreading at her feet. She is also called the Queen of the Hills because of her intellectual stature. The cultural life of other hill stations might have started with a theatre, or a church, but ours started with a library. The Mussoorie Library building dominates, with its regal glazing and cast-iron pillars, honouring the trend set by the Crystal Palace, London
The first floor of this iconic building holds a treasure trove of intellectual fare; its ground floor caters to more down-to-earth needs. A Kumar is a chemist with a bakery offering mouth-melting chocolate cakes, veg patties and a greatly evolved version of the traditional ‘dunkin’ donuts. These goodies will fortify you against the initial chill of Muss but for greater physical protection, walk to the end of the veranda and into Milki Ram and Sons. They have ready-mades but they also have swift-fingered tailors who create bandhgallahs for IAS trainees in three days! Alternatively, across the road, is Prakash Brothers for jackets and shawls and similar comforting wear. A few paces down from there is Laxmi Misthan Bhandar. Their bread pakoras and samosas are reputed. A little further down our Library Bazaar is Uphar veg restaurant. When we tasted their dosas we recalled those of Ernakulam’s Woodlands and we drool over their Punjabi Paneer Butter Masala.
Suitably fortified, stroll eastwards down the Mall. After a while the northern-facing Camel’s Back Road branches off on the left. Walking on you’ll encounter our Rock Lion. It’s a photo-op, nothing more. Above the lion is a short, steep, road that leads to the historic Christ Church. If it is open you can see some excellent stained-glass windows. Otherwise, there’s a large deodhar tree in a protective fence. It was planted by the present Queen of England’s grandmother when she visited Mussoorie in days of the Raj.
Back down on the Mall, still walking eastwards, you will pass Shawfield Road on your right. When His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled from Tibet, his cheerful, law-abiding, followers were then officially permitted by the City Board to set up their temporary stalls on this road and it was widened for them. They are still there, except when the weather gets bad. (If you return here at sunset in Winter, you will see our greatest light show – The Winter Line.)
The next point of importance on your walk is the lower terminal station of our Gun Hill Cable Car. The trip gives a great birds-eye view of Mussoorie and of the higher Himalayan snow-covered peaks, including Nanda Devi.
On descending to the Mall, take the lower Mall, leaving the Allahabad Bank to your left; climb up with the State Bank to your right; stop at the Cambridge Book Depot facing the bank. They have a great selection of the books by Mussoorie’s incredible range of local authors, and are very welcoming. Further down the road is the arch that leads to Hamers, our one-stop-shop with a special selection for school kids.
You are now in Kulri and when you ascend the Kulri slope you reach our favourite Tibetan restaurant: Mo-Mos Tibetan Kitchen. Our preferred dishes are Chicken-Cheese Fried MoMos, Szehwan Fried Rice Veg, Lemon Chicken Sauce.
When you step out you are at the head of a natural, wind-scooping funnel: Breezy Corner. From here, the Mall descends, through the old Kulri Bazaar, and then moves to the right.
You are now near the end of your stroll. The Mall ceases at the old Electric Picture Palace, to give it its formal name. On the other side of the Mall is an extremely creative restaurant: Cafe de Tavern. We will write about its excellent cuisine in our next column.
(Hugh & Colleen Gantzer hold the National Lifetime
Achievement Award for Tourism among other National and International awards. Their credits include over 52 half-hour documentaries on national TV under their joint names, 26 published books in 6 genres, and over 1,500 first-person articles, about every Indian state, UT and
34 other countries. Hugh was a Commander in the Indian Navy and the Judge Advocate, Southern Naval Command. Colleen is the only travel writer who is a member of the Travel Agents Association of India.)