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CAKES AND ALE – NOT JUST YET!

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Other angrezes had climbed to Bhadraj in 1813, and the names of those early botanists are found chiselled into the Surveyor’s Stone. There are JSB or John Stuart Boldero, then Joint Magistrate of Saharanpur; WLG William Linnaeus Gardner and John Anthony Hodgson and Lady Hood, wife of Admiral Sir Samuel Hood, a British Naval Officer commanding the 1st British East Indies Naval Fleet.

  By: GANESH SAILI 

Gentle reader, you will have to forgive me my nonsense just as I forgive them that think they talk sense. Who on earth has a birthday party just because you happen to have a cake? Hang in there. A bit more restraint is the call of the hour.

How well I know morning or evening – be it a funeral or a celebration – there’s something to be made – even if it be a lick of the humble aloo-poori. With the bravado of the truly ignorant, around me I see a clamour mounting to celebrate two hundred years of the hill station’s being there.

The male White-crested Khaleej Pheasant courtesy Sanjay Agarwal

Luckily, thus far, I have got away from the crush of it all, in the handiest possible way, by the simply ignoring it. But in our times, I know data is King, and so I burrow deep into my history books.

‘A place like Masuri has no separate history in the strict sense of the term,’ warns the earliest guide book, and tells us: ‘If it has a history at all, it consists in the rise and progress of stone and mortar.’

The female Khaleej Pheasant courtesy Sanjay Agarwal

“It is a clever old range,” said Lady Eden, the sister of the governor-general as she travelled up to Landour, then in its infancy, “to have kept itself so clean and white for 5,000 years.” Local materials like stone, bajri, limestone and timber, were put to use by a young Irish officer, Captain Frederick Young (1786-1874), who had scampered up here in pursuit of Khaleej pheasants and other game. In 1823, he built a shooting-box or a small hut further out from Mussoorie.

Two years later, he built himself a summer palace on the same site. In Mullingar, he planted the first seed of a settlement that was called Landour. Young must have been something else, he was a one-man show: a self-styled judge, magistrate, collector, dacoit hunter, land surveyor, and above all a very generous host. His daughter recounts that Sir Charles Metcalf, newly appointed to Calcutta’s supreme council, stayed there in 1827, as did the commander-in-chief of the army, Stapleton Cotton and the Viscount Combermere. Young lobbied to make the place a site for the great experiment: the first high-altitude medical cantonment and met success.

By December, an order arrived sanctioning the establishment of an experimental convalescent Depot in ‘the Hills bordering on the Deyrah Dhoon, to which European soldiers may be sent for a change of climate during the hot season.’

To make it work, Meerut’s barrack master, Captain R. MacMullin, was charged with constructing the first set of buildings along the crest of Landour’s slender ridge line to accommodate one hundred European soldiers. Over the next four months, he shuttled on horseback between Meerut and Landour through the winter months. In freezing conditions, skilled craftsmen from Meerut, accomplished their task. By March 1828 the sanatorium flung open its doors, ready to accept its first batch of patients.

Of course there are other sites that clamours for attention as an early settlement. My favourite lies east of Woodstock on the hillock of Pari Tibba. And it is no mean contender and was, in all probability, the site of another early attempt. Access would have been goat tracks, there being no roads to this part of the hill station. I remember old timers like Col. Powell or Langra Powell – as we so unkindly called him – of Seven Oaks, who would tell us of twinkling lights atop the hill on moonlit nights. But we thought he was just trying to frighten us. Fact is it attracted bolts of fork lightning that give the place a charred look with the matching name of Burnt Hill.

But no tell-tale stone or mortar remains, that like much else – those reminders of our history have been cannibalized. If you look on the eastern face, you will discover the traces of terraced fields, no more than mere dimples on the the ground. And to those eager to pop the champagne or swill the bubbly to mark the two hundred years of our existence, I am afraid, there are three more years to go before you get to the cakes and ale.