By: Ganesh Saili
Who do you blame for starting a Chinese Whisper?
This chatter began after the publication of John Northam’s Guide to Masuri, Landaur, Dehra Dun, and the Hills North of Delhi (1884) which is our first guide. Subsequent writers continued to fall into the same trap by taking for granted that the Mussoorie story also began after the birth of Landour. Many books followed: Robert Hawthorne’s The Beacon Guide to Mussoorie (1890); Frederick Bodycott’s Guide to Mussoorie with Notes on Adjacent Districts & Routes (1902); Major F. Cook in the Souvenir and Guide to Mussoorie (1931) and with Charles Williams, who assumed the pseudonym of ‘The Rambler’ to write the Mussoorie Miscellany (1936). They all fell for the ruse. In hindsight, how one wishes Ruskin Bond and I had skirted the quagmire in 1992 while researching Mussoorie & Landour: Days of Wine and Roses. Small consolation that we were not the first, who had been successfully misguided by our guides.
No one can rob Captain Young of the well-deserved and hard-won kudos that are his, especially his pleas that convinced the East India Company to set up the Landour Convalescent Depot. He was its first Commandant. Mussoorie-Landour were never symbiotic Siamese twins. In F.O. Wells’ Land Settlement records of 1842 one finds: ‘On the frontier of Garhwal is a summit of the mountains rising above the valley on the north, surmounted by a small fort, now in ruins.’ Then in 1858, Edward Thornton’s Gazetteer notes: ‘The station was a lesser series of triangles of the trigonometrical survey of the Himalaya. Elevation above sea level 7,254 feet, latitude 30 degrees 28 minutes, longitude 78 degrees two minutes.’ When I went back with a GPS, it was my turn to be stunned. The coordinates matched exactly.
Scotsmen William Frazer, born in 1784, became a civil servant. His brother James Baille Frazer, drew those remarkable sketches of Garhwal made on his treks from Dudhli to Yamnotri-Gangotri to return via Sua Kholi with impressions recorded in his book ‘The Himala Mountains and to the Sources of Jumna and Ganga.’ Post ratification of the Treaty of Singhauli on March 4, 1816, he rode from Sela Qui via Hope Town and built Garh Dudhli on a spur off Bhadraj, on ‘the very frontier of the Rajah of Tehri’s territory.’ Chasskhet and his house were the first sale deeds registered in the area. Before moving to Delhi, he sold his property to McGregor, who planned to start a farm and sell the produce in Hopetown. But it was not to be for there was little water. Others thought it would make the perfect educational hub next to the Mussoorie Seminary, our first English medium school in Lyndale. But what proved to be the last nail in the proverbial coffin was that the roadhead had already reached the Library.
William Frazer fought alongside Capt. Young in Kalinga where he was wounded twice and recovered. Destiny knocked in 1828 with his appointment as the Resident of Delhi. But Frazer’s story does not end here, for turning ‘White Mughal,’ he dressed and behaved like a Nawab, married Indian women, and built a house with a swimming pool, not too far from the spot where he was assassinated by a hired hand on 22nd March 1835. A distraught, James Skinner had his body exhumed and reburied in St James Church at Kashmiri Gate. A year later he wrote: ‘I have neither the heart nor the mind to relate the melancholy event. In him, I have lost the best friend I ever had in this world, and my friendship with this world ends with him. I only wish I were lying with him.’
I believe Mussoorie began post-the Singhauli Treaty and the early pioneers flocked here. This is where Edmund Swetenham built Cloud End; this is where Proby Cautley lived in Dumbarnie and met his next-door neighbour Hugh Falconer in Logie Estate, and together they discovered the famous Siwalik fossils, including hippopotami, giraffe and wooly mammoths. And this is where Sir George Everest brought the Great Arc of the Meridian to its logical conclusion.
And this is where Mussoorie struck roots!
Ganesh Saili was born and home-grown in the hills. He belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their pictures. Author of two dozen books; some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition worldwide.