By: Ganesh Saili
A solitary camphor tree, that normally thrives in the Western Ghats, flourishing in Mussoorie sets me wondering. What is it doing so far away from home? How did it get to the grounds of the old Charleville Hotel? That thought stole upon me as I waited for my charges to arrive to my photography classes on the lawns of the Lal Bahadur Shastri Academy of Administration. One glance at its shimmering leaves takes me back to a time, more than a century ago, when someone carried it as a sapling from the Botanical Gardens in Saharanpur and brought it all the way here.
Ah! If only trees could speak, it would tell you of a devastating fire in 1984 that reduced the main building to cinders, leaving it, the tree, severely singed. Or maybe it could tell you of the plaque that perished below the tree that Rudyard Kipling had planted? That strapping conifer looms large outside Henry Wutzler’s office. And pray who was he? He was the German-born manager whom the Nobel laureate mentions in that 1888 visit:
‘And there were men with a thousand wants
And women with babes galore –
But the dear little angels in Heaven know
That Wutzler never swore.’
In a hill station starved for space, no one has the time or inclination to celebrate our three especial deodar trees. If you are wondering ‘what’s so great about them?’ Well! They are lyre-trees shaped like the Greek stringed musical instrument that lends them its name. Two of them thrive on the grounds of Maddock’s School above the Library area and you will find another in Landour’s Fairview looking out at the immensity of the Himalayan ranges. Should you leave them be, as in the Castle Hill Estate, these Trees of God can grow tall, rearing their heads over a hundred and ninety feet in the sky.
Our only long-leafed pine lyre-tree held its own behind the courtyard of Woodstock near the Principal’s Office, until the time some ten years ago, when a few men in their combined wisdom decided to pour concrete all around the tree for a shaded sit-out in the Quad. Predictably the tree, denied sustenance, perished. Left behind are memories in the pale yellow outlines of the Woodstock School badges.
The first English royal who came up here was His Royal Highness Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh, in 1870, while on an official tour of India for two months, but his visit here lasted just one day. You will find no mention of it in any of the old records, but he planted a memorial deodar tree in the Landour Cemetery. The plaque is still there. It simply states: ‘Planted by HRH Duke of Edinburgh, February 1870.’ Perhaps it’s one of the few instances when words inscribed on metal have triumphed over the written word.
Later, during her royal visit in March 1906, Her Royal Highness, the Princess of Wales (later Queen Mary) arrived here to stay at the Charleville for three days.
Old records tell us that on March 2nd she arrived in Dehradun and was carried in a dandy – our equivalent of a sedan chair – ‘to Mussoorie, the loveliest hill station in the North. There was a foot of snow on the roads rendering them impassable and a path was cleared to the cemetery where the tree earlier planted by the Duke of Edinburgh was also seen to be flourishing.’ To mark the occasion of her visit, she planted a deodar on the grounds of Christ Church where the plaque is almost embedded into the tree now and says: ‘This tree was planted by HRH the Princess of Wales on Sunday March 4th 1906 after attending morning service at Christ Church.’
However, a sudden cholera outbreak led to her programme being cancelled and she was whisked away to safety in the plains and sailed home from Karachi. Many believe that it was she who planted that camphor sapling on the edges of the tennis courts at the Charleville.
Maybe a befitting tribute would be to put the plaques back to their rightful places again.
Ganesh Saili, born and home-grown in the hills, belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books, some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.
(Ganesh Saili, born and home-grown in the hills, belongs to those select few whose words are illustrated by their own pictures. Author of two dozen books, some translated into twenty languages, his work has found recognition world-wide.)