By: Ganesh Saili
Going past the ugly pink swimming pool tile finish Clock Tower, I felt that it looked more like a crematorium chimney than a teller of Time. Our old Clock Tower built by Ugrasen Verma, a contractor in 1938-1939, had aged and had had to be pulled down. Think of Ugrasen and your mind will visualize an old man saying his prayers, doors ajar early in the morning opposite the gurgling springs of Bawri. Some two hundred odd shops line Landour bazaar teeming with businessmen of all kinds: petty dealers in fruit and vegetables, grain merchants, traders and merchants of all shapes and sizes, and cloth merchants, and full of wheeler-dealers and antique dealers. Long ago this used to be the best supplied bazaar in India; the larger dealers were direct importers from the European manufacturers and one could get almost anything here.
On my way to school, I would often stop to pick up some bull’s-eye toffees from shawl-wrapped Lala Kirorimal. He was generous to a fault, always giving away far more sweets than I could afford to buy.
‘Share them with your friends!’ he’d say, patting my head. To this day I find it difficult to go past Ram Chander & Sons without dropping by.
Barely a few steps away are the iron grill gates of the Castle Hill Estate. Replacing the old yellow-on-black ‘Trespassers Will Be Prosecuted’ boards are the modern ‘Beware! You are under CCTV surveillance!’ But they serve their purpose by putting off any would-be visitor from the lovely walks that lie hidden inside: a circular road level with the gate wraps itself around the property and if memory serves me right, there was another road running parallel to it a little below forming a lower circular road. Just as well they have slammed the gates shut! Going by the kind of tourist coming to the hill station nowadays, they would shatter the peace and quiet, scattering beer bottles and plastic-bags in this Garden of Eden.
Peer through the canopy of trees to find at the bottom of this 182 acre estate a flat with a heap of stones. These are the only reminders that this was once a home to Marshal and his brother Tito – named after Yugoslavian President Marshal Tito by their father, who was the caretaker of the All Saints’ Church. That was pulled down in 1948 when the congregation petered away. Though the family continued to occupy the annexe.
I remember Tito. He was short, stubby, built like a tank – rough and ready – the Enforcer of Discipline at the Camel’s Back Skating Rink or the Ram Leela performances on Sylverton’s sprawling grounds. Fate intervened, striking him down with an unexplained illness. It is rumoured that his pursuit of a pretty girl from one of our better-known ones did not go down too well and his rivals conspired in spiking his midnight snack. Remember, Mussoorie was still a small place in those days and this case, like many earlier ones, was easily hushed up. Soon, it was forgotten.
Castle Hill Estate began with two houses: Woodcroft and Greenmount built by an Indian master mariner George Bayden Taylor in the 1830s. Later, Frederick E. Wilson also known or Pahari Wilson bought the place but a bank crash led to litigation and he had to hand over the property to Henry Vansittart, the Superintendent of the Doon. Wilson’s timber business restricted him to the Bhagirathi valley and soon after Vansittart came into possession of Castle Hill Estate for ‘a mere song.’
Records have it that in the 1850s, the government purchased the estate, renovated and restored it as a summer residence for Maharaja Duleep Singh, the son of Maharaja Ranjit Singh of the Lahore Durbar. He spent two happy summers here in 1852 and 1853. Afterwards, the property was variously owned by private persons till 1908 when the Survey of India took over. Given fifty years of immunity from the depredations commonplace in a station that is bursting at the seams, it towers with deodar trees.
Castle Hill Estate is a stark reminder of the way we once were.
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.