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When Tomorrow Dawns

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By GANESH SAILI

‘Uff! Another one has gone!’ gruffly exclaimed Auntie Sheila Bhate turning the pages of an old family album. I had caught up with her as she warmed herself in a patch of winter sunshine on a visit to her daughter Maya at the Parsonage.

When did this necrology of lost homes begin? When did we slip from being the Queen of Hills with old cottages to a place littered with the new matchbox style-flats?

In the late 1960s, Mussoorie’s economy nose-dived and old bungalows were cannibalised for their tin sheets, timber and stone. Dunsverick and Gutherie Lodge; Baroda House; Holly Mount; Wolfsburn and Cosy Nook… simply vanished. Old homes and hearths were ripped apart to make room for apartments. Were we short-sighted? Or were we blindsided by the deep pockets from the plains?

Twenty years down the road, following the troubles in the Punjab, we turned into a parking lot for black money, filling our waterways and selling them. Hotels mushroomed: Kenneth Lodge turned into Mahajan Villa; wisteria-wrapped Catherine Villa to Jas Apartments; Fairlawn Palace to pin-cushioned Kamal Towers; tin-roofed Heaven’s Club to a characterless concrete Shipra; brick-clad Madelsa House to a neither-here-nor-there Nunnery; Rock Cliffe to Avalon Resorts; and Sylverton Cottage gave birth to triplets.

Barlowganj’s Whytbank Castle sale in the 1980s sticks like a bookmark when an iconic building was sold. What followed was a free-for-all after Landour’s Sapling Estate was levelled and replaced by flats advertised as having ‘a view of a pine valley’. In actuality what you saw was the old cremation ground on the other hillside. With the genie escaping the lamp, from a one bicycle, one scooter and three car town we were inundated by the influx of hundreds of cars.

But slowly after much has been lost, the tide turns as youngsters, who in older days would be itching to leave Mussoorie, have begun to return homewards with fresh ideas, more in sync to handle the tourist overload.

Among the many who returned was Sanjay Narang, an old Woodstock alumnus, who gave Landour its identity by turning Rokeby Manor into a boutique hotel and created the iconic Bake House which, if one were to go by the crowds, is Landour’s revenge on Mussoorie’s Kempty Falls.

Elsewhere, you can meet third and fourth generation folks like Rajat Kapoor and Sunny Sahani, owners of the Tavern Restaurant, the Grand Imperial and Hotel Brentwood, who forge ahead given our tourist based economy. Past Picture Palace you will meet Tenzing and Lynette, childhood sweethearts whose Little Llama serves impeccable Naga cuisine, among other things.

Or take Sudhanshu of Kyarkuli village, who has come home from a stint in New Zealand to start Bulak Resort and a construction business. In the cantonment is Doma’s grandson Tashi, who runs the family owned Dolma’s. Along the Mall is By the Way Café run by Rajat above his grandfather’s old Das Photography Studio. On Mullingar hill is Paree’s Swaad Restaurant from which wafts the aroma of idli, dosa and sambhar. Of course there’s Pankaj Agarwal’s Dev Rasoi and Ashu Jain’s Jaberkhet which bring back the scent of Uttarakhand’s cuisine.

Six brothers of the Chamasari Dairy Farm deliver bottled milk at your doorstep. Char Dukan has Bipin’s TipTop Tea Shop, Surbir Kharola’s eatery, Kaku’s waffles and Anil’s Bun Omelettes. What do the four have in common? They are all young boys who’ve turned their backs on a life in the plains to hang on and keep the faith. In Library is gifted Ashish Goel, Ram Gopal’s son who takes Hotel Vishnu Palace to the next level. Ashish Sharma and Mohit Mittal, local boys both, came together to start Ivy Café, Glen and now a newer restaurant abutting Grover’s Teashop along Tehri Road. Rajat Agarwal of Prakash & Company came home to set up his own Chartered Accountancy firm. So has Ujwal Mehrotra, a skilled dentist, whose spanking new clinic ‘Smile’ in Summer House brings back many a smile.

I know they will all come up with solutions to pull us out of the mess. That is the way of hope as they resist the money-grabbing pythons that are establishing a stranglehold on our fragile ecosystem.

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.