Last weekend, a group of friends and I headed to the hills.
Our destination, Mussoorie. A picture-postcard town sitting quietly in the foothills of the Garhwal-Himalayan ranges in North India…
Having memorably spent many childhood summers in this quaint hill station (once a favourite of the Indian royalty too), I was gripped with nostalgia and giddy excitement in equal measure, especially as this was my first time visiting in the snowy winter months.
There’s an enchanting allure to Mussoorie during this time, not least as it is one of just a few places in the world where you can experience the radiance of a winterline – a clean line in the sky spotted when the sun rises or sets between mid-October to January.
Our road-trip over from the Dehradun Airport (having flown in directly from Mumbai) was a scenic one, filled with winding turns, earthy greens, a changing skyline… and a pitstop for Maggie noodles along the way (it’s something a staple in this neck of the woods)!
A few short hours later, we arrived at the JW Marriott Walnut Grove Resort – a sprawling destination in its own right with plenty to keep us occupied, from kachdi sessions on the lawns to the all-encompassing games den (complete with a bowling alley!) and Cedar Spa by L’Occitane… But more on this later.
Over the course of three nights and two days, we set out to make the most of all the Queen of Hills offered us.
And while I could now write an essay waxing poetic about the quiet – yet incandescent – beauty of our surrounds, perhaps that’s something you’d like to experience for yourselves if you visit.
So here’s sharing the main highlights instead, with my top picks for things to do, see and of course eat, when you do!
Embrace the outdoors
I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not the most outdoorsy person… but embarking on a short morning trek with our hotel guide was an experience I’ll always treasure, the spellbinding views of the Himalayas forever etched in my memory.
We started with a hike up to the pine forests, followed by a trail down towards the landmark Kempty Fall. On the way we foraged impossibly-zesty lemons, stumbled upon a makeshift hydro-powered wheat mill, interacted with the local village leader, stopped for several selfies (#Millenials) and had a mini-picnic by the stream, refuelling with the fresh fruits and nuts which the hotel had packed for us!
Of course if you can muster the energy, other more challenging routes are also an option – such as a trek to the nearby Happy Valley which sheltered the Dalai Lama when he escaped from Tibet in 1959, becoming the first Tibetan settlement in India (even before Dharamsala). The area is still home to around five thousand Tibetans, with the Shedup Choepelling Buddisht temple reflecting their peaceful culture!
An afternoon charmingly well spent in Landour
For a more leisurely stroll, spend a picturesque afternoon among the deodars and rhododendrons characteristic of Landour, an adjoining town around 6km away from Mussoorie.
The colonial-era cantonment was named after a village in Southwest Wales (Llanddowror), imbibing Scottish influences as well – the names of many homes here were inspired by the novels of Sir Walter Scott, such as Rokeby Manor which was built back in 1840.
The rustic landmark has housed many over the years, from a British soldier to the Methodist Episcopal Church, at one point even boarding missionary ladies studying Urdu and Hindi! It’s now a boutique hotel, extending to several Tudor-style cottages nearby.
It was an afternoon charmingly (and rather scrumptiously) well spent within Rokeby’s stone walls, tucking into comfort food classics at Emily’s (the hotel’s main restaurant), whilst we tried not to get too giddy-headed at the sight of legendary cricketer, Sachin Tendulkar, lunching across the room from us!
This right here is the best chilli cheese toast life could possibly have to offer… indulgently rich melted (Amul!) cheese on a thick and fluffy slice of white bread, flecked with little green chillies. It's the epitome of comfort food in this chilly weather! We're here at Emily's in Rokeby Manor, Landour, for lunch – such a cosy and picturesque setting! #EatWellTravelOften #MussoorieDiaries
Tea and all manners of sweet treats were later had at the cosy Landour Bakehouse.
We loved the vintage European feel to this nearby cafe (also run by Rokeby Manor), which quite literally offered us a bite of the past with recipes from the Landour Cookbook. Curated by one of the town’s eminent residents, Ruskin Bond, these recipes were originally written by the sisters, nuns and other residents of Landour under the British Raj.
From the town’s historic churches to the local shops and cafes (Char Dukaan and Prakash Stores are a few for the list), there was much else to explore too… And so we lazily ambled around the hillside afterwards, finding our way down to the colourful Doma’s Inn, situated right next door to the home of Ruskin Bond himself!
A Meander down Mall Road
But in case you’re too shy to knock on Mr. Bond’s unmissable pink door, you can always catch a glimpse of the literary great at the Cambridge Book Store, where he often makes weekend appearances for live readings.
The store is one of the many institutions lining Mussoorie’s Mall Road, which stretches expansively from Mussoorie Library in the West, all the way to the iconic Picture Palace in the East, with heaps of street eats to help you warm up on the walk over.
Think hot and crunchy bhutta (roasted corn on the cob), Momos (a South Asian dumpling of sorts), and of course everyone’s childhood favourite – Maggi “two-minute” noodles, cooked up with the locals’ secret blend of spices!
Just make sure to pay a visit to the Lovely Omelette Centre too. The sixth generation family-run stall has been around for over a hundred years and famously dishes up the best omelettes in the country according to Lonely Planet India. Having had a taste of their signature chilli-cheese special (with thick chunks of white bread sandwiched in-between!)… we couldn’t help but agree!
Spooks at the Savoy
Admittedly our lunch at the Savoy Hotel (situated right by the Mussoorie Library), was missing the same enigmatic depth of flavours as the street fare outside. But we were nonetheless captivated by the old world charm of this heritage property, where time seems to stand so bewitchingly still…
In a spooky twist of events – involving the mysterious death of an English spinster during colonial times – the setting famously inspired Agatha Christie’s first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Style!
It’s definitely worth popping in for a wander if you’re passing by, although I should probably caution: some say the hotel might still be haunted…
A picture-perfect stay at JW Marriott
The thing about hotels is that they can make or break your holiday.
Our stay at the JW Marriott comfortably fell into the former category, with our large group of eight spending almost as much quality time within the gargantuan property as we did in its surrounds.
Whether stretching our legs in the balcony of our valley-facing rooms (or curling up in a cosy corner when it got too nippy out!), chatting over coffee in the convivial lobby and adjoining deck, or assembling on the lawns for kachdi sessions… there were plenty of opportunities for us to collectively unwind and relax!
A nod to local Garhwali get-together traditions, the kachdi sessions were particularly fun, featuring live music, garam chai and snacks, with a few games on the side including mini croquet and badminton.
Speaking of games, we couldn’t resist spending a couple of hours in the entertainment centre too, hopping between billiards, table tennis, video games and the in-house bowling alley!
It was really all too easy to spend the evenings blissfully-ensconced within the hotel, especially once we’d visited the tranquil Cedar Spa run by L’Occitane. Honestly speaking – the deep tissue massage here was one of the best I’ve had, leaving me feeling as light as a feather the next day!
As for supper, we were quite spoilt for choice between the three main restaurants, in addition to a more casual cafe where breakfast and meal-time buffets are served.
The elegant private dining room of the Asian restaurant, Teppan, was the perfect setting to bring in a friend’s birthday with the head chef personally setting the menu with us beforehand. We also loved the Indian spread at the Trout House Grill & Bar, returning here twice in three nights for the heartwarmingly sumptuous fare, suffused with subtle local influences.
Although we didn’t have a chance to try the outdoor Italian restaurant Wisteria Deck, the hotel arranged for our group to have breakfast by their greenhouse, overlooking the mountains. Masala chai, garam gobi ke parathe and *that* view… I’m not sure we could have asked for a more satisfying start to the day!
The tailor-made experience was just one of several instances reflecting the attentiveness and extra care taken by the hotel staff to ensure that we had as enjoyable a stay with them as possible. They even went so far as to pack us off with a little picnic box on our journey back to Dehradun Airport!
It was a seamlessly-smooth holiday from start to finish, and one which had us returning incredibly revitalised from the fresh mountain air.
Have you visited Mussoorie before?