Landour is one of the very few Raj-era towns in India that has changed little in the past seventy years. Apart from its old churches and stone paved pathways, it offers the most amazing sight of the Himalayas. It is next to Mussoorie but somehow on my visits there I had never gotten to take the road to it.
This May, Naumi, I, our niece Shivya and her friend Ananya set out from Dehra Dun in the morning. Before Landour, we wished to do some walking in Kulri Bazaar (The Mall), the famous promenade of old times in Mussoorie, but were saddened by the traffic and the noise. There is a fee for autos to drive through Kulri, but apparently it is not high enough, and the authorities need to devise something else to make it pedestrian-only as it used to be years ago.
Our car was parked just outside of Kulri, and summoning our driver by phone, we now took the narrow road that goes up Lal Tibba to Landour Bazar and Char Dukan, which has several nice eating-places, with St. Paul’s Church rising on the side. Car traffic beyond Char Dukan is not allowed without special permission, and so we took the stone-paved road past the Church to the far end of the town.
Many of the buildings in Landour are part of the Cantonment and there are estimated to be just 100 detached houses and cottages. We walked past many of these buildings till we reached the Kellogg Church and the Kellogg Language School and beyond it discovered The Corner Shop, which is a delightful coffee shop.
The traveler Emily Eden, who was in Landour in 1838, was charmed by the sight of the Himalayas from Landour, declaring: “it is impossible to imagine more beautiful scenery.” She was speaking of the magnificent view from Landour of the Char Dham of Yamunotri, Gangotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath flanked by Svargarohini on the west and Nanda Devi on the east. Svargarohini is the mountain that, according to the Mahābhārata, the Pandavas in their old age decided to climb to reach the heavens, with only Yudhishthira and his dog succeeding, and Nanda Devi is the famous peak named after the goddess who brings happiness.
Up the Country: Letters from India is Emily Eden’s account of travels through north India from 1837 to 1840. Eden was the sister of George Eden, Lord Auckland, who was the Governor General of India from 1836 to 1842, and she was to spend two and a half years with him. The book is an important chronicle of the East India Company Rule in early nineteenth century, providing a graphic account of travels through the heat and dust of the plains, vignettes of the courts at Delhi and Lahore, and sojourn in Shimla which served as the summer capital of India.
Emily Eden was a well-known society lady in 19th century England, who was a close friend of William Lamb, Viscount Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s first prime minister, after whom Melbourne, Australia, is named (whereas Auckland is named after Emily Eden’s brother). Their mutual friends had hoped that the two would marry, because Viscount Melbourne was widowed when not yet fifty and Emily was a most eligible lady, but somehow it did not happen.
Perhaps Melbourne’s unhappy years with his wife, Caroline Lamb, had made him fearful of another marriage. Caroline had had a passionate and scandalous affair with Lord Byron, the poet. After Byron broke off the relationship, under pressure from Melbourne’s mother, she stalked him until he publicly insulted her and she slashed her wrists, which Byron called a theatrical performance.
After his wife’s death, Melbourne tried to make himself disagreeable to potential suitors like Emily Eden by his profanity and odd behavior. Rather than keep on waiting for him to propose to her and knowing that his prime ministership made it unlikely that he would find time to do so, Eden decided to leave the glittering social circuit of London and follow her brother to India.
In Eden’s time, the paths in Mussoorie and Landour were narrow and she did some sightseeing atop a jonpaun, sedan-chair with bearers in orange and brown livery, but when she saw jonpauns pass each other at the bends at high speed, she was scared that somebody was going to go down the edge. On another occasion, she had to get down her pony and lead it at across one of the narrowest sections of the path.
On our way back to Char Dukan from the Corner Store via the north ridge, we saw the scene of the Himalayas that Eden had raved about. The Char Dham were shining in the snowy reaches of the Himalayas across the horizon.