The local people are the best guides when it comes to finding out more about a place of interest that one wants to visit. Even a short conversation with a local person is worth much more than reading a travelogue or blog post or watching travel videos and vlogs about a place, all of which tend to focus on individual personal experiences rather than an unbiased view. The truth of this statement came home specifically during a recent day trip to Mussourie and Landour.
‘There’s nothing in Mussourie, just a lot of couples everywhere,’ a local friend told me. ‘Nothing much in Landour, either, to see or do. But there’s this cafe I once visited with my friends–’ Her eyes lit up at the memory and she suddenly fell silent.
Many travel blogs and vlogs about these places tend to reflect the sentiments expressed by a famous writer in his gentle memoirs and short stories about life in the Himalayas. ‘Time stands still here’, ‘a sleepy hamlet, frozen in time’, ‘a place to discover yourself’, words to that effect.
I was more than underwhelmed by Mussourie, a mountain town that came across as dusty, overcrowded, loud and dirty. Other than the beautiful mountain views, the place had hardly any charm to justify its moniker of the queen of hill stations. The only thing I liked in Mussourie was the view from the hill of Pari Tibba of the sacred Himalayan peaks in the distance. Even there, the energy was not as high or pure as it is in many other places in the Himalayas.
But as the cab made its way up from the narrow, congested roads of Mussorie to the deserted pathways of Landour, I began to sense a strange, sad and stifling energy in the air.
‘These are not our traditional villages,’ the cab driver, a Pahadi man told me as he manoeuvred the car expertly through the winding mountain paths. ‘The British set up both these towns.’ (Landour is a cantonment town named after Llanddowror in Wales, created as a sanatorium for white British soldiers in pre-independent Bharat).
While I usually enjoy walking through solitary mountain paths and quiet riverbanks, I felt the same heavy energy pervade the air as I took a short walk through Landour.
I had breakfast at the tiny cafe recommended by my friend– a quaint old place with a lovely view, where the decor and menu tried a little too hard to evoke ye olde England. Once again, the energy in the place did not feel right. I was glad to be back in the cab and gladder still when I could see the familiar landmarks of Rishikesh and the magnificent green gold waters of the Ganga.
Despite its open spaces and deserted mountain paths, Landour strangely reminded me of the few times I visited malls- whether in Bharat or abroad, as soon as I stepped inside a mall, all I wanted within the first five minutes was to leave the mall that seemed to hold so much trapped energy within it. The same heavy energy permeated Landour, and while I have a theory about the source of these energies, I would rather not think about them.
I am curious why I felt this way, unlike many travellers who seemed to have genuinely enjoyed visiting these towns. Perhaps because I choose to travel as a seeker and not as a tourist, and there are hundreds of other places in the Himalayas that radiate the serene energy of the sacred mountains.