Mussoorie may steal the limelight, but Landour has a charm that makes it stand out in its own right. Deepa Mohan tells us about this not-so-well-known Himalayan town.
When speaking of interesting places to visit in Uttarakhand, one of the first names that comes to mind is that of Mussoorie, which is called “The Queen of Hill Stations” (A “hill station”, in India, means a town situated in a hilly or mountainous area, with the salubrious cool climate that goes with such a situation).
However, a town that is practically a part Mussoorie (indeed, they are referred to as twin towns) is as interesting as the larger town, itself – the tiny little hamlet of Landour.
Technically about 2 kilometres from Mussoorie, its name comes not from any Gadhwali word….but from the name of a tiny Welsh village, Llanddowror! It was the custom, during the British Raj, to name towns after those “at home” being homesick and nostalgic of the motherland.
What was Landour called, then, before the British Raj? The answer is…nothing, as the township was built by, and for, the British Indian Army, and developed into a “healing station” for wounded soldiers, with the building of a Sanatorium there.
The distinction, indeed, between Landour and Mussoorie was made in the historic days after the Indian Mutiny of 1857, when cantonment towns were formally surveyed and formalized. In fact, the Cantonment Act that came into being in 1924 had a far-reaching ecological impact. The title to all trees were clearly mentioned as being with the Army, and this has prevented a lot of deforestation, and as a result, Landour remains green, compared to Mussoorie. Another clause, which terms all non-governmental and non-military buildings post-1924 as “illegal”, has saved the town from rampant construction. Repairs of old houses are allowed.
The “Europeans” made a point of preventing Indians (even the royal families) from building in Landour, and so there is not a single residence of an Indian prince in Landour, which can only be found in Mussoorie.
But apart from the Europeans, there is also a strong American influence (especially religious) in Landour. Missionaries, mostly from Presbytarian and Baptist churches, have been active here.
Landour has a few buildings of architectural and heritage value. The “Castle” on top of Castle Hill has been modified so much that it is no longer recognizable from old photographs. The Clock Tower at the beginning of Landour Bazaar is a landmark which is held to separate Landour and Mussoorie. There are four Raj-era churches: the Kellogg’s Church, the church of St.Paul in Char Dukan, the commercial area,the Methodist Church in Landour Bazaar, and St.Peter’s Church, atop Landour Hill; the last two are in disuse.
Landour has a big imprint on the cultural map of India. The best-known of its citizens is Ruskin Bond, whose tales of the area are beloved of a large section of Indian readers. The noted actor Victor Bannerjee, has a home here. The sign on it reads, “Beware..Rabid Thespian”!
Among the Britons who thus moved to Landour were the parents of Jim Corbett. Both had lost their spouses in the First War of Indian Independence (or the Sepoy Mutiny) of 1857, and would meet and marry in Landour. Tom Alter, the famous movie and stage actor, also lives here for part of the year. Bill Aitken and the travel-writer duo of Hugh and Colleen Gantzen also live in Mussoorie.
Education, too, is represented in Landour in a large way. It’s a well-known centre for secondary education. There are many missionary-run schools, of which the most well-known was (and remains) Woodstock School, founded in 1854 for the children of American missionaries. The Indian Army also runs a primary school in Landour Cantonment. Nowadays, many young Americans on gap years or on exchange programs spend time learning Hindi at the popular Landour Language School, which was founded in the late 19th century to teach newly arrived missionaries, and which is still running.
The ecology and environment of Landour give it the greatest aura of interest. Thanks to the 1924 Cantonment Act, the logging ban has been reasonably well-enforced, and there are old forests of Deodar and other Himalayan tree species. The bird life in this small town is amazing; about 350 species of birds can be seen over the course of the year at various elevations, including many endemic species of pheasants and raptors. Apart from the occasional Leopard, there are mammals like Jackals, Barking Deer (muntjac), Goral (goat-antelope) and the secretive Sloth Bear. Smaller mammals such as Yellow-throated Martens, Civets, Jungle Cats, and Himalayan Weasels are seen, and the occasional Flying Squirrel. Pesky Rhesus Macaques and Hanuman Langurs are ubiquitous. The British Raj saw the decimation and extinction of many animal species, but there is enough to delight the wildlife enthusiast. Amongst natural features in the area, the local peaks are the most prominent. (‘Tibba’ is a local word for hill/peak). The most prominent are teh “Old” Lal Tibba and Landour hill themselves,mwhich lie within the Cantonment.
Landour follows the general Garhwali cuisine, and both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes are very popular, as are wheat and rice. A special grain called Gahat, or Kulath, is also often used. While I was there, I found some women making “naal badi”, with some local variety of aloe, which was coated with soaked and ground dal.
Here is a video I shot of the women making naal badi, which is then dried in the sun and fried later, and eaten with chai.
The Char Dukan area now has a lot of shops that sell all kinds of food, such as momos, noodles, and so on. So the visitor still has a wide variety of cuisine to choose from.
A comprehensive list of Landour’s accommodation is given on the website of the Landour Langauage School.
Landour is in the Himalayas, and visitors are well-advised to pack warm clothes.The weather ranges from warm to cool, to very cold indeed, in the winter. The temperature could vary from a high of 34 deg C in May, to a low of -6 in February. The monsoon is very heavy usually. Visitors can see the temperature chart here.
Landour is a great destination as it is, even today, less touched by the evils of rampant modernization and tourism – a green reminder of how life once was everywhere in the foothills of the Himalaya.
Altitude: 7,500 ft (2,600m) above sea level
Travel: There are a number of buses and trains available from New Delhi to Dehra Dun. Buses or taxies are available to come to the Mussoorie Bus stand, and from there, Landour is a 2 km walk; in inclement weather, a local cab can be taken. Cycles are available for hire.
Weather: Moderate summers, heavy monsoon, cold winters.
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