Sunday, 11 June 2017

In a Mussoorie state of mind...

Many, many moons ago, Summers used to mean a magical trip from Bombay to Kodaikanal.

The long 3rd class train trip through the heat down to Madras Central station, then going over to Egmore station to catch the evening train (meter gauge) towards Madurai.   An early morning stop at Kodai road when we got into the bus for the 4+ hours drive up to Kodai.  Stopping at Batlagundu for bondas and coffee.  And finally the climb up the hills, with the wave after wave of beautiful breezes and the aroma of eucalyptus announcing that Kodai was close at hand...

In 1984 our parents decided that Woodstock School would be the place that they would apply for my last 2 years of school.  Providentially, the doors opened (financially and otherwise) and I spent an amazing 2 years at my beloved WS, and then had Mum and Dad and Premi move up here just before I graduated (Stefan had joined after my first year here).

With Mum and Dad shifting to Landour, and eventually being gifted an amazing cottage which Dad rebuilt as 'Shanti Kunj' and Mum filled with love, Mussoorie has become a second home.  More so with last year seeing both Asha and Enoch dive into their own boarding experience at Wynberg Allen School.  Boarding school has its own rhythms which means that as parents of boarders we are called up what seems pretty often.

Not that we are complaining.  After all, who can get tired of a view like this:

Straight out of the window from Shanti Kunj.

Stunning greenery.  Silence so heavy you can cut it with a knife.

The woods are a constant source of delight. Every where you look you see God's grandeur pixillated and multiplied in ever repeating patterns of beauty.

Even random shots capture what the heart hungers for...

And then there is the Mussoorie sky.  That strange deep blue so different from the haze you get down in the plains.

Most of the time clear, but when the clouds do come in...

But let us leave outward beauty and step into Shanti Kunj.

Every nook and corner has its own charm.  The various artifacts and mementos are bathed with love.   You hardly believe that you are living in it all when you are here - I always feel something like being in a dream whenever I walk through the door with its permanent 'welcome home' sign on it.

We are up in Mussoorie to pick up Enoch and Asha from boarding.  This was done happily.  Wynberg is steeped in tradition - each student had their own hymnbook and the day starts with an assembly where the hymns are sung lustily.

We were glad to find out that both Asha and Enoch ran in the 5 K run this month.  Enoch certainly has enough practice it seems - each day he does 7 K with the other boys in his hostel.  Compulsory. But the actual 5 K run was not, so both Asha and Enoch have taken a small step in the legacy of their uncle Stefan who ran a pretty mean cross-country in his day.

What a joy to all be together around the table at Shanti Kunj - with our happy married newly-weds Manoj and Christina.

We missed their wedding - but all were in for a treat when Sheba cooked her fabulous coconut chicken curry.

Which we followed up with Oma's magnificent apricot cake, with ice cream and black coffee - eating off the floral plates from Oma's childhood.  Beauty continues over the years.

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Shanti Kunj is home to so many.  During Dad's time, we had a steady stream of family and friends coming by.  That has continued with Mum playing the happy host and super-mum to a constant crowd.

Yesterday we were joined by our dear brother Narendra Kumar and his lovely wife Pramila and their 10 year old daughter Tamana.

Breakfast this morning was vintage pancakes served hot and fresh off the electric heater - which we received from my grand-parents when they left India after retiring as missionaries.

With today being our last full day in Mussoorie (small tear), we decided we must do at least a small hike.  So we geared up this morning for a walk up Flag Hill.

After the mandatory shuffling about and cooking and packing and repacking and getting all 8 of us present and accounted for, we were ready for the great outdoors.

And so we were off on a beautifully sunny and cool day - so different from the stifling heat of Lalitpur or any of the great tandoori oven that most of North India is at this time (BBC said that a place in Pakistan registered 51 degrees this past week...).

The mighty Himalayan Cedar (Deodar) formed a glorious living cathedral for us as we walked down towards Fairy Glen and Jabbarkhet.

Glorious forests. Greens of every hue.

 You just keep looking in wonder all round you.  Is this real?  Am I alive?

The altitude does remind you of your mortal flesh-and-blood nature - as does the slight film of sweat that any good hike gives you.

And there is always the steady reality of the hills - that when you walk down, you will have to walk up again (and vice versa - every steep climb means a good run down sooner or later).

Here Pramila and Oma walk up the road towards the Flag Hill gap.

 Flag Hill is now a privately run nature sanctuary going by the name of Jabarkhet Nature Reserve.

It was a tiny bit odd to buy a ticket to do a hike which we had done so many times before for free - but we are happy to support conservation initiatives like this - ones that do not only preserve nature, but are also providing employment for local people.

The views continue to be stunning and there did seem to be just a tad more forest vegetation than what I remembered from previous years...

 Any hike worth it salt has to have food - and we had Narendra and Vikram to thank for our spread.  Still warm parathas and alu subji, dahi and cukes.  A feast fit for a king.

And what better place to polish off such nosh as under an oak tree - which post lunch became a nap-site as we lay down and read Jim Corbett's story about the man-eating tiger of Muktesar - a place where I had done my forestry field work in 1993.

A beautiful day.  A beautiful place.  Beautiful people.  

What a life.

Can't we keep living like this forever?  

Someday, maybe.  But there is a lot of work that our loving Master is calling us to do.  And so we reluctantly will be leaving the hillside tomorrow for plains, and work, and all that is in store for us.

Till then we will feast on our memories - and scenes like this:

Au reviour Mussoorie, you remain in our hearts and minds.


  1. What a beautiful narrative! I can't believe Asha and Enoch have grown so big!

  2. So beautifully written! This brings back memories of our trips to kodai every summer to visit our grandparents.

  3. What a nostalgic and detailed description and beautiful photos making me home sick! I recall covering these hills during all seasons going out for shikar. Thanks a lot.