Landour is the kind of place you should never take older relatives nostalgic for the good ol’ days of the Raj, or you’ll never hear the end of it. Unlike its increasingly chaotic twin, Mussoorie, the cantonment town was spared relentless deforestation, construction and commercialisation under the Cantonment Act of 1924 and remains every bit the bucolic English retreat it started out as in the mid-19th century.
The Pine Tree Lodge, one of three new luxury cottages operated by the area’s iconic Rokeby Manor hotel, is a good place to settle into. Unobstructed views of the lower Himalayas rush in from every window, the Scandinavian-style decor – warm, woodsy, yet uncluttered – is equally good for photographing, and you get used to the butler and chef sooner than you’re comfortable admitting. “What would you like to eat?” is the only hardship here: should you have hot, homemade rajma-chawal, an English fry-up, or sweet tea-and-pakora marathons? Or should you, swaddled in your warmest, settle in the patio outside your bedroom, watching the chef poke the embers of your barbecue? Or then, let Rokeby’s in-house restaurant, Emily’s, bring its British meat-and-potatoes staples to you? Make the right choice: all of the above.
You might not see the point in leaving the cottage at all, but Landour offers some good-quality loitering. Follow the 2.4km loop, Gol Chakkar, a deodar-and chestnut-fringed road, which threads all the sights. The Saint Paul’s and Kellogg Memorial churches conjure up Raj-era weddings of pale Chantilly lace and cold roses. Lal Tibba, the highest point in Mussoorie, lets you count off the major peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas through a telescope. Char Dukan, once a cluster of four Indian eateries, has, over a century, expanded to six with the addition of two grocery stores – and is one of the few places in Landour to people-watch.
Take a rain check on activities that take you out of Landour, save for two. Sainji (23km) is a tiny tribal settlement above Mussoorie in the Tehri-Garhwal district, famous for its corn decor. Bunches of yolk-gold cobs that need sun-drying so their seeds can be sown are arranged like awnings on both, the squat newer acid-coloured buildings as well as traditional wood homes. Each of the village’s 35-odd residences has its own courtyard where toothless grannies winnow grain and toddlers chase chickens. Jabarkhet Nature Reserve is the other must-do outside Landour, on the Dhanaulti-Dehradun road (www.jabarkhet nature.com; 6am – 6pm;).
The 300- acre private reserve has all but recovered from extensive damage due to logging and overgrazing and is now once more cloaked in oak, pine and rhododendron forests and reclaimed by leopards, bears and martens, and black bulbuls sing their hearts out. In late February, an explosion of violets and deep-blue gentians render the reserve still more beautiful. But until then, make do with a pre-dawn trek to Flag Hill, where you get to stare stupidly as the rising sun sets the forest on fire. By the time you make it back to the Pine Tree Lodge, the neighbouring Landour Bakehouse will just be opening it doors (see Where to Eat). Order yourself a pot of Earl Grey and the warm, crumbly scones with lots of cream; sit down at a table next to the big window looking out to a swathe of deodar. Maybe your auntie has a point after all.
GREAT FROM: Mumbai, Delhi, Chandigarh
GREAT FOR: Raj-era nostalgia
WHERE TO STAY
Rokeby Manor and Residences: Of the three luxury residences spread across Gol Chakkar Road, Pine Tree Lodge has the best mountain views and is sited just a 10-minute walk from Bothwell Bank Cottage, which is perfect for a small family. Bothwell Bank House, with its restored 19th-century architecture, parquet floors and sprawling balconies, is perfect for a big group (00-91-135-2635604, 00-91-9634443666; www.rokebymanor. com, firstname.lastname@example.org; all rates include breakfast, and 30 minutes use of mountain bike per day).
WHERE TO EAT
Anil’s Café, a Landour institution, is a favourite with visitors and locals, including the town’s considerable student population. Between the Nutella pancakes, cheesy Maggi and veg momos, you’ll have your hill station junk food sorted (00-91-135-2633783; Char Dukan; 8am – 8pm;). The 19th-century Landour Bakehouse always smells of bread and coffee and serves several old-timey British breads, puddings and cakes. The chocolate chip cookies, raisin scones and madeleines get our vote (00-91-8755343343; Shop No 152, Sister’s Bazaar; 8am – 8pm;). The Stray Dog Ale House and Stübli is the hotel’s members-only hillside restaurant, which is built like a log cabin and serves a concise, rotating menu of hearty, warming Swiss stews, sausages and puddings. The upstairs Tudor-style ale house’s spicy toddy concoctions and bar bites are good to get a little colour in your cheeks (00-91-135-2635604; Gol Chakkar; 12pm – 3pm, 6pm – 10pm).
WHAT TO PACK
You’ll need thick woollens, lip balm and good walking shoes. Carry rain protection, too, as there tend to be light showers this time of year.
There isn’t that much in the way of shopping in Landour but be sure to stock up on the famous chunky and smooth peanut butters from A Prakash & Co (Landour Bakehouse uses these for their desserts), as well as their excellent cheeses and marmalades (00-91-135-2632544; Sister’s Bazaar; 10.30am – 6.30pm).
CLEAN LOO GUIDE
Restaurants and tea stops between Dehradun and Landour have clean if rustic bathrooms, but it’s best to carry toilet paper and hand sanitiser for emergency stops along some of the forested stretches in between.
Landour is a very safe town and even solo nighttime walks aren’t nerve-wracking in the least.
For emergencies, head to the well-known Landour Community Hospital nearby (00-91-135-2632053; www.eha-health.org; near Tehri bus stop).
Kids will love the wide open spaces and friendly local dogs, but will need entertainment if you plan to stay more than a couple of days. Jabarkhet Nature Reserve could be fun with a good guide.
GOOD TO KNOW
*Landour is home to Anglo-Indian author Ruskin Bond who has had a hand to play in most of our childhood imaginings. You might ‘casually’ lope past Ivy Cottage, his home on Mullingar Hill, to try and run into him. Or, just show up at the Cambridge Book Depot on Mussoorie’s Mall Road at around 3pm on any Saturday to meet Bond in the flesh.