Committed to overhauling her previous lockdown birthday celebrations, this traveller planned a joyous vacation amid the vistas of Landour. The world, however, had other plans. Text and photographs by Natasha Patidar
Having spent my birthday in 2020 alone cutting a jam sandwich as a cake in a containment zone with a raging pandemic, I had vowed that 2021 will be different. And thus, I planned a short trip to celebrate my birthday in Landour this April, right before the second wave of Coronavirus hit us.
Day One: Landing
My flight was from Mumbai. Carrying a COVID-19 negative report, dressed in a PPE suit, packed for 23-degree weather as per the forecast, I headed to Dehradun. The turbulence before landing at the Jolly Grant Airport told me I wasn’t welcome and, as predicted, I arrived just in time for a thunderstorm, which brought down the temperature down to nine degrees.
Layering up with three days’ worth of clothes, I headed higher to Mussoorie where I stayed at a 120-year-old vacation bungalow built for erstwhile Britishers. With heavy rains pouring, I requested for extra blankets, a heater, and some soup while checking in. The hotel informed me that the hill station had a partial lockdown and that everything would be shut after 2 pm. This also meant that I was the only guest (read, fool) staying in the entire property thinking it would be a good time to take a trip. Luckily, I had views of the Doon valley so I remained perched by the window from the comfort of my well-heated room for the rest of the day.
Day Two: Exploring Landour
On day two, the forecast predicted a hail storm. So without wasting any time, I asked a cab driver to drop me at Landour (named after a village in Wales, England)—a charming little cantonment, surrounded by fir and deodar trees, 35 kilometres away from Mussoorie. A sanatorium for ailing soldiers in the pre-independence era, today Landour is home to the famous author Ruskin Bond who is often seen signing books at Mall road.
Starting my trail from Chaar Dukaan (literally translating to four shops), I headed to Lal Tibba, the highest peak—with a wide vista of up to 200 kilometres visible on a clear day—from where one can see the magnificent Himalayas. The walk, roughly two kilometres uphill, was lovely. It came paired with the freshest air my lungs could breathe, and friendly dogs and birdsong to keep me company. With hardly a handful of tourists around, I could happily soak in the view and even take detours in what felt like my very own private little forest.
On the walk I saw many Indo-Gothic style churches of the Raj-era, like Kellogg Memorial Church (1903) and St Paul’s Church (1839), where Jim Corbett’s parents, Christopher and Mary Corbett, got married in 1859; Sisters Bazaar, that hosts the famous Landour Bakehouse; and lovely houses with little gardens right out of childhood drawing books.
The road from Lal Tibba winds in circles to end back at Chaar Dukaan. Here, I ate my heart out! The shops serve hot parathas, pakoras, momos, Maggi, tea, hot chocolate…all the quintessentially cliché food found in hills. As the clouds started to grumble, I scurried to pack a fluffy pancake for my big birthday celebration in Landour and made my way back to the hotel. A nap later, I woke up to a hailstorm with a dip in temperature, which was now at six degrees. The rest of the day, I followed protocols: heater, blankets and soup.
Day Three: Birthday in Landour
I woke up to the sun shining bright and warm. My prayers were answered! I hurriedly rented a bike and ventured out with no plan—gaping at the views while cycling downhill, taking one too many pit stops, and stopping at the Kempty Falls with no other human in sight. It only took a tiny finger dip to test the water’s cool temperature and decide: no swimming, thanks!
After seeing it from all levels and angles, I decided to ride uphill again and head to Gun Hill Point. But halfway there, my mission was abandoned. Two cops stopped me requesting me to return as a day-long COVID-19 curfew was imposed. Making a turn, I spent the rest of the day taking calls, picking wildflowers, and watching movies—thankfully, with a stunning view and a leftover pancake to devour!
Day Four: Return
Once again, with a PPE suit as my ensemble and RT-PCRs to accompany, I was ready to return home. While I could not see most of the destinations, the experience was unlike any other and gave me many stories to tell.
Having said that, wait to travel and think before booking tickets in these uncertain times. Abide by and respect all the protocols in place. Do your research before heading out and be aware of all the state-wise guidelines.
Dehradun is the closest airport to Mussoorie and Landour. Take a local taxi or bus for the hour-and-a-half-long uphill onward journey.