Thursday, June 07, 2007

Mussoorie: The wind-down

Man, sometimes I think I should write a book on all the holidays I haven't been on. Before this whole trip materialized, I had made this giant wish-list of every holiday I ever wanted to be on, all rolled together into one giant Colossus of all vacations, over 2 months and going through every possible place to see in the Himalayas, from Aizwal to Zanskar and beyond. Finally, better sense - and a lack of funds, leave, and company - prevailed, and the trip was shortened down to what it was. But I'm glad I kept this part of it - most of the time people forget that a holiday is to relax. Not an ordeal to be endured and a test of your planning and ingenuity and bank balance and physical fitness. Mussoorie always was supposed to be a rest halt, a couple of days literally demarcated as do-nothing time. These few days we were going to just sit there, eat, sleep, walk around, chat, shop, browse, have roadside coffee and watch the view, take walks, take photos, and just take time out.

We reached in the afternoon, after another long drive, and found ourselves a fairly decent hotel - Atithi - at the end of Mall Road, near Library Point. Got an interestingly-shaped spacious room with huge window.
Went for a walk in the evening with C in full Bong-Tourist outfit - jeans, sneakers, white polo, and a tan jacket. And photochromatic specs.

Scenes from the next few days -
Breakfast at the Gharwal Terrace, where I saw a 3D painting for the first time - it looks like a normal finely detailed painting with a starkly realistic 3-D effect, until you look at it from the side - it's actually 3-D.

The rest of us shooting balloons, while Phoolan Devi shoots the balloon guys.

Walks through Kulri market where we bought camping gear, including some supercool switchblades and C went ape over camping knives.

Walks through the Tibetan market stalls filled with undersized T-shirts. Walks through dozens, no, hundreds of Tibetan jewellery stores where R's bargaining skills came to the fore - and C's phobia of jewellery became permanently entrenched in his psyche.

Walk to Lal Tibba which was supposed to be the highest point of Mussoorie. We struggled up for hours, wheezing, gasping, and all the while C led us on with loud exhortations and rallying cries until R was ready to throw him off the edge as soon as she caught her breath. At regular intervals, SUVs filled with Beautiful People would pass us, always going downhill. We became convinced that at the top there was a Fountain of Youth which turned anyone who went up into supermodels. We didn't find it, but we did find a family of langurs and Ram Singh, standing besides a pair of superpowerful binocs at the top of the Lal Tibba viewpoint. And I do mean superpowerful - you could see villagers with them when the village itself was invisible to the naked eye.

Beautiful weather, with slight drizzles. Chilly breeze. Luminous clouds at sunsets. Hot chai and jalebis at dusk from the road stalls, while the wind turned nippy and we drew ourselves a little further into our jackets.

Giant dogs with thick, bushy fur.
Some absolutely unique signage.
A restaurant called Gluttony. The Hotel Howard with a rotating restaurant, which proudly proclaims, 'No Extra Charges For Rotation' Amul's Special Butt, complete with pictures that leave nothing to the imagination.

Browsing through the antique shops and the curio shops, sifting through compasses and sextants, china, coins, clocks, crystal, statuettes and paintings, and thousands of brass, wood, glass, and metal flotsam from another era. All of them filled with still, slightly dusty old men, looking more and more like their own exhibits. Something funny happens to time and memory in shops like these - they become mixed. You could spend five minutes in there, and remember it for hours... or hours, and come out not knowing where the time went... or look around and realize you're in a little lifeboat floating in the timestream, and that outside, it could be 2007, or 1985, or 1970, or 1953, or 1935... but inside, it's always been, and will be, the same slightly dusty, quiet oasis. Antique shops are really like time machines - you step outside, and there's a moment of disorientation - When am I? before the reality comes back... there's a reassurance in the noise, the dust, the smells, but also a slight wistfulness. You see how new, how temporary it is. And you can almost imagine yourself stepping out in another time...

An ancient Triumph motorcycle parked by the side of the road, near a garage. Heavy bikes in the mountains have the same look as Kieran's guidebooks... old, scarred, and carrying their own weight in history.

Desserts of apple pie and ice cream at Chiki Chocki, with it's posters of the Bond movies and pride of place given to two newspapers - one, where the headlines screamed out "India independent! British Rule ends!" and the other, more simply, but with, at least for me, a sense of even greater achievement - "Everest Conquered". Old, yellowing, frayed at the edges, little pieces of history framed and hung up. What were you doing when you read that headline for the first time, uncle? I know I wasn't even born then.

Sitting in the hotel, with a glass of Royal Stag, witht he window slightly open, letting the cold, cold night breeze drift through occasionally, watching the glimmering galaxy of lights that was Dehradun, down below, beneath an equally starry sky, and hear the faint bark of dogs in the distance. The whole sity looked dream-like, wavering in the night as the heat from it rose up into the cold mountain air. I remember there was also a raven croaking, regularly, far away but absolutely clearly.
Running through the extremely sloped streets in the evening, lungs and legs burning, as the drizzle started getting stronger and the warm lights of the Madras Cafe at the end looked so impossibly far away, we knew we were going to get wet before we could make it... and suddenly, we're inside, laughing, almost feeling the steam come off our jackets as we down the scalding hot coffee and watch the rain.

Sitting in the room, behind the huge window, having chai and watching the rain of a mountain storm lash against the window outside, and talk about office, people, astrology, and comparing them to characters from e, while a bedraggled wet monket peered in from outside.

Muttering madmen and honeymooning couples with pained expressions and thick bunches of bangles, sauntering locals, stoic tibetans sitting around their stalls.

This is why I like the off season; no crowds. No rush. No noise.

Quotable Quotes from Mussoorie -
C: Do you like what I'm doing? (sly grin)

R: A trip down the mammary lane

C: Let the leader speak.
A: I'm hungry.
R: I have a tummyache.

D: I can go without crapping for 7-8 days.

Mussoorie Trip - See the photos here.


Anonymous said...

Would you care to mail me at please?


Anonymous said...

no bong outfit is complete without the monkey cap. u were in the could u miss it!!




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