A ‘time travel’ back to vintage Mussoorie
Did you know that electricity arrived in Mussoorie well before it did in Lucknow? Or that there was suggestion that Mussoorie was in the running alongside Shimla to become British India’s summer capital?
Or that a king of Nepal named one of his sons ‘Mussoorie’? Or even that there was a language school set up in Landour in 1800s to teach Hindi to newly arrived missionaries?
These along with many more rare nuggets of historical information about “noisy” Mussoorie and “quiet” Landour are now available in a well-researched new book that provides a window to the “glory days” of the “Queen of the Hills”.
Titled ‘Mussoorie and Landour: Footprints of the Past’,the 300-page book, richly illustrated with rare archival images and supplemented with elaborate end-notes, is a scholarly work, a guidebook, a city diary and a postcard collection, all rolled into one.
While Mussoorie since its inception in 1820s remained the “pleasure capital” of the Raj, a “carefree station away from officialdom”, but according to ‘The Hills’, the first newspaper to be published in Mussooorie, the hill station might also have been in the running to become the “summer capital” of the British India.
“Now that there is talk about removing seat of Government to the Himalayas, a sanitarium like Mussoorie, offering as it does peculiar attractions on score of climate, and centrically situated with respect to the Presidencies of Calcutta and Bombay, stands a fair chance of becoming, perhaps at a no distant date, the chosen residents of the Rulers of India,” the ‘Hills’ reported on December 12, 1861.
While the “Edinburgh-in-the-hills” did not become the summer capital, but like other sanitaria, it reached its apex during the reign of Queen Victoria (1837-1901) and enjoyed a significant growth after the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. And, the book goes on to credit the “progressive” municipality of the station for lighting up the streets to “great envy of Lucknow”.
“On 24 May 1909 – celebrated at that as Empire Day – the electric lights of Mussoorie were switched on, no doubt to the great envy of Lucknow. For it was the progressive Mussoorie Municipal Board that, as a sole proprietor had taken up a state-of-the-art hydroelectric scheme to address the need for both water and electricity,” the book says in the chapter
“Building the Bolthole”.
Authored by US-based father-daughter duo of Virgil Miedema and Stephanie Spaid Miedema, the book goes to say how the station “flourished and grew under the lavish patronage of the Indian rajas.”
The then royal families from Baroda (Dunseverick) to Rapipla (Rushbrook Estate/Padmini Niwas) and Jind (Oak Less) to Nabha (Claridge’s Hotel) to Tekari (Eric’s Own) built fabulous houses, making the ‘queen of the hills’ indeed a ‘resort of the kings’.
However,the most lavish perhaps among them was the Chateau de Kapurthala, a French mansion built by the eponymous royal family of Kapurthala. The book even has a rare aerial view of featuring the house.
The authors add that the Second World War, Mussoorie became the favoured destination as the Indian royalty and Britishmen were not able to travel to Europe.
The Nizam of Hyderabad did not have a seasonal residence in Mussorie but his daughter-in-law, the “stunningly beautiful” Niloufer Khanum, Sultana of Hyderabad made an impressive showing in the station during the war years.
For a hill station that has a place called ‘Scandal Point’ on its map, and which was “notorious for its population of pretty girls,” the authors have not left out reference to its share of “frivolity” or “philandering” the place inspired, especially among the convalescing soldiers.
On researching the subject, the authors said they “relied heavily on early guidebooks”, notably F Bodycot’s “Guide to Mussoorie with Notes on Adjacent Districts and Routes in the Interior”, 1907, Robert Hawthorn’s ‘The Beacon’s Guide to
Mussoorie’, 1890, John Northam’s ‘Guide to Masuri, Landaur, Dehra Dun and the Hills North of Dehra, 1884 among others.
The very first chapter which talks about Colonel Frederick Young, who ‘founded’ Mussoorie in early 1820s, has a rare and the oldest map of Landour and Mussoorie, drawn on stone from 1831.
Landour Depot for convalescing soldiers was established in 1827.
Among other rare items in the book are a set of old photographs, captioned by Rudyard Kipling in his handwriting from a collection ‘Ballade of Photographs’ of 1888. The famous author stayed at Charleville Hotel in the station, the book says.
In the chapter ‘Royals of the Himalayas’, the book mentions about Maharaja Dev Shamsher Jung Bahadur, who moved to Mussoorie in a self-imposed exile and the lived the rest of his life at his Fairlawn Palace estate in Jharipani area of lower Mussoorie. H named one of his sons ‘Mussoorie’.
Drawn from private and public collections, the book contains some more rare images like that of old Dehradun station and the famous “halfway house”, located midpoint on the seven-mile Bridle Path between Rajpur and Mussorrie, “where weary travellers could refresh themselves…by a brandy or whisky peg…”
The book ends with a chapter dedicated to perhaps its most famous resident, the Welsh surveyor and geographer Colonel Sir George Richard Everest, whose stay in Mussoorie from 1832-43, while in charge of the Great Trigonometrical Survey, became known among Survey historians as the ‘Everest Decade’.
The author say that there were also some ‘notorious’ residents like Frederick Wilson, a Yorkershire man, who came to be known as ‘Hulson Sahib’ or ‘Pahari Wilson’. He befriended Indian National Congress, co-founder A O Hume and married twice, both Garhwali hill women.