Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Mussoorie - a hill station close to Delhi


When we decided on a short trip to a hill station to visit on the weekend,  in the second week of October, the obvious choice was Massoorie, the Queen of all hill stations in Northern India. We set out early in the morning from Gurgaon at about 4:30 a.m.and caught up with my brother in law his wife and two of their sons from Ghaziabad. We left Ghaziabad en route to Massoorie at 6:00 a.m. We took the following route from Ghaziabad, we travelled to Modinager, and then Muzzafarpur, then Muzzafarnagar to Narson and then Roorkee, and then Chutmalpur followed by Dehradun and then finally Mussourie.  My special advice to all road travellers is that they should take the by-pass from Saharanpur and Roorkee and avoid at any cost travelling through these two towns as the traffic literally crawls through these towns during rush hours! Another word of advice is that one should avoid taking too many stops on the way although the ware offered by the roadside Dhabas is tempting enough! One can carry ready-made food on the trip which will help cut down on the need to take frequent food breaks.Throughout the route we took the by-pass offered and didn’t enter the cities. In most cases, the toll roads were of good quality. The ideal travelling time from Delhi to Massoorie (if you start at six in the morning and take a half an our break at one of the Dhabas) is about six and a half hours. A note of advice to prospective travellers is that they should ensure that their vehicles are well maintained, the brakes are good and the tyres have a good amount of tread left in them, because driving on hill roads take a fair toll on the vehicle. Also, it makes good sense not to overload the vehicle. Take only the required amount of stuff which includes a fair amount of clothes, but not too many!
This static display houses an early example of the humble Rickshaw. The plaque below the specimen describes how the humble rickshaw was introduced in Massoorie. It was initially drawn by a team of men. Today this hand drawn rickshaw has been replaced by the cycle-rickshaws common to all the towns of India
A Fresco on Mall road depicting life in the mountains
The ruins of a once majestic building seen from our hotel room. We were not allowed to take a photograph of this building by a shrewd woman who warned us off the premises!
On the way to Mussoorie, once the climb starts one can enjoy the scenic beauty of the flora and fauna of the mountains. On the way passes  the Rajaji National Park with signs warning warning about wild animals that might cross the road! The mountain ranges can be seen about fifty kilometres before Dehradun. The total distance of Massoorie from Delhi is about 271 to 261 Kilometres   (depending on the route). Massoorie is at a height of about 2005.5 metres above sea level and the weather can be a little chilly even in the month of October, and I would suggest that the traveller should take light warm clothing as there can be a nip in the breeze in the evenings. 
Some of the important places to visit in Massoorie are Gun Hill which can be accessed on foot from Mall road and rope trolley, Kempty Falls which is about fourteen kilometres from Mall Road, The Company Garden is about four kilometres from Mall road, and the Aquarium is bang on the Mall Road. Do carry some loose change if you want to buy souvenirs from Mall Road, and carry a good DSLR if you want to take snaps of the lights of the Dehradun City which can be seen on clear nights from Mall Road-the sight of the lights in the distance is amazing, reminiscent that one can see while landing in a plane in one of the more populated towns in India. Jamuna Bridge, and Dhanaulti are two more spots that need to be visited. One of the star attractions on Mall Road is the Tibetan Market where the visitor might be able to purchase as sorts of goods, from woollens to electronic items. Besides the Tibetan market, the entire Mall Road is lined on both sides with shops, eateries, hotels, and stalls. The strategically placed benches on Mall Road offer an amazing view of the lights of Dehradun City at night. This is similar to the view one would get while landing at an airport in a plane, the difference is that while sitting on the benches you can drink in the beauty of the lights flashing in the distance for all the time you wish, that is as long as you can manage the chill in the wind. Also of great Historical importance on the Mall Road are the old colonial era buildings that bring in an other worldly effect to the entire town. At one end of Mall Road you have the imposing building of the Library.
The Exchange Building on the left was built in 1920
Shopping for Knick-Knacks on Mall Road
The town of Massoorie in Uttarakhand is reminiscent of British colonial rule in India before Independence. A large number of the buildings were designed according to the British style of architecture, and these include a large number of hotels on Mall Road. A word of advice here is that if you are trying to get an accommodation, then it would be a good idea to take a hotel off Mall Road since the hotels on Mall road are more expensive than those away from it. A matter of consideration in this case is whether one would be ready to take a trek to Mall Road on foot.  When in Massoorie one should also try to meet Mr. Ruskin Bond, the writer that India loves. An Anglo Indian by decent, Mr. Ruskin Bond has written a large number of books that are an integral part of the Indian literary culture, the most memorable character being Rusty, a character loved by many children.Mr. Ruskin Bond, incidentally lives in Massoorie! The city is also home to some of the more well known schools like the famous Doon Public School, Woodstock, Wineberg Allen public school, and St. Georges. Most of these schools are residential schools which offer boarding.The two boards followed by these schools are mostly the ICSE and the CBSE boards although schools like Woodstock offer International Boards. Dehradun, at a lower altitude is home to a large number of good schools and colleges.
In Massoorie, you might get the chance of getting a book by Ruskin Bond autographed! I was able to get not one, but two books autographed by him! For me it was an honour, a dream come true to meet the writer that ‘India Loves’!
While in Massorie, there are two spots that I would recommend worth visiting. The Company Bagh or the Company Garden is a feast for Botanists, poets, and lovers of exotic flowers.Company Bagh is four kilometres from the Library building and it is on the Massoorie-Kempty falls road. The second spot that is a must visit is Kempty Falls, a good fourteen kilometres from the Library building. While the descent from the parking spot to the falls is a steep one, a viable alternative is the cable car that takes you down to the water fall.
Relaxing under the landscaped water fall at Company Bagh
A Bunch of flowers at the Company Garden
Dolls arranged at one of the stalls on the way to Kempty Falls from the Car Park
At Kempty Falls

The people of Massoorie and Dehradun are friendly in nature and accommodating in most ways. They are however sticklers to rules and this is seen especially in how they follow road rules. An important rule to note is that while driving in the Hill stations of Uttarkhand, one should give preference to those climbing a gradient. The people of Uttarakhand are generalyy fair in complexion and of attractive personalities. The women are generally confident in nature and you will see a large number of them driving scooters with a confidence which would amaze and surprise those arriving from the plains.
On the way back from Massoorie, one should take a stop at the Deer Park in Dehradun. The Deer Park is home to a variety of species of birds and animals. The Deer Park also houses  a leopard, which I could not photograph since it was resting inside a huge cement pipe. I did, however manage to photograph deer that had antlers.
A Doe at the Deer Park in Dehradun
This particular horned Owl didn’t seem very particular about having his picture taken!
This Eagle seemed to have a very nasty view of the world especially since he was hidden behind a wire mesh and was being heckled by the crows that were on the other side of the cage!
The trip to Massoorie can be wound up with a treat at the McDonald’s outlet just before Ghaziabad. The choicest pizzas and burger are bound to satisfy the hunger pangs of a long trip in the mountains.
Dinner at the McDonald’s outlet just before Ghaziabad is sure to cater to the hunger pangs of a long trip from the hill station of Massoorie!
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Monday, 6 October 2014

Ghaziabad-A Photo Essay

With stuff like Bakherkhani and Halva being served at the Diwali Fair, it was as if you were privileged to partake of the essence of Ethnic India!
Ghaziabad is an important town in the National capital region of Delhi, and its importance lies in the fact that all trains emanating from Delhi and destined for Moradabad or Nainital have to pass through Ghaziabad. Like Gurgaon, Ghaziabad too is having to face the rural/ urban conflict  in terms of socio-cultural dynamics. A town in the state of Uttar Pradesh, Ghaziabad has a very strong agrarian culture, and it is surrounded by villages and towns that are very strongly dependent on Agriculture. Since recent times, Ghaziabad has seen a jump in reality rates because of which numerous native farmers have begun selling off their holdings to developers for a tidy sum of money. Ghaziabad is also known for some upcoming B-Schools, and industries, one of which is Mohan Meakins Limited a well known brewery! Close to Ghaziabad is the town of Modi Nagar, well known for its sugar industry. Recently when I happened to visit Ghaziabad, I was able to take a few pictures which bring out the disconnect that exists between opulence and poverty, and  alongside this was the strong rural influence that was evident in a Diwali Mela or Diwali Fair that I happened to visit in Raj Nagar.
Being an important industrial town, Ghaziabad has its own share of Malls with their share of outlets selling all kinds of popular brands found all over the country, and even all over the world. The prosperity and affluence displayed by the large number of Malls however doesn’t translate into a reduced gap between the haves and the have not! It was very disturbing to see how a particular parking lot that does brisk business during the day by providing parking facilities for shoppers had become an open air sleeping arena for the destitute!
This is a story not limited to Ghaziabad and as such can be seen in most of the upcoming townships in the National Capital region – set against the backdrop of an upcoming Mall, a humble family settle for their meagre dinner.
The contrast between affluence and can be seen in the presence of a slum cluster right next to a building project. Sights such as these can be seen across the country. In many cases, one might even claim that major building projects provide employment to a large floating population of migrant workers who work as unskilled workers on building sites.
The Slum Cluster next to a Mall is testament to the relationship that exists between progress and employment. Where large building projects come up, there are floating townships of slums that are impromptu mobile homes of the people who work on the buildings.
In spite of hard times for many, the myriad of Melas and Fairs are thronged by people from all sections of the society. The affluent and the not so affluent throng such events to have their fill of fun. It is not about visiting a Mall for some expensive shopping, but for a taste of an Ethnic India that can’t be found in Malls but in the villages and rural areas surrounding all of these upcoming towns. The main attraction of such fairs lies in the exotic food on offer, and then you have the option of buying all sorts of stuff, clothes, toys, and the opportunity of  seeing the true daredevils driving cars and bikes around in the pit that goes up to great heights. The merry go rounds and the Ferris Wheel provide a suitable opportunity for many to brag to their friends and their acquaintances about the exploits they have seen.
This Soothsayer, a master of twenty-first Century Skills claimed to be able to give an accurate prediction of good fortune!


My Nephew, Nishant Peter, my host at the fail and my two daughters, Ekta and Aastha having fun at the fair.
The Kids having fun at the Diwali Fair

In this photograph I am standing with Ekta and Aastha
At the end of our tour of the Fair
That is a snap with Ekta on my right and Nishant on my right

The variety of ‘Paan leaves’ on offer would astound even the greatest connoisseurs! This gentleman appeared to know the secrets of the best ingredients of his paan leaves and he would simply not divulge the secret of his success story!

Seen from top of the Giant Wheel, an entire township full of people thronging the fair.