The mid-day sun in July is hot and harsh as is the landscape around. I am somewhere in the Thar Desert — about 30-40 km west of Jaisalmer city — and the ground is hard, dry, and stony in most parts with some sandy patches. It is the end of summer in this region and I scan the skies for signs of monsoon clouds, but there are none to be seen.
All around me are limestone and sandstone ridges with the meanders of rivers and streams that once flowed here cutting through the rock layers. In the distance, cenotaphs and memorial stones to the dead can be seen. The occasional pops of green from the desert flora provides visual relief (and shade !) in the otherwise arid and barren landscape (see photograph below).
Millions of years in this one frame !
It is a sight that leaves me awestruck for this one frame encapsulates millions of years of history of the region — natural as well as human. A history that is as rich as it is varied and one that has changed and evolved through space and time.
For example, the Jaisalmer region wasn’t always arid like it is today. In fact, there was a time when it was hot, humid and wet. There was no Thar desert; instead, this was the site of a luxuriant forest of towering trees about 180 million years ago or during the Jurassic Period, when Jaisalmer region was speck in the super-continent known as Pangea.
To say I was surprised when I received the invite from Suryagarh to visit them in July 2016 is an understatement. The reason? I had already visited them in 2013 as part of a group of bloggers and was puzzled as to why I was being invited again. My first reaction was that the invite had been sent to me by mistake, and I re-read the mail just to confirm!
The invite brought back memories of a visit of many firsts for me. Suryagarh was my first invite as a travel blogger; it was also my first stay at a luxury hotel — a memorable, if somewhat overwhelming, stay. Like many firsts, the Suryagarh experience also set a benchmark for many things — the attention to detail, the hospitality, the warmth, the music, the celebration of all things local, and the food.
Curiosity soon replaced the surprise over the invite. A curiosity about whether Suryagarh had changed in the three years since I’d been there or if it was still the same. Added to this curiosity was the tempting itinerary sent with the mail that included a visit to the temples of Kiradu near Barmer, about 160 km away. This ‘deadly’ combination of curiosity and temptation was enough to make me accept the very gracious invite.
And on the 20th of July, after a flight from Mumbai to Jodhpur and a road journey from there to Jaisalmer, I reached Suryagarh where familiar faces and a traditional welcome by the Manganiyar singers and dancers awaited me. The chandan ka tikka and the fresh, chilled watermelon juice followed. The Suryagarh experience began. Again.🙂
Nothing seems to have changed, I thought to myself happily. I was both right and wrong about this as I was to find out during the course of my stay at Suryagarh.
The topic of discussion on #TSBCfor Sunday, June 26th was “Literary Cities”. The discussion was an animated one and towards the end, one of the participants (I can’t remember who it was now) tweeted that the literary capital of India was Mussoorie or Landour, because that’s where many of the writers were based. If anybody wanted to meet writers, that’s where one had to go !
I couldn’t help smiling when I read the tweet for I was leaving for a much awaited short holiday in the hills to Landour and Mussoorie the very next day. My agenda for the holiday was to relax, read and generally chill out. Literary capital of the country or not, seeking out or meeting writers in Mussoorie / Landour was not on my agenda. I know this sounds strange coming from someone who loves books and all things bookish, but I prefer reading books to talking to their writers.
But Mussoorie / Landour had other plans in store for me as I was soon to find out. It began with my coming across a shelf full of books by Mussoorie-based writers at the Landour Bakehouse (see photograph below), which made me realise just how many writers were based there. It ended with me having a serendipitous and unexpected tête-à-têtes with two writers and exchanging greetings with a third.
Landour has to be, without doubt, one of the most beautiful and charming places I have been to.
With a picture postcard setting, fresh and invigorating mountain air, small and intimate size, Landour was just what I needed for a short holiday in the hills in June this year. Add to a this mix, two churches and a graveyard to explore, a scenic walking trail, friendly locals of the human, canine and feline varieties, cafes with some delicious food to get stuffed on, and Rokeby Manor as the place to stay in… Landour was just about perfect for me.
Landour is also very different from Mussoorie, which is just 5 km away, in the best possible way — very few tourists visit it and I often felt that I had Landour to myself. The only thing the two places have in common is the mist/clouds that cover everything. [PS: If you haven’t read my previous post on Mussoorie, then this is the time to do so before getting on with this one.]
Like most places, Landour is best explored on foot and that’s the way I’m going to take you around. Put on your walking shoes and lets set off on the Landour Loop or the Gol Chakkar, a walking trail that covers most of ‘sights’🙂
I had very unusual local travelling companions during my visit to Landour and Mussoorie earlier this year in June — the mist or rather the clouds that accompanied me wherever I went. They were a constant companion from the time I arrived in the area till I left.
Sometimes the clouds would be wispy and scraggly; but mostly they were the kind that covered everything, obscured visibility and lent an air of mystery to everything and everyone it enveloped. It was magical to see the clouds descend and disperse and descend and disperse… Most of the time they were the perfect companion for leisurely walks and strolls; at other times, a spoil sport of sorts like on my first day there which was all about exploring Mussoorie.
I can pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with Rokeby Manor in Landour.
It was about 7.00 in the morning and I had just arrived at Rokeby after an overnight journey from New Delhi to Dehradun and a lovely drive from there. Since I was early and the hotel was fully occupied, the room meant for me was not ready. I was, therefore, offered the use of another room till my ‘real’ room was ready.
I agreed and once the registration formalities were completed was led up a flight of wooden stairs and shown to Room 11 — a cosy little room, with a single bed, a tiny writing desk, windows with a view of the valley, and a bathroom that was probably as big as the room itself. One look around the room and I knew that I wouldn’t be shifting to another room. I was in love with Rokeby Manor.🙂
My Room – Room No. 11 at Rokeby Manor
Later on in the day, the hotel did try to persuade me to shift to a better, more comfortable room, but I declined for Room 11 was just perfect for me to read, write, look out of that window with a view, dream, and generally relax. Room 11 wasn’t also the only reason I liked Rokeby — its history, heritage, decor and the people who manage it contributed just as much to make my stay a memorable one.🙂 Continue reading →